When extracting honey from your beehive, you will inevitably have beeswax mixed in. Don’t worry! Here’s how to separate beeswax from honey and what to do with it.
We have been keeping bees for several years now here in the interior of Alaska. Although our beekeeping season is short compared to other locations with a warm climate, we still enjoy having our bees flying around for several months.
We start our beekeeping season in April while there’s still snow on the ground. Come summertime, the bees are out for the long, sunny days. Fireweed, clover, and willow, as well as vegetables and flowers growing in our garden keep them busy collecting nectar and pollen.
As the weather cools and they have little left to forage, it’s time to collect the frames that are covered with capped honey and extract. This usually occurs early in the fall in September.
Then the process of preparing for overwintering begins. We condense our colonies down to just one brood box, add insulation, and feed them sugar water until it’s time to tuck them away for the winter.
How to Seperate Beeswax from Honey
The most exciting moment of our beekeeping year happens when the first drops of honey start to flow from the extractor. All of our (and the bees’!) hard work pays off in the form of beautiful, delicious, golden honey.
This honey will provide sweetness to our favorite breads and baked goods as well as drizzles for tea and biscuits. Homegrown, raw honey is a treasure.
But the bees also provide another gift in the form of their wax. Beeswax is an incredible substance and I use it for several projects, but mainly for hand-dipped tapered candles. You can read all about how I make them in this post.
It’s important for me to take the time to seperate the wax and then clean it so that I can repurpose it and not let it go to waste. I’ll tell you how we seperate beeswax from honey during our extraction process.
After a successful beekeeping season, the time will come to extract the honey. The most exciting part of a beekeeper’s year! You can read more in depth about our extracting process in this post.
We pull hive frames late in the summer or early in the fall here in Alaska. Many beekeepers extract honey twice or more during the season. We have a small apiary so we only extract once. You can read about pulling honey frames for extraction in this post.
Honey bees are amazing creatures and put a wax covering over each individual cell in the comb once the honey has reached the optimum level of moisture. This wax is called capping.
The wax covers and protects the honey and must be removed to allow the honey to flow out during extraction. This means that these wax cappings will be in the honey after extraction.
Thankfully it’s easy to separate beeswax from honey in more than one way. You will enjoy collecting your own beeswax and using it to make your choice of many projects including candles, beauty products, furniture polish, and more!
Once you have removed the frames from the beehive that are full of honey and capped with wax, the first step is to remove the wax in order to allow the honey to flow out during extraction.
There are several ways to accomplish this. You can try out different methods to see which one you prefer. There really is no best way to do it.
Keep in mind, though, that you want to cause as little damage to the comb as possible. You will give the frames back to the worker bees in the hive once you’re all done removing the honey.
They work hard to build a good foundation of comb. Although some will be damaged during the extraction process, you want to leave as much old comb as possible. The bees will make repairs and build the comb back up to continue using it and filling it with more honey.
Ways to Uncap Honey
The easiest ways for removing the wax capping include:
Sharp knife in hot water-Take a long, serrated knife and rest it in a large metal pot of hot water to warm it. Having an electric burner to set on your work area will make this process easier. Then gently slice downward on the frame of honey, cutting the wax cappings off. Two knives are even better so the water heats one knife while you use the other one, then you can alternate and always have a hot knife.
Electric heat knife-Beekeeping supply stores sell electric uncapping knives. They stay hot and, just like with a regular knife, you gently scrape down the frame to slice off the capping. You don’t need to have hot water on hand as the the knife plugs in and heats itself.
Cappings scratcher-These look like big forks but with a lot of long tines. You can scrape over the frame to pop the cappings off.
Uncapping roller-This resembles a paint roller but is made of hard plastic and has small points sticking out all around it. After soaking it in hot water, you can gently roll over the comb to poke holes in the capping. We use one of these on especially stubborn cappings that our heat gun won’t melt.
Heat gun-This is our preferred method for uncapping comb. We use a heat gun to carefully melt the wax cappings. Be sure to constantly move it around to avoid melting too much of the wax.
After you’ve removed the cappings, you’re ready to extract the honey! Be sure to keep all of the wax scrapings that have been collected on whatever tool you used. Scrape the wax off into a bowl and set it aside. You will want to add this to the wax you collect after extracting and clean it all together.
Depending on the type of honey extractor you are using, you will need to place a bucket underneath to collect the honey once it begins to flow. You can read all about the extractor that we chose in this post.
We set a clean, five-gallon bucket (food grade) under the spout of our extractor. On top of the bucket, we place two stainless steel strainers, one inside the other.
As the honey flows out of the extractor, it is filtered twice, from one strainer down into the next, and finally into the bucket.
You can also use cheese cloth as a straining material for your honey. Just be sure to secure it all the way around the top of the bucket as the honey will build up and become very heavy.
It isn’t entirely necessary to filter your honey. Small bits of beeswax in the honey are harmless.
However, after filtering the honey, we found dead bees and pieces of leaves and twigs in the strainer so we like having our honey run through a filter to get the large chunks out.
Once you are done extracting your honey, you will be left with all the wax in the filter. Of course, the remaining wax will still have a bit of honey on it as well as any other debris collected.
It will need to be cleaned before using it for your favorite project. This is a simple process that can be done in a couple of different ways.
One way to clean the beeswax that you collected is to let the bees do it for you! You can scrape the contents of the filter into a shallow dish or simply leave it in the filter.
On a nice day with no chance of rain (which will damage the wax) set the shallow dish or filter in a dry place near your beehive. The bees will gladly go and collect all of the remaining honey, leaving you with little pieces of clean wax!
Just be sure to pick the dish up after the bees have left it alone so it doesn’t attract any other animals.
Use tweezers to further clean the wax and remove any debris.
Another way to clean beeswax is to melt the wax and pour it through a strainer or a piece of cheesecloth to remove any debris. You can read all about this method of cleaning melted wax as well as storing it in this post.
Once you have nice, pure beeswax, the options are endless as to what you can use it for! It can take a while for a new beekeeper to collect enough of your own wax to use for certain projects, such as candles.
But over time, you will collect more. Not all projects require a lot of wax, however, so you can start making homemade, natural products right away! Anyone would love a gift made from the wax of your bees.
Here are just a few of the ways that you can use rendered beeswax:
- Food wraps
- Lip balm
- Furniture polish
- Lotion bars
- Beeswax melts
Beekeeping is an enjoyable and rewarding hobby. We love our bees!
Not only do they give us healthy, delicious honey but also beautiful, usable beeswax for even more purposes.
Learn how to seperate beeswax from honey so that it doesn’t go to waste and you can make something wonderful with it!