The life and times of Zack Weinberg.
Wednesday, 16 October 2002
# 5:45 AM
further to previous
The difficulty with the ban Marie, at least the cheapass one I bought specifically for candlemaking, is that it boils over at the slightest provocation. To melt the wax, you want the water in the bottom level just barely below the boiling point. The stove setting that achieves this, once the thing's reached working temperature, is just barely above the point at which the burner goes out. Note that this is not "off." Small amounts of gas continue to leak out of the burner once this happens, which is Not Good.
The hardest part of candlemaking is actually cleaning up. Wax sticks to everything and dissolves in nothing. The best approach I've found is to pour gallons of boiling water over all the dirty equipment. Even this doesn't work very well.
# 5:10 AM
being an explanation of the previous entry
I was making candles last night. And I decided to be totally perfectionist about them. I'm not sure why, but possibly the fact that one of the molds had its sealing gook come off, thus spewing molten paraffin all over the stove, twice, had something to do with it.
The thing about casting candles is, paraffin shrinks when it cools. Since it cools from the outside in, unless you're careful you'll get a huge air bubble in the middle of the candle, with a narrow channel connecting it to the exterior. Care, in this case, means re-melting the skin on the top of the candle and pouring more wax in at regular intervals. Normally one does this a maximum of twice, with about half an hour in between pours, which makes them come out with dips in the bottom but otherwise fine. I was poking holes in the top and putting in half-tablespoons of wax at ten-minute intervals from about midnight until about 3:30 AM.
Of course, this means I had to have a supply of molten wax. It is extremely dangerous to melt wax over an open flame, so one uses instead a ban Marie, which is a fancy name for a double boiler. The water in the lower half acts as a thermal buffer, preventing the wax from getting hot enough to flash over. "Marie", it is said, was the French alchemist and witch who invented this technique; I cannot, unfortunately, find any reference to her history online.
Despite the rather grim lyrics, I find this song cheers me up immensely.