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A recipe for sealing wax

Ever tried using sealing wax and wound up with a sticky, nasty mess that ruined your envelope and stuck so tightly to the seal that you couldn't've gotten it out with a jackhammer?

We all have. There are a few tricks to using sealing wax that we're not told these days. Perhaps the manufacturers expect us to know automatically; more likely, since the art was practically lost, they don't know themselves how properly to use sealing wax and seals.

While the candle-style sealing waxes are popular, I haven't had much luck with them. I suspect they melt too hot. (See last paragraph of recipe below.) Some waxes are sold in pellet form, or you can carve chips off your sealing-wax candle and try it this way:

—Melt wax in a metal spoon over a flame.

—Drip the wax from the spoon over the spot you wish to seal.

—Wait 15 seconds. While waiting, lightly oil or moisten your seal (it's fun to do this with rubber-stamp ink or paint, especially metallic ones—gives a nice outline and contrast to the seal).

—Press the seal into the wax and wait another 30 seconds, then remove.

If all the stars are in the right alignment, your biorhythms are in sync, and you remembered to feed the fish this morning, it may work perfectly. And... it may not.

Some people have taken to using colored hot-glue sticks to circumvent the issue; others are dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists. Frankly, I wonder why self-gluing envelopes weren't invented l-o-n-g before they were.

Another possibility is to make your own sealing wax. I cut this (very old) recipe down to a reasonable size and came up with a softer, more usable wax:

Take 4 pounds of shellac, 1 pound of Venice turpentine and 3 pounds of vermilion.

Melt the lac in a copper pan suspended over a clear charcoal fire, then add the turpentine slowly to it, and soon afterwards add the vermilion, stirring briskly all the time with a rod in either hand.

In forming the round sticks of sealing wax, a certain portion of the mass should be weighed while it is ductile, divided into the desired number of pieces, and then rolled out upon a warm marble slab by means of a smooth wooden block like that used by apothecaries for rolling a mass of pills.

Oval and square sticks of sealing wax are cast in molds, with the above compound, in a state of fusion. The marks of the lines of junction of the mold box may be afterwards removed by holding the sticks over a clear fire, or passing them over a blue gas flame.

Marbled sealing wax is made by mixing two, three or more colored kinds together while they are in a semifluid state. From the viscidity of the several portions their incorporation is left incomplete, so as to produce the appearance of marbling. . . .

Wax may be scented by introducing a little essential oil . . . or other perfume. If 1 part of balsam of Peru be melted along with 99 parts of the sealing-wax composition, an agreeable fragrance will be exhaled in the act of sealing with it.

Either lampblack or ivory black serves for the coloring matter of black wax.

Sealing wax is often adulterated with rosin, in which case it runs into thin drops at the flame of a candle. Turpentine and rosin must be heated before entering the shellac. If this rule is inverted, as is often the case, the shellac sticks to the bottom and burns partly.

Obviously, if you try this, do it in a well-ventilated area with adult supervision—no matter how old you are.

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