Wax seals: a pre-Yom Kippur demo

a stamp and shmear

a stamp and shmear

My Director emailed last night: “do you have anything that shows how something is sealed?”  I read between those brief lines and guessed she was planning something marvelous: to show our Hebrew School students really, real SEALING, as in sealed in the Book of Life, just a couple of days before Yom Kippur.  Fire and hot wax in the classroom, oh boy!

To seal is to close: the Hebrew verb is chatam.  Chatam is where we get one of the official Yom Kippur greetings: G’mar chatima tova (“a good final sealing”).

Wax seal

A seal demonstration gives kids a concrete grasp of at least one part of the spectacularly abstract concept of a supernatural Book of Life.  Otherwise, “seal” is only what we do to Ziploc bags, or is the name of a whiskered, semi-aquatic marine mammal. Plenty of my younger students have never even licked an envelope: they don’t know from sealing letters because they don’t do snail mail.

Our forebears employed many mixtures as sealing material, but nowadays we have gorgeous sticks of readymade sealing wax that do the same job.  Have you played with any?  Sealing wax is sold with or without a wick, and is usually found at posh stationery stores.  Just melt the wax until it drips onto the overlap of your document, and then squish it with a stamp that bears a raised image. The wax acts as seal, as an indicator of the identity of the sender (if the image is unique and authoritative), and as a tamper-proof measure.

Wax seals work on envelopes, scrolls, a couple of ancient tablets tied with cord, or even a codex: a proper bound book the Romans developed.  I don’t know if the Book of Life is supposed to be a scroll or tablets, but either way, wax will seal.

Ideally, a Yom Kippur demo stamped image should be thematic.  This morning, a search revealed that all I had on hand were brass stamps from my childhood, and I didn’t want to demonstrate seals with a cartoon owl or my own initials.  I wanted our students to see something appropriate, something regal, something Yom Kippur-y.

So, I made a stamp with polymer clay: the symbol for Chai—a chet and a yud—which means Life.  Our model Book of Life will be sealed with “Life.”

You don’t HAVE to make your own stamp, of course.  Many decorative buttons and coins can stamp as is.  A signet ring is perfect, of course, and I’ll be looking at thrift store costume jewelry more closely now.  Other jewelry might work as well, if you can attach it to something while you stamp.

squish a coin or button to make an impression

squish a coin or button to make an impression

Polymer clay wax stamp tutorials are online, but several warn that hot wax can melt a baked polymer stamp, so proceed with caution.

Basically, you make a mold.  My stamp began as a clay blob.  I  pushed the face of a Chai pendant into the chubby end, pulled it out and smoothed where the jump ring left a mark, and then baked it firm.  I made two more stamps by pushing a Star of David rubber stamp, and then a Star of David pendant into clay.  (Note that image will stamp in reverse, which matters if there are letters involved.)

After you drip a few drops on the target area, use the stick to shmear a puddle large enough to accommodate the size of the stamp.  (Smaller stamps are way easier.) When the wax just begins to harden, press the stamp straight down and hold it for one to two seconds.

I experimented with candle wax and crayon wax, but neither one made a good seal and both stuck to my stamp.  Wonder what beeswax would be like?  I’ve heard that hair-removal wax can work, but you can try it and let me know.

FLAME:  The long, torch lighters are best, because you can aim the flame to the SIDE of the wax, and let the wax drip freely straight down to the paper.  Small, disposable lighters are not great, nor are matches or candles: the wax just drips directly down onto the flame.

SAFETY:  Flames and hot wax are dangerous things.  I nearly caught my paper on fire a few times.  I would never attempt wax seals with kids unless it was a one-to-one session in a meticulously prepared environment.  My proposed demo is just that: a demo, not a class activity.  Please don’t do anything remotely dangerous, and do not model unsafe behavior to children!

If you want a hands-on seal activity for kids, I recommend using blobs of Model Magic as a substitute for wax.  They take a few hours to air dry, but they’ll dry without cracks (unlike PlayDough) and they take impressions beautifully.

wax seals, tray

for kids to see, touch

These folks KNOW THEIR WAX and all techniques and tips: Atelier Gargoyle.

A quick, one-page instruction sheet for making wax seals from Nostalgic Impressions.

Craft Phesine has a good tutorial on how to make a wax stamp out of polymer clay.

If you search online for polymer clay stamp ideas, note that many of the DIYs are for polymer seals, not stamps.  Fake wax seals are quite popular.

4 responses to “Wax seals: a pre-Yom Kippur demo

  1. Brilliant, Joanna! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Brilliant as always! I love it!
    You are so creative!!!

  3. Such a cool idea! I might have to pin it for next year…