As part of my research into the perfect home-made, natural fire-lighter, I came across the idea of using melted wax. I like burning scented candles and it seemed like it might be a good way to do something with the couple of inches of scented wax that always seem to be left when they’re done. Also, since there has to be a limit to the number of firelighters that even I am prepared to make, I read up on how to make candles using re-used wax.
The usual method (apart from if you use soy wax, which has a lower melting point and can be melted in the microwave) is to use some sort of double boiler. (This is simply one small pan or other heat-proof container, with the thing you want to melt in it, inside a pan of boiling water. The water and the thing you are melting must not combine so you need to get your levels right.) I have really nice saucepans and wasn’t prepared to trash one for this experiment. If I get really into this, I’ll go and see if I can pick up any cheap, old pans in a charity shop that I won’t mind always having a light coating of wax. (Another reason why I like the sound of soy wax is that you can wash it out of containers with hot, soapy water and can therefore use normal kitchen equipment. Otherwise, you need your container for the melting wax to be dedicated to that purpose.)
A friend of mine melts wax in a tin, stuck into a wood burning stove. It is quick but it’s smoky and not controllable really in terms of the heat. I did wonder about combining the two methods, so I gave it a try. I had a clean, empty baked bean can ready to recycle so I chose to use that as the melting pot.
First, I took the bit that was left from a scented pillar candle, about 8cm across and the same sort of depth. I tore off a bit of baking paper, folded it in half and placed it over my wooden chopping board so that I didn’t end up driving scented wax into any cuts. As it happened, I only really needed to cut into the candle a short way because then it just split beautifully and I popped bits into the tin. Using the baking paper meant that I could then funnel any small chips of wax into the tin so there was no waste, which was good.
Before mucking about with boiling water and hot metal things, I thought that I should test things out. I needed something to hold the tin in place, ideally so that it wasn’t touching the bottom of the saucepan. Initially, I tried using my silicone toast tongs to hold it but as soon as I tried it with cold water in the large pan below, it started to flex too much and there was a danger of it tipping and water pouring in onto the wax.
Next up were chopsticks. I held them together with the ends level and wrapped an elastic band round them, fairly tightly. I then pushed the end of one stick under the other, put the can in place and wrapped another elastic band twice around the two ends. I tested whether it could take the weight, which it could, although I did add more wax to one side to level it out a bit. I adjusted the water level slightly, so that the can was suspended in but not supported by the water.
I then poured the water into my kettle to heat it quickly, then back into the large pan, got it back to the boil and added the melting pot arrangement. I didn’t time how long it took, but I kept checking on it and after a few minutes (5?) it started to melt. Every now and again I poked at it with a metal skewer to stir it about a bit and then immediately wiped the skewer on a piece of kitchen paper which I’ll add to the home-made firelighter materials collection. That worked really well, although it was accident rather than design, when I found I seem to be down to my last two chopsticks.
Eventually the tin contained nothing but melted wax. I’d given it a good stir to check and couldn’t feel or see any lumps of wax. I turned off the heat, donned a pair of oven gloves and removed the pot holder and tin from the water. I’d chosen a jam jar as the container in which I was going to store my wax, so having gingerly removed the pot holder, I just poured it into the jar.
I knew that there would be bits of wick in the melted wax and needed to fish them out. They were helpfully stuck to the bottom of the tin so I hooked them out with the skewer and added them to the waxy kitchen paper. The hot water ended up in the washing up bowl for things that can’t go in the dishwasher. Aside from the electricity and gas used to heat the water it felt like an environmentally-sound way to recycle candles with no waste generated at all.
So there you go: I now have a jar of wax, ready to re-use in due course. I can put the jar lid on it to keep it free from dust and stick it away until I have a project that requires it. The wax isn’t giving off a very strong scent, although it retains the dark purple of the original candle. That’s fine, because I can just add a couple of drops of scented oil to the melted wax when I need to. Jam jars should be fine to heat in boiling water because of the sterilisation process they go through so I can re-melt the wax using the jar as the melting pot next time. That’s another reason why I’m considering using them for home-made container candles. I don’t want to use something that looks pretty but then cracks and lets hot wax flow over all my stuff: I’m strange like that.
At some stage I’ll probably try doing this in a pan of water over a campfire as well. I also want to see if tea light containers (the very thin metal ones) can be re-used with appropriate wicks and recycled candle wax. At the very least, I thought I could use them as moulds when combining wax with tinder. I’m definitely going to do more of this.