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PHOTO: Patricia Lehnhardt
While helping a young beekeeping friend dip beeswax candles—his 4-H project for the fair—I started thinking of all the uses of beeswax in the home and craft studio. I always have little blocks of wax to stick a needle in when I need it to glide more easily through the fabric or to run a thread through to strengthen it. It’s used in many lotions and salves and is handy for making homemade furniture polish and rubbing on the bottom of drawers to keep them gliding smoothly. I’ve used beeswax as a resist for dyes in decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs and on fabric for a Batik surface design, and recently, I’ve become interested in encaustic painting.
Here are some tips for preparing beeswax and a couple of easy craft projects for using it.
The great thing about beeswax is you can melt and mold it into a shape that’s easy for you to work with. Chop the wax into small shards or use pelleted wax. Place it in a small disposable aluminum pan, cleaned tin can or dedicated wax pot, which will not be used for cooking again. Place the container into a small pot or skillet of water to act as a double boiler. The water should rise half-way up the wax container. Heat over medium heat until melted. The wax will melt around 148 degrees F. Watch your pot carefully during this process, and do not walk away.
Melting beeswax over direct heat can be dangerous, as it gets too hot too quickly. If you have an old slow cooker, you can use that, as well, but it will remain a wax-melting slow cooker forever after.
Waxed Kitchen Cloth
A great alternative for using so much plastic in the kitchen has spurred an interest in waxed cloth (see picture above). It’s been used in waterproofing coats and bags for many years, and it’s now popular in the kitchen. Here’s an easy, inexpensive way to make your own waxed kitchen cloth, which can be used for wrapping bread or cheese. (This is not recommended to wrap raw meat, as it can only be washed in cool water.)
- Cut 100 percent cotton or linen fabric to fit your bowls with at least 1 inch overhang. They can be round or square, and if you find you didn’t get the right fit, it’s OK to trim the fabric after it’s waxed. Make several sizes, suitable for all your wrapping needs.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place the cloth on top.
- Melt pure beeswax.
- Using a natural-bristle paintbrush, brush a thin coat of wax on the cloth.
- Place in a 180-degree-F oven for four to five minutes, watching carefully until you see the wax is shiny.
- Remove from the oven and peel the cloth off the foil and hold up to cool for a minute or so. The wax will have penetrated the cloth.
To use, place the cloth over a bowl of food and press onto the edge. The heat of your hands will mold it, and it will stick to itself temporarily. To clean, rinse under cool water and pat dry with a towel. Lay out to dry thoroughly before folding up and storing in a drawer.
Waxed paper can be used in craft projects or is useful for wrapping up a sandwich or cookies for a picnic. And you can tie with waxed linen thread, just to keep the theme going. I made seed-saving packets to give as gifts to my friends who have admired plants in my garden. Just for fun, I used pages from an old Seed Saver’s catalog and printed garden plans from an old herb magazine as the paper, but any decorative paper would work.
- Cut the sheet of paper to size, and lay it on a sheet of aluminum foil.
- Melt the wax and using a natural bristle brush, paint a thin layer of wax on the paper. It will cool very quickly and form an opaque sheen on the paper.
- Use a heat gun to heat the paper. Keep the heat gun moving slowly to prevent the paper from getting too hot. As the wax melts, it will get shiny and the paper will absorb the wax making it translucent.
- If there is too much wax in one area, pick up the foil and paper, which will be stuck to it, and let the wax run off the edge, or roll onto an area that could use more.
- When you have an evenly coated paper, peel it off the foil while it is still warm. Hold it up to the air to cool and solidify.
Waxed Paper Seed Packets
Here’s how I turned my homemade waxed paper into seed packets to be used as gifts:
- Open up an old seed packet or envelope to use as a pattern. (Or use this printable pattern.)
- Lay your pattern on top of the waxed paper, and cut out the shape.
- Fold into the envelope shape.
- Cut a piece of cardboard or heavy paper to fit inside the envelope to protect it from melting together as you seal the seams. Place the protective card in the envelope.
- With the heat gun, warm the seams and when the wax is liquid, fold and hold together with a metal spoon handle to seal and cool.
- Glue on a label, or decorate as desired.
Using wax from your honey production is just one more way to utilize your own farm products and enjoy a sustainable art-filled life.