Tag Archive | filter

DIY Solar Wax Melter

When it comes to products of the hive, honey is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s true, I get lots and lots of requests for honey. But for me, it’s the wax. Wax for lip balms, face creams, hand lotions, soaps, furniture polish…so many things can be made with beeswax. So after extracting a good 30 lbs of sugar syrup, I’d harvested lots of wax cappings – the beautiful creamy yellow wax that covers and protects the honey filled comb. Wax capping is the purest, best quality wax.  Particularly good for face creams and skin sensitive products since it moisturizes and protects dry skin.

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Wax cappings are shaved from the surface to release honey from the comb.

Wax can be harvested several ways. The indoor method requires melting the wax down in a pot of water, then straining.  This can be a messy process.  The other option is to let the sun do all the work for you.  Using a basic, inexpensive setup, I built my own solar wax melter, and it works like a charm.

DIY Solar Wax Melter

Supplies

  • 1 styrofoam or insulated cooler with flat edge.
  • 1 piece clear plexiglass or glass, fit to cover the top of the cooler
  • Aluminum foil
  • Aluminum tape
  • Container to fit bottom of cooler
  • Window screened frame
  • Water
  • Objects to hold down the top cover
  • Thermometer, optional

Instructions

1. Wash your beeswax ahead of time by soaking (for several hours) and rinsing it thoroughly (several times) in lukewarm water. The water should be slightly warm to help melt the honey and grime from the wax, but not warm enough to soften or melt the wax.  This process may require several rounds of soaking, rinsing and draining.

Clean beeswax cappings, ready for melting.

Cleaned wax cappings ready to melt.

2. Gather supplies and prepare to assemble the wax melter.

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Supplies ready to go!
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We built a wooden frame sized to fit inside the cooler (above the container), then stapled window screen on the top. This is our filter.

3. Line the inside of your cooler with aluminum foil (see below).

4. Use the aluminum tape to bind the seams of the foil and adhere the foil to the inside of the cooler (see below).

5. Place the container on the bottom of the cooler (see below).

6. Fill the container 1/3 to 1/2 way with water.  The water prevents the wax from sticking to the container.

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Cooler is lined with aluminum foil, taped with aluminum tape, and a partially filled container of water is place at the bottom of the cooler.

7.  Place the framed window screen over top of the container of water.  It doesn’t have to set directly on top of the container, and in fact, is better if it sets about 3-4 inches above the water.

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Framed screen sets above the container to filter the wax.

8. Place a pile of wax, several hands full, across the top of the screen.

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The wax is piled across the screen ready to melt down into the water.

9. Place the clear lid on top of the cooler and fit it snuggly into place so it stays on and so the heat remains inside.  Then set the cooler out in the sun.  The warmer the temperatures, the faster it will melt.  Some people place a thermometer inside the cooler to track the temperature throughout the day.

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Clear lid is in place, secured by two small pieces of wood on each side that are held in place by the plastic lid clamps that came with the cooler.

 

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Waiting for the morning sun to come up. Let the melting begin!

Depending on the amount of wax and the temperatures outside, melting the wax can take anywhere from several hours to several days. As long as you’re not in a hurry, this method is maintenance free. As it melts, keep adding more hands full of wax into the melter and allow it to accumulate into one piece.

Note: Ants do like the smell of beeswax and honey, so bee careful where you set the cooler or your solar wax melter may become an ant farm. This can be prevented by setting the cooler into a container that’s surrounded by water or cooking oil, creating a moat. The ants will drown trying to get to the melter.

The image below shows how well the window screen filters out the dirt and grime.

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Left over crud that’s been filtered out of the beeswax.

What you’ll have left is a blob-like mound of beautiful, clean, creamy yellow beeswax. This can be used to make candles, lotions, balms, and other fun stuff! Check out my bee recipes and body and wellness recipes, located at the top of this site to view some of my own favorite beeswax recipes, like Beeswax Lotion Bars or my Homemade Face Cream.

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Voila! Clean, filtered beeswax, ready to bee turned into something fabulous!

Beeuteeous!  Happy melting!

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Our First Taste of Honey

March 9-11, 2014

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During my 1st year beekeeping presentation, someone asked me about the supers on my hives.  I told them they weren’t supers.  Up to that point, I didn’t think of them as supers.  I was allowing the bees to create sugar syrup stores for winter, but not honey for harvesting.  When in fact, they are supers without a queen excluder – and the bees built up quite the stash.  So what to do with the stash?  My answer – extract it and feed it back to the bees, for a number of reasons. 

  1. It’s healthier for the bees to feed from their own food vs. sugar.
  2. The bees will clean up the wet drawn frames so I can reuse them.
  3. I’d rather practice extracting for the first time using sugar syrup than the real honey.
  4. I don’t have the freezer space to store the frames and I can’t keep them outside forever. I can store sugar syrup in the fridge.
  5. And best of all – I have an excuse to buy an extractor!

