When it comes to rendering beeswax from old combs, one common concern is the amount of wax that remains in the slumgum. Whereas it is fairly easy to melt new comb or cappings, old combs can be difficult and frustrating due to cocoons and other debris in the wax.
Aram Frangulyan, a beekeeper in Auburn, Washington devised a simple rendering system that separates most of the wax even from the darkest combs. He uses steam in an enclosed box and lets the wax drip out the bottom into a pan of water. Aram writes, “It does not matter how old your frames are. Steam chases wax out of frames completely caked with propolis or frames that are so old you would never get anything out of them with any other method.”
Here are some instructions for a building a wax melter using a wallpaper steamer:
1. Build a steamer box. Aram used a deep brood box and made a top and bottom out of scraps of plywood. Attach the bottom piece of plywood securely to the bottom of the deep box.
2. Drill a hole near the center front of the plywood. This is where the melted wax will drain out.
3. Line the box with aluminum foil, completely covering the bottom and then up the interior sides of the box. Punch a hole through the foil at the drain hole.
4. Drill another hole in the top plywood, large enough for the steamer hose to fit snugly.
5. Arrange the steamer box so that it tips forward and the drain hole is over a catch bucket filled with water. The water prevents the wax from adhering to the inside of the bucket.
Once the melter is complete you can begin filling the box with frames. If your frames are wooden with wax foundation, you can put them in the melter as is.
If you have plastic frames or plastic foundation, the steamer will melt the plastic. So for these frames, you can scrape the frames free of wax and place the scrapings in the box.
When you are ready to begin, just turn on the steamer. Aram says it takes about 40 minutes for the wax to begin dropping out the bottom.
I have not tried this method because I don’t have a steamer, but I’m seriously considering it. I have buckets and buckets full of wax waiting for me to do something.
Thanks so much, Aram, for sharing with Rusty who shares with us! What a really clever method. You two could be the reason for a run on wallpaper steamers…
A wallpaper steamer probably makes it much easier, but boat builders have been cobbling together steamers for a long time. A tea kettle and a radiator hose would probably work. I’m too new to bees to have comb to cycle out, but I’m going to hang on to this idea. Thanks!
Thanks, Rusty and Aram!
A question I’ve had for a long time. I tried to recover some wax from a couple hives that were so minimally looked after, even the bridge comb was black. What I scraped off the plastic foundation, after (guessing) 3 or more seasons of brood-rearing, proved to be almost all cocoon. The couple tablespoons of wax from 6 medium boxes weren’t worth the time and fuel.
Here’s my question: where does the wax go? If the larva spins its cocoon inside a wax cell, shouldn’t the wax still be there underneath it all? Even at the plastic foundation, there was nothing but a layer of black “paper.” The bees would not re-use it, or they built their own “foundation” out from it in curious parallel rows. (I switched those hives over to wax.)
Thanks! It’s an ingenious method, and certainly worthwhile on good comb.
Shady Grove Farm
Such a good question! Truth is, I don’t know where the wax goes. I’ve often wondered myself.
I’ve tried rendering wax using different methods. I’ve tried cooking it out in a stock pot, and after 5 or 6 sessions I was not happy with the results. I tried a steamer, still was not happy with the purity of the wax. Then built a solar wax melter. I’ll never go back. The solar wax melter is much easier, less time consuming, does a better job. Hands down it will get my vote.
Check out Rendering Wax and Solar Wax Melter under the Everything Bees tab. The web site is youngbees.com.
The wax does not go anywhere. It just binds to the cocoons with a stronger force than gravity can pull it out. That’s why solar melter did not work for me with old brood comb (you know, the propolized thick smelly gunky stuff). But I think the steam melter adds a water medium through which the wax can travel downwards.
You can experiment with the old gunky wax. Put it in the solar melter and see how soft it gets, without dripping any wax. Let it cool and now burn it. All of the sudden the wax will begin to drip down under the flame. Uh huh, so it is there, it is just tightly bonded.
Steam melter is kind of like an open flame and that’s why it yields better results. It gets much hotter than just boiling water and the sweating comb provides a traveling medium that is otherwise not available. All that without the added “benefit” of a toasted smell of cooked propolis, proteins and honey.
I often wondered if just plugging in heat gun for peeling paint would yield similar results, but I am afraid the fire hazard is too great. X
Funny. I use the heat gun approach all the time . . . with appropriate precautions. I haven’t burned down too many things . . . yet.
I wonder if adding coffee filters to those holes would eliminate the need to filter again? Then the coffee filters could be used as fire starters or in the smoker.
I was thinking something similar. It seems like it would be possible to build some kind of screened platform to fit inside the box and lay a paper towel on it as a filter. I guess with a platform in a regular Langstroth box, if you wanted to melt the frames directly, you’d have to have a second box though.
We just save those old socks we used throw out. Stuff them full of slumgum and submerge them in a large crock pot ($4 at a yard sale) filled with water. Turn on and the wax floats to the surface.
I built a solar melter and I love the thing. The nucs that I bought had some seriously old comb in them. When I scraped the mess (wax, cocoons and what not) into the melter I just left it there for about 2 months. It kept dripping wax into the collector tray the entire time. I eventually removed the massive chunks left and there remained a sludge in the melt tray. This continues to slowly drip wax into the collector tray.
If you have ‘buckets’ of wax that needs tending to, using this method might not be right for you. It works for my as I’m only dealing with a couple of hives.
I built a solar melter and works great. Got a styrofoam cooler. Lined bottom with tin foil. Had leftover shiny roll roof material and kept it rolled up then placed in cooler and let it unroll. Got painters stainer and placed it over a plastic bucket with 2 inches of water. Placed wax on strainer and then glass on roll,place in sun Dose not matter where the sun is during the day. On a not do hot day the temp was 162 F. Easy clean up.
I wanted to address this one more time. I use steam melter because it works on the comb that no other method can remove wax from. I’ve tried feed sacks in the press, the Lusby method. I’ve tried solar melter. Steam melter will extract more wax from the old propolized almost black comb than solar melter ever can. I am addressing the comb so rigid and old that you can make an airplane wing support from it.
Once the wax is extracted, I am more than happy to run it again thru the solar melter and it does a great job lightening it. With the volume that I get, it is just easier to melt it in a pot over a stove and then scrape the crud off the bottom.
You guys and dolls obviously haven’t checked out the Way Out West Blowin Blog from the West coast of Ireland. This ingenious Irishman has a steam system similar to Aram Frangulyan, but on a larger scale…….
You might be able to get a steamer at a Goodwill or advertise on FB. I made a simple solar melter out of a cooler and rolled a sheet of shiny roof flashing about 3 ft long into a tube and placed it in the tin foil lined cooler. I get painters straining cloth and wrap it around a plastic bucket with water. Place all my capping sect on top of strain material. Place glass on top of tube. I measured @180 degrees.