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Beeswax - from bee to tree

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Blog entry by jmp posted 1244 days ago 1490 reads 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I am relatively new to woodworking so I have recently had cause to read several articles on wood finishing. When it comes to beeswax a lot of authors suggest that there is little point in making it yourself. This seems odd to me as don’t we all enjoy making things ourselves, otherwise we would simply buy our furniture ready made from the nearest department store. As well as self-satisfaction, I also think there is another reason to do things ourselves and that is when we do we usually learn a thing or two.

So I had a go at making beeswax. One attempt doesn’t make me an expert but I have not seen much covered about processing the beeswax from the raw material and I did learn a few things so I thought this might be of interest to anyone thinking about having a go.

If you are lucky enough to know someone who keeps bees, ask them what they do with the wax. Obviously most do it for the honey, some will use the wax themselves, some may pass it on but I suspect many will just dispose of it. Don’t know anyone with bees, then go to a country show. Beekeepers just love to chat and I am sure will be able to put you in touch with someone only too willing to pass on their unprocessed wax.

When I recently discovered that a colleague at work had just started up beekeeping I put in hint about bees wax and was asked how much i needed. At this stage I didn’t have clue. Two weeks later I was presented with a small plastic bag full of the raw product which includes the emptied wax honeycomb, bits of dead bees, vegetation, honey and probably much more besides. It is light, soft and smells wonderful. As it happens a small bag is plenty to make a decent size block.

To separate the wax from everything else it first needs to be slowly melted, a water bath might be a less messy option and I wouldn’t use a naked gas flame as the wax is quite flammable.

At this stage you have what looks like an expensive bowl of soup, lots of solids floating in a rich amber coloured liquid.

Don’t be tempted to put this through a strainer as it is not necessary and probably extremely fiddly. Pour into a container and the solids, being heavier, will simply sink to the bottom. I used a cleaned out old tin can. Next time I would try a plastic bottle.

`++

The wax sets in about an hour, quicker if you stand in cold running water.

Next cut the bottom of the can off with a tin opener and slowly push the cold wax block out. This was the only tricky bit and I think it would have been easier to use a plastic bottle and remove with scissors or a knife.
The block is now in two parts. The top is the light yellow wax and the bottom inch or so is a very gummy mixture of solids. This can be, carefully, cut away with a knife and thrown away (I am sure someone will find a use for this, gluing envelopes possibly?) to leave you with the now recognisable round block of beeswax.

From here on readers will have their own recipes for making the final product? I took some shaving off the block with a Stanley knife, put into a jam jar with an air tight lid

and covered with turpentine.

I know this is getting harder to come by now and so some use white spirit. Shops do sell a turpentine substitute which I have no idea about (does anyone else?). I then agitate by hand and leave overnight and repeat with very small quantities until the wax is paste like.

Using a cloth button, this consistency is great for getting into the grain.

I gather a soft wax doesn’t buff up as well compared with a harder wax. and this was certainly the case when I came to finish an oak dressing table stool.

No problems though, as I now know how much turps to use to produce a firmer mix.

My wife hates the smell of shop bought beeswax so I added some fairly concentred scented oil used to boost some potpourri we had at Christmas (winter spice). The effect isn’t as bad as it might have been just a few drops neutralises the turpentine odour leaving a neutral smell. I will try with some lemon oil next time.
All in all it was a fairly straightforward job. It didn’t take long and was not particularly messy. I now have a good idea about proportions and a better understanding about how the consistency of wax affects the finish. My wife is happier about the smell of my beeswax.

So self-satisfaction, lessons learned and a happy wife – go make some beeswax!



11 comments so far

View William's profile

William

8933 posts in 1447 days


#1 posted 1244 days ago

If I could only find some beeswax now.
I’ve been asking every chance I get around here and can’t get my hands ahold of any, so does anyone know if and where beeswax is commercially available?

-- http://wddsrfinewoodworks.blogspot.com/

View twokidsnosleep's profile

twokidsnosleep

1063 posts in 1579 days


#2 posted 1244 days ago

Interesting, thanks for taking the time to document this.
I have a sample of a daddy van’s “all natural” beeswax polish coming via snail mail, will check to see what is in it.
Is there another solvent that could be used instead of turpentine?? The above company is using lavender oil (not my favorite smell..like old frumpy lady) or orange oil. Here is a link to them:
http://www.daddyvans.com/frasqu.html

-- Scott "Some days you are the big dog, some days you are the fire hydrant"

View Dave's profile

Dave

11142 posts in 1445 days


#3 posted 1244 days ago

Thank you for posting> Now I know how to prepare my own.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are." http://chiselandforge.com

View BigTiny's profile

BigTiny

1664 posts in 1493 days


#4 posted 1244 days ago

You might try isopropyl alcohol as a solvent. Also, try soaking lemon rind in the alcohol first to get the lemon oils in solution for the scent.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View twokidsnosleep's profile

twokidsnosleep

1063 posts in 1579 days


#5 posted 1244 days ago

Lemon and isopropyl sound like a good idea, thanks BTiny.
Suppose you could do the same with orange rind.

-- Scott "Some days you are the big dog, some days you are the fire hydrant"

View Harry_Ch's profile

Harry_Ch

63 posts in 1281 days


#6 posted 1244 days ago

You can go onto the internet and find several sources for processed beeswax. For raw beeswax, try asking at those farmer markets or bee keepers. They like to get rid of it sometimes.

The best and safest way to melt raw wax is in a double pot hot water bath then pour it through an old strainer into a pyrex measuring cup. Once it has set, just warm the measuring cup slightly in the hot water bath to slide it on out. A friend use to use those small cake ring pans with the release levers on the side. Just pour it through the strainer as you fill the pan. Not sure what he used to thin it out but that may explain the bottle of Jack he had in his shop.

-- Deeds not Words.

View RonPeters's profile

RonPeters

708 posts in 1485 days


#7 posted 1243 days ago

What did you do with the brown residue? That is most likely Propolis and I could use a pound of it!

-- “Once more unto the breach, dear friends...” Henry V - Act III, Scene I

View Dave's profile

Dave

11142 posts in 1445 days


#8 posted 1243 days ago

What pray tell do yo do with Propolis?

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are." http://chiselandforge.com

View jmp's profile

jmp

40 posts in 1297 days


#9 posted 1243 days ago

Thanks for the comments everyone.
Ronpeters sorry I am not usually one for throwing things away but i couldnt see an immediate use for the brown residue so i am afraid it went in the bin. I didnt know it was called propolis so i ve learned something else. what do you use it for? I am sure i will be making some more up later this year so will get in touch beforehand to see if you still need some.

cheers

jonathan

View Richard Dunlap's profile

Richard Dunlap

64 posts in 1470 days


#10 posted 1237 days ago

William- I bought some at the local Woodcraft store. I have also seen it at craft stores in the candle making department.

View lennyv's profile

lennyv

4 posts in 1611 days


#11 posted 1233 days ago

I, like you, have tried several ways to produce a bees wax that I can apply to cutting boards. My problem was that I did not want to add anything to it because of the food. I believe they use mineral oil. I finally called it quits and purchased a product called Clapham’s Beeswax salad bowl finish. It is 8 ounces and probably will last forever.

-- Lenny, Athol MA., Leonard.venett@verizon.net

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