My Winter Reading

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I haven’t been this excited for the arrival of an Amazon order in ages. I’m going to try to get loads of work done over the next couple days so that I can take the weekend to read, drink tea, and bake bread.

Hoosier Wiccan hygge, y’all.

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Review: Mighty Molds 6-inch Taper Candle Mold

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The mold and four of the candles it produces.

I do love making candles, and the process of making them certainly doesn’t require any great skill…but that doesn’t mean it is complication free. With making molded tapers — the type I make and use most frequently — there are a whole litany of annoyances. The molds can be tricky to wick if you don’t have the appropriate tool. They have a high center of gravity for the size of their base, so they can tip over with the slightest nudge. They are a pain in the neck to clean, since it’s practically impossible to scrub out all traces of leftover wax. And, of course, trace amounts of wax left in the mold means that subsequent batches are far more likely to stick in the mold than those made with new or scrupulously cleaned molds. If you attempt to get a stuck candle to release, you can end up with a marred finish, a cracked candle, or — if you’re strong and clueless enough — you can even pull a wick clean out of the candle and be forced to melt the wax out of the mold. Silicone sprays can lubricate things a bit, but thanks to the long, thin cavity, you end up with an uneven application…not to mention trace silicone on the candle. It’s also ridiculously easy to over pour the candles as you can’t see very far into them while pouring, and that usually means wax pools and drips that flake off and stick to everything.

So when I came across Mighty Molds and saw their innovative prototype design, I was intrigued. Unlike most silicone taper molds, which are basically cast individually in solid “tubes”, Mighty Molds has created a series of interlocking layers that peel entirely apart. This means it is incredibly easy to remove the finished candles and to keep the mold clean. It also eliminates the need for any mold racks, for the entire mold is self-supporting and impossible to tip over. It certainly appeared to me that this mold had the promise to make casual candle making far more consistent and enjoyable for hobbyists like myself, but I was not able to find much information on the product from users outside the company. So I contacted the Mighty Molds Team to see if they would let me review the mold, and to my delight they agreed! The mold arrived a couple weeks later.

I’m not a sucker for packaging, and normally wouldn’t make a fuss over “unboxing”, but I have to say…I was pretty pleased by the recycling-friendly packing philosophy. I suppose part of that is the nature of this particular product. After all, it is pretty hard to destroy a silicone brick in shipping. So all they needed was some air fillers to space out the box, a sheet of instructions, and a wrapping of brown paper to keep everything clean.

I was also very thankful to see that the mold arrived completely assembled. This allowed me to easily see how to position and wrap the Velcro band that “ties” all the layers of the mold together, as well as how tight to make it. After all, if you make it too loose, there’s really no point at all in even using it. Conversely, if it is too tight, the top and bottom ends will actually bow out a bit and allow wax to creep between the layers.

The mold also came with one taper cavity wicked in each layer. This proved to be invaluable later on when I went to figure out how to wick the mold…but more on that later.

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As you can see here, what makes Mighty Molds so innovative is their modular system. Silicone candle molds have been around for ages, and they’re not particularly hard to make. But most molds are all one piece. When you make a cut or a split in a mold, such as what I had to do with my spiral taper molds, you have to be very careful to fit the mold together perfectly and reinforce it very well, or the “join” will be incredibly obvious. If you do it especially poorly, the mold could even leak. Mighty Molds, however, has embraced the split and has made the fitting practically foolproof by making layers with male and female sides. As you can hopefully see in the above photo, the left end cap has raised male sections along each side of a cavity. These sections fit into corresponding female holes in the left side of the middle section. On the right side of the middle section are more male bits, which fit into the holes on the right end cap.

The especially cool part about this design is that — in theory at least — you have the potential to continue to add to your mold as your production needs (or desires) increase. You could potentially start off with just a male and female end cap, which would make 4 candles. Each “Mighty Multiplier” middle section added thereafter would allow you to make an additional four. You could also subtract Multipliers if you wanted to make fewer candles. However, for right now, Mighty Molds does not sell individual Mighty Multipliers nor does it recommend subtracting Multipliers from your mold set up. I think that perhaps the former might be because they are still standardizing their mold design, so subsequent multipliers might not exactly match up, and the latter is likely because you would need a different sized strap if you used additional or fewer Multipliers, and Mighty Molds does not currently sell additional straps.

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The hardest part of using these molds, at least for me, was getting them wicked. With a standard silicone tube mold, the wicking process requires the use of something called a “wicking needle”, which is basically just a 15-inch long needle. You thread that needle with your wicking, stick the needle in the hole at the bottom of the mold, and thread it through. It takes maybe 20 seconds, start to finish.

