Updated on 03.12.12

Extend the Life and Value of Crayons (72/365)

Trent Hamm

For Christmas, my children received an interesting gift: a Crayola Crayon Maker.

It’s a cute little device. All you do is break up some crayons (they come with the crayon maker) and put them on a little tray in there, flip on the switch, and wait for a bit. The crayons melt, then you tip the tray over and the melted wax pours into some crayon molds. Wait a few minutes and you have new multicolored crayons!

It was one of those toys that my children had a lot of fun with for one day, then it got set aside and hasn’t really been thought about since. However, the core idea behind it is something that can really be of use to frugal families where the children are really into drawing and art.

Extend the Life and Value of Crayons (72/365)

At the bottom of our crayon bucket, you’ll find a lot of nubs. These little mostly-used crayons are now short enough that our children’s fingers don’t hold them very well. Often, the nubs are the result of accidental crayon breakage; other times, the crayons are short due to wear and tear.

These stubs might get thrown out at some houses, but at our house, they’re a perfect item for recycling.

We just take out a silicone mold we found at a garage sale for a quarter (like this one), break up the nubs into tiny pieces, and fill up the mold with the pieces.

Then, we pop the mold in the oven at a fairly low temperature – say 200 F – and leave it in there for fifteen minutes. We often do this alongside something that’s baking for other reasons. The melting point of crayon wax seems to be around 130 to 150 F depending on the color, so 200 F is a great temperature for the crayons to melt together in the mold.

When they’re done, just put the mold out on the table and leave it there until the crayons are room temperature, then pop them out of the mold. If needed, you can carefully cut the new “crayons” into smaller shapes that are easier for drawing.

This gives the children very interesting swirled crayons to use, costs us virtually nothing, and enables us to put those crayon stubs to good use. That’s a win all around.

On top of that, this is a perfect lesson for the children about recycling and reusing things. There’s no reason to throw something away if there’s still a perfectly good use for it, after all.

In fact, we’ve actually taken a big pile of crayon stubs from the children of friends who were happy to hand them over at first, until we explained what we were going to do with them. They then seemed to change their minds a bit, thinking that it seemed like a pretty nifty thing to do with their kids.

If you’ve got kids and crayon stubs and if you have access to a silicon mold of some sort, give this a try. It’s easy, demonstrates recycling, costs almost nothing, and results in some cool crayons for your children.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Tracy says:

    I guess my only question is why you don’t just use the crayon maker to remake the crayons now? It’d 1) make them the right pointy-crayon-shape and 2) also be recyling a toy your kids aren’t playing with.

  2. Steve says:

    What do you cook at 200 degrees? Not that it invalidates the point. You could probably use the residual heat after baking something (after turning off the oven). What happens if the heat is too high – do the crayons go past liquid to gaseous form?

  3. Johanna says:

    My parents did something like this with me when I was a kid. The problem, as I recall, is that it’s a lot more fun to make multicolored crayons than to use them. It’s fun to break up the crayons and watch the wax melt and swirl. It’s fun to scribble with the new swirled crayons – for about two minutes. After that, if you want to get back to drawing and coloring things, you’re still going to want single-color crayons.

    “In fact, we’ve actually taken a big pile of crayon stubs from the children of friends who were happy to hand them over at first, until we explained what we were going to do with them. They then seemed to change their minds a bit, thinking that it seemed like a pretty nifty thing to do with their kids.”

    So they changed their minds “a bit” about giving you their crayons, and you took them anyway? That doesn’t seem right. Or am I misunderstanding something?

  4. Tracy says:

    Heh, you know, I’d actually assumed that for the recycled crayons, that it was a matter of saving up the same color ones … not making multicolored ones.

    Because yes, I hated using those when I was a kid.

  5. Jessica says:

    I’ve done this with my 5yo.

    First, do NOT use the silicone mold for **anything** else after melting crayons in it. Sure they are non-toxic, but the mold will smell of crayon and my guess is that anything coming out of it would also smell and taste like crayon.

    Second, if you’re not into the multicolor crayon deal, then just put reds in one spot, oranges in a separate spot, yellows in a third spot and so on. No need to dump in black and green and yellow and orange and purple all in the same spot.

    Third, these make great frugal / free party favors. It’s more fun of course with a seasonal mold. I picked up several after Christmas for 90% off. I have made snowflake and Christmas tree and snowman crayons which are a huge hit with the nieces, nephews and my kids.

  6. kevin says:

    With the sale of this blog, it’s at least possible that Trent has made more money writing than David Foster Wallace did. Just let that sink in for a while…

  7. cindy says:

    #6 that is a scary thought.

