making cold wax encaustic medium

wax-cabinet

this is the wax cabinet in my studio.  from left to right on the top – bleached food-grade microcrystalline wax in mineral spirits and/or orange solvent; unbleached microcrystalline was in mineral spirits and/or orange solvent; some unidentified concoction of microcrystalline and solvent.

on the middle shelf, a couple of empty jars, and behind them an old jar of bleached beeswax and turpentine, which i am now loathe to use; three jars of beeswax and orange oil, and my latest batch of unfiltered beeswax with orange oil.

on the bottom shelf, from top to bottom, i have what’s left of a ten point slab of beeswax in the mailing box; sitting at the edge of the mailing box to the right is a 2.5 lb chunk of unfiltered beeswax by ebert honey out in iowa ($3.75/lb).  under the mailing box is a slab of microcrystalline wax, the cheapo dark stuff, and next to it is a chunk of bleached microcrystalline wax.  under that, still in its bag, is another huge block of dark microcrystalline.

it’s so nice to have a full pantry.

Making Encaustic Medium

since i just got 5 lbs of unfiltered beeswax, i thought i’d make up a batch of encaustic medium myself.  i’d let jim do all the previous batches.  how hard could it be?  we got a used electric skillet some time ago, so i just plopped half of the block into the skillet and turned the temperature on low.  less than 200F, which was the first number on the dial.  the wax melted quickly, turning brown in the pan (because of all the debris).  i kept lifting and turning it, which was foolish, because every time i did i splashed liquid wax all over the place and had to scrape it off once it had cooled.

figuring out how much citrus solvent to use was the tricky part.  jim didn’t remember the proportions he used last time, and discovered that the proportions differed according to what kind of wax he was using.  so i did some quick figuring.  2.5 lb translates to 5 quart jars of liquid, if wax weighed what water weighs, which i have no idea.  but i figured if i put in a quart of orange oil to 5 quarts of melted beeswax, i wouldn’t be going far wrong.  i wasn’t looking to make a thin gel out of the wax and solvent, but i didn’t want it rock hard, either.

when the wax was all the way melted, i took the element out of the skillet just in case, and stirred in a quart of citrus oil.  and then i lifted the skillet and took it over to where i had jars all ready, and poured it in.  well, i dripped it in.  the hot wax wanted to go right over the side of the pan and drip down off the bottom, so i stuck the leg it was dripping off of right into the jar, and let it go.  i ended up with some wax on the paper under the jars, but it wasn’t too bad.  i filled the jars almost to the top, and when i got to the bottom of the skillet there was a whole lot of debris, so i poured all that into another jar, so i could use it deliberately on some project.  then i wiped out the skillet with a paper towel while it was still warm, and put everything away.

don’t put the lid on hot wax until it has melted unless you want a vacuum seal that won’t quit.  i waited until it was all the way cool, on jim’s advice, and it was fine.  if you leave the top on too long, tho, the solvent will begin to evaporate.

and now it’s sitting in my pantry shelf waiting to be used.

whee-ha.

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4 thoughts on “making cold wax encaustic medium

  1. Good morning Jeanne. I too have been using cold wax in my work for a number of years. Am just about to use up the last of my turpentine based paste and Ned to make a new batch. I heard on the grapevine about using citrus oil as a healthier option! And so I have come across your interesting blog.

    I have two questions:

    Your recipe is about one part citrus oil to five parts bleached wax. Will this make a clear past, almost like vaseline? I sometimes use the wax as a clear finish and be sure thst the citrus oil doesn’t ‘colour’.

    I read somewhere else that you simply leave the ingredients in a closed jar to ‘melt together’ without heating. Is this true?

    I see you have been to Cill Rialaig – one of my favourite places in Kerry. I am from Wexford on the southest coast of Ireland.

    Many thanks for you interesting posts.’

    • mary, greetings.

      i do simply leave the ingredients in a jar. there is no need to melt the wax or heat the orange oil. that would be dangerous, as either could easily go on fire under heat. the orange oil is a solvent, and will melt the wax right down. as for the proportion of wax to oil, i have mixed it so there’s very little orange oil, and it was quite stiff. and i’ve mixed it so it’s almost soupy. it’s up to you. the orange oil evaporats in the end, and you can mix it to the consistency you like to work with. i ususally get it to a buttery consistency. but the longer you leave it exposed to the air, the more orange oil evaporates, so i usually have to keep cutting more orange oil into the mix. for my encaustic painting, i fuse the wax, which drives all the orange out, making a lovely smell that is so much less toxic than turpentine or mineral spirits that i can use it indoors without the least symptoms developing. of course, you want to use ventillation, but it has never been a problem (when i first started experimenting it was with turps, which was horrible. i got sick and so did my studio mate who was in the other part of the studio at the time).
      good luck with it. can you get it in ireland??? i’m in iceland, and you can’t get it here. it might be sold as limonene, but don’t make the mistake of getting an orange cleaning fluid or anything else but 100% d-limonene orange oil solvent. those smelly orange cleaners only use 1% orange, and the rest is unknown chemicals.

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