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Processing Beeswax for Use
Learning how to clean beeswax may sound difficult but it really is not. Your wax can be cleaned with some simple materials you probably already have around the house. When we gather wax from the hive, it is mixed in with honey and other substances. Before using raw wax for your crafting projects, we need to clean the wax.
How Do Bees Make Beeswax?
Wax is made by honey bees using special glands on their abdomen. They consume large amounts of food and shape the wax scales into hexagonal cells that make up honeycomb.
Honeycomb is an integral part of the beehive and is used to store food and rear young. Making wax is an expensive process for the bees. They must consume a lot of honey to promote wax gland production.
A beekeeper that harvests a lot of wax may produce less honey. Therefore, wax is a valuable product of a hive and sells for more per pound than honey.
What Does Rendering Beeswax Mean?
No matter the project, the first step to having clean wax is processing, rendering, or cleaning debris out. Once the wax is pure, the possibilities are endless.
One of the most popular ways to use beeswax involves making candles. Beeswax candles require very clean wax to burn well-otherwise the wick will clog. The wax may look clean but it can contain substances that prevent clean candle burning etc.
Rendering is just another term for cleaning. It means the same thing and was used more frequently in years past. Beekeepers harvest wax that is left over from honey extraction, scrapings from boxes, colonies that die, etc.
This raw wax can contain: honey, wood splinters, propolis, pollen, bee cocoons etc. These impurities make the wax unsuitable for some projects.
How Beekeepers Harvest Beeswax
- cleaning cappings wax
- wax left over from crush and strain
Once the beekeeper collects the honey crop, the wax and honey must be separated. Beekeepers using a honey extractor are able to reuse most of the wax in the frames. However, they still must cut off the cappings of each cell.
Cappings are made from the freshest wax so they will be light in color. Spending less time in the hive, cappings wax has less time to absorb stains from honey, pollen, propolis and thousands of little bee feet stomping around on the comb.
Crush & Strain Honey Harvest Produces More Wax
Beekeepers who do not use an extractor to harvest honey have more excess wax. They crush the entire piece of honeycomb-freeing the golden liquid inside.
There is a tradeoff for this method of honey harvesting though. The beekeeper gets more wax but may face a reduced honey crop next year. This is because the colony must rebuild all of the honeycomb in the frame – not just a new cap.
Cleaning Process for Beeswax- Step by Step
- collect excess beeswax – (cappings or crushed comb)
- drain any good honey from the wax – cappings hold a lot
- rinse beeswax in cool clean water – not your kitchen sink!
- melting is the next step for cleaning – I use water
- pour clean wax through a filter (such as nylon curtain pieces or cheesecloth or sweatshirt material
- leave your clean wax to cool in some type of flexible container
Remove Beeswax Cappings
Beekeepers use an electric hot knife (or a cold knife warmed in hot water) to slice the wax cap off the frame of honey. If you only have a couple of boxes to harvest, it’s fun. Once you have 10 or more boxes, it’s work!
Separating Beeswax from Honey
Fresh cappings are sticky. The amount of honey in the cappings can be quite significant. There are 2 common methods of separating the wax and honey.
- uncapping tank or double bucket system
- use a filter bag
Double Bucket System of Separating Honey and Wax
I often use a 2 bucket process to separate my beeswax from honey. You can purchase a commercial uncapping tank that does the same thing or make your own.
A tall 5 gallon bucket is the base. A slightly shorter bucket close to the same diameter is placed inside the large bucket.
Because of the top rims of both buckets, this usually results in a space of several inches being open in the bottom of the larger bucket. This is the collection space for honey.
The smaller bucket has many holes drilled in the bottom. Cut cappings (or crushed comb) are collected and placed in top bucket with holes.
Any remaining honey drips down into a clean chamber. Left to drain overnight – most of the honey drips through into the bottom container.
Use a Filter Bag
If you don’t have 2 buckets of the proper size, you can use a filter bag (or strainer bag) to hold the wet cappings. When using a strainer bag, place the cappings in the bag. You can buy honey strainer bags, use paint bags or make your own with cheese cloth.
Suspend it over a clean bucket that will catch the residual honey. This clean honey can be used as long as you practice good hygiene .
