Emily Hand and Joan Wiebe are in a win-win situation. Emily is apprenticing to take over the beeswax candle business that her husband’s grandmother, Joan Wiebe, spent 10 years building in Rosthern, Saskatchewan.
“When I started, I was determined to leave as small a footprint as I could,” Joan says. “I’m an ardent recycler, and no scrap of wax is thrown out. Even when I shave off the bottoms of candles to level them, every shaving is collected and remelted.”
As her enterprise, Joan’s Beeswax Candles, grew, Joan continued to develop environmentally friendly strategies, including wrapping her beeswax tapers in recycled dress pattern tissue (with printed side away from the wax.)
Even her equipment is made from recycled material. Her son Bentley, a boilermaker, built her a boiler for melting the big, 27-to 28-pound chunks of beeswax.
The melted wax is strained into yet another innovative apparatus, an old-fashioned milk filter, through a non-gauze filter. (Joan used to use Pellon interfacing spread over a frame her husband Harold made from coat hangers.)
“Harold has been my biggest inspiration,” she says. “Whenever I asked him to help with a time-consuming job, he would go out to his workshop and make a handy tool or jig to make the job quick and easy.”
One such tool was a taper carousel that allowed Joan to dip and hang 64 beeswax tapers at a time with ease.
“I’ve probably done 6,000 to 8,000 pairs of tapers on the carousel in the last five years,” she says. “It involves 27 consecutive dippings.”
Pillar candles are made with both commercial and homemade moulds.
“It took me a long time to educate the Saskatchewan Craft Council about the fact that you can’t just pour wax into a container and get a good candle,” says Wiebe, who is a juried member of the council. “You can buy the best moulds and still get a shoddy candle. There’s more to it than anyone would imagine.”
Joan discovered the secret of making superior candles through trial and error. She says wax quality is all important.
“The wax should be clean, light coloured and smell like honey. If it’s been in water, or is too old, it smells fermented — like mead. Bad wax can get to a point where it just plain stinks.”
Proper rendering is another factor, as well as correct processing temperature and the type of wicking used. That varies according to the type, shape and size of the candle.
“If the processing temperature is too cool, you get lines in the candle. If it’s too hot, it ends up looking like the fizzy part of a soft drink, full of bubbles.”
The candle business has been very successful for Joan, who makes and sells between 8,000 and 10,000 candles a year.
“It’s been a wonderful journey,” she says, “but going to sales and trade shows was just getting too demanding.”
That’s when Emily, and Joan’s grandson Terrance, came up with a plan that suited everyone.
“Joan wanted someone to carry on the business,” Emily says, “and being entrepreneurs, Terrance and I looked at the numbers and said: Why not take over something that’s already established? It’s a lot easier than starting from scratch. Joan’s product has a very good reputation, and there are invitations all the time to be at artisan sales from Vancouver to Toronto. Joan kept it small, but we have the potential to grow the business and put a young person spin on it.”
For more information, visit www.joans-beeswax-candles.com.
Darlene Polachic writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan