Thursday, November 24, 2016

How to Render Beeswax

One of the most valuable things that beekeepers get from our bees is the wax that they make. It's valuable in several ways, not the least of which is for the frames we give the bees to use. When bees have drawn comb (used their wax to make the honeycomb that they store honey in or use for their brood and pollen), frames can be used over several times, and that saves bees the effort of drawing new comb every time they need it.

Wax that has been rendered and filtered twice

So when we harvested honey this year, we used an extractor (thanks S & L!) and used its centrifugal force to whip the honey out of the frames (after we remove the caps) and save that valuable drawn comb, as opposed to just crushing and straining all the wax and honey off the frames

After extraction of the honey the cappings, which are scraped off and drained, are very useful for a variety of things, not the least of which is candles, lotions, lip balms, and to melt and use to add to new frames to assist the bees in drawing them out later.

The process of rendering the beeswax is fairly simple, although it does take some time. (Also, see this great video, which is one of several from which I got the inspiration for this post. Thanks Cameron.)

I used the following:

A cheap slow cooker (which will be dedicated to wax from now on)
Some cheesecloth
Some paper towel
And of course, wax that needs to be rendered

How To:

Put about two inches of water in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Over that, stretch a double or triple layer of cheesecloth. I taped it to the slow cooker at both ends, the corners, and the middle.
Cheesecloth and paper towel over the top
of the slow cooker, taped to it.
Over that stretch a layer of paper towel. Tape it down as above.

Over the whole thing, put a large rubber band of some sort (the slow cooker I bought came with one.)

Then place the wax cappings on top of the paper towel (and any extra comb you've scraped off which the bees made in places they shouldn't have, which is called burr comb.)

Cappings and brood comb ready to melt
Turn the slow cooker to low, cover it, and let it do its thing. I suggest being patient and not using the high temperature setting, as it can cause the wax to boil, which makes it not smell as lovely when it's done rendering.

Check it about every half an hour or so. And do not leave the slow cooker unattended, too much of a fire risk.

After an hour or three you'll see the wax has mostly seeped through the layers of filter, and there's some ugly black stuff left. This is called slumgum, and is all the dirt that has been brought into the comb by the bees tiny feet, plus other general detrius.

Slumgum left behind
Once all the wax has melted through, turn the slow cooker off and let it cool completely. Once it has, remove the filter material, but save it, as it works very well as fuel for your smoker when you use it to inspect your hives.

You may need to slide a knife around the edge of the wax, but the water should have allowed it to form into a nice patty. Lift it out and there you are.

Patty of wax after first filtering

I find that most times I need to repeat the process, as the first time some of the yuck gets through the filter and seeps into the water, and winds up on the underside of the wax. And you'd be surprised how much dirt a seemingly clean patty of wax still has when you filter it twice.

Filter material after second rendering

When you're done, you have clean wax you can use for any number of things. I made candles, which I'll write about in a subsequent post.