Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Great Crayon Recycling Experiment

A few months ago--or was it a year?--I bought one of those giant 128-color crayon packs from Piedmont Stationers (may she rest in peace). Those boxes-full of crayons that I'd carefully sorted by color hours after bringing them home have since been lovingly (and not so lovingly) used, dumped all over the floor, re-sorted, relocated to a gallon plastic bag for storage after their cardboard boxes self-destructed, dumped all over the floor, shaken out of holes that appeared in the increasingly cloudy and crumpled plastic bag, dumped all over the floor, stepped on, peeled of their informative and protective paper sheaths, found in random nooks and crannies all over the house and car, and, finally, dumped all over the floor and stepped on once more for old times' sake. Amazingly, a few nearly-whole crayons remain, but they and their half-size and one-third-size counterparts now fit in a mere quart-sized plastic bag, along with many many crayon crumbs and fragments occupying the interstices. Sick of cleaning up the motes every time the bag is dumped all over the floor, yet not wanting to throw them away (Grandma would be proud), I finally decided to do something about them.

First, we preheated the oven to 350F as instructed here. Next, we sorted the fragments by color. Finally, it was time to decide what to use for a mold. My daughter wanted a heart-shaped crayon, and she was in luck as I found just such a cookie-cutter in the mystical drawer of random baking gadgets. We found an eighth-note cutter as well, and decided it'd be a good idea to put some foil around the bottoms of these to contain any leaks (little did I know that melted wax is much soupier than I'd thought). There were so many waxy bits left after doing this that I had to come up with another shape--and what better than a chunky crayon for the under-2 set? So, I used the handle of my whisk as a form for aluminum foil crayon molds. I tore off about 8" of foil, folded it in half to make a thick strip 4" wide, flattened this out on the countertop and rolled the whisk handle around it, tearing off about 5" of the remainder to crumple around the base and make a stand. Then I carefully pushed the top edge of the foil tube down while turning the whisk until it came off. I ended up making lots and lots of these, as they filled up faster than I expected. Then again, we didn't exactly try to pare down the size of the fragments anymore than they had already naturally been, which was possibly a problem.

At any rate, we turned off the oven, stuck the tray in, and waited. After a few minutes they started to melt. So far, so good.

And then they really melted--and oozed out of my haphazardly-rolled and -crumpled aluminum molds and cookie-cutter bottoms into faintly shimmering pools of azure and orange wax. Never mind that, though--we just waited for the wax to cool, broke the amorphous blobs into tiny shards, and filled some more aluminum tubes with them. When the tubes had all cooled for a few minutes--some in the freezer, some on the countertop--each was ready to be peeled away to reveal the magical funnely dwarf crayon inside. Yes, as you can see in the photo at the top, the tube crayons were all short and squatty and had these weird deep funnels in them, which seem to have been caused by the wax climbing the walls of the tubes as it cooled. This happened whether they cooled in the freezer or out, or whether I stuffed the tiny shards into the tubes or just loosely filled them with 1/4" cylindrical crayon bits. Some of the other sites I googled suggested melting the wax in a flea-market pot and then pouring it into the molds. I now suspect this is the way the professionals do it--I mean, Crayola could hardly be expected to sit around waiting for wax shards to melt in an oven to half the mold's height after all that air is displaced. It seems to me that a filled tube might prevent the wax from climbing the walls as it cools--although this might cause other interesting developments, which will no doubt be fascinating to observe the next time we have willing subjects for our ongoing crayon recycling experiment. Until then, from me, Bleucheesy, bye bye!