Since we started keeping bees we’ve been collecting beeswax from stray and wonky comb and queen cells built by our overzealous workers, from the scraps left from uncapping and scraping comb to reveal the sweet honey for extraction, and from comb that was damaged. We’d take beeswax scraps, place them in containers, and store them in the freezer until we figured out what to do with the wax. Well, the ratio of beeswax to food quickly grew in our freezer. Something had to be done! We started to research rendering wax for use in candles, salves, balms, for waxing thread and cloth, and soon found that (just like beekeeping) if you ask 3 people how to do something and you’ll get 4 opinions! We visited a dear friend and beekeeping mentor to watch her process of melting and straining wax. We watched too many YouTube videos. We investigated retail offerings of solar melters. Then we took all of that research and came up with a project plan: we’d build a solar wax melter!
Create a wax strainer/separator/holding pan to place inside your solar wax melter. You’ll need a pan or baking dish and a screen that covers the top of the pan completely. We used an ancient Corning-ware baking dish and an old window screen that fit together nicely, both unearthed from our possessions.
Add about an inch of water to the pan/dish (this will allow the clean wax to ‘float’ after melting making it easy to remove and not permanently adhered to your pan/dish). Tape the screen to the top of the pan/dish. Red duct tape seemed like a swanky choice. Atop the screen, spread a couple of layers of paper towel (this will be unusable following the melting process, so a cloth towel is not a good choice). Make sure the paper towel fits nicely and covers the screen surface above the pan/dish. Set your newly created wax strainer/separator aside and move on to washing your wax.
After this first rinse, the wax scraps went into a 5-gallon bucket for repeated spraying, stirring, and draining. This process removes the sticky honey and larger bee bits and debris. Drain the wax scraps well.
The hubs built a solar wax melter that would hold our rather large wax strainer/separator pan/dish thing (and a complete Thanksgiving dinner). Our solar wax melter was constructed from oriented strand board, 4-sides and a bottom. The sides were angled to efficiently catch the hot rays of the sun. The dimensions of our solar wax melter were determined by the large glass window we used as the top, again a piece unearthed from our “treasures”. The inside of our solar wax melter is painted black to absorb the heat. We recommend adding foam weather stripping, folded cloth, or some other material to the top edges of the 4 sides of the solar wax melter; this will provide a seal between the wood and the glass top, keeping heat inside.
(LESSON 4: A smaller wood-framed window, hinged to a smaller solar wax melter box, would produce a more manageable and easier-to-store model.)
Pretty soon, the sun’s hot rays begin to melt the wax. As the wax melts, the paper towels between the wax and the screen filter out any impurities, allowing clean, bright wax to flow into the water in the pan/dish below. Occasionally rotate the solar wax melter to keep up with the movement of the sun across the sky. By the end of the day, all the wax has melted and filtered into the pan/dish, leaving the unwanted debris behind on the paper towels.
The next day, open the solar wax melter. Gently lift the (disgustingly dirty and sticky) paper toweling from the screen; discard. Untape the screen and remove.