Friday, July 6, 2007

Render Me Amazed!

Not much to report on the girls lately. They have been busy collecting pollen and nectar and we've been busy leaving them alone. One of our weak hives really seems to be coming back, but one of them still isn't doing so well. Bob W. from the Department of Agriculture felt we don't have a queen in that hive, and he'll be coming out again in the next couple of weeks so we can check again. Hopefully he'll be able to bring a queen with him - just in case.

Today we rendered beeswax for the first time. I guess I really had no clue what to expect. I figured we'd throw all the bur comb and hive wax that we've collected into a pot on the stove and it would melt into beautiful beeswax that I could use to make candles and other things. Well, I was wrong! There's a lot of other stuff in there that isn't purely beeswax - way more than I would have expected.

I'm certain there are about a million ways to render beeswax because I've read most of them. I decided on a method that involved putting a bunch of wax in a piece of burlap bag, tieing it off, and then sinking it a large pot of very hot water and weighing it down with a rock. Well, that method turned out really sucking. We let the hot water stay on the stove at a near boil for about an hour and all it made was a mess. There was certainly beeswax floating on top, but man was it ever taking forever. I have no patience, so we scrapped that idea.

Bernie suggest using 2 of my old pots and making a double boiler to melt the wax. I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea! I don't have an official double boiler, so I decided his idea was as close as we would get and would likely even work. So that's what we did. We filled the larger pot with water, and then put the smaller pot on top of that one so the it floated a little on the water. Then we filled the smaller pot with wax and as the water in the bottom pot started to boil good, the wax in the top pot started to melt!

But it doesn't really melt - most of it was just black goo in the end, and a small amount of wax was on the bottom. So I kept feeding it wax until I thought it looked soupy enough to contain a cup or so of wax. Then we covered a pot with a piece of tshirt I cut up and strained the concoction through it. It actually ended up to be golden yellow wax! Wow - we were impressed! We were also really surprised of all the black goo left behind.

A couple of lessons learned:

1) Only use pots, pans, utensils you are willing to dedicate to nothing but rendering wax. You can not get all that stuff off your kitchenware once you get started.
2) Save old 1/2 gallon orange juice cartons and 1/2 milk cartons to put wax into. It gets really hard, really fast and it's difficult to get out of a pot, to say the least.
3) Rendering wax is a messy job - but it sure is rewarding.

So today was a learning experience, and we learned a lot! Tomorrow I'm making lip balm from the beeswax - which was why I needed to render some beeswax tonight in the first place. I'll let y'all know how that turns out.

Bee Happy,

1 comment:

Craig said...

We've been playing around with rendering beeswax for a while.

We typically render only the cappings as we reuse most of our comb (unless the frames look really dirty).

First step for us is rinsing off the honey -- even after allowing cappings to drain, they still contain a lot of honey. We put them into a big sink strainer and rinse them off with warm water... This leaves a very coarse texture.

Next step is the solar wax melter. I suppose you could use a kitchen oven for this as well, but since it takes a while we prefer to use sun power. At the bottom of the solar wax melter is a bread pan. We take cheesecloth (only 2 layers) and cover the breadpan, using either clothespins or a rubber band to hold up the cheesecloth. To make it easy to release the wax and catch any gunk that makes it through, put a thin layer of water in the bottom of the pan. The wax will melt, running down the wax melter board, and through the cheesecloth. The gunk will remain on the cheesecloth - we throw it away. Some gunk stays on the solar melter tray - we scrape this off with a drywall knife and dispose of it.

We take the breadpan out and let it cool. Using a plastic knife, we run along the edges of the breadpan, then pop out the wax brick. The bottom of the brick will be slightly brown, with some honey. Don't worry about this -- we will render this again...

For the second rendering, we typically use the house oven at 190-200 degrees F. We ready the breadpans again, this time with 4 layers of cheesecloth held in place with clothespins. We again add a thin layer of water to the bottom of the pan and heat this up in the oven (bring it up to temp so it doesn't immediately chill the hot wax. Using a cast iron pan, we add chunks of the wax until it is completely melted. When ready, we put the breadpans on the oven door and take the pan of wax, pouring it through the cheesecloth. We allow the pan to cool, once again using a plastic knife to go along the outsides of the pan to free the wax brick. The bottom of the brick may have pockets of honey, so we use a sharp knife to just barely trim the dark wax off. The wax is now ready.

We take chunks of this wax and melt it again in the cast iron pan. We prepare our molds with some mold release, then pour the wax into the molds. When cold, we pop the individual blocks out and the wax is ready.