Beeswax is made by worker bees. It is secreted from glands situated on the underside of the abdomen, and molded into the honeycomb that is used as storage space for honey and pollen, and as brood chambers for larval bees. Bees that build the comb gorge themselves on honey and hang together in clusters or chains across the area that is to be built up.
After about 24 hours, they produce a drop of liquid wax. It soon hardens into a small white flake, which the bee moves to its mandibles where it is mixed with glandular secretions and chewed. The softened flake of wax is passed along to another worker who will mold it into shape and place it on the growing comb. It takes about four minutes to process a single flake from secretion to comb.
The rich color of beeswax is a result of the floral sources the bees forage on. Beeswax is almost pure white when first secreted, but gets its color from the pollen and propolis the bees gather. The natural variations in color range from almost white to almost black.
Beekeepers obtain beeswax from the "cappings" of the honeycomb – the part of the comb that seals in the honey collected by the bees. Cappings are sliced off the comb to harvest the honey and are then melted to separate honey from the wax. About one to two pounds of wax is produced for every hundred pounds of honey.
Beeswax is available under different forms: as pellets (like paraffin), stabs or as wax sheets, with a flat or honeycomb design.
Choose the form you like best or the one most suitable to the kind of candle you are planning to make.
Beeswax is often used in combination with paraffin (a traditional proportion is one part beeswax for 3 parts paraffin), for a container candle formula for instance.
Used alone, beeswax should not be used for any applications that involve a mold (wax and mold would become instantly inseparable!), unless you're using rubber or latex molds that you "peel off" once the wax has cooled off.
Beeswax does not expand and contract according to its temperature as paraffin does, yet another reason not to use it in a rigid mold (the contraction of paraffin when it cools off allows the finished candle to slip out of the mold but this behavior can become an inconvenience with specific types of candles, like container candles).
Beeswax sheets can be used to create superb candles, easy to make and safe for the young candlemakers, when rolled around a wick, to form a cylindrical or conical taper or pillar.
The melting point of beeswax resides between 144°F and 149°F. This is quite high and can lead to potential wick problems: sometimes, the heat produced by the burning wick will not be high enough to create a full melt pool. Worse, the flame can even bore a hole down the middle of the candle (also called a "tunnel") and leave the remains of the candle intact.
For this reason, and specially when beeswax is used to make a container candle, it is recommended to blend it with a low melting point paraffin wax (126°F is perfect) in order to lower the average melting point. It may prove necessary to use a wick one or two sizes up. Generally speaking, a beeswax candle will require a thicker wick (a square braid works best) than a paraffin candle of the same diameter.