By Stephanie Roberts-Camello
Beeswax is my second favorite thing that is made by the honey bees. A gift of nature for sure, but to make it useful for candles or encaustic medium it requires a lot of cleaning. Industrial cleaning with large vats would be easier but costly and unneccesary for the back yard beekeeper. What I show here is the best method to get beautiful yellow beeswax, even from the dark brood wax. The photos I have from this process are made from wax cappings which are removed with an uncapping knife when the honey is extracted. Wax cappings always make the best looking wax as no bees are being bred in the honey supers. There is a queen excluder so that she can’t lay eggs where the extra honey is stored.
I store the beeswax in 5 gallon buckets till I’m ready to clean it. Two large pans are dedicated to this job and I put about 2/3’s wax and 1/3 water in each pan. I put it on medium heat and stir it frequently with a wooden paint stick. Once it is fully melted, I have a metal bowl and a large strainer that has a few layers of cheese cloth in it. Carefully I pour the beeswax and water through the strainer.
As you can see in this last picture the wax will need to be cleaned again. The first round is to get out the larger particles and dead bees. When it’s cool enough to be removed from the bowl, I loosen the wax around the bowl with a knife and then flip it over and dump the water. I scape away some of the residual debris with a razor blade.
Now the wax rounds need to be broken up and put in the pan again with about 1/3 water to the 2/3’s wax and melted, being attentive and stirring frequently. If it’s only a few inches thick you can bang it on the counter to break it up.
For the Second round I use a clean metal strainer lined with a nylon paint strainer that I buy at any place that sells house paint. I pour the melted wax and water again through this strainer into a metal bowl. This really does a good job cleaning up the wax. Once this cools and I dump the water, I do another round of scraping debris off the bottom.
I got about 6 pounds of wax from that one bucket. I store the wax in a box till I’m ready to use it. Once ready to pour candles, I melt the wax without water in a metal pitcher and strain it once more through an old nylon stocking. It is then ready to be made into candles, or yellow beeswax medium. If left in a sunny location the beeswax will become a pale yellow over time. The wax ranges in color from year to year depending on what pollens were predominant that season. Doing this all day, I leave my studio with the sweet smell of beeswax in my hair and clothes.
You can see the variety of shades beeswax can come in. Pictured here are rounds of wax from many different years all from the same area.