© Copyright 2021 Uulannii-Lee Pettiford, Ryerson University.
I never had many thoughts about wax until I bought myself a tube of it some time ago in the fall. My partner had gone back home to Amman, Jordan to work on a film with her mother, and during the time that we weren’t together, I made her a gift. I carved her a wax ring to be cast in silver.
Wax carving artists use microcrystalline wax. It is categorized as a petroleum wax; its most common use is to make candles. It is made with crude oil which is refined by having the oil extracted from it, leaving behind wax which is then set into a solid form. It is favoured by carvers over other types of waxes such as paraffin, because of its ability to bend without breaking. It is considered far better to work with, less rigid, and more forgiving.
Carving wax is sold in a variety of shapes such as tubes, blocks, and slices. The large selection of forms gives the carver options of how they can approach a project. The consistencies amongst the variety are that tubes always have a perfectly smooth outer surface, while the blocks and slices are rough to the touch. This is because of how it is made; a very large block is cast and then cut into smaller sections, and then those sections into blocks and slices. This is why the surface of the wax feels as though it is rutted.
Fig. 1 depicts a variety of wax tubes, which are used for creating rings. Specifically, these are Ferris brand made, which are today’s most mass-produced carving waxes. They come in three colours; green, purple, and blue. The wax’s colour corresponds to its grade of flexibility. They specify accordingly:
– Purple wax (left tube), is considered an all-purpose wax because of its medium-range of flexibility. Its melting point is 225°F.
– Blue wax (centre tube), is the most suitable wax for projects that require malleability. It is the most flexible of all the waxes and has a melting point of 220°F.
– Green wax (right tube), is the least flexible of the three. It allows a clean cut because of its firmness. This wax is preferred by carvers who want to execute very minute details within their work. Its melting point is 230°F.
In creating that first ring for my partner, I experienced how natural it felt to work with this medium – and so, I began to hone my craft of silver jewelry design. I work exclusively with blue wax as I appreciate its willingness to change shape. I use steel files to work away from the material with purposeful strokes. Coarse files are used to remove more wax with less effort, while finer files smooth out the uneven marks that the coarser cut’s teeth leave behind. The removed wax falls away from the piece as though it were blue snow, and over time, leaves me with my final piece.
The pieces that I am able to produce from this seemingly rudimentary material are organic in their design aesthetic, yet as intentional as the wax of a honeycomb.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.
Contenti. “Matt Round Carving Wax Tubes.” Contenti Jewelry Making Supplies, 2019, contenti.com/matt-round-carving-wax-tubes.