Solar Wax Extractor

One of the tasks for this year was to build a solar wax extractor in order to process all the excess wax at the apiary.

We end up with excess wax for 2 main reasons:

  1. Bees like to build comb in any available space, whether we want them to or not! If frames are misaligned, if there is a gap above the frames, if they get access to the roof space - all of these will fill up with comb, which we have to remove.
  2. We try to remove old frames and replace the wax in them every 3-5 years. This helps keep the frames clean,a nd prevents the buildup of any diseases in the frames.

There are a number of ways of processing old wax - all of which involve heating it. You can buy a variety of systems that use heating elements, hot water or steam for this task, but all of this comes with a cost. So one of the simplest systems is to use the heat from the sun to melt it instead. Wax melts around 62°C and it is relatively easy to heat something up higher than that using sunlight, even in Scotland!

A lot of this wax is dirty - it contains dust, debris, pollen, propolis, remains of dead bees, mites, moulds and all sorts of other things that turn it a dark brown/black colour. Obviously we want to remove this by filtering the wax in some way.

The end result was a quickly thrown together wooden box (made from some scrap offcuts), a piece of perspex found in a skip, 2 foil roasting tins with the mesh form an old sieve sandwiched between them, a silicon baking tray and some screws, glue and other fixings.

The extractor needs to be angled to catch most of the suns heat (around 45° is good for Scotland) and the tray filled with wax, then placed in the sunshine.

After a few hours on a (cold but sunny) spring day the wax has mostly melted and run through the holes and collected in the box below.

By repeatedly filling and emptying the extractor on sunny days, we can end up with mostly pure lumps of beeswax. These can then be used in a number of ways:

  • It can be used in candles, soaps, furniture polishes, beauty products etc.
  • It can be sold to beekeeping supply companies, or exchanged for an equivalent amount of fresh foundation for making up new frames.

As can be seen in the second picture, there is a sticky residue left over from the extraction, known to beekeepers as 'slumgum'. This is highly flammable, and can used for making firelighters. It is also very attractive to bees, and is sometimes used to line bait hives - empty hives designed to attract swarms of bees.