I’ve tried about twenty ways to get beeswax from old combs. So far I’ve found nothing that works for me. Cappings wax is pretty much doable, but I tend to be thrifty and I can’t bear to dispose of those old, dark, cocoon-filled combs without trying to render the wax. I want to make it into candles—candles that don’t sputter and smoke—and I want to do it without ruining every tool in the kitchen.
I have learned several valuable lessons so far. The most important is you must deny everything. At the end of the day when your significant other says, “What’s that stuff all over the stove?” it’s best to say, “What stove?” Or “What stuff?”
Same goes for the kitchen floor. “Did you spill something on the floor?” my husband asks, looking down at one bare foot. He just walked from the sink to the fridge, but his right sock is attached to the floor, facing the sink. “Uh, you must have stepped in something,” I reply helpfully.
When that same person asks, “Where did you put the “_____?” (stock pot, funnel, strainer, wooden spoon, spatula, slotted spoon, measuring cup or anything else you ruined and hid in the trunk of your car) you need to look innocent and say, “I have no idea. I think you were the last one to use it.” You should practice your innocent face in front of a mirror because, I swear, you will need it every time you play with beeswax.
One and done
Second lesson: It seems that no matter how carefully I plan to separate hot gunk from hot wax, and no matter how many times I rehearse the steps in my mind, I always need just one more of the aforementioned objects—one more strainer, one more pot, one more spoon, one more pan. But after I requisition it from the cupboard or from the store—and it gets all gunked up—I need one more after that.
The third lesson I’ve learned is that these household objects will never—ever—be useful for any other purpose ever again. Once melted beeswax is all over it, it is history. Oh yes, I’ve tried freezing, melting, rubbing, sanding, and dissolving in alcohol. But forget it, beeswax becomes one with anything it touches.
The fourth lesson is that I need two sets of all that hardware to get the job done. The first pass through the strainers removes the macro stuff—the big, black, shiny, ugly clumps that really muck things up. The second pass is more genteel. It removes the fine particles—the tiny ones that cause candles to smoke and sputter, regardless of their size. But if you try to reuse the first set of straining tools for the second pass you won’t get the little specs. In fact, you may end up putting more back in. So just accept it: you need two sets of non-recoverable tools for one job.
Beeswax fire starters
Number five: save any burnable items that are infused with beeswax, including paper, cotton sheeting, and cheesecloth. These things burn like crazy and can be used a light a fire anywhere, like in a woodstove, fireplace, campfire ring . . . or even in a bucket of water.
The sixth lesson is you can only render wax in a devil-may-care, what-the-hell kind of mood. If you try it in a neat, clean, or anal kind of mood you will fail miserably. You need childlike non-attention to details to succeed.
Cow pies in the hallway
Last week I did the “first pass” on a bunch of old comb I’ve been storing for years. I melted it with a heat gun and let it drip through a strainer and into a bucket of water. When the waxbergs hardened, they reminded me so much of cow pies that I put one in a dark corner of the hallway. I thought my husband would freak. But, alas, I’ve been married too long. He just muttered, “Is this another of your jokes?” and walked on by. Too bad. It should have worked.
I loved the way you explained this; I could see myself having all these problems and more – though one of the reasons I thought my home and garden were perfect for beekeeping is we have a second kitchen which I now grandly call the ‘honey kitchen’. However, I think you have also convinced me that this is one task I’ll not investigate!
But carry on the anecdotes.
Wow, a honey kitchen! That sounds like heaven.
Nice try with faux cow pie!
On a related note: Last year, while I was making pollen patties at work one day, I took a lump of the mixture, rolled it into a poo shape and then walked across the warehouse to the washroom to set it on the toilet seat. About a half hour later I heard my boss make a few horrified exclamations, quickly followed by lots of laughing.
I am not sure what these two incidences say about the maturity level of beekeepers?
If you get exposed to enough bee venom, it changes your brain I think . . . peels off the trappings of modern civilization.
