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It is always an interesting subject, discussing the sources of paraffin wax and the components involved.
Wax in today's society is a generic term. Wax can cover a broad spectrum of products that include petroleum, animal, vegetable and synthetic based materials. The primary wax used in candles today is refined from petroleum. However, other types of waxes have become extremely popular in the last number of years. These include vegetable or plant based waxes such as soy, palm or bayberry as well as waxes from insects such as beeswax.
This series will focus on various wax types and their applications. With this information, you, the candle maker, will become more knowledgeable about waxes and better equipped to differentiate between them when choosing which wax to purchase.
Basically, paraffin wax is a petroleum product that has gone through a refining process. The end result is a product that is solid at room temperature. Within the refining process, waxes can be classified as fully refined wax, semi-refined wax, scale wax and slack wax.
Most candle makers generally work with fully refined and/or semi-refined wax, which is available in melting points ranging from 121° F to approximately 160° F. Waxes such as slack and scale can be used to make candles, but their applications are generally limited to filling containers or jars because the melting points on these waxes are generally below the 121° F level. Also, slack and scale waxes have a tendency to have an "oily" smell.
For the balance of this article we will focus on making candles with fully refined paraffin waxes.
As a candle maker there are further choices that must be made such as which melting point to use and choosing between a straight (non-blended) paraffin or a blended paraffin in your formulation. Previously, we did a feature on blended vs. straight paraffin.
A straight paraffin is a wax not altered by adding additives such as vybar(r), stearic, or microcrystalline waxes. Examples include our Container Fill (CF), 3032, 3134 and 3035. A straight paraffin is for the candle maker willing to experiment and develop a unique formula that may achieve a specific finish on the candle. The candle maker creates this formula by combining additives, as mentioned, with the straight paraffin. Best uses for straight paraffin are as follows: 121° F-131° F can be used to fill jars, containers and tins, 128° F-141° F are best for making votives, 133°-146° F are best for making pillars, novelties and figurines and 141° F-146° F are best for making tapers.
A blend is a wax that already has the additives in the formula, allowing the candle maker to save time because all that needs to be added is color dye and fragrance. Blended waxes also assist the candle maker because they are uniform from batch to batch, allowing for ease of use. One drawback with blends however, is the fact that it is more difficult to achieve different looks in the candle, because most blends are developed for specific applications such as jars, votive, pillars and tapers.
The properties of waxes can be very specific and in some applications knowing these properties becomes important, especially when using automated equipment. However, for most candle makers the important facts to know about the wax can be limited to the melting point of the wax, the oil content of the wax and in some applications the needle penetration of the wax (hardness of the wax).
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