Damar resin has long been the hardener of choice to combine with beeswax in encaustic medium recipes. Because of its high melting point, it aids in making a more robust painting than pure beeswax and allows for vigorous buffing over a curing period to bring the work to a shine. A downside can be that due to its organic nature, damar has been known to yellow over time. This may happen in varying degrees over months, years or decades, though artists who combine pigments with their medium will typically never notice this. For those who rely on many clear layers, it could become an issue. Most pieces seem to remain as the day they are painted, but if you do experience yellowing, or simply want a whiter medium, there is a solution. I recently took a deep dive into the use of an alternative to damar, castor wax.
Australians pioneered the use of castor wax as a replacement in their encaustic medium years ago in response to the exorbitant price of importing damar. The wax is derived in a roundabout way from castor beans, available domestically and much less expensive.
After many conversations and e-mails with artists using this combination for years, I embarked upon testing. I can’t yet speak to its longevity in my own experience, but those I spoke with assured me that time has had no effect on their pieces. Some had art on hand created years ago using each recipe (castor and damar) and there were no noticeable differences. They all confirmed that no yellowing had occurred.
Using Castor Wax in Encaustic Medium
My major impression of using castor wax is that it is a joy to work with.
Following are my findings. In all cases, I am comparing caster to damar as combined with beeswax to make encaustic medium.
- It makes a whiter medium, not clearer, just whiter. See photo of 4 layers of each painted onto bare birch.
- It seems to flow smoother and thinner off the brush. Damar medium has more body and viscosity.
- It is more slick and less sticky when cooled. If you get it on your hands it’s not as gooey as damar, nor does it roll into a ball as easily. When doing transfers the paper tends to slide around the wax more upon initial placement.
- Castor has a lower melting temperature than damar, but still higher than pure beeswax. This should be of no concern to the final artwork as Australians have used it with great success for years in their warm climate.
- Anecdotal reports indicate it hardens up well over time.
- You can use the same ratios for each. Most I spoke with use 8:1, but Langridge Artist Colours in Australia uses 6:1 in their commercial formula. I preferred 7:1.
- Castor makes a more brittle medium when comparing similar ratios, but nothing that would affect my work on a rigid support.
- It appears to buff to a shinier finish than damar.
- No straining is required as there are no organic bits embedded in it.
- Castor performed well in my freezer tests, adhering to bare birch panel, encaustic gesso (R&F) and chalk paint (Cottage Paint brand).
All of that said, I have come up with a formula that works well for my process that actually includes a combination of both damar and castor. I expect this will change with each batch as I hone in further, but I can’t really see myself ever going back to full on damar in my medium. Don’t be afraid to experiment with small batches to discover the specific formulation that allows you to bring your vision to life. A digital scale is your friend.
Castor wax flakes are widely available in stores carrying botanical ingredients for those making home balms and creams.
If you’re looking to purchase encaustic supplies, please support local small businesses when possible. You can purchase encaustic medium made with Castor wax from Karen Brown.
Have you tried Castor wax? Please add a comment below and let me know what you think.
45 thoughts on “Comparing Castor Wax & Damar Resin in Encaustic Medium”
Hi Sue, do you make the medium with Castor wax the same was as you would with Damar? Can you just clarify the process, temp etc? Thanks Sandy
I have been using castor wax for years and love the clear colour it makes as yet nothing has yellowed
I went to an Encaustic Art session some years ago and liked the medium very much. I wanted to buy the materials so that I could pursue it at home, but then I learnt that the wax was beeswax. (I’m vegan.) Would it be possible to use castor wax or another plant-derived wax?
But I guess I would still need the damar, which I believe is a resin that’s necessary for giving a gloss. It could be that the resin is obtained from trees that are cut down for other purposes, but I’m thinking that these trees might be used specifically for their resin. So could there be another way to obtain a gloss without using this resin? (But also avoiding a chemical if possible?)
I apologise if I’m posing the impossible!
Damar is harvested from trees in Malaysia. These trees are slashed yearly to ooze sap for harvesting, the trees are not cut down or damaged; it is similar to tapping maple trees for syrup.
I have been experimenting as well which is a little scary since I just finished my first encaustic piece a few days ago. I was also put off by the high cost of the prepared medium. I had some unbleached beeswax and some Carnauba wax lying around and mixed it in a 15:1 ratio. The resulting medium is quite yellow which will work well for some applications but I am sure if I had used the unbleached beeswax pellets it would have been similar to the premade variety. It looks nice and seems to melt to a smooth finish and is supposed to buff to more of a sheen than the damar recipe. I also tried a version made with emulsifying wax (a vegan alternative) and Carnauba, it ended up being a little softer even though I used a 10:1 ratio. I would probably try a 7:1 ratio next time.
The Amazon.ca link for Castor Flakes in this post goes to a hair lotion comprised of black castor oil infused with coconut oil. This can’t be right, correct?
Unfortunately old Amazon links change. You’re right that it’s the wrong product at that link now. Just google castor wax flakes and you’ll get the right thing. Have a great day!
Thanks for super information! In Norway its not possible to buy Encaustic at all, so I have ordered from US. Just started, after finding some intesting videos online. Delivery takes time and its ekspensive, so if someone knows about how to get this things in Europe I will be thankful. Regards from Norway – Britt/Atelier BitteBI
I have been using caster wax recently in place of demar resin. However, it is not translucent – in fact mine is white so not great to get translucent layers. However, I like the result, and will continue to use it. I will also keep a batch ready with demar resin to achieve the see-through look that I sometimes want.
