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Rendering beeswax - is it really worth it? It is for me!

The term 'rendering beeswax' refers to a process that involves melting and straining beeswax to separate it from impurities such as hive debris, propolis, and honey. I am a small-scale beekeeper, and I try to make use of everything that comes from the hives because bee materials are precious and have many uses and applications, particularly beeswax. I don't own large pieces of bee-related processing equipment, so I use a lot of domestic kit instead. Rendering beeswax is relatively easy, and it does take time, but because I value the natural raw material and have customers who do too, it's worth it.

Beeswax bars being sold on the Jem's Bees stall

For those of you who have seen the Jem's Bees stall at an event, you might remember seeing beeswax bars at the front of the table. Visitors often pick up the bars and ask me about their uses. I usually start by explaining its handiness as a solid natural lubricant – perfect for easing the movement of creaky wooden drawers, addressing a stubborn saw blade, or helping curtain rings slide effortlessly over a rail. Beyond that, I highlight beeswax as a star ingredient in the natural cosmetics and homecare products I offer, including polishes, dubbin, and candles. It's got some fantastic qualities to it - which warrant another blog post entirely! But for now, I will explain how I render my own beeswax to make the bars I sell. Depending on factors like weather, the quantity of comb that needs doing, and the type of comb ie: clean honey cappings or old dirty combs, I may choose to render my beeswax in either a homemade bonfire steamer, old pans on my kitchen stove, or I might use an oil drum fire pit in the garden. Or I might use a combination of these things. I'm going to walk you through one of the methods I tried just this week using an old oil drum as a fire pit. It was gusting 37mph, so there was no way a bonfire was going to be lit for the steamer! The sheltered fire pit was the safer option. I also had a large quantity of comb to process, so this was definitely an outdoor job as opposed to an inside one. There was an in-the-garden part to this process and then an in-the-kitchen part. I roughly separated the wax from the rest of the organic matter in the garden using the fire pit. The next day, I came inside to perform a finer filter on the kitchen stove before pouring it into bar moulds. Some beekeepers like to trade their wax with beekeeping shops for beeswax foundation. If I were doing that on this occasion, I'd stop this process after the in-the-garden part, as it's fine to trade coarsely filtered wax. However, as I am preparing my bars to a standard for direct sale and use as a craft ingredient, it needs to go through a finer filtering stage.

Gather up beeswax combs for rendering

1) Gather up the beeswax combs for rendering I had some derelict beehives and old frames of comb that I wanted to clean up, so I unpinned the frames and pulled out the combs. The wooden frames were set aside for boiling and sterilisation another time. I then put roughly 1.5 litres of rainwater into my old jam pot and let it heat up slowly on the fire.

Melt the beeswax combs slowly

2) Melt the combs slowly Place the combs in the pot of water and stir them occasionally. Don't overload the beeswax because it's flammable, and you don't want your fire pit erupting suddenly due to your pan boiling over. If the pot starts bubbling too fiercely, simply move it off to the side of the flames; you don't want it to be extremely hot. You'll notice that as the combs melt, organic matter like bee cocoons will rise to the surface, and that's fine.

3) Prepare the buckets and your straining device Grab an old bucket/tub/pot that you don't mind getting waxy and, importantly, won't melt when hot liquid is added to it. I like to place a bit of hot water in the bucket before I pour the waxy mixture into it. Then, I place my straining device on top of the bucket. On this occasion, I used part of an old stainless steel honey strainer, and as it was metal, I heated it up a bit beforehand. I find that with prior heating, the liquid flows through this thing faster, and it doesn't clog up as much.

4) Pour the melted beeswax mixture through the strainer

The hot pot now needs to be lifted from the fire, and the molten mixture poured through the sieve slowly. My neighbour helped with this part as it was heavy, using welding gloves and some damp cardboard on the pot handles to help protect his hands. Using an old spoon, I then stirred the mixture as it went through, helping the wax find its way through the organic matter and out through the sieve and into the bottom of the bucket. Once in the bucket, the wax will start to cool and rise to the surface. If a bit of organic matter misses the sieve entirely and ends up in the bucket, not to worry, as you can filter that out when you melt it again later.

Put the organic matter on the compost

5) Rehome the leftover organic matter! Compost heaps will thank you—the organic mixture left in your sieve/strainer device can go straight onto the compost once it has cooled a bit. If you have chickens roaming about, you might find that they like to poke around through the mixture too.

