DIY Solar Beeswax Melter Video by Rick

| August 12, 2012 | 8 Comments
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Solar Wax Melter plans here. Rick built this DIY solar beeswax melter out of a cooler and stuff you probably have in your garage.

Beeswax is made by the honeybees, and when you harvest honey, the cappings on the cells of the honeycomb are cut off, and you can save these wax cappings, melt them down, and make candles, soap, and all sorts of beeswax products. In this how-to video you’ll see how honeybees make beeswax, and how they build honeycomb in a beehive.

A solar beeswax melter will melt and clean beeswax without using electricty. Its very hands off, you don’t have to do much with it, just leave it in the sun and the solar power takes care of it. This wax melter uses a cooler and a piece of glass, its important that the glass not be double glazed, according to Rick. A few pans from the store and you are good to go.

With the melted and cleaned beeswax, you can make all sorts of beeswax based products. Some of the most popular are candles, soaps, and lotions.
Some interesting facts about beeswax: bees eat honey from their hives to produce beeswax, and the ambient hive has to be between 90 -97 degrees F.

Do you use beeswax? let us know how below:

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Category: Articles, Bee TV, Rick's Column

Comments (8)

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  1. Tonia Moxley says:

    I have to disagree with a lot of what you say about top bars and Warre hives. There are many arguments for top bars and Warre as more respectful of the bees’ natural comb size, better disease control, etc. Queens also far prefer to lay in new comb. Bees are made to produce prolific wax during the spring nectar flow.

    There are many other benefits to both Kenyan and Tanzanian top bar hives (long hives), as well as Warre. Your contention that honey production is somehow impeded by top bars and Warre are also very questionable. I am a top bar beekeeper, and I find them much more bee-friendly than Langs (I work an old Lang, too, so I have some comparison experience).

    Cost is also a big factor. A Lang alone, without bees or protective equipment, can cost more than $350. Top bars and Warres can be built for little or nothing.

    I encourage anyone starting out in bees to research the management techniques of each system thoroughly to decide what best fits your goals and limitations. The bees don’t care what system you use.

    Here’s a good place to start your investigation: http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm

    Tonia

  2. @rhkennerly says:

    Tonia, thanks for writing.

    I wanted to give your arguments a fair hearing, and I realized I didn’t know all that much about TBHs, so I went to a two-hour talk last night by W.A. Mangum, PhD, author of the recently released “Top Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom & Pleasure.” (buy it directly, it’s not on Amazon http://www.tbhsbywam.com/ ). He also writes a monthly column in the American Bee Journal, too.

    First of all, I don’t disagree with most of what you said. In fact my club, The Beekeeping Guild of SE Va, gives several TBHs, bees, and protective equipment, to our adopted sister group in Africa as well as buy several more through Heifer International for donation throughout the 3rd world each year.

    TBHs are a perfect fit for the technology and environment and social conditions in those places. If I were “castaway” and found myself with a colony of wild bees, I’d build one too (Dr. Mangum even has some great plans/pix for building a TBH from sunflower stalks–stunning pix–in his book, by the way. all 350 of them).

    I’m not the most elegant person when speaking, so let me try a slightly different approach. Engineers, physicists and biologists evaluate complex systems using something called an Energy Budget. There is only x-amount of total energy in a colony of bees, for instance, over a given period of time. They can use it building comb and foraging for nectar and pollen, and refilling formed comb that a beekeeper’s extracted, or they can use it rebuilding comb a beekeeper’s destroyed by crushing it for the honey, and having fewer bees to forage.

    Even Dr. Mangum conceded when questioned last night that from a total energy budget perspective, crushing comb for honey production is inefficient honey production, although he emphasized beekeepers having to get a premium for their honey because there would be less of it each season instead of what what I was saying: which concerns what it costs the bees from their energy budget to have to rebuild comb before they can fill it again.

    For instance, in mid-June, I spun 60 lbs of honey from a hive here at my house. I pulled the supers, extracted, and had the formed comb back on the hive by sundown. I intended to just let them clean up the comb, but forgot and left them on. In August I checked and one of the supers had another 30 lbs of honey because we’d had a “bumpy” honey flow all spring and summer. TBHs couldn’t have taken advantage of that chance up-tick in honey flow because the bees wouldn’t have had the comb to put it in.

    Wax production is about the most expensive thing that happens in a bee hive. When you crush out comb from a TBH, the bees have to rebuild it from scratch. That’s all I’m saying about TBHs and Warre Hives, so don’t read a condemnation of the practice into what I said.

    But thanks for writing. I doubt I’ve had gone to Dr. Mangum’s lecture last night if your timely note hadn’t arrived.

    @rhkennerly

  3. @rhkennerly says:

    BTW, I always pay the bees first, leaving about half the honey on the hive (instead of extracting it all and feeding or feeding it back to the girls).

  4. Tonia Moxley says:

    Thanks for your response. I saw Dr. Mangum speak in Richmond this Spring. He knows his stuff, particularly on Kenyan top bars. He mostly does pollination, so honey is not his main focus. I haven’t seen his book yet, but he talked extensively about it at the conference.

    Les Crowder of New Mexico also runs a commercial operation with only Kenyan top bars. His book is coming out on Aug. 17. He had the same insight I did, that if I was having to pay $350 minimum for woodenware for each hive, I would never make back my investment.

