Harvesting beeswax

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Harvesting beeswax

Harvesting beeswax is an integral part of the honey extraction process. Honey cannot be extracted with a harvest of honey being collected as well. This will to some extent depend on the type of bee hive being used. Fixed comb and top bar hives produce a lot more beeswax than moveable frame hives because the whole comb is harvested in order to harvest the honey. With frame hives, the honey extraction process preserves most of the honeycomb but there will still be a great many wax cappings to process into blocks of beeswax. With whole combs harvested from fixed combs and top bar harvesting the cleanest and most efficient way to extract the honey is by cutting the honeycomb up into very small pieces in a large bucket. This is then strained through a clean mesh cloth into a second bucket. The consequence of this is that the honey will drain in the bucket while the wax will remain in the cloth. This is the wax that the beekeeper now needs to clean and transform into clean wax or sale.

Bosco with beeswax

 Wax blocksTo get the best wax the beekeeper should only use fairly fresh comb that has been used by the bees for honey storage and has not had much brood reared in it. It is clear which thes combs are because comb gradually changes colour, from yellow to black as the bees use it to rear the young bees. The black combs are full of larval cocoons and will not release much wax. The larval cocoon trap the wax from better combs and so much wax is wasted. They will also colour the clean yellow wax into darker colours that are not so saleable. Consequently, dark combs and light combs are better processed separately. The picture on the right shows how variable the colour of the wax can be.

Getting a good block of clean wax is a two stage process. The first is to extract the beeswax from the combs to make it into a block of sold wax rather than all the scraps and bits. Although the top will look clean the underneath will be dirty however, and the wax will need a second processing to get it into a better state.

Methods of Extraction

There are a number of methods - and variations on methods - to extract beeswax. Some are more complicated than others so the choice of method will be determined by its suitability for individual circumstances. The three main ideas are:

  • Melting in hot water (usually in some kind of filtering bag). The melted wax comes through the fabric of the bag to float on top of the hot water. Once the water cools the wax hardens and can be removed.
  • Melting using a solar wax extractor. This is where the wax is placed under glass in the sun. The wax melts and runs into a collecting container. Again the wax hardens once the container is removed from the extractor. In the tropics it is very easy for wax to burn using this system but it has the great advantage of using free sunshine.
  • Melting by using a distillation method of wax extraction where the wax is suspended in a filtering bag over a steam heat source. The melted liquid wax runs through the bag into a container placed under the bag.

Each of these methods can be carried out using simple constructions or utensils that would normally be found in an African household. In each case the wax produced will need a second filtering for it to become clean enough for use.

Hot water extraction

If a large enough container is available this is a very quick way of processing a large quantity of beeswax. 

  1. Wash the crushed combs until they are free of dirt and honey.Squeezing last wax
  2. Put them in a suitable cloth or polypropylene sack and tie with string
  3. Heat plenty of water in a large and old cooking pot or large metal container. It is a dirty process so old and unimportant utensils are needed.
  4. Push the sack of honey comb well down into the boiling water.
  5. The water should be heated only gently. It should not boil or it will stir dirt into the wax and discolour it.
  6. Keep pressing the bag until all the wax has melted. It will be much smaller in size.
  7. The wax will run through the mesh and rise to the surface of the water.
  8. Squeeze the last drops of wax out of the bag between two sticks with a rolling movement. Take care the bag will be hot.
  9. Move the pot from the water and leave to cool. The wax will go solid on the surface of the water as it cools
  10. There are other variations on this technique at this point.  

Solar wax extractor

This uses the heat of the sun as a fuel source.

  1. Wash the crushed combs until they are free of dirt and honey.Solar wax extractor
  2. Put the crushed combs into the extractor.
  3. If a light filter such as an old nylon stocking or light bag can be found this will help to keep the extractor clean.
  4. Angle the extractor to face the sun but do not allow the wax to get to hot and burn.
  5. The heat of the sun will melt the wax which will run through a filet and into a collecting container.
  6. Once the wax is melted it should be removed from the extractor and left to cool and harden.

Distillation method

This uses hot water to melt the wax but the wax drips through a suspended bag that acts as a filter. It is a very quick a method of producing clean wax. 

  1. Wash the crushed combs until they are free of dirt and honey.Steaming wax
  2. Put them in a suitable cloth or polypropylene sack and tie with string.
  3. Hang the bag from the top of the container.
  4. A suitable container is placed on the surface of the water underneath the bag containing the wax.
  5. The water below boils and melts the wax which is caught in the container.
  6. The water must be topped up as it evaporates.
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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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