One might argue that an inappropriate amount of thought, time, and effort went into making the candle on the left. The wax itself came from my backyard, where about 30,000 or so bees worked tirelessly to create the comb that it came from. This was my first year hosting a friend's hive, and I’m still a bit in my beekeeping honeymoon. No stings yet, and I’ve got a small amount of honey and wax. The bees had just four frames to spare. That’s too few to use in a real extractor, but I had luck with the crush and strain method (crush the honeycomb, stick it in a colander, and let it drip for a few days into a bucket). That’s probably how it was done for thousands of years, anyway.
Cleaning the wax was easier than anticipated. Perhaps I don’t understand the subtleties of wax quality, but a microwave seems to work pretty well, even though nearly everyone uses a hot plate or an open flame. When I was a child, I nearly burned our house down, melting paraffin on the stove, so I'm a little wary of doing that.... Much safer is to melt the crushed honeycomb in a microwave, in a Pyrex 4-cup measure. Then run the melted wax through some cheese cloth to get the stray bee legs, egg casing, and such out of it, and voila, clean wax, floating on a pool of honey.
Casting the Shaker peg was both pretty easy and also the most difficult component of the ordeal. Basic casting isn't rocket science. Just get casting compound, stick it around the object, let it dry, cut it off.
The hard part was keeping the original straight when I casted it, so that the wick would also stay straight, rather than veering off outside the candle, in that concave part near the top. My alignment scheme there didn’t work at all, and that has led to a problematic (though not impossible) mold. Or “mould,” as we candlemakers say. This candle was the third I attempted, using my peg mould. My first two candles were disastrous freaks. This one is better, but I’m planning to keep my day job.
Note that the peg shown on the right isn’t the one I actually casted. The one I used in the mould was one I turned myself, years ago, trying to make a replica of the real ones. (Turning wood was yet another digression that I don’t keep up with at all these days, alas.) You might tell from the grain pattern in the wax that I turned it in oak. I'll be the first to admit how much handsomer a shape the Shaker original is than my own copy. Trying to replicate an object like this was a lesson, for me, in the subtleties of design. That blue peg is quite a difficult shape to turn, and each one is slightly different. Many of them have a slight concavity, going up into the mushroom cap, which is very elegant. If you are just a teeny bit off, while turning, or your chisels aren't sharp enough, or if the wood has a flaw, you can easily break the whole thing and wind up with firewood. For me, it's painstaking work, but the Shakers spun out countless pegs like this one, lining room after room in so many Shaker houses, as if creating them wasn't any effort at all. The mind boggles. The first peg I turned took me over four hours! For one inferior peg! These wax replicas are a lot easier.
My question with the cast was whether the casting compound would stick to the wood, which I didn’t want to risk on an antique. It didn’t, so I might try casting a real peg or two next, if I can bring myself to buy more moulding compound.
What’s interesting about all this is that I actually hate doing crafty things. Trying in vain to cut straight lines, measuring, fussing around, and then winding up with some crappy object at the end just drives me crazy—especially if you can't eat it. And much as I admire them, I don’t fit in with people who do similar projects, or their culture. Pretty much 100% of the ennumerable YouTube videos I examined while researching this project were unbearable, to me. And I have a deep loathing of craft stores, with their scented candles and glitter moons and those hideous rag doll monkey kits. And I’ll confess a terror of their inhabitants, who are simultaneously profoundly alien to me, and yet are keepers of the secrets that I am so obsessively trying to discover. People who can cut straight lines, win glue-gun shootouts with Martha Stewart, knit a thousand knots without freaking out from the monotony of it—who can create things without the process turning into a soul-wrenching, psyche-consuming spiritual journey—a wallowing and excruciating examination of my loathsome self, and how inhospitable the nature of this world is, where I find myself. To me, creation is often a rejection and attempted usurpation of my surroundings. In contrast, crafts seem merely fun for these people, rather than exercises in existentialist torment. And that, I will never understand.
Hopefully, this candle obsession phase will be a short one, for me. I'm finding it something of a psychologically grueling bottomless pit, and I have a lot of real work to do, with potentially career-defining deadlines looming.
For now, though, as winter settles in, I’m glad to have this tangible reminder of my thirty thousand tiny charges, as they huddle together in their snuggly bee sphere, keeping warm, perhaps daring to dream in early anticipation of their mid-winter cleansing flight. Which wouldn't be a bad idea for any of us.