Cleaning Beeswax - Part 1

Hi Everyone,

This week I'm getting my hands dirty and also posting a transcription of Episode 41 of my podcast, Beekeeping Short and Sweet. Check out my podcast on your favourite podcast app.

It all melts down into an interesting and smelly mixture!

Well, I don’t know about you guys but for me, As the season progresses we seem to be constantly accumulating beeswax in a range of different guises, brace comb, burr comb, frames that have become too old and need replacing, frames that have been drawn out just the ways the bees want it but completely at odds with how we would like it. You probably know the frames I'm talking about, the ones where the bees draw the comb at all sorts of odd angles to the foundation that you have so lovingly put in for them. I normally find this is because the foundation is a little old and the bees don't take to it immediately. Alternatively, they build comb nicely down from the top bar but away from the foundation so you end up with a frame of unused foundation and a nicely drawn slab of comb that can only be viewed from one side. Sometimes I find I have given the bees too much space and they draw out a perfectly rectangular slab of comb from the crown board and again whilst it is perfect for the bees it makes inspecting difficult and it needs to be removed.

There are probably lots more places the bees can build comb that doesn't quite fit in with our uniform boxes and hives and so we cut it out and take it away.

What to do with it once it's been removed though, for beginner beekeepers this can be a tricky question and without any knowledge of what to do next it can easily find it's way into the bin. But before you do that let me give you some ways in which you can make much better use of this oh so precious commodity.

Firstly, if nothing else, save it for the annual wax exchange at a trade show, this is where you can swap it for fresh foundation that can be used to replace old comb in your hives.

Even if you only have one bee hive you will over the course of a season or two gradually build up a box of old comb to deal with and I wanted to talk about how to safely melt it down and reclaim the cleaned wax to reuse.

There are so many uses for reclaimed beeswax, you could as I've mentioned swap it for new foundation but you could just as well start making candles and I know there are lots of beekeepers out there already producing some fantastic candle products and I intend to give it a try myself in the coming months.

What not use the beeswax to make some furniture polish, again it can be as simple as adding some beeswax to raw linseed oil as I have done in the past, this makes a really lovely smelling furniture polish that can be used on most household furniture, just remember to test it first on a spot that won't be seen! Once you've made the base polish you could add various oils to give the polish different smells such as lavender or orange.

Lip balms are another product I've made with the addition of beeswax and although I've never made any other cosmetic products I know there are a whole range out that you could use this beeswax for so let's not just throw it away, use it for something fun and practical, especially with Christmas on the way, what better way to use up wax than to make some fun gifts for everyone.

So hopefully I’ve now convinced you not to throw away your brace comb and you’ve got a bucketful to clean. What do you do next?

A lot depends on the quantity you have to render but the process is the same regardless of quantity, let’s start with a beekeeper who has just one or two hives and a small bag of brace comb. I’ll talk about the way I render larger quantities of old wax later in the podcast.

All you need is some kind of microwavable glass dish, I use one called a pyrex bowl, a pair of tights or stockings or some coffee filter paper and something to hold the filter paper or stockings in. It could be a shop bought jelly bag stand or you could use a couple of old wire coat hangers to bend a stand out of, in just the same way as they use coat hangers to make things in Blue Peter, do they still use wire coat hangers on Blue Peter?

Anyway, the process is quite simple, we add some boiling water to the bowl, add the wax and reheat in the microwave, the wax melts and then it gets poured through the filter material into another container and is left to set.

Here’s how I used to do it. Firstly, boil the kettle, while the kettle is boiling break up the wax and put it into the pyrex bowl, I did try using a pyrex jug but the wax never really poured very well from the spout and it would spill everywhere, if you have a decent pouring jug then you could use that instead. Remember that is you’ve used foundation with wire in it you must remove all of the wire from the wax before you microwave it otherwise there’ll be trouble!

pour boiling water over the wax carefully until you have an inch or two in the bottom of the bowl, next place the bowl into the microwave and give it about one minute on full power, watching carefully incase you missed a bit of wire! Open the door and check it, has the wax melts completely? You don’t want to over heat the wax and never try to melt it without first having water in the bowl. if the wax hasn’t melted completely give it another 30 seconds to a minute and check continuously. Once it has all melted, remove it carefully.

Here you will need another bowl to place beneath your filter system. Again, add some hot water to the bowl and carefully pour the liquid wax and water into your filter set up. allow it to drain through. I usually pour a little more boiling water through the debris in the filter to wash the remaining wax out and into the bowl beneath.

Once the debris has finished dripping you can set this aside with some newspaper beneath it to catch any last remaining drips. leave the entire operation to cool, I normally did this in the evening and allowed the set up to cool over night.