The Mighty Mold, however, does not have a wicking hole. Instead, a little slit is cut on the inside of the mold, and you sort of “tuck” the wicking into the slit. It’s not a hard process, but there is a bit of a learning curve and I ultimately found it a bit fiddly. In trying to figure out how I’d wick the mold, the fact that two wells came pre-wicked was a godsend. I studied the wicked mold  shown above for ages trying to sort out the best way to do it.

For my first batch, I tried to use the blunt end of a tapestry needle to tuck the wicks into the slits. It took forever since I kept either impaling the wick or having the wick roll off the tip of the needle. In my second batch, I realized I needed a wider edge. I thought about using a flat-head screwdriver as that long, flat edge would help keep the wick from rolling off the edge. However, I was worried the square edges of the screw driver would tear the mold. I also worried about the thickness of the screwdriver wedge loosening the slit over time, so I wanted as thin a “poker” as I could find. After a solid rummage through all my cupboards for something appropriately thin and “blunt-but-round”, I happened upon a set of hair clips used to temporarily hold sections of hair while you’re styling or to pin curls while they cool. I used a screwdriver to pry the top part off one of these pins and ended up with something close to my ideal “wick poker”.

This worked far better to tuck the wicks into the slot, though I still struggled to keep the wick from rolling off to one side. In the end, the process I worked out was to fold the wick over the tip of my “poker”, and sort of crease it to hold it better. Then I positioned it against the slot as best as I could and eased it in. The friction against the silicone holds the wick in place nicely, so it doesn’t pull out when you remove the poker. And I do have to say, there is something incredibly satisfying about correctly seating the wick.

The Mighty Molds are only wicked on the male sides, so there’s no risk of ending up with two wicks in a candle. Once you’ve got your wells wicked, I found it was easiest to assemble the mold by first laying the wicked male end cap flat on my surface. I then checked to make sure the wicking was laying flat in the wells (and not crossing over into the seam), then taking my Mighty Multiplier and laying the female side over the male end cap. It seamlessly locked into place, and I repeated that process with my female end cap.

The different layers hold together so well, I thought I might not even need to strap them shut…but strap them I did. Mighty Molds does say that with enough use, the Velcro strap more or less becomes permanently “kinked” at the corners of the mold, which makes placement fairly easy…but mine was new. I found that if I lined up the seam at the buckle end with a corner, however, I got perfect placement every time.

Once the mold is assembled, all that is left is to pin the wicks to center them and pour the wax. I opted to use standard-sized bobby pins for this round, entirely because I had a full package on my work table. I thought that the mold wells would be spaced too closely together for me to use them, but I found that when I set them on a diagonal, they spaced out just fine. I also found that I could definitely get the wicks plenty taut for pouring without any risk of the mold coming unwicked, which was a huge plus. I am a little worried that the wick slot won’t hold as strongly on my 50th use of the mold as it does on the 5th…but that is to be determined sometime in the future.

A very unexpected bonus of the Mighty Mold was how clean it made the pouring process.  The actual candle mold stops a good inch or so below the mold’s surface. A little “well” flares out from the candle base. I did, at first, think this was a rather silly part of the mold design since it meant that, unless you were a very precise pourer, you’d end up having to trim your candle bases.

You will have to trim your candle bases, but the beauty of these wells means that your over pour doesn’t end up pooling on your surface or dripping down the sides of your mold. It made for some of the cleanest pouring I’ve ever done. It also helped to ensure a very easy job when it came to “topping up” the molds with additional wax once the candles had begun to set and shrink up. I am a definite convert to the recessed opening.

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I did notice that heat doesn’t dissipate as quickly as it does with the individual tube molds. This makes a lot of sense as there’s a lot of candles fairly close together in the Mighty Mold, so there’s a lot greater mass of hot wax in a smaller area with it. That does slow down the “time to release”, though. With those four spiral taper molds you see of to the side in the picture above, I can safely remove the candle about a half hour or so after I pour. In the batch above, I’d actually let both sit for about 45 minutes (or one episode of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, to be precise). I did notice that the sides of the Mighty Mold were still warm, but decided to risk unmolding anyway. It isn’t terribly evident in the photo, but the candle shafts were soft enough that even though they were set, they were still pliable. Even though they easily removed, I had to be very careful to not bend the candles.

