Cleaning Beeswax Cappings
Any beekeeper will tell you that beeswax is valuable. Excess wax represents months of hard work by the honey bee colony. To make the beeswax usable, we must “render the beeswax” or separate the pure wax from dirt, propolis, cocoons and other impurities. Many beekeepers invest time in processing beeswax cappings because they yield the cleanest wax.
Cappings Are Collected and Saved
Plastic Uncapping Tank, Gray
When beekeepers harvest honey from their hives, wax caps are cut from the frames of honeycomb. These cappings are collected and remaining honey allowed to drip out. Some beekeepers use a capping tank like this one.
After all the honey is collected, the wax cappings will be cleaned and prepared to use for candles or other neat projects. You don’t have to have a set-up this nice but it would be great – alas mine is not this nice but I keep hoping!
Harvesting Raw Beeswax Cappings?
Raw beeswax is one of the most fascinating substances on earth. Worker bees produce wax and build it into the structure we know as “honeycomb”. This is an expensive process for the bees. Bees must consume a lot of honey to produce wax.
Most beekeepers invest time in processing beeswax cappings. This is a by-product of honey harvesting and can be used in many crafts and applications. But the beeswax must be clean to be used in lip balms, candles and similar projects.
How Do Bees Make Wax Cappings?
Made by honey bees using special glands on their abdomen, beeswax is an integral part of the beehive. In fact, it actually forms the structure of the hive. Hexagonal cells of wax “honeycomb” is used to hold baby bees, pollen and honey.
Another use of beeswax in the hive is to seal the honeycomb cells that are filled with fresh honey. After the bees have completed the process of converting plant nectar to honey, we say the honey is ripe.
Removing Wax Caps with Hot Knife
The most popular way of removing beeswax cappings from frames of comb is with a beekeeper’s hot knife. The hot knife does not damage the honey or wax as long as the temperature is controlled.
Beware of cheaply priced electric knives. You may get lucky or you may get what you paid for. This piece of equipment should last for years.
Beeswax Cappings are Part of the Harvest
Now, each cell of honey is sealed with a coating or “capping” of beeswax. The beeswax cappings protect the honey from dirt, moisture etc. This allows our honey bees to store honey for the long Asmonths of Winter and use as needed.
When a beekeeper harvests honey, the beeswax cappings are cut off the top of the honey cells. We have to remove the beeswax cap to allow removal of liquid honey using our honey extractors. These machines sling the honey out of the honeycomb.
Even beekeepers who do not use an extractor to harvest honey have excess wax. In fact, they have more wax because they crush the entire piece of honeycomb freeing the golden liquid.
Crush & strain honey harvesting results in less honey being produced next year. This is because the bees must rebuild all of the honeycomb. Now the task of processing beeswax cappings begins.
Why Bother with Processing Beeswax Cappings?
As I mentioned, producing beeswax is an expensive investment for the honey bees and the beekeeper. Honey bees must consume a lot of nectar to promote wax production. This investment cuts into the amount of honey available for harvest.
Because of the energy expended by bees to produce beeswax, we do not want to waste any. It is well worth the beekeepers time to render beeswax cappings for sale or personal use.
How to Render Beeswax & Process Beeswax Cappings
collect the beeswax capping that you want to process
drain any good honey from the cappings (they hold a lot !)
rinse the beeswax cappings with clean cool water (not in your kitchen sink!)
render your beeswax by melting it (preferably with water)
carefully pour the hot wax through some type of mesh material to catch debris
leave the strained hot wax to cool in some type of flexible container
Removing Beeswax Cappings
Uncapping Your Honey
The best beeswax is rendered from the cappings over cells of honey. Older used comb from the hive can be processed but the wax collected will be darker. Light yellow beeswax is the natural color that brings the best price for resale.
The first step in processing beeswax cappings is to remove them from the comb. Most beekeepers use an electric hot knife (or a cold knife warmed in hot water) to slice the wax cap off the frame of honey.
Beekeepers Love New Tools
The beekeeping industry is constantly trying to come up with easier ways to harvest honey. If you only have a couple of boxes to harvest, it’s fun. Once you have 10 or more boxes, it’s work! The uncapping needle roller is one of the newer gadgets in use.
The roller can be faster to use and is preferred by some folks. But, you will not get as much beeswax for you and the little pieces of wax in the honey will quickly clog your honey strainers.
How to Separate Beeswax From Honey?
These sticky beeswax cappings need to sit in a bucket and drain. (They will contain some honey too !). Or perhaps you will use a strainer bag to drain out the good honey.
