Courtesy Maja Dumat/Flickr
The longer beekeepers practice their craft, the more adept they becomes at gingerly slicing the creamy white caps off honey-filled frames. Although honey is the goal of many beekeepers, the hive offers another natural resource ready for processing: beeswax.
Beeswax is harvested from the wax caps that protect the hive’s honey stores. Beekeepers use anything from sharp kitchen knives to heated wax capping knives, to remove the caps, revealing the honey inside. Light in color and sticky with honey, the caps represent the bulk of a beekeeper’s wax harvest, though excess comb on and between frames can also be scraped off and used.
A close inspection of the wax reveals not only the presence of honey, but pollen, bee wings, legs, and other body parts and debris from the hive—an accumulation of residue referred to as slumgum. In order for the wax to be usable in products like natural furniture polish, candles or beeswax lotion bars, the debris must be removed.
Beekeepers use different strategies for clarifying that lovely, sticky golden wax, but one that’s easy for beekeeping hobbyists is with a solar wax melter. This wax-clarifying process originated with Paul Magnuson of Pretoria, South Africa, and is now taught around the world. Below we’ll discuss two ways of making one yourself.
Courtesy Linda Tillman
Master beekeeper Linda Tillman first learned to make a solar wax melter at the Young Harris College Beekeeping Institute at the University of Georgia. Below are the instructions for the solar wax melter she uses.
Before beginning the clarification process, she lets her bees clean the cappings of honey—the solar wax melter works better with less honey in the wax.
- Styrofoam cooler
- aluminum foil
- round or square plastic container
- paper towel (use a stronger, thicker variety)
- rubber band
- piece of glass (large enough to cover cooler)
Line the Styrofoam container with aluminum foil.
Fill the plastic container with an inch or so of water. Place a paper towel over the container, and secure in place with a rubber band, creating a drum-like cover.
Place the beeswax to be clarified on top of the paper towel, and place the entire container in the Styrofoam box. Set the piece of glass on top of the box, completely covering it. Your solar wax melter is now assembled.
On a sunny day when temperatures are above 79 degrees F, place the solar wax melter outside in a sunny location. As the box warms up, the wax will melt and filter through the paper towel into the plastic container. The rubber band will gently break over the course of the day, Tillman explains, but by the time it does, the wax will have already melted into the container.
Allow the wax to cool overnight. By morning, the wax will have hardened into a clean block floating on top of the water in the container.
Step 6 (Optional)
So nothing is wasted, Tillman recommends saving the paper towel, which is covered in slumgum and wax, as a smoke starter.
When Karen Rennich, beekeeper and project manager for the Bee Informed Partnership, first began harvesting beeswax, she sought the easiest method for creating a solar wax melter that didn’t involve a construction project. Her method doesn’t include a filtering material.
"I tried filtering the melted wax through old T-shirts, pantyhose and cheese cloth,” Rennich explains. "Instead I just let it sit overnight in the Styrofoam cups where it cools and separates. This process is an easy way to get rid of the extra steps of filtering out honey, bee body parts and slumgum.”
- plastic cooler
- old soup pot
- piece of glass (large enough to cover cooler)
Puts the wax scrapings, including any leftover honey or debris, directly into the pot. Use a pot reserved for this purpose. Place the pot inside the cooler, and cover it with the glass.
Place the cooler in direct sunlight, where the wax will melt easily.
Once melted, pour the wax into recycled Styrofoam cups to cool and separate further.
"When you begin to pour the wax out of the pot into separate cups it will be beautiful because the best wax rises to the top,” Rennich says. "It will appear darker and darker as more debris starts coming with the wax. As the wax cools, all that debris will sink to the bottom.”
Take caution, the pot will be hot and should be handled with oven mitts.
After the wax has hardened, slide the block from the cup and slice off the impure residue left at the bottom.
Use your beeswax in one of these crafts from HobbyFarms.com:
About the Author: Deb Buehler is a professional writer who grew up on a hobby farm in central Indiana where she gardened, raised animals and developed a deep love for the environment. Today she lives in Indianapolis with her husband, Craig, and they grow vegetables, keep bees and play with their dogs, Abby and Tucker.