The catch is that we had a place to keep bees three years ago, then not for the last two years, and now again yes! So all our equipment has been sitting idle for two years. When we cracked it open, we found some of our old brood comb had some damage from something that's been eating the honey (not sure what, but there were little grubs that looked like small hive beetle larvae in there), and some frames had the telltale scent of fermented honey (but not good mead, just to be clear). There were also some frames that hadn't had comb drawn out, but that had the foundation busted up. What to do? Looks like it's time to take the unusable comb/foundation and render it down into beeswax!
The rendering process for beeswax is pretty similar to the process we use for other fats, like tallow and meat trimmings. Except this time, we're not going to make cracklins out of the leftovers. (Although maybe the leftover pupae wouldn't taste too bad...) It's also pretty similar to the process that Don uses in his YouTube videos (which we found out after the fact!), but we don't have the luxury of dedicated equipment that doesn't have to be thoroughly cleaned. (So we'll share a couple tips we figured out in that regard, too.)
Note: this is a cautionary tale and contains more information on what not to do than the best way to do this. But, in case your intuition and forward-thinking skills are in a lull when you have some beeswax to render (like ours evidently were), let this be a lesson...
|Here's the victim: nine frames of unusable wax and/or foundation. Some of the combs are pretty dark.|
|We broke everything up so it would fit in a pot (with about six inches of water in the bottom) and started heating. The darkest comb isn't shown in this picture.|
|As it was, we poured what wax we could back into another bowl, but still weren't happy with how much we were losing. So, we filtered through a t-shirt anyway, dripping the liquid into the new bowl. We figured out that if we put the floaties in the middle, and twisted on either side that we could squeeze out more wax without burning our hands. (Coincidentally, this is also the point where the term 'diminishing returns' starts to be an adequate description of getting more wax out of the floaties.) The t-shirt might not ever be wearable again, but it will make some good candle wicks!|
|After the first melt, both cakes of wax were kind of dirty, like this. So we put them back in the bowl with some water, and heated them in the microwave until everything was melted.|
|We repeated the process of adding water, melting, and cooling until the wax was clean enough for our standards. (It took three times for this batch.)|
|We weren't quite sure what we want to do with the beeswax yet (so many possibilities!), so we decided to store it in some canning jars until we have a better idea. Looks a lot better than the dark brown mess we started with!|
Now for the cleanup...we didn't take a picture during the process, but what we found works fairly well is almost-boiling water and dish soap. Beeswax melts at 140-150 °F, so boiling water definitely melts the wax, and the soap helps solubilize it in the water. For utensils like the slotted spoon, just pouring very hot water over it was enough to melt the wax and wash away any residue. For the pot and glass bowls, we scrubbed them down with a dish cloth wrapped around a spoon. Insulated rubber gloves or the hand part from Iron Man's suit would also work, but we didn't have either handy.
There was a thin residue that didn't show up until dry, but it's not likely to hurt anything and will wear off over the next few uses. (Or when Katie decides to scrub it the next day...) Who couldn't use a glass bowl with some extra waterproofing? For the stove and counter top (and floor and walls and inside of the microwave...), we were able to scrape off the wax with a hard piece of plastic, and wipe up any residue with the hot wet dish cloth. No residue when dry. Yay!
What's your process for rendering beeswax? What do you do with it once you have it purified? Let us know in the comments section below!