Besides honey, bees produce wax, a whitish substance which they use to build combs for their nests.
Many farmers, however, concentrate on honey and ignore the product that can bring in more income.
Perhaps this is because they do not know the many methods readily available for extracting beeswax from combs. Below are the four main methods
1 Squeezing method (traditional)
Requirements: Empty combs, water, pan, cotton straining bag, two wooden rods or wax press, soap, source of heat, wooden stirrer and mould.
Method: Soften the honey combs by soaking in warm water to have pollen and remains of honey dissolve in the water. Rinse the combs in cool water to wash out unwanted materials like grass, sand and dead bees. Break up the combs into small pieces and place them in a pan.
Add clean water just above the level of the combs and then heat the pan gently and keep stirring all the time. Smear the soap lather into the mould and pour the fully molten wax with water into the cotton straining bag and tie it tightly. Squeeze the bag between two pieces of wood. Ensure all the wax is squeezed out of the bag into the mould. Allow the mould with the mixture of hot water and wax to cool while covered. Remove the wax cake and scrape off any impurities on the underside.
2 Immersion method
Requirements: Empty combs, sisal sack, large saucepan, large basin or pan, water, piece of rope, piece of timber, source of heat, heavy stone or metal and mould.
Method: Clean the combs as in the squeezing method. Fill the sisal sac with the clean combs and tightly tie with a rope. Place the sack in the large basin or pan. Fill the pan with water to cover the sack and place the timber in the pan to protect the bag from touching the bottom.
Immerse the sack full of combs in the water to sit on the timber. Place a heavy stone/metal to keep the sack pressed on the timber. Gently bring the water to boil to completely melt the combs. Release the sack containing waste material from the drum. Remove the source of heat and cover the mixture to cool for 24-36 hours. Gather the wax from the cool water. Further purify the wax by re-melting using double boiler. Pour the molten wax through a clean and dry straining cloth to a mould container of your choice.
3 Solar wax extractor method
The machine contains a glass or a clear plastic-lidded box with a sheet of metal. It uses the sun’s heat to melt the wax.
Requirements: Clean new empty combs, sun’s heat, bar soap, solar wax extractor and mould.
Method: Position the solar wax regularly during the day such that it faces the sun. Tilt it so that the glass is at a right angle with the sun’s rays. Place clean new empty pieces of combs on the metal sheet. Spread soap on the inside of the moulds for ease of wax removal. Place the mould at end of the metal slope to collect the melting wax. Bend the edges of the metal sheet to funnel wax into the mould. Place a screen of wire mesh at the end of the funnel to prevent pieces of comb and debris from slipping into the mould.
4 Steam wax extractor method
Steam wax extractor consists of two connected tanks, one inside the other. This method uses steam from hot boiling water to melt honey combs.
Requirements: Empty combs, water, source of heat, moulds and bar soap.
Method: Fill the extractor with clean empty combs. Spread soap on the inside of the moulds for ease of wax removal. Boil the water to produce steam which melts the combs. The molten wax flows into the moulds. Allow it to cool for 6-12 hours. Remove the wax cake from the moulds.
General guidelines for working with the beeswax
1 Never heat beeswax on direct flame; heat it in a container of water to melting point of 62-64oc.
2 Use soft clean water. Hard water contains lime, which makes the wax to foam when they react.
3 Suitable materials for working beeswax are enamel, stainless steel, nickel or plastic.
4 Prepare combs of the same type together to maintain the grade of the combs.
5 To obtain the purest beeswax, allow the water-wax mixture to cool down as slowly as possible.
Beeswax has a myriad of uses which are worth the trouble of extracting it. They include making batik patterns on clothes, coating hand tools like hoes to prevent rust, preparing cheese, making waxed thread, coating nails and screws, as a wood lubricant, for making crayons, shoe polish, candles and furniture polish and as a remedy for dry hair.
The writer is based at the Animal Sciences Department, Egerton University.