6) Let the beeswax cool As it's lighter, wax will rise to the top of the other liquids in the bucket, i.e., any water and honey. When it's cool (I left mine overnight), you can pull the bucket sides apart, usually releasing the wax disc in the process. With the small gaps around the edge of the wax disc, you can then tilt the bucket and pour out the remaining watery mixture. I tend to pour mine out in the garden bonfire pit rather than down the drain. You can then remove the wax disc from the bucket. I tend to let the beeswax discs and any broken bits of beeswax dry out on paper towels before moving on to the next step.

Melting coarsely filtered beeswax in a double boiler

7) Melt the beeswax again Again!? Yes. By this stage, I'm usually working on a portable two-ring hob or on my kitchen stove. I then set up two double boilers side by side. On the left hob, I have a saucepan with some water in it and a stainless steel bowl on top. I place the wax chunks into this one and let it gently melt (I use setting 3 on my hob). On the other hob ring, I have a smaller pan with water in it on a lower heat (No. 2 setting is fine) with a purpose-made stainless steel double boiler with a handle on top.

8) Prepare the finer filter When the wax has almost fully melted, I place my finer cloth filter into my double boiler with a handle on the right hob, making sure that the middle of the cloth is central to the bowl. I like to use a readily available cleaning cloth that I buy in packets from Tesco. Some people will use old pairs of tights, cheesecloth, old T-shirts, etc., but after experimenting with these things, I find that the Tesco cleaning cloths work best for me. I then save the waxy cloths once they're done and use them as firelighters.

9) Pour the molten wax in to the double boiler with filter While wearing heatproof gloves, I pick up the hot bowl of wax from the pan on the left hob ring, wipe the underside of it with a paper towel so the drips of condensation don't go into the other boiler with the filter, and then carefully pour the molten wax into the filter. I don't fill it right to the top, as I don't want hot wax spilling over everything.

10) Work the wax through the filter By carefully lifting the edges of the filter up and gathering them together tightly in the middle, I can then lift the filter cloth up and out of the double boiler. Do it slowly, as the molten liquid will probably still be flowing out of it. Take your time. With gloves on, you can gently squeeze the last bits of wax out, but don't squeeze too hard, as you might pierce the cloth, and then any debris you've caught this time will go into your wax! I always have an old newspaper or a bit of cardboard nearby so when the cloth has finished dripping, I can place it down safely on the card or paper, so it's out of the way.

11) Pour the filtered wax into prepared moulds While the wax was melting, I had lined up my beeswax moulds in readiness and made sure they were clean, etc. Moulds don't have to be purpose-made for beeswax; you can use yogurt pots, margarine tubs, or even pour the wax straight into candle moulds with prepared wicks if you have enough wax for that. I now lift up the double boiler with the remaining filtered wax, wipe the underside to remove any water droplets, and then carefully pour the wax into the moulds. You want to achieve a nice steady pour if you can—avoid splashes! The last few bars tend to have the odd droplet of water and honey in them (wax is lighter than water and honey, so it always pours out first, leaving anything else at the end), so I make a note of those bars and just add them to my next batch of comb for rendering.

12) Leave to cool You can then pop out your beautiful wax bars, slabs, chunks, or candles. I tend to use the beeswax bar moulds as I sell the bars on my stall but also because their small size helps me gather the exact quantity I need when making any of my candles, soaps, lip balms, and polishes. It's a handy measure for me. So there you go, insight in to one of the methods I use to render beeswax. When the weather settles, I'll give you a tour of the homemade bonfire wax steaming device so you can see how that works. I might make a solar wax cleaner/filter device for use in summer but it's not a priority at the moment as I've got a lot on.

The selection of beeswax candles made and sold by Jem's Bees

Even though the process described here is pretty labour intensive, by going through it I find that I value beeswax and the work of the bees even more. The beeswax bars that I have as a result of this recent rendering effort will probably be used to make special gifts as opposed to being sold. Given the colder wintry weather at the moment, I think I'll make some Twisty Drip candles. A final note on kitchen usage! Currently I live by myself so I don't need to ask permission to make a mess of my own kitchen for beeswax related experiments! If your circumstances differ, make sure the other people who use your kitchen are on-board first! If you've enjoyed reading this blog entry, please let me know. I'm also happy to take questions about my process too.


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