In a traditional mold, these candles would obviously not have been able to be removed. I was able to do so with the Mighty Mold, but it was a delicate process to avoid bending the candles. Therefore, I would recommend waiting until the sides of the mold were completely cool before unmolding. I generally found that the candles were cool enough to unmold after about 90 minutes, but I think two hours would make it foolproof.

One removed from the mold, the candle bottoms do need to be trimmed. I found that the easiest way to do so was to heat up the blade of a cheap, non-serrated knife and to just slice through the join. After each cut, I wiped residual wax off the blade using a paper towel, then reheated the knife before I made the next cut. In my opinion, the cut ends of the candle were neat enough that I didn’t feel it necessary to do my frying pan trick (lining a pan with aluminum foil, heating it, and running the butt end of the candle over the foil to lightly melt the wax), though doing so did make for a prettier final appearance.

There is a fair bit of “wasted” wax in the cut stubs, but it is easy to pull the extra wick out of the remaining wax stub, which made a clean job of recycling the wax for a future candlemaking session. When the stubs were larger or the wick more stubborn, it was simple enough to slice along side the wick and tug it out sideways.

I have to say, the Mighty Mold comes incredibly close to being my ideal candle mold. Nothing beats its ease of release, and it was a total dream to clean up. After each batch of candles, I could inspect each well half for residual wax. It took all of a few seconds to heat any wax spots up with a hair dryer or heat gun and use a paper towel to dab away the melted wax. When I was all finished with my batches for the day, each half cleaned right up with hot water and dish soap. I blotted them dry with paper towels (I did find that a cotton dish towel left some lint behind), then let them air dry overnight. I could not identify any remaining wax the next morning, which was a total coup.

The only major point of criticism I have for this mold was that I found them comparatively difficult to wick. Even after I had worked out the process with my hair clip “poker”, it was still a fiddly business. I timed the process when I did my third round with the mold and had “perfected” my wicking technique, and found that it took me twenty three minutes to wick eight wells. While I did have some wells wicked within 30 seconds, I struggled for several minutes on others. As I mentioned previously, I can have one of my standard molds wicked in about 20 seconds…and then I don’t have to do it again at all in subsequent batches, provided I measure out enough wicking to ensure a clean “pull through”.

At first, I thought that perhaps Mighty Molds chose not to use a hole wicking system because of how close to the edge of the mold that hole would fall. If someone were very aggressive, they could rip that wick straight through the silicone when wicking or removing. But honestly, I probably came closer to damaging the mold when trying to stab the wick into the silicone slit than I would have if threading it through a hole. I then thought that perhaps Mighty Molds was trying to avoid the customer needing a specialty wicking needle. But because these molds allow you access to the full length of the candle, there’s no need for a special wicking needle. As you can see, there’s plenty of room to poke through a regular blunt tapestry needle (available at practically every craft, yarn, or sewing store) and pull it through safely in the well.

I do think a threading hole as opposed to the slit would have also helped solve four minor issues I had:

  • I experienced minor flashing (wax escaping through the mold join) on two of my test runs. The flashing was only around the bell tip of the candle. I did notice that having the doubled over length of 2/0 wicking that I used did leave a sizeable “bump” in the silicone, and I think that bump was the likely cause of the imperfect seal.
  • Having to poke the wick into the silicone loosened the braiding of the wick, which left some fraying at the top of each candle I made, as shown above. Unfortunately, the amount of wicking that gets tucked into the slit is only about a half-inch as is…which is just about the amount you want to leave for lighting. If I’d trimmed the fray away, my candle might not have had enough wick left to light.
  • On several candles, the wick wasn’t centered in the candle at all. This was especially obvious given the bell-style tip, which naturally points your eye to a single central point. When the wick isn’t at that point, it’s easy to see.
  • The wick slit didn’t fully close around the wick in many candles, which led to some light flashing around the wick in the finished candle. That flashing did come off fairly easily with a light brushing, though.

Between the issues of wick fray, uncentered placement, and flashing around the wick, I felt that there were only about three candles in the 24 I made in my test batches that I felt were cosmetically acceptable to sell. Luckily for me, I don’t intend to go into the candlemaking business anytime soon, so that wasn’t much of a deal breaker, and the issues didn’t impact the burn much, if at all.

