Researching: solar-powered beeswax extractors

Wax melter

Once you start natural beekeeping with Warré hives, you can look forward to your first honey harvest. Harvesting from a Warré hive means crushing frames of luscious honeycomb to remove the honey. That is, if you don’t eat all your harvest straight up as chunks of raw honeycomb, which is tempting.

But honey in a jar has its place, so likely you’ll decide to crush and strain some of it. And when you do, you will be left with a mush of sticky waxy stuff. Time to convert that into beautiful golden beeswax! 

Tim Malfroy crushing Warré honeycomb at Milkwood Farm

And after this goodness is pressed out we’re left with…

smush cake! The remains of the comb, all ready for the wax to be extracted

There’s so much embodied energy in this resource that the mind boggles – and all produced from the bees themselves. Use this well we must.

One of the many great things about this waxy mush is that it’s rather inert, so you can store it in an airtight container and add to that container with successive batches of waxy mush until you get around one day (ahem) to extracting out the pure beeswax.

Solar powered wax extractors are largely a DIY affair and range from the eski-with-glass-on-top model all the way up to off the shelf numbers. In between, there’s many fabulous folks who have designed their own.

The basic premise of all these units function on the following ideas:

  • face the extractor towards the sun
  • heat the comb slowly
  • strain melted wax through a fine membrane that removes all gunk
  • collect wax in a container at the bottom
Wax extractor by Simon Rees

Wax extractor by Simon Rees

'Rinky dink' wax extractor by Intheswamp

‘Rinky dink’ wax extractor by Intheswamp

Wax extractor by David Heaf

Wax extractor by David Heaf

Wax extractor by Wheeler Woodworking

Wax extractor by Wheeler Woodworking

The result! Pure beeswax post-extraction, by curbstone valley

The result! Pure beeswax post-extraction, by curbstone valley

Well that all seems fairly straight forward, doesn’t it? And yes, it is. However before you rush off, steal all the kitchen utensils and go and convert your eski, there’s a few points to remember…

Firstly, wash your waxy mush to remove any honey remaining in the wax. Honey is water soluble so this is not hard to do – wang it all in a big pot or food-safe bucket, add tepid water and slush it all about until the waxy bits are no longer sticky.

You can then strain off this honey water for mead making, or just drink it straight, or bottle it up and add it to water as a medicinal. This is all assuming your wax is from chemical free, organically managed hives, so there’s no crazy toxin loads in your beeswax.

Don’t use your favourite cookware. Or anyone else’s. Whatever comes into contact with your wax extraction experiments will get wax on them, and it will be very hard to get it off. So don’t use your favourite pots and containers for this. Go scrounge some from the op shop or the shed.

Make sure your extraction contraption is both bee and ant proof. As the solar gain heats your waxy mush, it will start to smell amazing. And not just to you – also to every bee within 5km, which will not end well if they can get into your extractor. Also, unless you want to fake a line of ‘poppy-seed beeswax’ products, make your extractor ant-proof.

Realise the awesomeness of what you have done. At the end of this process you will have pure, organic beeswax that is completely chemical-free (again, assuming you’re managing your hives in a chemical free way, which I very much hope you are). And that is a very rare thing to possess. Huzzah! May the salve and candle making begin, as well as the shiitake log sealing.

As I said above, this by-product of honey harvesting is an incredible resource, and should be treated as such. Bees secrete this wax from their bodies to build comb, making this wax an important part of the super organism that is a bee colony.

By carefully extracting and using your hives’ beeswax, you are literally utilizing part of your bees to heal wounds, light dark places and honor the harvest that was.

>> More articles about Natural Beekeeping

If you’re in Eastern Australia, come learn Natural Beekeeping using the Warré hive method with us! We run awesome courses that skill up api-centric beekeepers, taught by Tim Malfroy.

14 Comments

  1. dixiebelle/ bec
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink | Reply

    Love it!

  2. Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    its funny the things i find touching since i got involved w/ permaculture… thanks for the wonderful post – the pic of the beeswax made me flutter eventhough i am years away from even thinking to deal with bees…

  3. Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogueó esto en Centro de Sostenibilidad de Aranjuez.

  4. David Trees
    Posted July 1, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Fab video.

    Do you really eat the wax? Does it affect your, cough cough, no 2’s :)

    I see people sell it but how does the body process wax?

    Also… Some even use the “slum gum”, which is the stuff left in the filters after the process of melting / cleaning the wax. It’s the remnants of the melted wax.

    I saw a YT video that showed these blokes using “slum gum”, making it into little rectangular blocks. They’d made their own not toxic fire starters for the wood burners and BBQ’s. They said it smelt pretty good too.

    Can we help with the bees and chores in the market garden when we do the PDC in order to get some real hands on experience?

    • Posted July 2, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink | Reply

      Yep there’s no probs eating honeycomb, we’ve been doing it for many thousands of years. It passes on through without any excitement ;)

      Slumgum firelighters are the best!

      And yep if you want to get up early enough, there’s plenty of chores to do around the farm outside course hours on our PDCs…

  5. Dale
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    A suggestion for cleaning honey from stickies.
    When I am making homebrew beer, I place stickies in an old clean bank money bag (muslin), tie the top with string and weigh the bag- say 2.5kgs. Then in lukewarm water I wash out the honey in my beer cooker. I then weigh the bag again and that tells me how much honey I have dissolved from the stickies.
    2.5 kgs _ 1.2kgs (weight of waxy product left) therefore I have dissolved 1.3 kgs of honey into my beer mixture and only need another 700g of honey to put my usual 2kg into my beer mix.

  6. Angela
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Awesome!!!….I have had all my wax building up and had no idea what to do to get to the next stage. Thanks for the post….helps me feel less isolated….as well as builds my skills…..now back to forrest garden planning!

  7. Posted July 9, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    So inspiring, love the way you talk about bees.

  8. Posted July 11, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on X_trous Notes.

  9. Phred
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    I tried to fashion a model of wax melter from an old styrofoam color. Even painted it black and lined it with a black trash bag. Put an old window on top and set it out on a 90+ degree day. Barely anything melted. This summer I am going to put it at an angle. Love the fire starter idea for the slum gum.

  10. charleshamilton78732732
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Kirsten, how did you get your wax out of the press in one lump like that?

    • Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink | Reply

      by continuing to twirl the press until it pressed it on through – the whole cage comes off the base…

      • charleshamilton78732732
        Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        That makes sense. Thanks

  11. Annabel
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Beautiful looking wax….my husband, a hobby apiarist, says that you can’t keep waste wax/honey for long as there is such a thing as wax moth that destroys it. He feeds the smash cake back to the bees by leaving it in front of the hives, then collects the remaining wax which he then cleans and uses to wax the new hives.

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