How-To make a “bottleneck” candle with palm wax and an empty plastic bottle:

Alternative candle options using the same bottleneck mold:

To see other studio wax projects, visit the Class Blog!

One further candle experiment involved securing the wick along the exterior of the mold form. The intent was to melt the candle and leave an interesting wax sculpture at the end, carved by fire. View the slideshow below to see the set-up. The next post will reveal the images of the burning!

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MicroXproduct – Wax

February 17, 2011

The burning of the internally spiraled wick was not as successful as hoped. The wick kept getting swamped by the wax, which was only melting in the center and couldn’t escape easily or burn off quickly enough. To keep the flame burning towards the end, the candle was tipped to allow the wax to drip out. Here are some images:

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Wax, Men, and Money

February 14, 2011

In 1981, the Texas Historical Commission published a report entitled “Wax, Men, & Money: A Historical & Archeological Study of Candelilla Wax Camps along the Rio Grande Border of Texas” by Curtis Tunnell (graphics by Sharon Roos).

Tunnell led some extraordinary research into this wax industry, which has survived (in one form or another) since the Spanish missions. Lucky for us! Here are some notes on this excellent text:

Candelilla Plant

Also known as the “weed” or “yerba,” the candelilla plant’s scientific name as assigned in 1829 is Euphorbia antisyphilitica. The plant is perennial and is found most naturally abundant in the areas shown in this map:

It grows well on well-drained limestone slopes, but does not tend to grow in bottomlands and clayey soils. Candelilla plants have small root systems that support numerous stems with a grayish green color. Although they can grow up to 2 m in diameter, a moderate size is 0.3-0.5 m in diameter with about 100 stems, ranging in length from 0.3-0.6 m and in diameter from 4 to 8 mm. Candelilla plants are very hardy and resistant to disease/pests; they flower during the spring and summer rains.

Best Conditions for Wax

The wax is a secretion of the plant skin to conserve moisture, and thus the wax is much heavier during the dry season and droughts. The average annual rainfall in its natural desert is 100 to 500 mm, so drought is common. Candelillas need from 2-5 years of growth before they produce significant wax. David Adams, one of the main refiners of candelilla wax in West Texas, was quoted saying that after the first harvesting, the candelilla return with some abundance in 2 years; after the second, 5 years; and after the third, possibly 10 years. Yet, the plant population had thus far sustained itself for 70 years of intense production. Candelilla plants regenerate from the root systems.

Attempts to Cultivate

Efforts in Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic have failed to cultivate candelilla for wax production. Likewise in Laredo, TX, and Presidio, TX, although the plants grew tremendously, they did not produce wax. Thus, if the Las Lomas community does wish to use candelilla wax, they may need to rely on the supply chain already in place. In this graphic, the dynamic of the sale and production of the wax is illustrated.

How to Get the Wax Out

The best way to harvest the plant known so far is simply to pull the “weed” by hand. Attempts to cut it do not work as well, and often kill the plant.

Once gathered, the wax is boiled out of the plants in a packed vat of acidic water. The crude wax (creote) is skimmed off the surface as it boils. Some of the instruments and the set up are diagrammed here:

Once the crude wax is cooled, it is sent to a refinery, where the dirt and other impurities are filtered out. Here is a diagram of one of these factories.

Here are some images of the making of (1) a larger candle with a spiraled wick and (2) a candle with a solid base and a fantastic upper surface. The latter was produced by having water already pooled in the mold before the wax was poured in.

MicroXproduct – Wax

February 11, 2011

The other new wax experiment was an attempt to use the incredible, strange forms of the wax when it pours into the water and cools. A flaw in one of the first molds led to the wax leaking out into the water I was trying to cool the form in. What resulted was an interesting mass of wax with holes and undulations.

So, in this mold, I kept the base of the waterbottle with the bottom of it still attached to the middle, in order to catch any water that leaked. I inserted the wick into the lid hole and twisted it to get some of the wax to more firmly plug the hole. Then, once the wax was melted and ready to pour, I put some water in the mold first. Then I slowly poured the wax into the mold. Some of the wax cooled in that initial pour and the rest cooled slowly above that layer. Because the base of the candle was in the ridged area of the waterbottle mold, it would not pop out once entirely cooled. Thus, 3 slits were made along the ridged sides, the sides were bent upwards, and the candle was able to come out without forcing (which might have harmed the delicate forms at the top of the candle).  Some of the initial wax that cooled was unconnected to the base, but those pieces can be melted down with the wax for the next candle, so there would be no waste.