The only other quibble I had with this mold was in the size of the candle it makes. Mighty Molds is still working on perfecting their mold, and they’ve chosen to do their testing with a classic “household” style taper. A household taper is almost always a 6-inch long, 3/4-inch wide cylinder with a tapered “bell” top. In the days before electric lighting was common (at least in the servant’s quarters), these were candles made out of cheap waxes that could be bought in boxes of 50 or so and were intended to be used by household staff to get another 3-4 hours of light to work by at the end of the day. The shorter size meant you could get your work closer to the light more easily, and the smaller 3/4 inch diameter made it easier to wedge the candle into the holder socket without cleaning out any remaining wax from the previous use. Today, almost all taper candle holders are sized for the wider 7/8-inch diameter “dinner tapers”. We tend to clean these up after using them, which means that it will be tricky to get these smaller diameter household tapers to stay upright in a standard holder. I tend to use “taper tacky” (beeswax softened with a bit of oil) to build a foundation for these candles to sit in, but melted wax or candle adhesive would be fine, too. All of these methods work well, but are a bit annoying. I don’t think too many casual consumers of candles would want to fiddle with making this smaller size work for their candleholders.

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As the mold that Mighty Molds sent me was a review mold, they took the opportunity to beta-test a new male joiner on me. In the photo above, the low-profile male join is the new beta design, and the more raised version is the current standard design. They did ask me to let them know which I preferred.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Both models joined very well with very little effort. With the beta design, all I had to do was lightly drag the female side over the male surface, and it just sort of “tugged” itself into place. I did have to more conscientiously line up the standard design and push the female side onto the male side, but it wasn’t difficult in the least. In fact, I felt I preferred it. I’m sure it was entirely psychological, but it felt like snapping Legos together. When they were joined, I didn’t question it. But I found myself positioning and repositioning the beta side over and over again because I didn’t trust I’d made the join.

If you take a moment to look at the wells on both the beta and standard designs, you’ll see that the beta mold is situated a bit closer to the candle’s center than the standard design, which is a bit off to one side. This meant that the bell point in the beta mold was a little wider than the standard. It was just a fraction of a degree different, but that fraction made a huge difference in being able to wick the mold. It took me about half the time to wick the beta version than it did the standard version. I think it was because I had just enough field of vision on the beta to not make that poke entirely blind, so my accuracy was better.

I think that if Mighty Molds continues to use the slit method for wicking this mold, the beta version would probably be the better choice for ease of use. It does, however, make that slit even closer to the edges of the mold, which could also increase the probability of tearing. I think it would probably be a better overall choice to keep the larger male joiners and keep the well more “off center” and to just switch to a threaded wicking system.

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I certainly did enjoy all the candles I made with the molds, and I found that my test rounds with beeswax and 2/0 braided wicking created perfectly dripless candles with a nice bright, tall flame. In fact, I think I could have sized the wick down to a 3/0 for better overall performance as the flame was a bit on the big side.

I definitely recommend the Mighty Molds for anyone interested in taking up candle making. The current wick system will likely annoy anyone used to threading silicone molds, but the payoff in release and ease of cleaning is totally worth it. I think that once Mighty Molds expands their candle line into more forms than household tapers and “dragon eggs”, they’ll have an unstoppable product.

If they do ever diversify their taper line, I know that I’d certainly buy:

  • 7/8-inch diameter tapers with rounded tips. I’d probably go for one “short” size, like 6 or 8 inches, and one “long” size, like 10 or 12 inches.
  • Half-inch diameter tapers (a.k.a. skinny tapers, tiny tapers, or half-size tapers) are becoming more and more popular, and I’d love molds for them, too. In fact, I actually tried to make a mold for 7-inch long skinny tapers this summer…but it was a total failure. Almost all cracked when I went to de-mold them.
  • Spiral tapers. Everyone oohs and ahhs whenever I give them a pair of spirals, and they are a royal pain to make. Frankly, they’d be a stellar application for the Mighty Mold system since they practically require a split mold anyway.
  • “Chime candles”. I have been in the market for a mold for these 4-inch tall, 1/2-inch wide jobs for ages. No one seems to offer them (likely because you can buy five of those candles for a dollar), but I’d still love to make my own.

A girl can dream, right?

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UPDATE (1/7/19): Mighty Molds re-worked their wicking system after I initially published this review, and they have subsequently released a new, threaded wicking system with their molds. I hereby dub them the best candle molds in all the land! Looks like I better start saving for their line expansion!

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I stole this image from Mighty Molds’ Facebook…I don’t think they’ll mind. 🙂

Review: Crafted Artisan Meadery’s “Planet of the Grapes”

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Crafted’s label for their Planet of the Grapes mead.