My technique is simple. You need:
– honeycomb or other wax-containing materials
– metal pot approximately 3 times bigger than amount of wax to melt;
– plastic bag usually used for citrus – made out of heavy plastic mesh; any bag made from mesh material/fabrick would work.
– rock or other heavy object;
– some sort of “clips” to keep bag closed;
– piece of wood or glass/ceramic plate, which could cover most of the pot’s bottom.
– Place wax along with the rock into the bag;
– use clip(s) to close the bag. Some soft wire may work too. Just make sure that bag is tightly closed; bag should not occupy more than half of the pot’s volume.
– put wooden or glass plate on the bottom of the pot, it prevents bad from damaging by the heat.
– place bag into the pot and add water; you should have a few inches of water on top of the bag.
– slowly heat pot on the stove. Do not boil water! Use low heat! Wax will melt and float to the surface. The garbage will stay in the bag (with the rock). Wax, moving through the water will additionally purified.
– when most of the wax is at the top, remove pot from the heat and let it cool down overnight. Do not disturb! When cold, remove nice “wheel” of the wax from the water. Scrape out some junk from the bottom of the “wheel”.
– discard the bag, keep the rock if you wish.
– for additional purification you could re-melt wax in the water again in similar manner.
To make candles from the wax “wheel” – melt “wheel” in the double boiler; do not mix wax with water this time! Good luck!
This made a great post. Thanks so much for sending it in.
I was reading back articles on your blog the other day and I came across the story of cemetery honey and you being worried about eating it when you were a little girl. I wonder if this might put a different light on it for you. Once when I was a youngster I was visiting my Nan (grandmother). She said something about when she would be “pushing up the daisies.” I didn’t catch on to what she meant at first so she explained about the work she thought she would be doing when she got into heaven…. i.e. Working at pushing all the little flowers up into our lawns. It made a possible sad thought for me about someday losing her into a bearable thought because she would be making the daisies grow. To this day I cannot mow the daisies on my lawn when they appear.
So take that thought to the cemetery bees and the honey they make, then think about how the nicest people pushed those flowers through the grass. So the honey that you get from those bees is a great gift from someone loved.
Ta ta for now and thank you for your wonderful site with such great knowledge and kindness.
That is a great story; thanks for sharing. It is amazing how thoughts we had as children can stick with us through a lifetime.
I built a simple “solar wax melter”. It alleviates many of the problems you mentioned, but it does take up space. For a small amount of wax I made a wire basket the size to hold a paper coffee filter. Place the basket with filter in the wax melter and put your wax in it. As the wax melts it is filtered. Of course the filter remains saturated with wax, but you can reuse it several times. My wax melter is large enough to hold a complete Deep Frame. I had a few frames of brood comb that were messed up . When I put them in the solar melter the wax melted off and left the cocoons in the shape of the comb. You could handle it if you were careful but it was fragile.
I tried looking up your ip address, but it’s cryptic. I was wondering where you are because, honestly, I don’t think we get enough solar heat up here to melt wax. If we do, it’s not very often, maybe a few days in the summer. If I thought it would work, I would build one.
I live in north, central Arkansas. Greers Ferry Lake area. Lots of hot sunny days.
I truly enjoy your web site. Keep up the good work.
Thanks, David. Did you design your own wax melter or use a plan?
Rusty, I used the plan I found on “Beesource”. I modified the plans to use materials I had on hand. I also raised it up on legs and added two wheels to make it easy to move in and out of my shop. It is not pretty but it works.
Sounds good. I might try it.
I read David Williams comment an his homemade solar wax melter. I would be interested in building one. Here in south-eastern Idaho we ‘do’ get enough sun for it to work. Is there any way I could get the plans for it, either from David or from you Rusty?
Thanks for such a good post and ideas.
Willow Creek Honey
The plans are available on BeeSource.com at this link.
Thanks Rusty, I will check it out.
On Fat Bee Man’s site, he melts old combs and pours it all in a container where the wax separates and rises to the top. When it is all hardened, he dumps out the block and cuts the clean wax away. This way he can also salvage propolis to sell for its many uses. Throw the mixed up layers in with the next batch to further refine.
