I wanted a solar wax melter for a long time. It just seemed like such a neat idea. I saved DIY plans whenever I came across them. But I never got around to getting one made.
Soon after I got my bees, I had started accumulating wax from burr comb scrapings and culled frames. After several years, I realized I had too much wax just cluttering up my workshop. And even worse, I discovered that wax moths had arrived to get the recycling job done, despite my procrastination. That did it! Last year, I gave up on my fantasy of building one for myself and just bought a Lyson solar wax melter.
Beeswax is a precious thing. Every pound of wax costs the bees about six to eight pounds of honey used as energy to fuel the bees’ metabolisms to make wax and draw out the combs. And in turn, that amount of honey represents more than a hundred thousand miles of foraging flights to gather nectar and untold billions of wing beats to evaporate down into honey. Beekeepers know that drawn comb is gold, but what about the inconvenient bits we’re constantly scraping off the frames and between the boxes? Many beekeepers just toss that on the ground. And even though I carefully collected it in Tupperware containers, I wasn’t doing much better by just letting it pile up for the mice and moths.
When I brought the melter home and set it up in my yard, I didn’t know what to expect, so I dumped in some wax from the day’s bee work and left it. The next day I was delighted to find a neat blob of lovely clean wax in the collection pan and nothing but gunk (slumgum) left on the tray above. Well, it’s spring, I told myself, so of course the wax looks nice. Next, I tried melting some very dark brood combs. This produced clean wax, too, and left behind amazing black “skeletons” of the pupal cocoons on the tray. Pretty soon, I was almost as interested in seeing the wax melter’s daily product as I was to check on my bees.
Now when I work my bees, I simply collect all the bits of comb and slip them into the melter on my way out of the yard. When I cull a comb, I scrape the wax off the foundation and put the wax in the melter. Now and then, on a warm day, I scrape the slumgum out, but other than that, there is no maintenance. Except, of course, for periodically swapping out a filled tray of clean wax. The wax is clean enough that I melt it and use it, as is, for adding extra wax to my plastic foundation. If I was making candles, I would melt it again and do a second filtration.
If you’d like to make yourself a solar melter, there are plans aplenty on the Internet. One design I’ve always admired is this one from the Michigan Beekeeper’s Association. I am sure it would be a very satisfying project to undertake. But if you, like me, are perpetually hoping to do more things than time allows, then consider just buying a melter and putting it in service immediately.
If you happen to come and visit Betterbee this summer, you can see our solar wax melter working. Look for it behind the Bargain Barn.