Saturday, November 14, 2009

beeswax lantern tutorial

caution: melted wax is extremely hot! please take all necessary precautions when working with hot wax. hot wax is flammable and can ignite. please do use a thermometer to gauge the temp of your wax as the balloons will pop if your wax is too hot!

these lanterns are just so stunning and they really are easy to make and absolutely magical to create! i want to share this with all of you so that you can make them, too!

i will start by telling you a little story. i recommend that you use a thermometer for your wax. however, i do not. last tuesday we made these in our class. on wednesday, i got out all the supplies and set up our station again so that those students who weren't present the day before could make one and so that i could make some for siblings attending the lantern walk.

i did not plug the crock pot in far enough in advance and the wax never did melt during our free play/ handwork time! so, i left the crock pot turned on (in a safe location) and went about our morning thinking that i would bring the student over when we had a spare moment. well, that moment did not come until a couple of hours later.

as ms joy was telling the story to the class, i checked on the wax. i dipped a leaf in. it fizzed and the leaf curled up. hmmm.....that's never happened before. i turned the crock pot off. it was a good 15 mins or so before story was over and the child and i filled up her balloon with water. i had her stand back as i did the first dip, just in case. sure enough, that wax was too hot to stick a balloon in! fortunately, it did not send wax flying, but the balloon popped and wax boiled over the sides of the pot!

i was afraid my wax would be ruined! however, i let it cool for another 20 mins and then proceeded to make lanterns just fine. i have not had this happen any other time. it is because i had it turned on for too long and the wax just got too hot. so, a thermometer can help you avoid this fate. personally, i use the leaf test. normally when i dip a leaf, there is certainly no fizz and it does not curl up. when i pull it out of the wax it takes only a few seconds to harden. you could also do this project with the double boiler method and perhaps that would eliminate this potential issue.

my crock pot after the wax boiled over!

on to the tutorial! some things to have on hand:

* a crock pot designated for beeswax (thrift store, garage sale, or freecycle are great options)
* balloons (all balloons are not created equal. blow your up and see if it gives you a nice round shape. otherwise your lantern is going to be a bit lopsided)
* water faucet
* lots and lots of beeswax (i suggest you find a beekeeper to buy from, it is much more affordable that way. my friend kelly scores ours for $3 a pound!! that is compared to the $8.49 the health food store and craft stores want!)
* pressed leaves and flowers
* hot glue gun
* a flat plate- to sit your lantern on while you are working
* sharp needle or scissors for popping the balloon
* raffia, if making lanterns

melt a pound or two of beeswax in your crock pot. it is best to use a taller pot so that you have some depth to your hot wax for dipping the balloon. it takes close to an hour in my crock pot to fully melt the wax.

blow your balloon up with air, then let it out. this makes it easier to fill it with water.
next, attach your balloon to the end of your faucet and turn on the water. you want to fill the balloon until it has a nice round shape and is the size of the lantern you wish to make.

holding the balloon by the knot, dip it into the hot wax about 3/4 of the way up the balloon. pull it out and hold it in the air for about 20-30 seconds while the wax hardens. dip it back in up to the same line you made before. do this 5 times letting it harden in between each dip.
after you have dipped it about 5 times, sit it on a plate. using both of your hands around the balloon, flatten the bottom of the lantern on the plate by pushing down and sort of wiggling it side to side. if you get down at eye level you can really watch to make sure that you are getting both the top and the bottom of the lantern pretty even.
dip the wax covered balloon about 5 more times, letting it harden in between each coat. flatten the bottom on the plate again. at this point your lantern should be pretty solid and you will want to add any decorations. if it is not to your desired thickness, continue dipping a few more times.

i used pressed leaves and flowers to decorate. it is helpful to attach them with the hot glue gun. dip the lantern in the wax once again. when you bring it out, use your finger to press down any edges of the leaves that might be sticking out. dip one last time! (you do not want to dip too many times after you have attached the leaves or they will get covered).
now for the your lantern in the sink and using your needle or scissors, pop the balloon! the balloon will pull away from the sides and you can pour the water out. at this point, i like to work the top edge of the lantern, folding over any ragged edges to give it a nice clean look (that did not happen with all of the lanterns pictured!).

if you wish to hang your lantern or to have a carrying handle, use a pencil and push through the wax about a 1/2 inch down on each side. we used raffia for our handles. tie a knot on the inside of the lantern, thread it through to the outside of the lantern and pull it over to the other side, threading it back inside the lantern and tie another knot.
we did these in class with our 3-6 year olds. obviously, much assistance is needed with this age group, but i am so glad that we made them a part of it! they were absolutely captivated by the dipping and the hardening of the wax. most of them would hold onto the balloon with us as we dipped. they loved to sit it on the plate and wrap their hands around the warm wax. the smell is absolutely divine! they got to choose their leaves (which they had collected with their families and in class). though most of them did not want to pop the balloon themselves, they LOVED watching it pop and the balloon retract inside!
we also did these with our handwork group last month. it makes for a lovely group project. several ladies worked out of the same pot, taking turns dipping and marveling at the magic happening before our eyes.

at home, we are making these for christmas gifts. the lantern pictured in the top photo does not have holes or a handle. it sits on our table and serves as our meal candle.
i hope this tute is easy to follow! do let me know if you have any additional questions. i hope you enjoy making these as much as we did!

edited to add:

* carey suggests having a bowl of cold water at the ready and going back and forth between the hot wax and the cold water, as when making candles.

