Comb and Foundation
Beeswax is easily melted (too easily sometimes) but we must
take care that we do not damage the chemical and physical structure
by over heating.
||by its very nature is highly inflammable|
care needs to be taken to avoid accidental fire when melting it.
The objective of this page is to produce wax blocks that
may still retain some contaminants or dross, that can be further
processed along the lines illustrated in the
page. A two stage process is helpful as the first can be a
"wet" phase with the second or subsequent meltings being
done without water. Any water that comes into contact with molten or
melting beeswax should be acidified to avoid saponification.
Comb for melting can be graded for colour... cappings wax is
usually fairly light and so is freshly drawn comb. Comb that is
incompletely drawn may be virtually white and not yet had any propolis
applied to it that might stain it. This should be saved for show
purposes. Old brood combs may produce an orange or brown wax and this
can still be utilised, but should be segregated from those combs that
will produce a light wax.
Wax selection and colour grading can matter if foundation is
you chosen product. Dark wax doesn't affect the bees, but it is
beekeepers that buy wax not the bees, and beekeepers are conditioned
to prefer light colours.
Steam Extraction... I live in a small town called Syston,
If Syston has any claim to fame it is for the design and development
of the steam wax extractor
and so it has a page devoted to it.
Kitchen Stove Method... For small quantities I start with a
large saucepan about a quarter full of water that has been acidified
with lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar (one or two teaspoons).
I heat this directly on an electric ring, but at a very low
power and add my dirty wax and fragments of comb in chunks as small
as practical (grape to walnut size) until the pot is three quarters
full. This melting pot needs watching and stirring continuously and
will take some time to bring to a very minor boil.
This boiling action must be very, very, gentle so that there
are millions of fine bubbles. It is these small bubbles that allow
water to contact the contamination that is distributed throughout the
Do not boil for more than five minutes, or too vigorously,
otherwise damage can occur that will turn the wax chocolate brown.
Such damaged wax still has it's uses in making candles, but should be
kept completely separate from naturally coloured wax.
The pot should be left to cool naturally for 24 to 48 hours
after which time you will have a circular cake of wax that has shrunk
enough to remove easily. The wax itself will still contain debris, but
the water soluble items will be in the water and in the scummy layer
under the cake. Scrape off the loose muck (it makes good compost).
This brownish stuff is a jumbled up mixture of fragments of cocoons,
particles of chitin (Kaitin), pollen husks, propolis, dust particles,
wax moth eggs, wax moth feaces, wax moth silk, pollen grains as well as
solid and soluble bee feaces.
I follow up this part of the process by putting the
resulting cakes in my
Solar wax extractor
or sometimes when there is not enough sun to make this work
adequately... I use my warming cabinet for the next stage of
filtration. These waterless techniques also allow any entrapped water
to evaporate and escape.
Burlap Bag Method... This can be done on a fairly large
scale using sacks made from burlap cloth. An empty oil drum with one
end cut off can be used as a vessel to heat water over a bonfire which
provides the heat for melting. The method is fairly simple... The sack
is filled with the old comb, dirty wax and a few bricks or stones and
then the end is tied closed. The weighted bag will not float and is
immersed in the water in the oil drum that is supported on concrete
blocks and the whole lot is heated by building a fire under the end of
the drum. The bag is raised from the metal surface by a few bricks so
that the water temperature does the melting and not the heated steel
base of the drum. The wax melts and being less dense than the water it
will percolate through the coarse cloth and rise to the surface. The
majority of the impurities will be entrapped inside the bag.
Wax for showing needs special
selection and treatment... The linked page is only part complete.
Written... September 2000, Revised... 09 February 2002
Additions... 09/10 November 2002