The name derives from the Greek 'candela', meaning flicker, so it's apt that we start the film with the story of Icarus, the boy who flew from a Greek prison on wings held together with beeswax ... you know the rest.
For many centuries, candles have been made from animal fat called tallow. But tallow is smelly, and people soon found that candles made from beeswax were far nicer. However, beeswax comes from honeycombs, which take the bees a long time to make. This makes it expensive - so in the old days only the Church and a wealthy few could afford candles made from beeswax.
Even today beeswax is considered costly, which is why we make most of our candles with wax derived from oil. But bees are far more interesting than the pipes and valves of an oil refinery, so our cameras pay a visit to the local beekeeper, and take a look at his waxy hives.
The bee-keeper proudly shows off his Queen, an egg-laying machine whom he marks out with a spot of paint. Thousands of workers, all of them the Queen's children, are seen fussing about their mother, preparing and maintaining the wax honeycomb for her eggs and the bee larvae that will emerge from them. Honey is regurgitated nectar which the bees use to feed their young. But it's the honeycomb that we are interested in, made entirely from wax, and secreted by special glands in the worker bees' bodies.
The film then takes us to an historic waxworks to see blocks of beeswax being melted down for cleaning. This is done with the help of steam, gravity, and filter cloths. As one of the factory's bald-headed operatives wanders into shot, the wicked narrator cannot resist mentioning some of the other uses for wax ... such as hair removal!
At the candle factory we are shown the two main methods of production. The first is a mechanized version of dipping: an almost endless length of wick passes repeatedly under waterfalls of wax, building up the coating with each pass. The second method is simple pot filling - easy, and one that an adult could experiment with at home - maybe even with beeswax!
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This film is also available on the DVD:
'The Magic of Making - Volume 1'.