Intro: Beeswax Rendering
In May of 2018, I set up a small 2 beehive apiary in Mono, Ontario, Canada. My goal was simply to help pollinators and involved planing / restoring native wildflowers, assisting my bees as needed and getting back to nature. My goals did NOT include harvesting honey or beeswax...
But, Nature did what Nature does when you leave it alone... it took over and thrived. My bees filled box after box of honey, my queens produced strong, healthy offspring, and wildflowers grew wild.
In order to scale up this little project, I had no choice but to harvest a very small amount of honey (less than 1/8th). Furthermore, during my hive inspections, I collected a small store of burr comb (burr comb is the wax bees make within a hive where they really shouldn't, and in order to ensure no bees are squished as you inspect the hive, it's good practice to remove the burr comb as you come across it.) Finally, I also collected some wax when I installed a feeding inner cover upside down and the bees used the extra space to build.
So, with this small store of wax, I decided to try my hand at rendering it. I used a few methods and learned a ton.
Step 1: Cautions
- Beeswax is flammable. Never expose it to an open flame.
- Rendering beeswax can get messy so try to do it somewhere like a backward or a garage.
- Melting beeswax can also attract bees and other insects, so beware.
- It can be hard to clean things like bowls and spoons, so it's a good idea to use equipment you're dedicating only to this activity.
Step 2: A Thought About Bees
Bees work hard. A lot of people say they want to "help the bees" and then go and steal all their stuff, often times not leaving enough for the bees to survive on. I'm new at all this, but it does seem there is a very fine balance between helping and robbing from our little pollinator friends.
Consider, for a moment:
- It takes 6 pounds of honey in order to produce 1 pound of beeswax
- 1 pound of honey takes up to 2,000,000 flowers and 80,000 kilometres to produce
Let's all take a second to process that.
Step 3: Equiptment
- Beeswax... duh
- A hotplate
- An elastic band
- Container or mold
- Wooden Spoon (optional)
- A safe, open, well ventilated space to work
Step 4: Melt in Water Method
For this method, I took all the wax and dropped it into a bowl, and then added a 1 to 1 ratio of water.
I used 2 bowls: 1 for the water & wax, and one I made a cheese cloth filter with by putting cheesecloth on top and securing it with an elastic band. The second bowl is what will filter the melted wax from all the debris.
Put the bowl on the hot plate and turn it onto a medium/low heat.
As the mixture heats, the wax melts safely. I got impatient and mixed it with a spoon (should have used a wooden spoon.)
Once all the wax is melted I poured the entire contents into the bowl that has the cheesecloth filter on top.
This is where you'll see all the gunk and "bee bits" that were in the wax.
Wax is less dense than water to the filtered wax will settle on top of the water. Once it's cooled you can pour out the water and decide what to do next.
For me, and as you can see, the cheesecloth didn't filter out all the debris, so I had to filter it again and chose the double boiler method (see step 2.)
Note: I have read that using tap water causes a chemical reaction with the wax and can create "mushy wax" or a discolouration. Something about the alkalinity in tap water, but I didn't notice that using tap water had any negative impact on my wax. If you're worried, it's suggested you use distilled water or, better yet, rain water.
Step 5: Double Boiler Method
So, my first method left my wax with a fair amount of debris, so, needing to filter it again, I figured I'd try another method.
To remove the wax from the first pot, I used a hairdryer to warm the wax and then easily broke it off and into pieces. I let the wax sit for a couple days so all the water evaporated off.
Once dry, I set up a homemade double boiler system with a big pot of water, a small grill to elevate my bowl with wax and then turned the stove on low.
It didn't take long for the wax to start to melt. Once melted, I had my other bowl ready, this type with a thicker layer of cheesecloth.
Once filtered, it was completely free of debris, so I poured the wax directly into molds.
Step 6: Conclusion
There's a lot you can do with bees wax. It's used for furniture polish, candles, rubs and, my favourite, waterproofing clothing. I hope to melt these back down and add in some other special ingredients and made a nice fabric wax for my camping gear.
This was my first time rendering wax and I certainly learned a lot. I hope you found my experience useful and if you have any experiences you'd like to share, please comment!