Recovering wax from old comb

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Drone Bee
Mar 27, 2009
Reaction score
Birmingham UK
Hive Type
Number of Hives
8 ish
Having salvaged and re-furbished some unwanted old beehives recently, I was left with the remains of very old grotty comb which had gone mouldy and was full of dead bees and other general detritus. I fumigated it with glacial acetic acid to kill any disease spores and then set about recovering the wax for re-use or trade-in.

A dear friend ;) told me recently, they spent hours, night after night, sitting alone, repeatedly boiling it and filtering it through muslin to recover the wax.

Since my method is simple, and was taught to me by one of the 'old hands', I thought some may be interested in a few pics.

The first thing to do is get a large pan and half fill it with hot water from the tap. Break up the old comb and put it into the water.

Using the hob, bring up the temperature slowly till the wax melts freely, don,t boil it. Stir the mixture to ensure that every small bit is thoroughly wet.

Then transfer the pot to the oven to be maintained at the same temperature for about three hours. This is to ensure that every particle of rubbish absorbs as much water as possible, but don't stir it too much because you want to keep the wax and the water as un-mixed as possible.

When it has cooked for a few hours, at a temperature a bit above the melting point of the wax, and with the lid on, remove it to a cooler place, outside or the garage, and cover it with a cloth to keep it warm, and leave it for a couple of days.

It will cool and stratify into layers according to the density of the various components. This is why the rubbish must be waterlogged, to make it settle in the lower regions.

The wax, being the lightest (least dense), will settle at the top and form a hard 'cake' floating on the water below. There will be an area where wax and rubbish are both present, but if you have 'cooked it properly it will be a very thin boundary.

When it is thoroughly cold and hard, lift the cake with adhering rubbish off the top and set it aside, upside down to dry out for a couple of days or more. That last bit removes the remaining water from the cake.

Then take the dry cake, and with a knife scrape the underside to remove the rubbish layer from the wax layer at the boundary. This will leave you with a cake of wax which is certainly good enough for trade-in, and probably better than most.

If you then wish to go further, maybe candle making or wax exhibition, you should take the cake and re-melt it in a clean pan. Don't over heat it or it will lose it's pale colour.

At that stage you should arrange something like a 'coffee' filter over a third pan, in a warm oven and filter the wax through it. It will be very slow and might take all night to go through the filter, whilst being kept warm, but it will be beautifully clean and hopefully a nice pale golden colour.

I attach a few pics containing both scraped, and un-scraped cakes, showing the top surface of a cake as well as the underside after stage one.

Hopefully this is of some passing interest to some. :) JC
For those who are interested here's a pic of some of the re-furbished hives, and since it seems to be fashionable at the moment, a pic of the garden taken from the corner rear-wing bedroom window. These hives are the other side of the hedge behind the greenhouse.

It's situated about a mile and a half from Broad Street, the night-life and commercial centre of Birmingham City centre, towards the University.
wait for it,,,,
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I use an old Burco boiler. Melt the lot. Leave to cool. Remove the wax and detritus cake. Scrape/scrub off most of the detritus. Repeat the process as necessary. Winter-time job done on E-7 leccy (or a solar extractor in the summer).

Frame woodwork is treated in a similar fashion to melt off any remaining wax. They are then treated in a likewise similar fashion, except with washing soda, to remove any wax coating, propolis etc. and eventually returned to service.

Regards, RAB
Thanks for the technique, JC. Seems cheap and easy to do.

The sterilisation step might need a bit more explanation for those of us newbies who haven't done that before.

The unscraped 'cake' looks like a nightmare!

This goes against the advice from the Regional Bee Inspector.
He said to burn all old frames to ensure no disease is passed on.
Suggested frames are used for 3 or 4 years at most before being burnt.
I don't think this is the same thing PeterS.

Your BI advice is good, but refers to re-using old wax in it's original form, i.e. old comb in frames as used previously, in it's untreated form, for ongoing use 'as is'.

I have taken up the issue with Thornes at the Spring Convention, and they are quite happy to accept it in cake form for trade in.

In any event, I did treat it before processing, as mentioned, to destroy disease, and it seems to me to be quite suitable for exhibition, use to make polish, soap, or candles etc.

Maybe we need a Scientist, with an 'ology ?

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Yes, of course they do tned to give the ultimate IPM advice at these talks.
What's your view about changing the frames every 3 years?
It's a good idea, in practice, if you're keen and do a fair bit of 'Artificial Swarm' technique, you are unlikely to get much past two years before introducing new foundation.

Most people trade in their old wax with specialists like Thornes, or KBS, for new foundation, and no doubt those people handle potential disease issues competently.

In any event, your own beeswax candles, whether moulded, or as I prefer, dipped, are a thing of beauty and satisfaction, and can make nice gifts for those who might appreciate them. Even if you don't win any competition awards with them, which is a lot of fun btw.

:) JC.
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I guessed so, I'm battening the hatches, and closing the gas doors, emergency exocet anti-missile procedures are underway.

be gentle with me ffs, ;) Jx
Ha Ha, I couldn't do that on my own ......... you're too rough,

I'm wounded, :) J
My view about changing frames every three years?

Your question sounds slightly ambiguous taken in the context of the thread.
In my view, frames can probably continue in use until they are physically beyond it. That point will differ for each individual, but there is no reason why it shouldn't be ten years or more.

The comb on these frames should ideally be swapped out every three years. The frames cleaned by steaming to render the wax and a bit of gentle scraping. Best done outside on a warm day, using a box to hold the frames, a tray to collect the meltings, a course filter that will hold back most of the crud but not block the flow of wax. The active ingredient is an electric wallpaper stripper, with a cost in the region of £20 to £35. The pipe should be inserted into the box through a small hole in the top. The better insulated the box is the more efficient the arrangement should be.

When melting wax in water, it is essential to ensure that the water is slightly acidic. Hard water that is slightly alkaline is a very inefficient way of creating soap - saponification. Dave Cushman has something to say about the subject on his excellent website. :)

Sterilising the frames as mentioned by JCBrum is also a good idea of course.
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Thank you for the information.

Bearing in mind a frame costs little over £1, I'm wondering if this cleaning and sterilising is worth it?

Suppose you collect some wax.
Thank you for the information.

Bearing in mind a frame costs little over £1, I'm wondering if this cleaning and sterilising is worth it?

Suppose you collect some wax.

You have a fairly valid point in some ways.......a frame may cost a little over £1, but a brood box full is £11, 10 hives then is £111, suddenly it begins to seem more worth it, especially if it's your own frames you are salvaging. The modern hygienic way of thinking is to replace foundation more often, (every 3 years Hombre says above) before it gets really black and grotty so suddenly buying new frames regularly becomes expensive. Wax on the other hand is a known valuable commodity and well worth saving every scrap.

When you've got a few hives ... time becomes the critical factor. Having a quick efficient way of recovering wax and recycling frames becomes very useful. Each frame may only cost £1 but it might only cost £1 to recycle 11 frames saving £10. Also, sliding a sheet of wax into a cleaned made up frame is very much faster than making up a frame from scratch with foundation. Wax recoverd from frames can be significant and easily pays for the the electricity to run a frame steamer.

I can rewax up 7 supers per day around my daytime job and inspecting bees on the way home.

I've just bought one of these:

and also have one of these for sale:
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