Warning – the bag will be heavy! Tie the bag to something sturdy enough to handle the weight. This must be done in a warm, bee tight location.
With either method, most of the honey will be drained out by the next day. The time needed will depend on the amount of honey remaining in your wax and the temperature of the room.
Wash the Cappings Wax
After most of the residual honey has dripped out, the cappings are still sticky. As part of my cleanup regime, I like to rinse the stickiness out of the cappings wax.
Large strainer bags with a coarse mesh are very useful for washing cappings as it holds them together.
Only use cool clear water. It is as simple as placing your cappings in a bucket and adding water. ( similar to washing green beans. 🙂
Place a clean strainer bag in a 5 gallon pail – then add wax. Fill 3/4 of the bucket with cool water and hand wash the wax .
When you think you have most of the honey out, grab the top of the filter bag and lift – allowing the water to drain out of the clean wax cappings.
And for heavens sake don’t wash them in your kitchen sink! How do you spell clogged drain? One way is B-E-E-S-W-A-X.
Letting Your Bees Clean Your Wax
The practice of letting the bees clean the cappings in the open is practiced by some beekeepers. They spread the cappings out on a flat surface outside and let the bees find and clean them.
The value of this method is that the bees are making use of every bit of honey. Also, it is frightening and fascinating to watch. However, this plan is not without serious risks to your bees.
There is a danger of this activity causing robbing back at the hive – even if the cleaning takes place a far distance away.
For this reason, I never put out wet cappings for cleaning. If you choose to do so, be sure to place the wet cappings as far away from your bee yard as possible. **
Final Cleaning with Water
Cleaning raw wax with water is my final step in preparing wax for candle making. When you clean or melt your beeswax in water, you are removing any remaining trash.
This method works so well because liquid wax floats on top of water. When the liquid wax cools, you have clean wax on top and dirty water below.
It is important to remember that you do not want to overheat your beeswax. Too much heat will reduce the nice aroma and darken the color.
Also beeswax is flammable. At a temperature of about 400 ° F, it will flare and burn. **Be careful – always take proper precautions to prevent burns and fire**
Melting Beeswax in a Double Boiler
A double boiler is the safest method for melting beeswax. You have 1 pot on the stove that contains water. A smaller pot sits inside the water pot and holds your wax.
This allows the heat to be transferred from the water to spread uniformly around the pot holding your wax. You have less chances of over heating the wax or causing a fire!
If you don’t have a double boiler, one of these inserts can help you create one. I have several of these- they are awesome for projects.
Once the wax is liquid, carefully pour it through a straining material. Use cheese cloth, nylons, paint strainers or old sweatshirt material for straining.
Cooling And Storing Beeswax For Later
You can pour your liquid wax into any type of mold. I like to use recycled takeout cups because when the wax cools and shrinks, it pops out easily.
Cooled wax will NOT easily come out of any type of container use something that is flexible. Leave your wax to cool and harden over night.
How to Clean Wax in a Solar Melter
Melting beeswax in a solar melter is a common practice. My larger solar melter is made from an old steel box with a heavy piece of glass on top. It is really ugly and looks gross but it does the job well.
Cappings are placed into a pan inside the box, a tray with a small amount of water collects the dripping wax. Over a couple of days the heat of the sun will melt all the cappings.
As temperatures drop, the wax will cool into solid form in the tray. Once cooled, I can remove the solid chunk and discard any water. The water will be dirty and have honey residue – do NOT feed it to your bees.
If you only have a small amount of cappings, you may choose to use a home-made melter. You can make your own solar melter . Using an inexpensive Styrofoam cooler and a sheet of glass, the melter is set in a sunny location.
At the end of the day, you will have rendered clean beeswax. If you want to make your own solar melter – its easy. You can find many plans and instructions for other types of wax melters online.
Recap on Cleaning Raw Beeswax
Though a common material that everyone has seen, there are still questions about beeswax that pop up from time to time and the answers may just surprise you.
Clean, sweet smelling beeswax is great to use for many different projects. You can even make your own beeswax crayons. And the best thing is that your beeswax will never spoil so you don’t have to be in a hurry.
Now that you have a chunk of nice beeswax – anything is possible. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.