When we first added bees to our homestead in June of 2015, it was primarily to ensure there would be pollinators around to help our vegetable crops. We looked at honey as a secondary, bonus result of having them around. What we hadn't accounted for was the beeswax that seems to accumulate over the course of the beekeeping season.
We amassed a fair bit of the stuff and weren't sure how to purify it for use. Itching to make beeswax lip balm, body lotions and candles, we started researching how to turn what were big, unattractive globs of wax into something we could work with.
First, a bit of explanation of how bee keepers end up with wax. There are two main sources for beeswax: burr comb and cappings.
Burr comb is any comb the bees build outside of the frames in the hive. If burr comb isn't removed, it can really interfere with our ability to remove frames to check hive health. So, every time we open the hive for inspection, one of the tasks performed is to scrape off any wax on top of the frames, or in between them. The picture on the left is a good example of burr comb on top frames. Cappings are the wax that the bees use to seal individual cells of honey in a frame. When honey is harvested, these cappings need to be removed, either with a capping fork or a capping knife. This exposes the stored honey so that it can be extracted from the frame. The image on the left shows capped honey. The areas with a whitish colour are cells that are full of honey and the bees have capped them with wax to store the honey.
Here's some of our burr comb and cappings, ready to be rendered:
The cappings (on the left) have been drained of any remaining honey. The burr comb (right) is generally just squished up and stored in a mason jar over the season.
Rendering this gooey, sticky mess into a pure beeswax is a simple process requiring few tools:
1) a pot...preferably one dedicated to this task, as it will get coated in wax which is hard to remove. We picked ours up at the Grimsby Benevolent Fund, a local Goodwill-type store.
4) a heat source..we process ours on the stove top.
1) Place a pot, filled with water, on your heat source.
2) Wrap all your wax in 3-4 layers of cheesecloth and tie it off. You'll end up with something that looks like a bag. Be sure to use multiple layers of cloth. some of the particles in the wax are quite fine.
3) Place the cheesecloth bag into the water and heat. It doesn't really need to boil.
4) The wax will begin to melt out of the bag, leaving impurities behind.
5) Once the bag is more or less empty, squeeze it with your tongs and remove it from the water.
6) Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.
7) The beeswax will rise to the top of the pan and solidify as the water cools.
8) Once thoroughly cooled, remove the wax (now a beautiful dark yellow colour) from the pan. It will be in a nice disc shape. Dry it off and store in an airtight container.
Feeling brave? Take a peek inside the cheesecloth. What's left in there is known as "slum gum". It can include bits of vegetation and bug parts. It's pretty gross looking, but don't throw it away! Take the cheesecloth bag, stuff it into an empty toilet paper roll and voila....a fantastic fire starter for your next campfire.
And there you have it. Purified beeswax, ready for whatever projects you have in mind!