The boxes I took were from my dead yellow hive.  I purchased a complete extracting kit from Brushy Mountain.  It included the tools, the extractor, the uncapping tank, and a straining bucket.  I thought about waiting a week, but was so excited that I decided to start that day.   I moved the uncapping operation into our guest bathroom, and the extracting operation in the kitchen.

Lesson 1 – Honey Extracts Best When it is Warm

This explains why beekeepers extract their honey when its 90 degrees outside, and not when its 30 degrees outside. Warm soft wax slices easier and liquid honey comes out of the comb much easier.  Most people extract in their garages (too cold) or basements.  Our guest bathroom is small, so I added a space heater and left the room to warm for over 24 hours.  So much for extracting over the weekend…

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Lesson 2 – Keep a Wet Towel and Hot Water Handy

Everything gets sticky – the floor, the door knobs, the cats.  Keep a wet towel handy to clean your hands and wipe things down as needed.

The pitcher of hot water is for the capping knife. Store the knife in the water when its not being used to clean the honey off the knife and warm it up (unless you have an electric knife) to help cut through the wax easier.  Be sure to wipe the water off each time so you don’t get water in the honey.  You don’t want ANY excess moisture in your honey.  Although its not as big a deal when working with sugar syrup.  But start good habits early.  

Lesson 3 – Elevate the Uncapping Tank

I uncapped 16 frames.  Initially I was bending over.  Uncapping frames one after another is physical work. After 3 or 4 frames, my back got the hint and I elevated the tank so I could stand upright while uncapping.  Trust me on this.

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Lesson 4 – Uncapping Tools

Those uncapping knives are huge.  I used a Pampered Chef bread knife and it worked great.  For the small missed spots, I used an uncapping tool, and I also kept a fish knife handy for areas that were hard to reach with my larger knife.

Lesson 5 – Bottom Up vs. Top Down

Beekeepers always seem to uncap from the bottom up.  I’m not sure why, but for me, the cuts are thinner, cleaner and smoother.  Top down caused more butchering of the comb.  Comb is soft and delicate.  The bees will put it back together, but still, be careful not to mash the cells shut.

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Lesson 6 – Extracting Makes it All Worthwhile

Add frames and churn.  This is the fun part!  A good churn in one direction, then churn in the opposite direction, flip the frames and repeat.  Honey accumulates at the bottom and when it reaches a certain level, drain the tank.  I can tell you, the even though it wasn’t honey for us to eat, it was still tasty and unbelievably satisfying to see how much real honey our girls had produced.

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Lesson 7 – Filter the Honey

I had cleaned and sterilized gallon jugs ready to go. Be sure your containers are dry.  Again, no water in the honey.  Because this was going to the bees, I didn’t bother to filter and released the honey directly into the containers.  Truth is, I ended up filtering anyway before feeding.  So lesson learned, add one more step and filter the honey from the extractor through a filtering cloth and into the 5 gallon filtering bucket.  THEN filter it into containers.  The filtered honey won’t clog up your feeders, and you’ll have more wax to clean up for lotions and potions.

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Lesson 8 – Don’t Forget Your Wax

Cappings make the best quality wax.  Allow them to drain in the uncapping tank then put them in a plastic bag and in the fridge til you’re ready to clean it up.  Also, you’ll be amazed at how much honey has collected in the bottom of the uncapping tank after the wax cappings have drained.

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Final lessons learned….

  1. Mount the extractor onto a more solid surface so it doesn’t shake or wiggle while churning.
  2. Dedicated extracting equipment will make life easier – pitcher, knife, towels, containers, etc.
  3. No mite treatments when supers are on.  I didn’t think of my supers as supers, so it didn’t occur to me to remove them when treating for mites.  As a result, the sugar syrup and comb smell of thymol.  I’m told the smell will dissipate, but I don’t want my honey to have any taste of thymol, so I’ll either use fresh spring drawn comb in my supers this year, or new foundation.
  4. I will use 7 frames in my supers so the bees draw out thicker comb.  Thicker comb will be much easier to uncap because it will extend farther outside the frames.
  5. Another reason why beekeepers extract in the summer – the equipment can be left outside and the bees will be much more active and willing to clean it all up for you!
  6. Uncap and extract in the garage – this is not an indoor job.

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Feeding it Back to the Bees

To feed back to the bees for spring, I’ll just add water and mix well to achieve a 1:1 consistency.  For now, the syrup is going into quart size ziplock freezer bags.  I set a bag on the top frames of the hive, stick several times in the top using a sewing pin, and let the bees enjoy their nectar in hopes it will stimulate their spring activity.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post.  I know it’s a long one, but extracting is a process that’s worth documenting.  It’s a sticky job, but someone has to do it.  I personally cat wait to do it again with real honey!