Fun With Beeswax

I’ve started assembling something that’s somewhere between a sewing basket and a tool box for my old fashioned crafting. I’ve made a lot of things myself, but there are some (like bone needles and linen thread) that I’ve been shopping around for. The one thing I thought would be easy enough to find locally was a little brick of beeswax to keep in the sewing kit. My gran had one in hers, and I have one in my modern sewing box that’s in storage in the US (long story) but after looking at fabric stores and craft stores and farmer’s markets… it seems like nobody sells them anymore! At least not around here.

I’ve also been making a few tools out of wood, so I wanted to make some beeswax finish for the wood, just to make it look a little more finished and protect it from getting dirt and stuff into the grain of the wood.

So I got myself a big block of beeswax (because I could buy a big piece, apparently, but not a small piece…) and spent ages trying to find moulds to make little bricks for sewing boxes. Most candy moulds and ice cube trays were too small for what I wanted, and most soap moulds are too big, but I ended up buying some flower shaped soap molds for small hand soaps that were around the right size, even though I didn’t really want flower shaped beeswax. Then I remembered the silicone ice cube trays that Ikea sells, and went and got some of the square ones from there. They’re still a tad small, but not too bad.

Since I had so much wax, I decided I’d also try and make some beeswax wood finish for my wooden tools. I’d seen a bunch of recipes online, most of which seem to be the same: 50% oil (usually olive) and 50% beeswax by weight. Easy enough.

I was also thinking I needed to get a pot to melt wax in, since wax is a pain in the arse to get off of things and I didn’t want to use a good pot. I went around to thrift shops and couldn’t find anything the right size that had a good top for pouring (I did find a little clay pot that looked perfect for storing the beeswax wood finish there though), but while I was at Michael’s looking for moulds, I found that they had something I’d never used before: plastic bags made for melting wax by boiling them in water. A lot cheaper than buying a pot for wax melting, and it seemed like a really convenient way to do it since you can just store the wax in the bag if you don’t use it all. So, I went with the modern method of doing things on this one. Results were mixed.

Boiling a bag of beeswax.
Boiling inside the bag was a pretty easy way to melt the wax at least.

I made the wood finish first, it was pretty simple, just half filled the little clay pot I found at the thrift store with oil (I used canola oil because that’s what I had) and added an equal weight of chopped up beeswax by weight. I put it all in the bag and melted it, and then poured it into the pot to set up.

Beeswax wood finish.
My little pot of beeswax wood finish.

It ended up hardening a bit more than I expected; I was thinking it would be kind of a shoe polish consistency where you could just push your finger into it, but it’s a much stiffer consistency and I have to scratch some off with the back of a fingernail or a tool to use it. I have used some it since making it, and it seems to work pretty well, but I’ll talk more about that when I post about more wooden tools.

Next, I set up the moulds and started melting some pure beeswax to pour into them. While I was waiting for the wax to melt, I cut a bunch of small lengths of hemp twine and tied them into knots so that I could insert them into the wax in the moulds, giving each of the little pieces of beeswax a kind of handle. Some historical re-enactors hang things like that from belts or brooches, so it can be useful to have something to attach it to. Also, it’s nice when using the wax for my jeweller’s saw to be able to hang it from a nail on my workbench so it’s both out of the way and within easy reach.

Wax molds and hemp strings.
The molds waiting for their wax. You can see my little string loops off to the right.

Then came the pouring… It was a bit of a disaster. When I did the wood finish, I just held the corners of the bag and it was stiff enough that using the other corner to pour the finish into the pot was really easy. I figured it would work just as well for the moulds, but I was wrong. Since I used the same bag as I had for the wood finish to melt the wax, and some of the finish had hardened near the edge of the bag, the hardened finish glued the edges of the corner together which stopped the flow of wax. I tilted the bag more to get it over that blockage, without really being aware of what was happening. The wax holding the bag together then melted from the heat of the fresh wax, and the whole thing came open at once. Wax everywhere.

A wax spill.

And of course, it went right down the crack between the stove and the counter… Ugh. But, I finished up pouring and scraped the wax off the counter, and had just enough that I hadn’t spilled to fill in all the molds. I stuck the strings in before I finished pouring so that the wax pieces would mostly have smooth bottoms (what are these things called? I feel like I’m being vague, but I don’t know if there’s actually a word for “little bricks of wax for sewing kits”).

Beeswax hardening in moulds.
The filled moulds hardening. Yep, I made a huge waxy mess.

Once the wax had hardened, it was easy enough to just break/peel the excess wax off the sides and put it back into the melting bag for later, so the mess looks a bit worse than it was to clean up.

Now I’ve gone from having none of these little wax bricks to having a whole bunch of them!

Beeswax pieces.
They turned out pretty well considering the mess I made making them.

I might put a few extras on my Etsy store, which I’ve made my goal to re-open this week. Especially the flower ones, which are a little frou frou for me, but might fit someone else’s style better, or maybe be a good accessory for a more Victorian style sewing kit.

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