The most obvious advantage of maintaining bees is to have honey. A secondary advantage is to have the beeswax. It’s an amazing product with so many practical applications. Last year we harvested our first honey. This year we want to find uses for the wax. The first step is to get the wax from the lovely honeycomb dripping with sweetness into a usable form. For that we have to purify it.
When we harvested the honey, we let the cappings drip through the sieve to catch as much honey as we could. Then John rinsed it and let it dry in the sieve. It gets broken up and crumbly. We store it in a plastic container. (Gotta keep those ants off it!) Last years cappings we stored in a ziplock bag in the freezer.
To obtain clean beeswax for candles or lip balm or whatever, it needs to be separated from impurities like little bee parts. To do this, we wrapped the beeswax in cheesecloth, secured it closed with a rubber band (or string), put it in a pot, covered it with water and boiled it for about half an hour.
As the boiling water melts the beeswax, the wax seeps through the cheesecloth into the water. The impurities remain behind in the cheesecloth. We boiled the wax (gently to avoid splatters and the risk of fire) until it appeared there was no more wax in the cheesecloth. This took about half an hour. As “clean” as the wax cappings look in the top picture, there was an amazing amount of dark gunk left after boiling. After squeezing the cloth gently with tongs to coax out all the wax, the cheesecloth was then discarded and the pot of waxy water left to cool for awhile.
As the water cools, the wax rises to the top and solidifies. (Not unlike the fat on a chicken soup.) Once the wax is cool and solid, it is simple to remove it. Just press down on one side and lift it out.
This batch of beeswax yielded 4 oz. of purified wax. The 4 oz. was stored in a ziplock bag and then used to make two batches of lip balm.
This batch of wax came out very clean. A second batch had a lot of “stuff” still in it. I think it was not wrapped in as many layers of cheesecloth. The remedy–break it up into chunks, wrap it better this time, and boil it again. Pantyhose is recommended as a fine strainer, but I can’t remember the last time I wore pantyhose and didn’t feel like running to the store for that. I’ll be sure to stock up for future beeswax projects.
Update in 2018: After cleaning much more beeswax, I still follow this basic outline, but often I am dealing with wax that is not as pretty as these pictures. These days, I clean twice. The first time, I dump all the dirty wax right into the pot and cover with water. As it melts, I skim off as much of the dirty sludge as I can. As the wax cools on the top of the water, the gunky stuff will stick to the bottom of the wax and have to be scraped off later. Better to skim what you can first. A lot more will sink to the bottom and be a non-issue.
The cooled disk of wax will have visible bits of stuff still on it. I break the wax into smaller pieces, stuff it into a nylon stocking knee high sock, tied in a knot. Toss the sock in a pot, add water, and repeat the melting process. When the wax has all melted, I squeeze the sock with tongs to get out as much wax as I can. The new disk of wax will be much prettier and ready for use in candles, lip balm, or whatever!