I have a tendency to hoard bottles of Crafted Artisan Meadery‘s creations. Sometimes they end up as a ritual offering…but sometimes I break into the stash to cheer myself up on an otherwise boring, mundane day. I recently had a weekend that needed to be spent doing all sorts of pushed-back projects and deep cleaning that have to wait until a school break, and I was not very happy. So I decided to pair my mundane domestic duties with the mead that embodies the American everyday: a peanut butter and jelly mead.

I’m not going to lie…this was not a mead that I thought I would care for. I was the weird child that detested peanut butter, and even today it’s not something I voluntarily eat. I’ve also had more than my fair share of Concord grape wine, since they’re practically the only grapes that grow in Pennsylvania, where my family is from. Trading bottles of homemade Concord grape or elderberry wine at Christmas is a time-honored tradition in that region…as is giving them to the kids to drink. Today, I quite find the stuff too sweet and syrupy to swallow.

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Doesn’t that look pretty? I can’t take credit for the picture…I found it on the Internet. Alas, I drank all mine before I thought to snap a picture or twelve.

Well, I perhaps may enjoy peanut butter and jelly more than I thought, for I downed the entire bottle in alarmingly short order. Syrupy this mead is not. It had a medium body, but retained a nice, sharp crispness that was only enhanced by the light carbonation Crafted has in all their session meads. The nose is intensely peanutty with some background traces of plummy fruits and florals, but the first sip presents as a solid floral mead that yields softly to classic grape jelly with notes of bread. The lingering taste is solidly honey, butter, grape jelly, and peanut. I’ve not eaten many PB & Js in my day, but the taste is close to what I remember, if slanted more to the J. In fact, it reminded me (pleasantly) of jelly toast made in my childhood with jelly someone had “contaminated” with peanut butter…just a nice, solid “hit” of peanut without it becoming overwhelming.

Overall, I found it to be incredibly drinkable, with high marks on the nostalgia factor. And with a 6.00% ABV, it certainly made my day of domestic chores far more bearable (and interesting!). And it looks like I can enjoy it whenever I want! While “Planet of the Grapes” began life as a limited release flavor, it — like my beloved “Bananas Foster Forever” — has subsequently become popular enough to be promoted to Crafted’s year-round session line up.

Candlemaking Basics

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I made these, yo. And as festive as these look, anyone who’s ever received a gift from me knows that I hate fussing with gift wrap, so practically all my gifts are given with baker’s twine and brown paper.

Yesterday I cranked through a few batches of bayberry/beeswax candles with the intent to give them as holiday gifts to my friends. In the process of posting a few pictures to Facebook, I realized that aside from a couple posts on re-filling 7-day candle jars, I’d kept my secret life as a chandler hidden from this site. That struck me as a bit ridiculous seeing as the only reason I took up candle-making was because of the sheer number I use in my pagan practices. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my process for making beeswax taper candles, which account for the majority of candles I use in my practice.

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Assembled supplies. Not pictured: a mold rack, because these molds are fairly short (8 inches), so they’re unlikely to bend. They’re still prone to tipping over, though, so they require a steady hand and no pets or small children running about.

I don’t like to make hand-dipped beeswax tapers, which — in order to produce candles that don’t look like syphilitic phalli — requires fiddly equipment, a ton of wax, and hours standing over a hot stove carefully monitoring wax temperature. Instead, I use silicone taper molds. In order to take this route, I use the following items:

  • Silicone taper molds (7.5″ spirals here)
  • Rubber bands for molds (if needed for mold)
  • Wicking needle
  • Candle wicking (square braided cotton for beeswax)
  • Scissors
  • Bobby pins or T-pins for holding the wick
  • Wax
  • Wax dye or dye chips (optional, and not used here)
  • Scale
  • Pouring pot
  • Thermometer (not pictured)
  • A 4-6 quart saucepan or dutch oven (not pictured)
  • White vinegar (not pictured)
  • Paper towels (not pictured)
  • Surface protection (You will drip some wax, and this makes clean-up a breeze. I usually use old newspapers to cover my table…but I didn’t have any. So here I used a sheet pan and aluminum foil.)
  • Tape measure (not pictured)
  • Mold release spray (not used here…I find I don’t really need it if I make sure to wash my molds properly after several batches of candles)

I really should have busted out a taper mold holder for this project. Being long and skinny, taper molds can bend, which means the final candle will be a little curved. Mold holders help keep the molds straight. They also are excellent to help keep the molds from tipping over. However, this particular candle mold is fairly short at 7.5 inches, and they are all pretty new and still quite rigid. I also have a really steady pouring hand, so I decided not to bother unpacking the mold holder for this project.

