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!