How to Use Homemade Beeswax Candles for Lighting in the 1800s

Introduction to Beeswax Candles in the 1800s

In the 1800s, candles were a primary source of lighting in homes. Unlike today when we can flick a switch for electric lights, people in the 1800s relied on candles to illuminate their homes at night. Beeswax candles were commonly used because they burned brighter and cleaner than other candle materials like tallow (animal fat). As a homemade candle, beeswax was preferable due to its pleasant honey scent and slower burn time compared to other waxes.

Making beeswax candles at home was a common skill in the 1800s. Families would collect beeswax from beekeepers or harvest it themselves from beehives they kept. The process of making candles with beeswax involved several steps but was relatively simple with practice. Homemade beeswax candles provided a reliable lighting source in a time before electricity.

Gathering Beeswax for Candlemaking

The first step in making beeswax candles at home was gathering enough beeswax. In the 1800s, beeswax was collected from beehives kept by the candle maker or purchased from local beekeepers. A beehive would produce 4 to 6 pounds of beeswax each year on average.

To harvest beeswax themselves, candle makers would collect the wax honeycombs from the beehives. The wax sheets were scraped off the honeycomb using a blunt knife. The harvested wax was then washed in water to remove honey and impurities from the hive.

Once washed, the wet wax sheets were melted together in boiling water or over a fire. The melted wax was strained to remove any debris. After straining, the liquid wax was poured into molds to form blocks of purified beeswax ready for candle making.

Purchasing beeswax from apiaries was another option. Beekeepers extracted the wax from hives and molded it into bricks for sale. Buying beeswax avoided the labor of maintaining beehives and harvesting honeycombs. However, purchasing beeswax was less cost effective than harvesting your own wax.

Making the Candle Wicks

Along with beeswax, candle wicks were a key supply needed for candle making. Wicks were commonly made from braided cotton threads.

To make wicks, cotton threads were twisted together tightly. Long wicks were made by braiding 3 strands of tightly twisted cotton threads. The wick was braided by weaving the threads over and under each other. For larger candle wicks, more strands could be braided together.

The wick provided structure and held the candle upright as it burned. Wicks also directed the flame and prevented it from drowning in the melting wax. Properly wicking the candles was an important step for good light production.

Rolling Beeswax Candle Sheets

To make dipped candles, beeswax sheets had to be rolled out to the desired thickness. The beeswax was melted prior to rolling by gently heating it in a pot over a fire or stove. Once melted, the wax was poured onto a flat surface dusted with powdered chalk or charcoal to prevent sticking.

The warm wax was rolled out flat using a rolling pin. The thickness of the sheet depended on the thickness of the finished candle. Thinner sheets would be used for thinner taper candles while thicker sheets made sturdier pillar candles. The wax was rolled repeatedly until smoothed out at the desired thickness.

The sheets were cooled until firm but still pliable enough to wrap around the wicks. Smoothing out the beeswax created even burning sheets for the dipped candles.

Dipping the Candle Wick in Beeswax

Dipping the wick in beeswax was done to build up wax around the wick, layer by layer. Wicks were dipped repeatedly to form the candle.

Candle dipping involved warming beeswax over a fire or stove in a metal pot just until melted. The wick was dipped into the wax using tongs. The wick had to be fully submerged in the wax for several seconds to adhere the wax.

After dipping, the wick was removed from the pot and held vertically to let excess wax drip off. The wax was allowed to cool and harden on the wick before the next dip. The dipping process was repeated until the candle reached the desired width. Each dip added a new thin layer of wax.

Pillar candles required thicker wicks and wax sheets to support their heavier structure. Taper candles used thinner wicks and were dipped to create long, narrow candles. Proper wicking and repeated dips built up even beeswax candles.

Cooling and Finishing the Beeswax Candles

Once the candle had reached the desired size through repeated dipping, it was hung vertically to cool and harden. Cooling hardened the wax and fixed the shape. The bottom was trimmed off to leave an even base.

Decorative finishing touches could be added to the cooled beeswax candles. Color dyes were sometimes used to tint the wax. Fragrances like honey or flowers were also blended into the wax for pleasant scents when burned.

The finished beeswax candles were set aside until needed for lighting. Homemade beeswax candles could be stored for use as needed. With proper wicking and dipping, these candles burned slowly and brightly to illuminate homes before electricity.

Burning Beeswax Candles for Light

Beeswax candles performed better for lighting than other candle materials. Once hardened, the beeswax candles were mounted into candle holders to burn. Compared to tallow and animal fat candles, beeswax was less smokey and smelly when burned.

The beeswax also burned more slowly and evenly than other waxes. The honey scent while burning was preferable to rancid smelling animal fat candles. Beeswax was cleaner and brighter burning, producing good candlelight.

For safety, beeswax candle wicks had to be trimmed as they burned down to prevent excess smoke and dripping. Candles were placed in stable holders on tables or wall sconces. Taper and pillar beeswax candles produced steady, long-lasting illumination in the evenings before bed.

The warm honey-hued candlelight created a welcoming atmosphere. In a time before electricity, beeswax candles handmade at home provided vital lighting across many evenings.


In the days before electric lights, homemade beeswax candles allowed families to illuminate their homes at night. Beeswax made clean, bright burning candles that were an important light source. Making the candles required collecting beeswax, braiding wicks, and repeatedly dipping the wicks to build up layers of wax. With practice, families could make beeswax candles at home to light up the evenings by firelight before bed. Beeswax candles handcrafted from beehives helped make candlelight possible during the 1800s.