Rendering wax for fools

Beeswax is amazing stuff: hard and strong, but also flexible in the warmth of the hive. Because it takes a lot of resources for the bees to produce it, they’re very frugal with it. The workers have to eat roughly 7kg of nectar and honey to produce 1kg of wax, so they build it only where it’s necessary and in the most efficient shape possible: a hexagon.

Sadly, beeswax doesn’t retain that beautiful white colour once it’s melted: it turns yellow. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was truly disappointed the first time we melted some comb. No matter how spotless it looks to our eyes, comb always has a bit of pollen in it and when it’s all heated, that affects the colour. It can be a creamy, pale, yellow for comb like this or a really dark brown for old brood comb that’s loaded with pollen, propolis, and larvae husks.

Gentle heating and finely straining out the pollen, bee parts, and other gunk is the name of the game. I have a big stock pot reserved for the job: fill it with chunks of comb and pack it all down as much as possible, then add a kettle of boiling water. That serves two purposes: you need water to do this right and boiling water will melt some of the wax down rather than floating the comb chunks out of the pot and all over your kitchen. 🙂

You bring the water to a gentle simmer, too much heat will also affect the wax colour, then pour the mix of hot water, melted wax, and other gunk through a strainer into a bucket. Dump the strainer out right away or you’ll have to chip it all out later. Once it all cools down, you’ll be left with a cake of yellow wax on top of the water. Most of the impurities will be in the water below:

I’m not 100% settled on a filter medium yet, but you can pretty much use anything that hot wax will flow though: cheesecloth, a t-shirt, a paint strainer, etc. I’ve heard of people using maple syrup filters, but I don’t have one of those handy to try. Right now, I have a couple of metres of t-shirt fabric that I clip on to the top of a pot and pour the wax through. 2 or three layers of fabric really takes care of the tiny bits and lightens the wax:

The wax in the rose on the left was filtered through three layers of t-shirt fabric, the one on the right was filtered through a bunch of cheesecloth. We don’t make candles, so we’re not aiming for 100% impurity free. Either of these will do for our purposes. This chunk needs another run through the filter, though:

Once we get the wax to a purity level that we’re happy with, I re-melt it and pour it into silicone ice-cube trays. Each tray gives me 18 10g pieces of wax. Easy to work with and easy to store. The roses are an intermediate step because I only have two trays. lol
We mostly use the wax for things like lip balm, but my wife has been making cotton beeswax food wraps and going through all my wax, so I had to clean some more. 🙂

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