Do you have a resource in Western Canada on where to purchase bees wax/demar resin? -There seem to be a lot of retail for encaustic supplies in Eastern Canada – it’s a bit tougher in British Columbia. Thanks for any info on this.
There is a wax supply store in Burnaby, BC Wicks $ Wax, that stocks Yellow and White Beeswax, Damar and Castor Wax. They ship country wide.
I did the test and will used both for different need, or use.
Iam from Quebec province and ad fins a store called coop coco they sell white beeswax , castor wax for a super good price.
They ship and a a store in Montreal.
Great information, thanks. I will re-read this more carefully when I plan on making my next batch of encaustic medium. Your information was clearly articulated and written. Thanks again. xxx Dianne
I had difficulty finding castor wax in UK till I found out that hydrogenated castor oil is the same thing. I didn’t want PEG 40 HCO often used in creams but found a chemicals supplier for plain HCO and it is so much easier to use than the damar (comes as a fine powder). It melts much easier without going sticky and makes a cleaner and whiter medium but seems to be just as hard as the one made with Damar. I used 8:1 ratio and am really pleased with the results. As a complete beginner I don’t have much to compare with but I definitely prefer making the medium with it, and found it easier to get a smoother surface too. Thank you for your tips – I would never have known about this without your website.
Just did my first batch of castor/ beeswax medium did 7/1 ration.
So fare I don’t really see a difference in the whiter, but definitely more sleek, easyer to hachive a flat bass.
So fare so good , let wait and see.
What medium should I mix with my castor wax & beeswax mixture? I’m new to encaustics.
That’s your medium, the beeswax and castor (or damar). If you’re asking how do you colour it, there are many ways. Dry pigment, a tiny bit of oil paint, a bit of commercially available coloured encaustic medium, etc. If you search for that more specifically you’ll find answers.
When using Caster wax medium, can I still use R&F or Enkaustiko colors or do I need to mix my own from powder pigments?
Yes you can use those prepared colors. All you’re doing by using those is adding some damar in the mix (it’s in those color formulas). I’m mixing castor and damar into my base medium formula. No problem.
Thank you for the information.
….just as an additional note…I had been using prepackaged encaustic medium…(expensive)…but after reading this article, I purchased beeswax and castor wax from Amazon and have made the medium myself, at a 7:1 ratio. Great results and less expensive. I love it! Thanks for the article and everyone’s input!
This is great news as I make my own medium and Damar is so dirty at times and I get impatient when straining it!! What I was wondering was how it goes when adding pigments does it effect colours perhaps producing tints rather that pure colours? Always refer to All Things Encaustic wonderful clear information and site, thank you and well done.
I always add Carnauba wax flakes to my damar and bees wax medium as that is the recipe I learned. Have any of you that use the Castor wax tried adding the carnauba flakes?
Wow, almost 2:1 ratio! There are no official rules and whatever works for you is wonderful. That’s why I’m also adding some damar still….it just works best for my process. Keep us informed re your experiments:)
Great info here. I am new to encaustic, and have been making my own medium with castor for the above mentioned reasons. When I assess the hardest of the encaustic medium block before using I would say it was on par with the Langridge medium I used the first time I applied encaustic. My ratio has been 7:3, as I found that when researching before I made my first batch. I might try less castor and see how it compares. I am Australian, so climate is an issue:)
THANK YOU FOR SHARING…..
Glad you found it interesting.
I thought castor beans were poisonous. I guess the wax has no toxicity?
Yes, the beans/seeds are poisonous. The process of extracting the wax/oil seems to change that chemically, but I’m not a chemist so please do your own research in order to feel comfortable. It is used in creams and balms so seems to have a history of safety.
Fantastic article! I’ve been struggling with the yellow hue of traditional medium. I will definitely give this a try! Thank you!!
Hope it helps:) Let us know how you make out.
Is there a difference in the amount of fumes?
I don’t feel qualified to speak to any medium re what happens chemically when heating, but I have noticed no smell or obvious fumes. I don’t really notice fumes when I melt my damar either as I melt it at the lowest temp I can and don’t let it smoke.
Does the addition of castor wax make the medium more translucent and cloudy? Is it as transparent as damar or more opaque?
It seems that with very thick layers the castor is not quite as clear, but on thinner layers I didn’t see a difference. Do some experiments using different amounts for your own work style to check if it would affect you.
I was so pleased to see this post as I have been using castor wax in lieu of damar for many years now; although I always felt slightly “naughty” not using the “standard.” I too have seen no yellowing and or other side effects of the substitution. I really like the whiteness of it as well as the ease in making medium. I have found that if I want a more yellow and creamy looking medium I just use unbleached beeswax instead of the filtered white pellets and I am able to get that warm tone. When mixing medium with white, the castor wax/beeswax medium is definitely my first choice to achieve sparkling whites!
Wonderful! So nice to hear straight from someone who has years of experience with this. Thanks for your input!
I find the use of castor wax for encaustic painting interesting. Is this available already mixed with beeswax or would you have to make your own?
Yes, you can purchase the medium made with castor by following the links at: https://thehiveencausticstudio.com/.
Are you aware of any where in the US that sells this?
No idea, sorry. You’ll have to google. Making your own is as simple as melting ready made medium, so you might want to consider that if you have no luck.
Hi Folks, Yes “Swans Candle Supplies” in WA state sells castor wax of good quality. In fact, I buy all of my encaustic supplies from them. Small business with great folks.
Thank you Sue, yes I have been using and selling beeswax:castor wax medium for years.
Here is the link to my online shop. https://karenbrownencaustics.company.site/