  8. David says:

    To reassure Steve (#2): while the melting point of many waxes is rather lower than the boiling point of water (some common waxes including beeswax melt at around 65 degrees Celsius), the “boiling point of wax” is not lower than about 250 degrees Celsius (480 degrees Fahrenheit) and much higher for the kind of wax used in crayons (340 C, 645 F).

    However, since most waxes are composed of volatile compounds, their flashpoint is lower than their boiling point. The same is true of many oils: it was a sad moment in my childhood when I learned that people didn’t actually pour boiling oil on the heads of other people who were trying to invade castles. They couldn’t – although it is possible to boil oil before it burns, this requires carefully controlled conditions that would not by and large have obtained during mediaeval sieges.

    Still, even the flashpoint of crayon wax is sufficiently higher than the maximum temperature of a domestic oven that one need not be overly concerned. There is, for example, no danger that if you put crayons and a cake in the oven at the same time, the former will vaporize, re-condense, and form a decorative (though potentially toxic) layer of frosting on the latter. If there were, you can bet that Heston Blumenthal would have done it by now.

  9. Jules says:

    ??? The fact that Trent’s kids played with it for the proverbial 5 minutes and then relegated it to the bottom of the toy bin seems to make a case for NOT getting one.

  10. Roberta says:

    I checked this toy on Amazon, and the reviews were very mixed, and the price seemed high (over $30) for something that can be done with things you already have at home, as both Trent and Jessica pointed out. My kids grew doing this (using dedicated molds, as Jessica also mentioned) and the seasonally-colored and shaped ones were used as tree decorations, and party favors as well. Amy Dacyzyn also mentioned something very similar in the Frugal Zealot.

    You can also shave the small crayons onto wax paper in patterns, lay another sheet on top and use a warm iron to fuse them – it makes an interesting effect rather like a stained glass window, and can be hung, if you appreciate kid art.

    Finally, if you have a lot more than you can use, and want to recycle them, google “Crazy Crayons”. You mail them off, they melt them down and make new crayons, many in very cool shapes, which they sell.

  11. Roberta says:

    #6 and #7 You may not like Trent’s writing, and you may not like the fact that he was paid money for his blog, but so what? What relevance does that have to today’s column? It comes across as jealousy, frankly. Or is that supposed to be some of the irony for which Mr. Wallace was apparently known?

    I did not recognize the name and looked up the gentleman. It is very sad that someone who clearly was a very gifted writer could not find the medical help he needed to defeat his depression and chose to kill himself. It’s even sadder for the family and friends he left behind.

  12. Misha says:

    Jules @ #9: That’s why Trent didn’t say “buy this product” and instead said “here is a cheaper way to do the same thing.”

  13. Kevin says:

    I’m actually fine with Trent possibly making more money than DFW. It just seems incredibly (to coin a term) odd. And yes, I did intend some irony in that the author of a crayon article might have made more money than the author of Infinite Jest.

  14. BIGSeth says:

    I think personal finance has run out of topics. Let’s just enjoy the archives and everyone can focus on something else for a while.

  15. Brian says:

    At back-to-school time, Target has 24 packs of Crayola crayons for a quarter. Four boxes for a dollar… I just stock up then.

  16. valleycat1 says:

    I’m surprised it took 15 comments before someone pointed out how inexpensive crayons are. And you buy them, what, once or twice a year? At one cent each for new ones, the only reason to melt & re-form is the novelty of the experience.

  17. Tom says:

    Jules, I agree that I misunderstood what exactly happened with the crayola toy and then baking it yourself. I think Misha is right.

    I’d love to see some Han Solo crayons…

  18. Connie says:

    I’m surprised that Trent isn’t more concerned about the effects of the cooling crayons “fighting against” the air conditioner, not unlike his argument for defrosting meat in the refrigerator so it won’t run up the cost of heating the house when the frozen meat is sitting out on the counter.

  19. Deb says:

    We did things like this as a kid, because to us, crayons weren’t that cheap and we were that frugal, and besides, it was fun. :) I fondly remember making the crayon wax equivalent of stained glass windows, and while we didn’t make multi-colored new crayons, we did melt them for some other reason that I can’t remember right now. I really think this wasn’t so much a “how to not buy new crayons” article as it was a “how to not be wasteful” article. :)

    Thanks for the happy memories, Trent and Roberta; and thanks for the interesting information on melting wax, David. :)

  20. Tristan says:

    Or wait till “school supply” season and buy a box of crayons for 50 cents. Sheesh.

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