You start by preparing your wax to melt, as it will take at least a half hour for it to completely melt and rise to pouring temperature. To begin this, you *should* first calculate how much wax you’ll need for the project. These particular molds require 1.4 ounces of wax for each finished candle. If I wanted to make 12 candles, I would therefore need 16.8 ounces of wax. I would probably actually put in 1 pound 7/8 ounces to make my life slightly easier and to account for an over pour or spill. (That wax wouldn’t get lost…I would just wait until it cooled, scrape it off, and pop it back in the melting pot.)

Once you’ve measured your wax and popped it into the pouring pot, you’re ready to set up your double-boiler. It’s not hard. You just fill up a 4 to 6 quart pot a fair way with cold water, throw in a splash of vinegar (to help keep hard water deposits from precipitating out as water evaporates), and rest your pouring pot inside. If you leave the handle of the pouring pot outside the heating pot, as I have shown, it will stay much cooler for pouring.

You *should* also clip a thermometer to the inside of your pouring pot so that you can monitor the temperature of the melting wax. In general, beeswax should be poured between 145°F/63°C and 185°F/85°C. I tend to prefer the higher end of the spectrum for the silicone molds. If I am to be honest, though, I usually skip taking the temperature when making tapers with silicone molds as 1) the candles are small enough and the silicone insulating enough that they’re really forgiving and 2) I’ve gotten quite good at recognizing when the wax is where I want it with visual cues.

It may be tempting to skip using the double boiler and to just heat wax directly on your stove. Please don’t. If you’re not closely monitoring the wax, it could overheat. The aerosolized wax can easily catch fire. Don’t believe me? Blow out a candle, then put a lit match a few inches above the wick. The aerosolizing wax still rising from the candle will ignite and travel back down to the wick, “magically” relighting it. Picture that process with your kitchen cabinets and save yourself a few thousand dollars by using the double boiler. The double boiler also means you can save energy between pours. You can turn off the heat when you’ve poured a batch, for the water in the boiler will keep the wax hot enough that even an hour later, you’ll only need a couple minutes of active heating (rather than the initial half hour) to get your wax back up to pouring temperature.

I’ll admit that the double boiler method isn’t without its drawbacks. It is a pain in the neck to clean the pot afterwards. Even with glugs of vinegar, the water spots are a nightmare. The pouring pot also “floats” a bit unless there’s a ton of wax in the pot, which means it could tip. And, of course, the handle will get hot, even when left outside the pot. I may look into getting a Presto Multicooker in the future. Lots of candlemakers use them to directly melt wax, and they are a good bit safer than the stovetop, because you can set a ball-park temperature. There’s no worrying about igniting wax that way. When using a multicooker, you melt the wax in the cooker, then pour it into a pouring pot. Others just put the pouring pot directly into the cooker. Couldn’t be simpler.

While your wax is melting, you wick your molds. As you can see, there’s a small hole in the middle of the mold’s bottom. This will be the top of the finished candle, and will be where the wick emerges from. If you have a wicking needle, getting the wick through this hole and up the long taper tube is a piece of cake. Thread the eye of the needle with your wicking, then stick the point of the needle into the small hold. Turn the mold so that you are looking straight down the “pour end”, then push the needle up through the mold. Watch carefully as you go so that you don’t start pushing at a diagonal and pierce the side of the mold, which would ruin it. (You will totally feel like you’re going to poke your eye out. You won’t. Your eye is probably a good foot or so away from the opening, and the needle isn’t that long. But feel free to wear protective goggles if it makes you feel better.) When a few inches of needle emerges from the pour end, grab it and pull the rest of the needle and the wicking through.

Wicking needles can’t be found at the local craft store, so you do have to remember to add one to your order when you order your molds. If you’ve forgotten, you can take a length of thin, flexible wire like a nylon-coated beading wire or a small guitar string (not one with the coils…one of the little ones), fold it in half, poke it through the wick hole, and push it through to the pour end. Then thread that loop with your wick, and pull it back through the hole. (A bit like using a needle threader to thread a sewing needle.) If you do this, you’ll have to feed a whole lot of wicking through the mold to make it self-wicking for the rest of your project. It’s not a huge deal, but you may end up with a bit of cotton lint in the tip of your first candle if you do that.

