One of the first choices you'll face if you want to make candles is which wax to use. At one time, the only choice was to stick a piece of wick into a lump of tallow or dip a reed into some grease to make a rushlight, but nowadays we have many different options.
There are several types of candle wax readily available for making candles today: some natural, some synthetic, some a little bit of both, and each has its own particular qualities. Many candle makers are picky about the wax they use, while others use different types for different applications.
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Paraffin wax is one of the most versatile and common waxes used today. It comes in different melt points appropriate for many different applications, from votives to pillars to containers.
Most of the commercially available candles you buy in stores today are made with paraffin. It is not universally embraced these days, however. Paraffin wax is a by-product of the crude oil refinement process, and green-minded folks often avoid it for this reason.
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Soy wax is a new wax on the candle making scene, but it has taken a solid hold. With the demand for natural candles growing, soy wax was developed in the early 1990s as an alternative to petroleum-derived paraffin, and natural—but more expensive—beeswax. Like paraffin, soy wax comes in a variety of blends and melting points, though the most common soy waxes are container candle blends.
Many soy waxes are made from 100% soybean oil. Others are blended with other vegetable oils (like coconut) and waxes (like palm and beeswax). There are also a number of paraffin/soy blends out there that capitalize on the benefits of both waxes. Note that as long as the blend is at least 51% soy, it is called a soy wax blend.
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Candle gel wax is not actually a wax at all. It is a combination of resin and mineral oil. The Penreco company holds the patent for gel wax, so chances are if you're making gel candles, your wax came from them. It is similar to other waxes in that it holds scent and color and melts and burns. The difference is in the transparency, which allows for an entirely different variety of candles to be made from it. Gel wax is often used to imitate water or other liquids like beer or wine in novelty candles.
Gel wax is most commonly used for votive or container candles, but firmer gel wax is also available for crafting pillar candles.
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Beeswax is probably the oldest candle making wax; many would argue that it is also the best wax for candles. Beeswax candles were even found in the pyramids. Beeswax is produced by bees as a byproduct of the honey-making process. The wax is excreted by the bees into "combs" to incubate their larvae. Since it is infused with honey during its creation, it has a naturally sweet fragrance which varies slightly depending on the flowers or plants the bees are feeding on.
After it is harvested from the beehive, beeswax is melted and filtered several times. Candlemakers can purchase beeswax in blocks or slabs, like paraffin, in "pastilles" (little pellets) which melt very easily, or in pre-rolled sheets, which can be easily made into candles without any melting at all.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Palm wax is similar to soy wax in that it is made from a natural oil––in this case, palm oil. Palm wax is a very firm, almost brittle wax, that works well for pillars and votives. It usually produces a crystalline or "feathered" effect in the candles that is quite lovely. Palm wax is often blended with soy wax to make it harder.