Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Wax extraction

How to recover beeswax from cappings and old combs and the use you could make of it.

Recovered wax can be graded with cappings wax being the most desirable and wax from combs which contains impurities least so. The processes used for cappings and comb wax extraction, and the uses made of the resultant wax are described separately as they are different.

Cappings can be collected at the time of honey extraction. The cappings will contain significant amounts of honey. This will initially be filtered off using a filter screen in the decapping tray. The wet cappings wax can then be further cleaned either by returning in an Ashcroft feeder to the hive from which it originates, or by washing. Bees will remove the honey from the cappings over a period of a couple of days and the resultant wax grains will be virtually pure. Washing if performed instead should be performed using rain water, or soft water from another source and the initial washings could be used for meade production. The cappings will need to be rinsed several times before being air dried in the sun. The dried cappings can then be gently heated to melt, over an indirect heat source (to avoid the risk of ignition). This could be using a specifically designed double walled container which acts like a ban-marie. Water is boiled in the lower chamber and the wax will melt (Melting point 147 degrees F) Avoid overheating as this would cause discolouration of the wax. The molten wax should be filtered to remove debris, is a fine muslin filter (or using coffee filter papers) and be cooled. This could be within a suitable latex mould. The resultant pale fragrant wax block is saleable to those involved in creating cast statuettes etc, as it can be sculpted, immersed in a solid  fine sand tray and heated, thus removing the wax and leaving a hollow mould into which the bronze cast is poured. Another use is in the manafacture of candles for ceremonial and religious use, and of course wax moulds can be used at exhibits at honey shows.

Old comb can be rendered by placing it inside a solar wax melter. This uses a pane of glass to retain heat from the sun inside a chamber into which the wax is placed. Moulten wax is collected in a container. An alternative is the steam extraction method in which the combs are placed inside a brood chamber with a solid floor, and a hole in the lowest point. The roof contains an inlet port to which a source of steam can be attached (eg a wallpaper stripper). The hot steam will completly clear all wax off the frames. Old beekeepers used a method of placing all of their old combs inside a sack which was held down inside a container of water, heated from underneath. The molten wax exudes through the sack, and floats, and after cooling of the water bath, will forme a solid cake on the surface. The collected wax will contain impurities on its underside, and this dross can be removed by scraping, and by reheating and filtering. The resultant wax is darker in colour, and is less valuable than pale cappings wax, but can be sold to beekeepers suppliers or swapped for foundation sheets. The commercial processors will use a combination of pressure and heat filtration to clean the wax block ridding it of the remnants of propolis, larval coatings etc.