Pictures soon!

MicroXproduct – Wax

February 11, 2011

After the first burn tests, I realized that it would be unlikely for that size wax to melt the candle once it was past the “bottleneck.” So, I decided to experiment with wick placement, seeing if I could spiral the wick in the wax as it cooled in the mold. Particularly, I was inspired by a product (brought to my attention by Valerie Stevens) with several wicks that carve through a wax wall as they burn.

 

So, the spiral wax set-up and initial cooling:

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We’ll burn it tomorrow and see how it goes!

 

 

Candelilla shrub (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)

As I mentioned in the last post, I was determined to find a natural source of plant wax in Texas. After some digging – I found a source!  A plant called “candelilla” grows in the Rio Grande Valley and arid climates of the Southwest naturally and, in fact, has been an economic source for the area for some time.  Production of the on the US side of the border died off following WWII, but with the resurgence of “eco-friendly” and local products, a new niche market could be found.

Texas A&M University’s library collection of Texas documents yielded a goldmine of information in a 1981 study:

Diagrams and info from this source on the wax-making process to follow!

Also, the first burn test was today. Although very small, the first trial candle burned for a total of about 2 hours and 15 minutes. There were minor irregularities in the wax and how it burned – some of the holes and gaps were created by the flame and burn rate. At the end, the wax around the wick melted to the point that the wick toppled over and was extinguished by the wax pool.

 

 

Taxed with developing a wax product that the community of Las Lomas in Rio Grande City, TX, can produce and sell on a micro-economy scale, I began research into the matter.

Wax comes from various sources, notably animal fat, petroleum, bees, or plant oils. Intrigued by “eco-friendly” candles, like those made of soy wax, which burner longer, cleaner, and at a lower (less dangerous) temperature, I looked into beeswax and various plant sources. Beeswax has the potential to encourage honey production and bee farms in the area as well, promoting a secondary economic benefit. I may return to that thought, but for now, I have been captivated by the potential of plant oil wax.

The most well-known plant wax sources are soy plants and palms. Although the good qualities of soy wax are well documented online, the plant does not seem ideal for the Rio Grande Valley. Palms seemed more promising, but again, I was interested in finding a source that was already native to the area or would be very easy to cultivate.

In the meantime, I started to experiment with the wax/candle casting process itself. Using crystal-form palm wax, a plastic bottle, pre-made wicks, a nail, knife, cutting blade, pan, glass bottle, water, and a stove, I began the process.

I heated the wax in a makeshift double-boiler (glass jar in water in pan) over medium-low heat, stirring with a table knife. When the wax was fully melted, I poured it into the mold.

Let me describe the candle mold. I wanted to use a plastic bottle for the candle mold, having some ideas of using it as a base, mold, and wick-holder. In the slideshow below, you will see the first sketches I made for the idea. The bottle is cut into 3 pieces – the top with the cap holds the wick and is the form that wax is poured, the middle serves as a stable base for the inverted top, and the base of the bottle sits atop with the end of the wick threaded through to hold it while the candle cures.

Of the trials (seen in sequence in the slideshow), the first candle I attempted to cool in a foil-lined cup of water. The hole cut in the cap to hold the wick was cut, not punched, and so the wick became loose and the wax leaked out into the water. The resulting mass of wax does have interesting aesthetic qualities, however. In the other trials, the cap hole for the wick was punched, which resulted in a much tighter fit. Also, no cooling with water was tried. Instead, the candle just rested in the base until it hardened naturally. The cooling took about an hour. The least disturbance of the mold while cooling, the better. Once fully cooled, the bottle was squeezed, the cap untwisted and pulled off, and the candle was pushed out.

Testing the actual burn of the candle will soon follow! As will new research about plant wax that’s native to Texas! Stay tuned!

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