Beeswax has been used for thousands of years in the making of candles, and it may be that the earliest candles of all were made by prehistoric people who discovered that the wax in honeycombs could be burned to give a bright light. Beeswax is a yellowish hard wax with a characteristic and pleasant smell of honey. It melts at about 60oC and is tough and opaque, but it is not an easy material for candle-making. However, both moulded and dipped candles can be made with beeswax/paraffin wax blends. Most of the old beeswax candles were made by the pouring and rolling techniques.
This is the name given to animal fat which has been separated out and refined by boiling.Beef tallow was the favourite material for making rushlights and dipped candles, but mutton tallow was used by professional tallow chandlers because of its gloss and hardness. The cheapest tallow of all was pigs fat tallow, which produced a foul-smelling, thick black smoke when burned. Not that beef tallow or mutton tallow smelt much better........
Commercial stearic acid is made from a mixture of animal and vegetable fats, and it is used as a blending material by many candle-makers for giving candles a harder finish and (in the case of moulded candles) assisting mould release. ``Stearine'' was first used for candle-making in 1825, and it rapidly replaced tallow as a commercial candle-making material. However, even modern stearic acid burns with a sickly smell that is slightly reminiscent of tallow.
Raw paraffin wax comes in blocks that are melted down for candle making.
This is a petroleum by-product, first used by chandlers in 1850. From about 1869 onwards (following the exploitation of the first US oilfields) paraffin wax rapidly replaced other waxes in the manufacture of candles. Today it is produced by oil refineries and is specially formulated for candle-making. Different paraffin waxes have melting points varying from 54ºC to 65ºC, and candle-makers choose their waxes to suit the types of candles being produced. Often paraffin wax is blended with stearin to increase hardness and to increase colour brightness.
Tallow candles -- soft and lumpy! (and smelly!)
Moulded beeswax candles
Moulded candles made with palm oil wax
Other Natural Waxes
Spermaceti is a hard white crystalline wax made from the oil contained in the head cavities of sperm whales. It was widely used in candle-making during the latter part of the nineteenth century, but now that the sperm whale has been brought to the brink of extinction nobody would tolerate its use today.
Coconut Oil and Palm Oil were widely used in candle mixtures in the middle part of the 1800’s, but they had the disadvantage of a very low melting point and an acrid burning fat smell.
Chinese Wax is similar to beeswax but it is obtained from various other species of insects.
Ozokerite is a very hard naturally-occurring wax which is closely related to paraffin wax.
Carnauba is another hard wax derived from the cera trees of South America; It is very expensive, but because of its very high melting-point (89ºC) it is an excellent additive to paraffin wax candles of special types.
Bayberry Wax and Laurel Wax are obtained from various species of myrtle and laurel trees, being refined from the fatty coatings of the fruit.
Microcrystalline Wax. This is a special wax produced by the petroleum refining industry. Its crystals are very small, as the name suggests. ``Micro soft'' has a melting point which might be as low as 54ºC, and it is soft and malleable in the later stages of cooling. ``Micro hard'' usually has a melting temperature over 80ºC, and it is a brittle wax used in small quantities to improve the surface appearance of candles.