Messing about with wax

We all have tasks we put off doing. One of mine has been having a go at melting beeswax to make candles. I had a feeling it might be a long and messy job. And I wasn’t 100% sure how to do it either.

Well, I had some time off recently and Tommy was in nursery. So I finally had no excuse to put it off any longer. With the help of the brilliant book ‘‘The Bee Book‘ (co-written by several talented beekeepers including Emma Sarah Tennant) I improvised… not quite in the right way… but the wax did melt!

Melting wax 2

I set up a bain marie over a Thornes double boiler. I was surprised about how long the wax took to melt and turned to the kind beekeepers of Facebook’s Beekeeping Questions UK group for advice (a really helpful group which has just one rule that so many beekeeping forums lack: ‘Be nice to people’). This is what they revealed to me:

Simon Croson screenshot

 

Yep. I had completely missed that water went in the spout. There are even instructions on the Thornes website which explain this! In my defence, I did buy the boiler pre-Tommy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also got some great advice from lots of other beekeepers, such as Candida Williamson’s comment below. It’s important to use rain water if you are in a hard water area because hard water causes soap to form, which affects the quality and appearance of the wax (Reference Mid Bucks Module 2 study notes 2015, p.34).

Double boiler info

 

 

 

 

 

Well, as you can see from the photo below, eventually the wax did melt, even using my botched method. And one little candle was produced! It’s on the dark side, but still a candle.

How do you melt your wax? In an oven, a bain marie, steamer, microwave or perhaps a solar extractor? Perhaps you use tights or baked bean cans? Many of these methods remain very mysterious to me but I know the best way to learn is by doing.

Candle making

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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24 Responses to Messing about with wax

  1. Pingback: Messing about with wax | Raising Honey Bees

  2. I always use a solar melter for fairly clean wax. That is, cappings and burr comb. But when I’m cleaning out brood comb, I don’t like to tarnish my good wax or my solar melter. It smells different and is very dark. I melt that in the oven. I put some mesh over a stainless steel wire basket (designed for eggs, I think) and stand that in a deep, metal tray. I put the oven on low and periodically stir the comb because brood comb has the casings and wax gets caught. In the end I pour the wax into a mould (old plastic take away container) and let it cool and throw all the sticky, icky mess of the brood casings into the compost.

    I don’t mind the darker colour of some wax (and some times even cappings are dark depending on what the bees have been eating I guess) but I really don’t like the smell of wax from brood comb.

    My solar melter ends up with a little sticky messy stuff after each load which always goes into my compost but the wax is much cleaner and smells lightly of honey. And I get all the remaining honey (it sinks to the bottom, the wax floats on top) which I use for baking. It’s thicker and darker and has been heated so has lost some of the enzymes, but it’s great for cooking and putting in tea.

    If you want light wax, putting it through the solar melter a few times turns it white. It bleaches out. But you end up losing more of the honey smell each time.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      Interesting. I can see it being worth using a solar melter when you’re a commercial beekeeper living in a sunny country like Australia. For the small amount of wax I have I’m not sure it’s worth it. Nice that you get honey for your tea too.

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      • I started using a solar melter when I had 2 hives – you don’t need many. Though I don’t think I got too much honey back then. I used to save up the wax and melt it late in the year. You’d be amazed how little sun it takes to melt wax. And all you need is a styrofoam box (from the green grocer) an old window, a couple of baking trays (from the op shop) and some sort of mesh (old sheer curtains works). Costs almost nothing and uses no energy. But it does take hanging around the house all day on a full sunny day (harder to organise in the UK than Australia, I’m sure).

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  3. disperser says:

    Interesting . . . and, yes, it looks messy. However, I imagine there was a level of personal satisfaction awaiting you at the end of it.

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  4. Emily, I have a horribly messy setup in the garage. I collect all my bits of burr comb from inspections (I hang tins near the hives and any wax gathered during inspections gets popped into those), all my cappings, and those get boiled in a huge canning pot half filled with water, heated on an induction hot plate. Our local water is soft, but you can also use distilled water. Once cooled, that forms a cake with some slum-gum on the bottom of the cake. A lot of slum-gum is in the water portion, ick. The water is tossed, and if not made into swarm bobs, the slum-gum is tossed as well, The cake is re-melted in a second pot and that melted wax is filtered through a coffee filter or paper towel. The filtered wax goes into an electric skillet (the big rectangular kind with a thermostatic control). This clean wax is used to brush onto new plastic foundation, I just heat up the skillet to melt the wax when I am waxing frames, it cools and hardens in the skillet between uses. I find the wax from old comb not worth melting out, there is so little of it for so much work and mess. But I am thinking of getting a small steam table unit to function as a very hot water bath for waxy wooden frames (getting a bit arthritic so scraping is too tough on the hands). Hoping that would take a few frames at a time, and melt off all the wax. I never produce enough wax! You can trick the bees into making more bees, and into making more honey, but there is no easy way to trick them into making extra wax…alas.

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  5. hencorner says:

    Very impressed with the candle, Emily!
    I tried using my slow cooker & j cloths for processing wax last year and got sterling results…

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  6. MerryBee says:

    Hi Emily,
    I recently bought a second hand Thornes solar wax melter and I love it.
    I can toss in a bucket full of burr comb and scrapings, and after a day in the sun all the wax has collected in the tin at the bottom leaving behind nearly all the crud which can be scraped out and chucked away. It also makes short work of old dark brood combs. No fuss, no standing over it, no waste of electricity.
    The wax blocks are clean enough for exchange, but if making candles would need to be reprocessed and filtered.
    I also have a Thornes easi-steam, but the problem I found with using it outside, was that it acted as a magnet for all the bees in the neighbourhood, who ended up diving into the molten wax as it dripped out. I guess it will be fine in the winter, but who wants to stand outside in the winter processing wax?

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  7. Erik says:

    A lovely little candle!

    I just melted my first wax last week as well. I put a large pot (purchased especially for wax) on the stove (very low heat) and put the wax in a cheese cloth bag tied at the top. Once it heated up the wax melted, I pulled out the bag with all the gunk, and let it cool. I have a cake of wax now with no candle making supplies, so now I need to go buy yet another beekeeping supply item.

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  8. beatingthebounds says:

    Our kids have enjoyed making beeswax candles – although I don’t recall any melting being involved. We bought a kit – perhaps the complicated bits had already been done?

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  9. Pingback: Messing about with wax | Beginner Beekeeper

  10. Well done! I have only managed to get clean wax using a solar melter (super and old window) but I have not graduated to do anything with it, like making candles. Amelia

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