If you know you’re going to be making several batches with the same mold, add an inch or two to the length of the mold and multiply that number out by the number of batches you want to make. Measure out the appropriate amount of wicking, and cut your wick there. If you leave this long tail, you’ll only have to thread your mold once, for as you pull out a finished candle, the wicking will feed through automatically. This particular mold is 8 inches long, and I leave a 2 inch “tail” at the pour end, which usually gives me enough to grip when I go to pull the candle after it has set. So after I threaded this mold for round 1, I measured 31 inches of wicking (10 x 3 plus a little wiggle room) for the next three batches and cut my wicking there before I went to wick the next mold.

This particular mold is for a spiral taper, which would be quite hard to pull straight out of the mold, so the top half of it is split. Once I’ve threaded the mold, I pull apart the split to check for any debris or trapped wax, then carefully re-align the split to make it as invisible as possible. I then pop a few rubber bands down the length. As your mold ages, you’ll need to use more rubber bands to hold it together, but it will still be good to go for thousands of candles. Once I’ve banded my mold, I pull the wick taut, clamp a bobby pin over it, check that it’s center…and then I’m good to pour the wax.

Alas, I could not take any pictures while I was pouring wax as that’s a two-handed job. What you want, though, is to pour a thin stream down your wick in a sort of medium-slow, steady rate. I think it takes me like 15 or 20 seconds to fill a mold. I think I get better burns if I pour down the wick. My philosophy is that it helps to force air out of the wick, and if you pour slowly enough, you’ll avoid the air in the wick being forced into the candle in bubbles. It’s a bit like a cheater’s pickle. (Oh! “Pickling your wick” is the practice of soaking your wick in wax before you thread a mold. I don’t like to pickle for silicone molds.) Most bubbles in wax, though are from aggressively stirring your wax and from pouring to fast, so I may be entirely off the mark with my whole “pour down the wick” practice. I like it though, and it helps me pour more slowly and more neatly.

After that, you wait a few minutes until the wax starts to get opaque and contract at the top. You’ll also likely see a sinkhole or two. Your candle is not finished! Right under that surface cap, it’s still liquid or at least jelly-like but to have a nicer bottom to your candle, you add a few more drops of wax to even things out. Once that’s done, let the candles sit for at least a half-hour. Frankly, I prefer to let them zone out for an hour or 90 minutes.

Once they’ve set up, you’re ready to de-mold. If I was making a straight taper candle, I’d simply just pull up on the wick, firmly and slowly, until the candle slid out. With these spirals, I do have to split the mold a few inches before I pull, and I need to release the wick once or twice during pulling, because the spiral “spins” out of the mold, a bit like a drill bit. Once the candle is out, I snip the wick flush to the candle bottom and leave a 1/2-inch wick at the top and let them rest in a safe place at room temperature for a day or so. I wouldn’t light the candle for at least 24 hours (1 week if I was making a pillar or container candle) as the wax is still settling out and “curing”. But for all intents and purposes, you’re done at this point.

The bottoms of my candles are usually a bit ragged as I tend to not leave any space at the pour end of my molds, so when I’m gifting candles, I usually smooth out the bottoms. It’s easy enough to do with a fry pan covered in foil. Heat the pan until it’s just about at the point where you’d start to fry an egg, then turn off the heat. Hold a candle as straight as you can, and lightly rub the base in circles over the center of the pan. Don’t press down too much, as you can seriously lose a lot of wax in this process. Repeat for all the candles, mopping out wax with paper towels and reheating the pan as necessary, then discard the foil. I may someday invest in a candle base former…but I think this works for me now.

Need to see a video in order to visualize? Here’s one from a lovely lady who makes competition-level candles.

Review: Crafted Artisan Meadery’s “Bananas Foster Forever”

Bananas Foster Forever

Crafted’s label for their Bananas Foster Forever mead.

The Midwest certainly has its fair share of meaderies. I’m terribly fond of my most local one–New Day Craft down in Indianapolis–but my absolute favorite is Mogadore, Ohio’s Crafted Artisan Meadery. About an hour south of Cleveland (two and a half north west of Pittsburgh), a visit to Crafted would be an easy detour for anyone interested in visiting the Buckland Gallery of Witchcraft and Magick. And it would be well worth it if you want to try mead created by a master in the most creative flavors imaginable.

One of those fantastically imaginative brews is their Bananas Foster Forever, clearly inspired by the dessert Bananas Foster, which takes bananas and vanilla ice cream, drenches them in a sauce of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liquer, then sets it all on fire. It is a dramatic dessert, and Crafted’s description of their mead is no less dramatic:

It is said that once, long before the Birds and the Bees, there was the Banana and the Bee. The rowdy Banana came from the wrong side of the tracks, so it was instantly a scandalous relationship. Things were hot for a while, practically a flambé. Their love didn’t last long, though, as it was steeped in good times and a heavy dose of a certain Caribbean libation. After the flames settled settled they decided it would be best to stay BFF’s.

