Dop wax is a mainstay for lapidaries, who use it to attach smaller stones to sticks for creating smaller cabochons. Commercial waxes can be expensive, and they may not meet your needs exactly. If you’re not into alternatives, you may want to experiment on your own.
So, let’s get into it and I’ll show you how to make your own dop wax at home!
Required Ingredients for Dop Wax
Dopping wax is made to be hard at room temperature but soft enough to work if you raise temperatures a bit. It’s usually made with a shellac base and sealing wax, most often with an additive or two.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Shellac flakes/powder
- Beeswax or sealing wax
- Pot or commercial dop pot
- Stirring stick
- Heat source
- Wax molds
The basic idea here is that you need waxy materials and a thickening agent.
The ideal dop wax is hard enough to break cleanly off your workpiece at colder temperatures while being an easy-to-work liquid at higher temperatures.
Dopping wax is cheap enough that you probably have something specific in mind when you’re trying to make your own. To that end, there are a few additives I’ve seen used. For instance, hot glue makes the dopping wax a bit stickier, while adding powdered limonite will make it thicker.
You’ll most likely have to experiment a bit with your wax to get exactly what you need.
For the rest of these instructions, we’re going to use the simplest available dop wax recipe. You just need shellac flakes (or powder) and sealing wax or beeswax. We’ll also advise on common additives if you’re looking to make something more specialized.
1. Melt the Ingredients in a Pot
A dopping pot is ideal for making your wax since you know it won’t overheat. It may not allow you to make as much wax as you’re hoping for, in which case you’ll need to get a bit creative.
If you’re careful about the heat you can also use a pot or pan on the stove.
Pick a pot or pan that you don’t really care for, as getting all of the wax removed is going to be a chore when you’re done.
You can also use something smaller, like a camping cup or canteen bottom. Just make sure that the material will stand up to the heat produced by a stove or alcohol lamp.
Measure out your wax and shellac so that you’re adding 1:1 portions by volume.
I recommend adding the ingredient with the highest melting point first. If you’re using hot glue, throw it in the pot before the other ingredients. For most of us, the first thing to add to the pot is going to be shellac.
If you’re using superglue then start with ½ part, you can add more in the next step.
Use as low of heat as you can get away with. If you overheat the wax it can cause it to lose its holding properties due to the thermal breakdown of the ingredients.
After the shellac is melted, add the wax and stir it into the shellac. You should end up with a melted wax with an even consistency after you’ve melted it all.
At this point, you can either skip the next step or begin with additives.
3. Melt in Additives (Optional)
If you’re choosing to use a thickening agent, then you should sprinkle it into the molten wax.
Powdered limonite is the preferred thickening agent. Or at least, it’s what ends up being used in the majority of commercial waxes.
Others have had success with a wide variety of different ingredients, even brick dust seems to do the trick.
Sprinkle a small amount and then mix it into the wax with the stirring stick. Ideally, you should have a very similar heat to your dop pot at this point.
Sprinkle it in and use the stirring stick to test the thickness. Keep adding your thickening agent until you’re satisfied with the consistency.
You can also add more hot glue at this stage if you’re looking to create a stickier wax.
Hot Tip: If you slowly heat a stone you can test the dop wax before you let the whole pot cool off the first time. You can place it on a pan or other heat source, it should be a similar temperature to the wax just like normal dopping. Test it on the stone while keeping the rest hot and make sure it fits your needs. I recommend using agate or jasper due to their durability.
4. Pour in Molds
If you’ve created a batch that you intend to melt in a dop pot later, you can now pour your wax into some sort of mold.
My preference is for molds that make a round, coin-like shape since the broad surface makes it easier to crack the wax into segments. You can use whatever shape you like, there are even molds to make rods like the ones you purchase commercially.
Your wax will be fine in most silicone molds, whether they’re for chocolate, wax, or polymer clay. From there you can pull it out in whatever quantity you need to melt and use for dopping!
5. Adjusting Formulas
Going down the custom wax route allows you to create a wax that’s suited specifically for your work.
To further adjust your wax you can simply melt it back down in a pot and put in the additives you want. The following are some common ways to solve problems:
- Wax Too Thin- Use a thickener like limonite or silica dust to make the wax thicker.
- Not Sticky Enough- Hot glue is often used when the wax has trouble gripping the stone.
- Melt Temperature is Too High- Add more sealing wax or beeswax, depending on your original formulation.
- Melt Temperature is Too Low- Add more shellac to make the wax melt at a higher temperature.
I recommend recording the ingredients so you know exactly how to remake your wax but it’s often not necessary. The only real way for dopping wax to become unfixable is if you hit too high of temperatures, any other problems can be fixed by modifying the formula.