The following tips appeared in the BEE-L discussion list during September 2002:
From: Frank I. Reiter
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2002 5:21 AM
My wife and I are about to begin producing beeswax candles in a more serious (ie higher volume) way. One particular that I have not worked out yet is this: How can one efficiently filter large volumes (several hundred lbs at a time) of beeswax to make it suitable for fine quality candles? For the small numbers we have been making so far we have been pouring it by hand through cheese cloth and various other things, but the wax quickly hardens on them and the process is labour intensive. Any suggestions?
From: Coleene Davidson
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2002 8:59 AM
I too was having trouble cleaning wax and wondered how to purify it. When at the Heartland Beekeepers Workshop series I became acquainted with a fellow beekeeper who has a chemistry background. We started talking about beeswax, etc.
She said if you melt your wax over water and acidify the water with vinegar the impurities stay below the wax due to a chemical reaction that I do not understand. I haven’t tried it yet but will be doing wax soon and will use this method this year-nothing ventured nothing gained!
From: Mark Jensen
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2002 10:16 AM
Frank, I use a large restaurant aluninum stock pot and added a 1/2 in. ball valve 5 in. above the bottom. This pot holds 5 gal of distilled water to a line just below the valve. I then add about 90 lb of unprocessed beeswax and heat the whole thing on a gas hot plate til the water boils, taking care that the wax does not overflow and burn the house down. I let it gently boil for 1/2 hour or more to clean the wax. Then the heat is turned off and the pot is left to sit to allow the dirt to settle below the valve. The longer it sets the more dirt settles out, but not so long as to not be able to flow out the ball valve. Then I open the ball valve and slowly run the liquid wax through a paper cone filter sold by restaurant supply houses for filtering cooking oil. The resulting wax is crystal clear and makes premium candles. Good luck.
From: Rick Green
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2002 11:09 AM
Heat the wax. Heavier impurities sink to the bottom, lighter impurities such as bee parts, float. Skim the top with a colander and then dip with a small bucket the wax on top. Use stainless steel. I process 40-60 lbs at a time without difficulty.
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2002 8:29 PM
By over water, do you mean in a double boiler, or put the was right on water?
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2002 11:14 PM
Frank asked how to ‘efficiently’ purify hundreds of pounds of beeswax to a candle grade.
First, what is a candle grade? Roger Morris once told me how to tell is to burn some. If it smokes, drips, or both, the level of impurities are too high. Candles made following of the replies that I have seen so far on Bee-L will not meet this test…at least for processing ‘hundreds’ of pounds.
I only know of two relatively SAFE ways of processing large quantities of beeswax to a true candle grade. One is to buy the Maxant Series 900 Wax Processing tank. Around $600, I think. 978-772-0576. It works by vigorously boiling wax and water, allowing the gunk to fall to the bottom, then draining off the pure wax on the top. This is a large self-contained and self-heated unit that really does the job.
The second method, which is considered a closely-guarded secret by some, is to use the same kind of filtering device used for processing maple syrup. As these devices are ‘mass produced’ they are relatively inexpensive for the amounts they can safely process. The entire filtration line is constantly heated, which is a requirement when working with beeswax. A variety of filtration devices can be used, including diatomaceous earth. Should you choose to go that far, you can produce ‘white’ beeswax (its natural color) as the diatomaceous earth will remove the grains of pollen that gives beeswax its ‘normal’ yellow color. Many companies manufacture this equipment. As a start, try Dominion & Grimm. 802-893-3487.
Hope this helps,
Lloyd Spear, Owner of Ross Rounds, manufacturer of comb honey equipment for beekeepers and Sundance pollen traps.
From: michael palmer
Date: Wednesday, 11 September 2002 8:41 PM
I separate and melt my cappings with an old Maxant (I believe out of production) capping melter. It produces clean beeswax. The resulting wax is beautifully yellow and fragrant. Why would someone want to filter their wax until is is a colorless white? Isn’t the whole point of “pure beeswax candles” to present a product which is bright yellow and fragrant?
Date: Wednesday, 11 September 2002 10:59 PM
Greetings I worked at the Knorr Candle Factory in San Diego, for many years. They purchase thousands of tons of beeswax and it is processed for candle making. Basically, the wax has to be graded before filtering. Raw beekeeper produced beeswax ranges from light yellow or tan to dark brown. Some types of wax can be made white, and some types are naturally yellow, depending on the type of honey that was used to make the wax (by the bees). For example, cotton honey wax came in tan or brown, but would filter out very white. Eucalyptus or Montana sweet clover, on the other hand, can not be made white by ordinary filtration. (It could be bleached white with sulfuric acid, but this is seldom done, since it destroys the odor and makes it gummy).The impurities such as pollen and propolis do contribute to the color of wax, but some waxes are naturally yellow or brown colored.
Why white? Well, the Knorrs make 30 some different colors of pure beeswax candles, including ivory. For certain colors, such as blue, the wax must be nearly white. Other colors that have a yellow cast, such as brown or orange, (or very dark ones like purple or black) can be made with yellow wax. The Knorr’s filtration consisted of melting about 1000 lbs. of raw wax in a vat with about a foot of water. Once melted, it was pumped into an agitator tank and various powders were added, including charcoal, clay, and diatomaceous earth. This was agitated and then pumped through a filter press for some time.
In a filter press, the powders are trapped between a series of aluminum plates and the wax must pass through filter paper. Once it has gone through this process long enough, it would be pumped into a holding tank. If hot wax is held over a flame for a long time, it will darken as well. By the way, they also made foundation, which is what I did there. Most of the yellow cast wax was made into foundation, and the very white was saved for the candles that were to be colored or sold white. The sorting of the raw wax was a fine art that Henry Knorr had learned over the course of his life. He was a machinist by trade and built most of the equipment used in the manufacture of his candles and foundation.
I agree that there is nothing more beautiful than a bright yellow candle, but there is a market for colored candles as well. Still, this may not be a concern of the small producer who is using his/her own wax and can sell it all uncolored.
From: michael palmer
Date: Thursday, 12 September 2002 10:17 AM
Does this “purified” beeswax still have the same fragrance when burned as a candle?
From: Peter Borst
Date: Friday, 13 September 2002 1:06 AM
Yes. The fragrance is retained when beeswax is filtered by the method I described. Wax has a natural fragrance which is influenced by the nectar that is used by the bees to produce it. It also absorbs fragrances from the propolis. Capping wax tends to be the lightest and least affected by propolis, while wax from old combs tends to be dark and highly aromatic.
The only wax I saw that was wrecked was wax from rendered hives and frames which had been treated with lye. This wax was almost gray and very gummy. By the way, even the lightest filtered wax has a light yellow cast. The color is more like ivory.
From: Coleene Davidson
Date: Friday, 13 September 2002 6:56 AM
Add the unprocessed wax directly to the water. The melted wax floats on the water.
From: Jeffrey A. Holbrook
Dare: Friday, 13 September 2002 11:32 AM
You let the cat out of the bag. 🙂 I make maple syrup and have been using maple syrup filters to “purify” beeswax for years. I thought everybody new about it. Really. I do not use diatomaceous earth as I like to have my wax looking like beeswax.
If it was white, I imagine that I’d have trouble selling it as beeswax. Making smokeless and unless you jiggle them, dripless candles in Upstate NY And some honey too!