Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Many beekeepers discard their wax cappings after honey harvest or simply forget about them until the wax moths have found and destroyed them. You may be one of them, thinking that rendering beeswax is too hard, is too expensive, or takes too much time. I am going to share a simple and inexpensive way to render beautiful, sweet-smelling cakes of beeswax from your cappings that does not require expensive solar or water-jacketed wax melters. You can find most of the necessary equipment in thrift shops or maybe your own garage or storage area.
The setup I’ve devised uses an old plastic cooler, a light fixture like the type used in a chicken coop with a 100-watt bulb, a foil pan to place in the bottom of the cooler, and some sort of rack to hold the light bulb up off the wax cappings in the foil pan. The rack in the picture is the base of an old-fashioned food mill that I bought at a garage sale. Dedicate all your equipment to melting wax because you’ll never get it clean again!
1. Put your wax cappings in the foil pan. The pan should be sized to cover most of the bottom of your cooler. Put the pan in the cooler, put the rack over the pan, put the light fixture over the rack, close the lid and plug it in! If your lid does not close all the way, you can use a sheet of foil to keep the heat in.
You will have to watch your melting setup to determine how long it takes your cappings to melt down. With the equipment pictured, mine takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I have never had my wax catch fire this way but I keep an eye on it and set a timer to remind me to check it every half hour. Remember beeswax melts at about 140 degrees.
2. After the wax has melted, use oven mitts to carefully lift out the foil pan and pour the melted wax through 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth into a stainless steel container. When it cools, you can remove the cheesecloth along with the slumgum (residue from rendering wax) adhering to the cheesecloth. Save this as it makes an excellent outdoor fire starter. In the bottom of the stainless steel pan, the wax will have separated from any remaining honey, floated to the top, and hardened. Remove this wax cake and rinse off the honey. This honey will be discolored from the heating process and will have lost any nutritional value so won’t be worth saving.
3. Before making candles, you will need to melt and filter your chunk of wax one more time. You can melt it again in your cooler (in a new foil pan that you will save and use only for this cleaner wax), or you can use a teflon coated crockpot at the lowest setting. Once melted, again filter the wax through 3 layers of cheesecloth into a rubber mold or other container to make large blocks. If you don’t have a mold, you can filter it into waxed paper drinking cups. After it hardens, you can just peel away the cup. Your wax is then ready to melt for making candles or to use in salves or lip balm.
The cake of wax and the candles in the picture were all rendered using this method. The candle in the center of the picture was made by putting a wick in a small paper drinking cup, pouring in melted wax, and then peeling away the cup once the wax had hardened.
Betty is a sideline beekeeper living in Middle Tennessee who promotes chemical-free and sustainable beekeeping. You can find her online at PersimmonRidgeHoneyFarm.com and on Facebook.