DIY Solar Wax Melter
By: Michael Kelling -
President Central Texas Beekeepers Association
Michael owns approximately 100 hives that he uses mainly to provide Ag Valuations to landowners in Washington County, as well as working toward getting his Master Beekeepers certificate.
I have always heard that drawn comb is a beekeepers most valuable possession. That’s because it takes 8 pounds of honey to make a pound of wax.
But what do you do with your comb once it is no longer useful or the wax moths have destroyed part of it, or you have wax cappings from extracting honey?
Being an old farmer (or put another way, a FORMER FARMER,) I am cheap and have come up with a useful "Do It Yourself Solar Wax Melter" that cost me less than $8!
A “Wooden Solar Wax Melter” from Mann Lake is listed at $169.95.
The first thing you will need is an old deep brood box that is still solid enough to not let the bees in through any cracks. It doesn’t hurt to caulk up the holes because bees will be attracted to the smell of melting wax, and if they can get in, that would be a horrible way for them to die.
You will also need a 16 X 20-inch piece of glass. Fortunately, a pre-cut piece of glass from Lowe's fits perfectly!
The Lowe's in Brenham has stacks of them already cut. They are around $6 each.
Other items in my version include some duct tape, 6 small wood screws and 4 long wood screws, a cookie sheet (standard 9 x 13) and a small loaf pan from the dollar store, a couple of old frames (without foundation,) a couple of small bungee cords, and a sheet of plywood to fit the bottom of the brood box - An old migratory cover will do.
The first thing I do is to cut the top bars of the two old frames to the WIDTH of the brood box. These will be the supports for the cookie sheet.
Next, mount the supports about 3 inches below the top of the box. I intentionally mount the supports with one side 3/4 inch lower than the other, and one end 1-1/4 inch lower than the other to allow the wax to flow naturally to one corner of the cookie sheet. Then I use two small screws to attach the cookie sheet to the support that is the highest.
For safety and to help create a little bit of a seal, I put a layer of duct tape around the glass. If the glass breaks, at least it will not shatter everywhere.
I also put a small dam at the bottom of the cookie sheet made from the bottom board of an old frame to keep some of the solids from running to the edge of the cookie sheet and falling into the loaf pan underneath.
Since a good gust of wind will blow the glass off of the box, I add four small screws to the side of the box and two bungee cords to hold the glass down.
Attach the box to the piece of plywood/migratory cover, put the loaf pan under the cookie sheet, put it in full sunlight, and you are ready to go.
Add your old comb/cappings to the cookie sheet and let the sun do your work for you.It will take 3 to 4 hours of full sunlight to melt all of the wax. Of course, you don’t expect anything to happen on a cloudy day.
The melted wax will flow down the cookie sheet, under and around the dam, and drain over the lower corner of the cookie sheet into the loaf pan underneath.
Most of the solid impurities will sink to the bottom of the cookie sheet and you should have almost pure wax in the loaf pan.
You can even run the wax through the melter several times to purify it further.
You DON’T want to work with the melter at the end of the day. Melted wax can burn your skin. It is better to wait until the next morning.
To remove the loaf pan and the clean wax, simply remove the glass, raise the lower end of the cookie sheet and lift the pan out. You can clean the trash from the cookie sheet with your hive tool. There should be very little wax left in what is still on the cookie sheet. You could probably use a small piece of screen wire over the cookie sheet to make it more efficient Because the loaf pan is below the cookie sheet, it is in cooler temperatures and the wax will build stalagmites of wax as it runs down and cools. You can even the wax out by setting the loaf pan on the cookie sheet the next day and the wax will melt again and settle.
The things I have learned from making several versions of this solar wax melter, is that it is important to get the old comb as close to the glass as possible. At the same time, you don’t want the unmelted wax to touch the glass or it will be hard to clean off. If you put the cookie sheet more than 3 inches below the glass, the heat will stay near the glass and not melt the wax.
You may also want to use a larger cookie sheet. These would cost a few dollars more but would be a larger platform to hold more wax and would keep the heat nearer the top of the melter because there is not as much space around the side of the cookie sheet. An 11 X 17-inch cookie sheet is $5 at Walmart. This would be a better buy for $4 more.
This is definitely a small wax melter, but all you have to do is load it every morning and it is pretty self-functioning until the next morning.
Why go to all this trouble? I use my wax to put an extra layer of wax on the plastic foundation. I find the bees accept the plastic foundation with extra wax as readily as pure wax foundation. There are other folks who make lip balm and other items with bees’ wax.
Please make improvements and share them with me as you can.