Hi Rusty & Bruce,
I had heard of that method from an old beekeeper when I was a girl. The problem was that the stuff on the bottom was really really hard and cutting it off with a knife was messy and dangerous. His solution was to use an old hand cheese grater to shave it off a bit at a time. One more tool, right… but that’s versus me with a sharp object.
Hey: Deny everything? When that same person asks, “Where did you put the “_____?” (stock pot, funnel, strainer, wooden spoon, spatula, slotted spoon, measuring cup or anything else you ruined and hid in the trunk of your car) you need to look innocent and say, “I have no idea. I think you were the last one to use it.” You should practice your innocent face in front of a mirror because, I swear, you will need it every time you play with beeswax.. <<< That’s the womanly way!
Are you ex CIA or something? Wow, only a woman could mess up like this and only a man would pick her up on her inadequate ways….but being I'm on the other side of the world eg Australia, I feel fairly safe! But really understanding comes in dribs and drabs. Even understanding men and women….behave when being inadequate.
Get yourself some secondhand gear so you won’t have to explain, and do it like a man would have to, without having to explain your secretive ways…. You have outed yourself as a devious partner! And I love women for that…. Huge Grin!
I play with beeswax 10 to 12 hours a day in the factory where I work. We make custom sinks and showers that are “guaranteed forever” (The Onyx Collection, Inc); and because everyone orders something different, we have to constantly reuse our molds in different ways, modifying their shape with wood and wax to produce what the customer ordered. Anyway, cleaning the wax off the molds so we can set them up for another item is a pain, but it is absolutely doable. The worst of it gets scraped off with pieces of mylar or plastic scraper tools, and for the residue we use paste wax and paper towels. Alcohol, as you know, is useless; but if you put some paste wax on a sponge or paper towel and rub the beeswax with some pressure, the beeswax will all be dissolved in the paste wax and it will come off. When your sponge gets hard to rub with because of friction, you know it’s time to apply more paste wax or get a new sponge. Try it, you will be surprised how well it works.
I have been working with beeswax for about 20 years or so, and have gone thru the mess in the kitchen, tried dollar store ice cube trays as molds. I make Spaghetti wax for the folks who make Ukrainian Eggs, I go thru anywhere from 100 to nearly 200 lbs of beeswax that I get from my beekeeper friend who puts the hives in our back yard.
After a few years, I bought a used electric stove for $20, a set of stock pots from Harbor Freight $15 or so and key to success, a pack of paint filters from Harbor Freight (I use the 60-70 mesh). I put a spigot with valve in the biggest pot (about 3 gallons capacity), locate the spigot about an inch up from the bottom.
I put enough water in the pot to reach nearly the spigot, then pile in the wax, it will hold about 25 to 30 lbs of wax chunks/honey/bee parts & gunk. turn the heat on low to medium, as it melts, the honey and heavy bits drop to the bottom, I scoop off the floating bits.
Finally I drain through the spigot and thru the paint filter, This gives me a lot of nice clean wax, (and it all happens in the shop not in the kitchen) Haha. The waste as some one else said makes great firestarters.
Wow, that is a lot of wax! Your system sounds cool, though. I like the used stove idea.
Several years in and preparing a Wax Workshop for our club, I keep reading “Anything used for wax processing can never, ever, ever, ever be used for any other purpose on Earth whatsoever.” Words to that effect.
May I ask why not?
I scrape as much cold wax as possible off, say, my good 2-quart stainless-steel bowl. Then fill with boiling water. Wax residue rises to the top and when the water cools, can be lifted off. Then rinse with just a little boiling water, then wipe the surface with a paper towel.
Beeswax – edible, right? Boiling water – sterile, right?
I dunno, the conventional advice just sounds like 50’s Home-Ec-teacher warnings. But I don’t want to kill any workshop attendees.
Shady Grove Farm
There is no health reason. After all, we eat beeswax in comb honey. I think it’s just a convenience issue. I’ve cleaned wax the same way, with boiling water.