    Top bars are also much better for people with back problems, or who for whatever reason don’t want to lift 40-pound medium (or 100-pound deep) honey supers.

    In my experience, bees managed in a top bars are much calmer and gentler, because you don’t have to tear their house apart every time you inspect. When I inspect my Lang, confused bees are flying everywhere. When I inspect my top bars, the bees stay in the hive.

    As to honey production, Michael Bush, who spoke at our New River Valley Beeker Assoc., earlier this month said he thought if managed for honey, KTB’s would likely produce as much or nearly as much as honey as a Lang in the same climate and food situation. I haven’t done honey production yet, so I can’t speak from experience on that yet.

    I’m speaking here of horizontal top bars, not Warre. Warre is a whole other management system, which has to be done correctly to work. Warre requires only two openings of the hive per year — spring to put new boxes on the bottom of the hive, and in late fall when removing honey from the top.

    Warre, after careful experimentation, said he found that bees prefer to work downwards as they would in a natural tree cavity, that queens will always lay in new comb first (it’s cleanest and produces the healthiest brood) and that leaving the brood nest undisturbed would ensure healthier, more productive bees. Not to mention, the insulating “quilt” on top eliminates condensation, which is deadly to bees in winter and a big problem in Lang hives. Honey production would be similar to other vertical hives.

    Because Warre can be built with hand tools and require no special skill, they also are extremely economical in materials and in management time spent in the hives. The only drawback is building the “lift” needed to super from the bottom, but there are many plans for these on the Web.

    It seems to me you were saying that having bees build new comb is a waste of their energy, but I think the bees don’t see it that way. They are primed in spring to make wax. It’s a natural part of the annual cycle. Yes, it requires nectar, but it occurs in the most nectar-rich time of the year.

    Even Langstroth practitioners have come to believe that newer comb is cleaner and healthier and helps prevent disease, leading many to cycle out drawn comb after two years of use.

    My point was that your video made it sound like top bars and Warre should not be considered viable options for bee management. But they very much are.

    I’m not saying Langs are bad. But they are an expensive system that requires a lot of investment in materials, and can only be managed by someone with a strong back. I believe each beekeeper needs to weigh all the facts about the systems available and make informed choices that fit their goals, finances and physical abilities.

    Best,
    Tonia

  5. Tonia Moxley says:

    P.S. I love your homemade solar wax melter. I’m going to try one.

  6. @rhkennerly says:

    Mangum made the same point Bush does: he “thinks” the honey production is comparable. I think a lot of things too. He’s a PhD himself and a statistician. I’m a bit disappointed in his “I think” approach to this question and I suspect he’s avoiding doing a side by side field test in his beeyard (of 250 TBHs) because he knows way down deep it’s not true. After all, he’s had 30 years beekeeping to test his hypothesis.

    _____________________

    “It seems to me you were saying that having bees build new comb is a waste of their energy, but I think the bees don’t see it that way. They are primed in spring to make wax. It’s a natural part of the annual cycle. Yes, it requires nectar, but it occurs in the most nectar-rich time of the year.”

    My point, which I’m apparently not expressing very well, is that if you’re going for honey production, then crushing the comb and having the bees start from scratch wastes energy and time. Honey flows don’t last long.

    If you extract and then slap the frames back into the hive, it has to be more efficient than waiting for the bees to crank out the extra wax. Honey flow is over and they’re still building wax and the foragers are waiting around for someplace to put it (I know they hand it off to a house bee, but you know what I mean. House bees control the rate of nectar storage by staging a “work slow down” when space gets tight).

    _____________________________

    Now I think new wax is a good solution to a lot of issues with bees (I’m participating in a UNC study of wax from two of my hives, one from the house and another from the beeyard) to check the levels of contaminates and pesticides in the wax (one of the beekeepers in our Guild got a USDA grant to do the study, she’s an MD, PhD researcher. About 30 of our guild are participating).

    I’m not impressed with Bush’s claim about some of the chemicals found in wax and their effects on the hive’s health because all substances are poison in the right dosage (intensity) and amount (frequency), including O2 and water and I don’t see much mention of the chemicals he cites in toxicology studies of wax).

    But I am open to the idea that environmental toxins will build up over time, which is why I’m in the wax study above. Plastic frames are a greater problem because they are harder for beekeepers to “throw away.” I’ll be dating and numbering mine and replacing them after–probably–two seasons.

    “My point was that your video made it sound like top bars and Warre should not be considered viable options for bee management. But they very much are.”

    I said I didn’t like TBHs/Warre’s because they weren’t respectful (in an Energy Budget sense) of the bees. My bees have to pay their own way, but I don’t want to abuse them, just encourage them to produce more by making it easier. Like I said earlier, I always “pay my bees first,” I’m not a greedy beekeeper. I’m more like Wendel Barry is with his plow horses, just helping them stay fit, occupied, and working with their strengths. I’m not running a CAFO for bees or any animal.

    Glad you like the wax melter idea. I noticed in his slide show that Mangum had two much larger but similar boxes he mounted in the bed of his truck).

  7. Matt says:

    Interesting discussion.

    I’ve often wondered if one could simply take the TBH’s comb, cut the caps off, let gravity do its thing and then “reglue” the comb to the top bar with heated wax, thus avoiding the need to crush the comb.

    Just a thought.

  8. @rhkennerly says:

    Not in my experience, Matt. You need a little something to push against to decap and the combs just tear.

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