* devana had a brilliant suggestion! for finishing the top and bottom- get an old pan, heat it up and just touch the bottom of the lantern on the pan for one second to flatten the bottom so it sits nice. do the same
thing with the lip on the warm flat frying pan. can't wait to try this with my next batch!

* devana also says the temp of the wax should stay between 150-160 and that the water in the balloon should be cold.

thanks gals!

edited: dec 12 *******new lantern*******

i made another lantern recently. i LOVE the way this one turned out. this time i dipped the balloon in the beeswax 20 times before adding the leaves. i used thin leaves (japenese maple) that had been pressed. i held the lantern very close to the crockpot and dipped the leaves one at a time in to the wax. as soon as the leaf came out of the wax, i applied it to the surface of the lantern and carefully smoothed out any tips that were protruding. i will admit that i torched most of my fingerprints off during my waitress days carrying hot plates. so, i do actually touch the wax at this point. this step must be done very quickly before the wax begins to harden.

i did each leaf this way and then dipped the lantern one last time, being careful not to hold it in the wax for long so as not to either melt the wax that was holding the leaves on or to make the layer of the wax on the leaves too thick.

also, this time i did not use the plate at all. i held my lantern during all 21 dips and then afterward used the warm pan on the stove to flatten the bottom and the lip. such a nice finish!

the final product is lovely. before it went on it's way to it's new (still secret) home, it sat on my desk. i fondled it often. it is so smooth and warm and the smell is intoxicating!

have you made any lanterns? thinking of trying? let me know if you do! i would love to see them. have fun!!


  1. Thank you Mama for posting this tutorial! I can't wait to try it out :D

  2. Wonderful tutorial! I didn't realize that this is how this style was made. We're going to have to try and make these! :)

  3.'ve convinced me to try again. Perhaps my wax was simply too hot for my balloons. I think the next time I do it I'll make sure to wear an apron and I'll use a crock pot outside in case we have exploding wax. Thank you for the beautiful tutorial.

  4. Beautiful! Thank you. I can't wait to try them!

  5. what a great project!!! I am in the enchanted forest swap with you and wanted to come by and say hi!

  6. oh this is awesome...i am going to try these sometime!! thank you for the tutorial for this great lantern!!

  7. Rachel!
    Hi! It's Sara (in d town!) I ended up here from Renee's blog! I'm so glad to see that you are doing well! Your children are beautiful! I am so glad that I have found you here....and I'll look forward to visiting again and again!
    lots of love,
    sara (& tom) (ras farm)

  8. Neat idea. I think I might have to give it a try this winter.

  9. That is gorgeous and looks so easy! Thanks!


  10. Love this! I've never seen a balloon used as a form. So clever! I'm going to link to this on Wee Folk Art's FaceBook. This just has so many different seasonal possibilities. Thanks for sharing.

  11. These are lovely! I can't wait to find some beeswax!

  12. This is a great idea. My husband is a beekeeper so I know where I can get ahold of some wax. Now I just need a dedicated crockpot...

  13. Absolutely beautiful. I've never seen anything like them before. My son has lots of beeswax left over from his hand dipped candles so as soon as we find some balloons we will make these. Thank you for posting the details.

  14. Fabulous! Thank you for all of the detailed tips. I think I was using goofy balloons because mine all ended up looking like saggy boobs :) What I love about working with beeswax is if you mess up, you can just toss it in the pot, melt, and start anew.

  15. I hope you don't mind. I linked your blog in an upcoming blog of mine. This idea was great! We made lanterns for our mothers and grandmothers for mother's day. thanks!

  16. Oh ... this is fantastic ... I can't wait to try! ...Thank you so much for sharing ...Pamela

  17. So great! I just posted about the lanterns we made-

    We had so much fun, thanks for the excellent tutorial.

  18. I love how the lanterns look on your window sill. Quite stylish. Thanks for the tutorial, will have to have a go at it one of these days.

  19. My daughter and I made these for holiday gifts this year. They were much loved. Thank you for posting such inspirational tutorials. We sure enjoyed this.

  20. I love these! I am looking for beeswax and I had a question. Do you buy unfiltered beeswax or filtered beeswax?

  21. These are absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing and for your lovely tutorial!

  22. OK,
    I have a question...mine looks all do you get it so smooth. I used cold water in the balloon and kept the temp 150-160. I don't know what I am doing wrong. I would love to make them as gifts but don't want to give these drippy sad looking things.

  23. We are so enjoying the beeswax candle holder we made on parents night. It smells absolutely heavenly and also reminds me of the lovely evening we had sharing lots of laughter. I just scored a used crock pot yesterday and plan to make these with my mom over the holidays. Thank you! Molly

  24. absolutely gorgeous. thanks for posting - one question though... do you then put a candle in the bottom of this? won't it melt?

  25. How much wax did it take to make one? I'm an art teacher and I'm not sure how much wax to order. We will be making about 30-35 of them.

  26. What is the Leaf Test?

  27. Hello!
    I love this idea and am interested in making some lanterns... how much beeswax do you need to fill the crockpot high enough?

  28. Do you place anything in the bottom on the inside of the lantern? i made these and the bottom became very warm and the tea light was difficult to remove as it had melted from the heat onto the bottom of the lantern.

    Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you.

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