When using a strainer bag, transfer the cappings from your uncapping bucket into the bag. Suspend it over a clean bucket that will catch the residual honey.
Warning – It will be heavy! Tie the bag to something sturdy enough to handle the weight. (P.S. This is also how honey is harvested by beekeepers without extractor.) Usually, honey has ceased to drip from the bag by the next day. This must be done in a warm, bee tight location.
I often use a 2 bucket process to separate my beeswax from honey. A large 5 gallon bucket has a slightly small bucket placed inside. The smaller bucket has many holes drilled in the bottom. I can uncap directly into the small bucket and excess honey drips down into the bottom of the larger bucket.
With either method, I am usually ready to proceed with cleaning my beeswax cappings by the next day. The time needed will depend on the amount of honey remaining in your cappings and the temperature of the room.
How Do You Clean Beeswax Cappings?
This part of the process is often referred to as rendering beeswax. At this point, the beeswax cappings are still sticky and some beekeepers will choose to wash them.
Only use cool clear water to clean your beeswax cappings. It is as simple as placing your cappings in a bucket and adding water. ( Kinda like washing green beans. 🙂
Using A Strainer Bag to Clean Cappings
Large strainer bags with a coarse mesh are very useful for washing residual honey out of beeswax cappings. I place a clean strainer bag in a 5 gallon pail – then add my cappings.
Fill 3/4 of the bucket with cool water and hand wash the wax cappings. When I think I have most of the honey out, I grab the top of the filter bag and lift – allowing the water to drain out of the cappings.
Our goal is to remove residual honey and stickiness. 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.
** A note about open air cleaning. A beekeeper may spread the cappings out on a flat surface outside and let the bees find and clean the cappings. 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.
There is a danger of this activity causing robbing back at the hive. 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. **
How to Melt Beeswax Cappings
Now that our beeswax is less sticky it is time to get serious. We can to melt the cappings down into a usable form. Getting the beeswax in a liquid form allows it to be cleaned. It may be used for candles or other products immediately. Or it can be poured into molds and stored for later use.
Several different methods are used for rendering beeswax cappings and they are as varied as the beekeepers who use them. Some of them are effective and based on sound practices. And, some of them are dangerous and can actually damage the integrity of pure beeswax.
Processing Beeswax Cappings With a Solar Melter
Melting beeswax cappings 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 beeswax. 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 piece of beeswax 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 cooler melter. This is a Styrofoam cooler made into a wax melter. These coolers are not very sturdy but they are inexpensive and easy to find.
A container is placed in the bottom of the cooler with a bit of water. Place your cappings in a sling made of cheesecloth, terrycloth, a honey strainer bag or sturdy paper towels. The cappings should hang several inches above your bottom tray.
As it melts, liquid beeswax collects in the bottom pan. Any debris will remain on top of your cloth sling.
Our last step, place a piece of glass on top of the cooler (instead of the lid) and set in a sunny location. At the end of the day, you will have rendered beeswax. Check out my post on using a homemade beeswax solar melter – here.
Perhaps you would like to build a solar melter of your own to use when processing beeswax cappings. You can find many plans and instructions for wax melter construction online.
Rendering Beeswax Cappings in Water
If the solar melter option isn’t possible, you can choose to melt your beeswax cappings in water. This method of processing beeswax is okay if you are careful. I like cleaning my beeswax cappings with water. It works well because beeswax will float 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. One reason is that overheating with degrade the value of your wax. Too much heat will reduce the nice beeswax aroma and darken the color.
Also beeswax is flammable. At a temperature of about 490 degrees F, beeswax will flare and burn. **Be careful – always take proper precautions to prevent burns and fire**
Using a double boiler is safest
A double boiler is the safest method for melting beeswax cappings. You have 1 pot on the stove that containers 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.
If you already have a double boiler and want to dedicate it to wax melting, you are ready to get to work. Fill water in the bottom half – to the halfway mark, add beeswax in the top half. (Note: This pan is now for beeswax only. ) Heat the water and melt the beeswax in the top pot.
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 the liquid wax into any type of mold. I like to use Styrofoam cups because when the wax cools and shrinks, it pops out easily. Cooled wax will NOT easily come out of any type of container.
Leave your wax to cool and harden over night. Now you have clean, sweet smelling beeswax to use for many different projects. You may decide to make some beautiful beeswax candles, or a healing ointment, soap etc. There are so many options for creativity with beeswax.
Local beekeeping associations have competitions for the best beeswax display. Maybe you can enter and win! But win or not, you will have some beautiful clean beeswax to use.
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