And oh my goodness is this session mead good. It is a bright gold in the glass, pours fizzy, and retains some light carbonation after the pour. It doesn’t whack you over the head with banana, though the scent is there. It’s strongly tempered with vanilla and molasses, with coffee and cinnamon lingering.

But when you drink it, well…my first impression was of eating a banana split. That first swallow is very much ‘fruit’ and maraschino with a background of vanilla, butterscotch, and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. But when you swallow it transforms into banana, rum, and coffee and finishes with aftertaste of buttered toast. It is surprisingly amazing, and very drinkable without feeling like you’ve become a diabetic afterwards. Is it going to charm the pants off of an oenophile? No. Is it damn delicious? Hell yeah.

Most of Crafted’s creative mead are limited brews, and when I had my first bottle of Bananas Foster Forever, I actually mourned the fact that it would soon leave my life. But then I heard that it won the silver medal in the 2017 Mazer Cup International Mead Competition for sweet session meads, and it got promoted to being a year-round offering. So that means I can enjoy this brew for at least a few years to come. Huzzah!

Another 180-Degree Tarot Deck

Well here’s another tarot offering I didn’t even know I’d missed! Thanks for making me aware of it, valiant readers!

Lo Scarabeo is again the publisher behind this novel deck, the Vice-Versa Tarot. Created by Massimiliano Filadoro and Davide Corsi, this deck was published just last year. Unlike every single tarot deck I have ever seen, there is no back to these Rider Waite Smith-inspired cards. Instead, one side shows a scene similar to the standard Rider Waite Smith image while the reverse shows the opposite direction, a bit like the Tarot of the New Vision.

Having a hard time visualizing? Check out these fronts and backs of the Magician, the Moon, and the Queen of Pentacles:

Aesthetically, I can’t say this deck quite does it for me as I’m not a huge fan of the photo-realistic types. But every image I have seen is undeniably gorgeous, and I cannot get over how cool the “front and back” style is. I’d love to try it for a few experimental readings at least.

360-degree Tarot

I’ve been reading tarot exclusively with the Robin Wood deck for several years now, so I felt no guilt when in a fit of “life-changing magic of tidying” I thanked all my other decks for their service to me and found them new homes.

I am slightly regretting that decision today, for I have discovered that tarot publisher Lo Scarabeo has recently completed a trio of decks that nicely augment the typical Rider Waite Smith deck. Which I of course owned for 15 years and barely used. *Sigh*.

First came the Tarot of the New Vision in 2003. Designed by Gianluca Cestaro and Pietro Alligo, these cards place you right behind the familiar Rider Waite Smith images so that you can see the back of the figures and everything they can see. As such, it is sometimes described as a “180-degree tarot deck”.

I first saw this deck used in a New Year’s reading to chart out what 2017 would hold. The reader used the standard Rider Waite Smith deck for one row of the layout and the New Vision deck for the second row to provide a “new perspective”. My mind was blown first by using two decks in the same spread, but then by the added interpretations New Vision brought to the mix. I definitely coveted this deck.

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Images from “Tarot of the New Vision”

Unbeknownst to me until today, Lo Scarabeo published another deck, the After Tarot, in 2016. The brain-child of Pietro Alligo, Corrine Kenner, and Giulia F. Massaglia, this deck posits that the Rider Waite Smith images are “posed snapshots”. After Tarot is more like the candid snap of the Rider Waite Smith scene taken a few seconds afterwards. It is really cool, for example, to see the Fool dangling off the cliff we all knew he was going to walk off of.

Well, apparently After Tarot was so popular that Pietro Alligo and Corrine Kenner teamed up again and were joined by Floreana Nativo and Simona Rossi Eon to create Before Tarot. Much like After, Before shows the scene on the Rider Waite Smith card seconds before they assumed their pose. The first deck was published in March of this year, and a full “kit” was released at the start of this month.

Now, I have no idea how I would use either of these decks in a reading, but how cool would they be to augment tarot studies? Someone on a tarot forum has already made a study layout for the magician. I’ve copied it below, and I have to say…it would be awesome to see these for all the cards. I’m half tempted to acquire the decks and do it myself…but what would Marie Kondo say?

Tarot Quartet