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When we started beekeeping this spring, I knew one of the benefits would be harvesting our own beeswax. I looked forward to the day I wouldn’t have to buy beeswax to use in our homemade lip balm and dandelion salve. What I didn’t know this spring was exactly how we would harvest or process the beeswax. I started researching it and asked around. What I found out is that learning how to render beeswax from honeycomb is easy!
Once a week my husband goes out to to our beehives to do a hive inspection. Anytime he finds honeycomb that the bees built in odd places he removes it. Sometimes they start building comb on top of the frames. One other time the bees started building comb out so far they attached the frame to the inside of the box.
When he removes the honeycomb, he puts it in a glass jar. He has been collecting the comb for the last few months and we had a decent pile built up. I want to make some more medicinal salves and need beeswax so figured it was the perfect time to try rendering our own beeswax.
How to Render Beeswax
This whole process took me about 30-45 minutes and then another few hours for the wax to cool. This is a one step filtering process so there is no need to melt the wax down and filter it more than once. I read a few online tutorials on rendering beeswax that were very time intensive and required melting the beeswax down two times. One time it was melted straight into a pot of water and large debris scooped out with a slotted spoon. The second time the beeswax was melted down, it had to be poured through a piece of cheesecloth to strain it. That sounded way too time intensive for me! The method we used is much easier and quicker to render beeswax from honeycomb.
-old large metal pot (you will end up with some wax on it so you probably don’t want to use your best cooking pot!)
-fine cheesecloth (this is the kind we use)
-chip clip or twisty tie
Step 1: Lay a large piece of cheesecloth on a flat surface. Place the honeycomb in the center of the cheesecloth. It doesn’t matter if there is debris like dead honeybees mixed in with the honeycomb since the beeswax will be filtered out.
Wrap the cheesecloth around the honeycomb forming a bundle with all ends of the cheesecloth gathered snugly in your hand. Use a chip clip or twisty tie to secure all the ends of the cheesecloth together. Make sure the ends of the cheesecloth are clipped tight so no debris leaks out into the filtered beeswax.
Step 2: Fill the pan with water and place it on the stove. Place the cheesecloth bundle in the water. Turn the stove on to a medium/low heat. As the water heats, the beeswax honeycomb with start to melt and seep out of the cheesecloth leaving the debris on the inside of the cheesecloth.
Step 3: Once most of the wax appears to have melted out of the cheesecloth bundle, you can use a pair of tongs to squeeze the small bundle left. This will help extract the last of the beeswax from the bundle.
Step 4: Remove the cheesecloth from the pot of melted beeswax and water. Allow the pan and contents to cool, which can take a few hours. The beeswax will form a layer on top of the water when it is melted. As it cools, it will form a solid layer of beeswax on top of the water. Ours had some little bubbles on top that were formed when heating it. These cooled off and solidified.
Step 5: After the beeswax cools and hardens on top of the water, gently push down the edges of the beeswax. It will separate from the pan. Remove the solid round of beeswax from the pan. Ours had a few air bubbles on the bottom layer that had water trapped in them. I popped the air bubbles and laid the beeswax on a cloth towel on the counter to dry out. Now you have a beautiful round of filtered beeswax rendered from your very own honeycomb!
If you’re like me and curious to see what was left inside the cheesecloth, open it up and take a peek! Ours had mainly honey bee body parts that were stuck in the comb along with some other random debris. We’ll probably have more honeycomb to render more beeswax in the next few months. Instead of throwing out the cheesecloth, I placed it in a paper bag in the pantry and plan to reuse it next time we render beeswax.
May 2015 update:
Since I posted this last year, we’ve rendered more beeswax from our honeycomb. This week we processed a large batch of comb saved up since the end of last summer. In the pile was a bunch of dark colored brood comb. Some of it even had dead larva in it. We weren’t sure if we could (or should!) process this into beeswax. I did a quick internet search and read that some people don’t bother with it since supposedly it does not have as much wax content as honeycomb. Other folks do process brood comb into beeswax since there is some wax present.
Since I was already processing a big pile of honeycomb, we decided to go ahead and process the brood comb too. What did we discover? Well there is definitely beeswax to be rendered but there is also a lot of leftover crud inside the cheesecloth. When processing just honeycomb, it wasn’t too full of crud except maybe for an occasional dead bee. Since there was so much crud from the brood comb, the one layer of cheesecloth was not sufficient to filter out all the fine dirty particles from the beeswax.
When rendering beeswax from brood comb, I highly suggest doubling or even tripling the layers of cheesecloth!
I learned this the hard way. Once I discovered our beeswax had some small particles of crud in it, I had to wait for it to solidify. Then I broke it up into pieces and wrapped it up inside two layers of fine cheesecloth and reprocessed it. We were then left with a beautiful, dark golden one pound block of beeswax that was nice and clean! Next time I’m planning to process beeswax and there is brood comb in the pile, I’m going to save myself an extra step and just double or even triple the layers of cheesecloth from the start!