Beeswax is a natural wax produced by the honey bees in their hives. Worker bees (the females) have eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7.

The new wax scales are initially glass-clear and colorless, becoming opaque after mastication by the worker bee. The wax of honeycomb is nearly white, but becomes progressively more yellow or brown by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about 3 millimetres (0.12 in) across and 0.1 millimetres (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1100 are required to make a gram of wax.

Western honey bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells in which their young are raised and honey and pollen are stored. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive has to be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F). To produce their wax, bees must consume about eight times as much honey by mass.

It is estimated that bees fly 150,000 miles to yield one pound of beeswax (530,000 km/kg), roughly 6 times around the earth. Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often a shade of yellow, depending on purity and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. Wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb.

Impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax has to be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum.

Uses of Beeswax:

Beeswax has a multitude of uses and can be clarified by heating in water and can then be used for candles, a lubricant for drawers and windows, a wood polish, in soap and skin care products. It is also used to coat pills and sweets, in batik art, polishing boots and lubricating zips.

As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.

Important hints and tips:

When melting beeswax always use a water bath by placing the container of wax; probably a small saucepan or glass bowl inside a larger pan of water. Never place a pan of wax directly onto a heat source. Beeswax can easily become damaged by localised overheating and if it ignites can burn more ferociously than a chip pan fire. Beeswax does not boil, it just gets hotter and hotter until it ignites.

Wax should only be melted in stainless steel, plastic, or tin plated containers. Iron rust and containers of galvanised iron, brass or copper all impart a colour to beeswax and aluminium is said to make the wax dull and mud coloured. The next time you see a very orange wax in may have been melted in a copper pan.

Value of beeswax:

As can be seen by the large variety of uses for beeswax it is of course a valuable substance. Ethiopia is one of the biggest exporters of beeswax in the world. The beeswax can be sold in its raw form or purified or indeed as one of the many products already mentioned above.

So please dont waste your beeswax, make something useful with it, give it away or sell it if you have enough of it!

Wax Extraction:

A brood frame newly drawn out from foundation is usually light in colour and light in weight. After some years the the frames tend to become very heavy with a build up of cocoon skins and propolis and become unsuitable for further use. When they are replaced the old comb can be thrown out or burnt or an attempt can be made to recover some of the wax still in it.

At about 145°F (62°C) beeswax melts, becomes liquid and runs. The old comb can be heated to this temperature on a warm sunny day by making an insulated box, covering it with two layers of glass, and setting it at an angle to catch the sun rays. If the comb is placed on a sloping metal tray with a perforated metal grid to keep the old comb in place, the wx will (when the sun shines) become liquid and run out into a bowl of some sort, which should be positioned below the tray.

The wax will set in the bowl and by night the wax will have formed a solidified cake that can be knocked out by upturning the bowl and banging the base.

You can buy solar powered wax extractors new but why not recycle some old windows from the dump.

The cappings can also be melted down but must be clear of honey first. Ideally the cappings should be washed in rain water before melted down.

If you want to build your own wax extractor download the plans below:

[wdsm_ad id=”774″ class=” ” ]