Tuesday, November 29, 2011

(How To) Make Quahog (Clam) Shell Candles

(When I had this idea, I assumed others had as well and went looking for tips. I found some good information here, here [PDF link], here, and from the local beekeeper of South County Honey who sold me the beeswax at the farmers' market.)

Materials: Quahog shells (that's what we call clam shells in Rhode Island), beeswax, wick (large cotton braided), hot glue gun, old pan (not used for cooking), and large tin can.

When I looked online for information on how to do this, I found lots of pieces here and there. I've put it all together in case you want to try this too. I'm not only loving the final product here, but I love how it's so very local. The shells were collected at a local beach, and the bees who made the beeswax live down the road.

To start, I rinsed any sand from the shells and boiled them gently, just to make sure they were clean. I used the same pan I later used for the water bath (same water, too). Once again, I borrowed the pan I long ago handed over to my kids' play kitchen. You don't want to use a cooking pan for this, just in case you get wax on it. Once the shells were dry, I used the hot glue gun to attach the lengths of wick to the bottom of the shells.

The beekeeper suggested large cotton braid wick. He said the melting point of beeswax is high and you need a large wick to create a large enough flame--something like that, anyway. I was able to find it locally in a craft store by the spool. I cut the lengths of wick generously; they'll get trimmed later.

Next I needed to hack off some of that big block of beeswax so I could put smaller pieces in a clean tin can and melt them. Easier said then done. Eventually I managed.

This is an old knife and not one I'll ever use for food again, clearly. Here it's holding the tin can down so it doesn't float around in the water bath. The PDF I linked to above had some useful tips for melting beeswax, including the melting point of beeswax (about 145 F). This is far below the boiling point of water (212 F), so I set the burner to medium and kept a close eye, turning it down as necessary. I stirred the wax (with that knife again) once it began to melt, too. Once it was completely melted--and it smelled so nice!--I poured it into the shells. Since the water wasn't boiling, the can wasn't too hot to handle with my bare hands, which made pouring the wax much easier.

So, the first batch of wax that took me soooo long to hack off the block? Yielded two candles. Sigh. Anyway, you can see I propped the shells just a bit to keep them level, and on that back one, I clothes-pinned the wick to keep it straight. On most of them I was able to carefully drape them and it was Good Enough. My oldest was home sick while I was doing this, and we were trying to figure out a way to rig up a wick-holder-upper, but we settled for Good Enough in the end.

I repeated this process until all the shells (13, some larger than others but none huge) were filled.

I have a corner of the original block of wax left. The beekeeper also told me that beeswax burns straight down, so as these burn it probably won't burn all the wax on the edges. He suggested two wicks in a large shell, but I ended up going with one in all of them. I think it'll be fine on the smaller shells; I'm not sure on the slightly bigger ones. There may be some unused wax around the edges--perhaps the recipients will collect it and make new candles?

Here are the candles, wicks not yet trimmed, in boxes on my slightly messy dining room table because it was time to feed the kids lunch and I needed my kitchen counter.

And one last photo, of a candle in hand so you can see the size.

I love these!! I made enough so that we'll have some for us, too. Because these are holiday gifts, of course--a very local handmade Rhode Island gift.


Jill said...

These are great and I am so impressed. When I saw the big block of beeswax, honesttogoodness my only thought was -- what a pain in the *#^. I have, in the past, hacked up blocks of beeswax and I now realize I should've given you a headsup on what a pain it is, but on the other hand I know you and I know it wouldn't've stopped you. It might be worth buying whatever comes in those honkin' big cans just to be able to melt the whole block at once, and then pour it into small yogurt containers so you have useful-sized pieces. Because you'll have to do this again. They are so awesome.

Bells said...

i love these. And the name. Qhahog. I think I mentioned a while ago I listened recently to a book set in your area and all the Indian names are so evocative!

How great to have a local supplier and someone who can give you such useful advice. They're really lovely Amy.

jen | paintcutpaste.com said...

thanks for stopping by my blog today. your comments cracked me up! i love your clam shell candles. we made some acorn cap candles and shell candles recently, too: http://paintcutpaste.com/acorn-cap-candles/ happy holidays!

Michelle said...

Cute! I'm kind of amazed it took so much wax. Then again, those quahogs, they're giants.

Donna Lee said...

The color of the wax almost looks like sand. I loved making candles with my girls. Have you all tried ice cube candles? You use a wax quart milk container and fill it with ice cubes and pour the melted wax over the ice. It makes a lacy candle. You suspend the wick over the top of the container with a pencil and when the wax has hardened you just pour the water out and you can then do one of two things. One, take the candle out and admire it or add another color of wax which will fill in where the holes are. Both ways make really cool candles.

m.e (Cathie) said...

wow, they are great!
beautiful gifts indeed ♥

Jodi said...

I love this idea. My MIL is a compulsive shell seeker and this could be a good idea for her. One quick tip I've seen (since there are actually a lot of candle-making displays around here...don't know why). Instead of cutting lots of shorter wicks to begin with, they tie the wicks to a dowel which can easily be suspended above wherever you're working. This is great for dipped, but you could glue yours to the base, then tie them to your dowel. Anyhow, I really enjoyed learning about this. Thanks!