Beeswax-Honeybee Gift

Beeswax pillar candle from  https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceBlossomCandles
Beeswax pillar candle from
https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceBlossomCandles

A beekeeper for over 15 years, I have accumulated pounds of beeswax as a welcome byproduct of my honeybees.  A substance formed by insects, it is simply amazing that it has been in use for millennia, even found in tombs of the pharaohs, and caulking the ships of Vikings. Think of it as the duct tape of ancients! Here are some interesting beeswax facts.

Beehives and giant birdhouse at Ladew Topiary Gardens
Beehives and giant birdhouse at Ladew Topiary Gardens

 Beeswax Facts

  • By consuming honey, honeybees produce beeswax. It takes about 8.5 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax. When the bees make one pound of beeswax into comb, it will hold 22 pounds of honey.
  • Honeybees collect nectar from approximately two million flowers to make one pound of honey. If you do the math, nectar is collected from 17 million flowers to make one pound of beeswax!
  • Secreted in the form of a scale about the size of a pinhead by worker bees, there are eight wax secreting glands located under its abdomen. It takes 800,000 of these scales to make one pound of beeswax.
Beeswax scale pictured on the bottom row as clear flakes -from Wikipedia
Beeswax scale pictured on the bottom row as clear flakes -from Wikipedia
  • The beeswax scale when first secreted is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, nothing like the golden brown aromatic final product.
Beeswax cakes from my hives which has been melted down and cleaned
Beeswax cakes from my hives which has been melted down and cleaned
  • Beeswax obtains its natural color of golden-yellow due to propolis, which is basically tree sap that bees collect to seal up their hive, and from pollen brought into the hive.
  • Beeswax obtains its distinctive aroma from the storage of honey and pollen in the honeycomb. The proximity of the honey gives the beeswax the strong smell of honey.
  • Over time, beeswax will develop a whitish coating called bloom. This is the result of softer oils rising to the surface and can be removed with a soft cloth or hair dryer. The appearance of bloom is  proof that you have 100% beeswax.
  • Some various uses of beeswax are: candle making, batik art, leather products conditioning, waxing wooden windows and drawers, quilting(thread strengthener), cosmetics, furniture polish, soap, and fly tying.
  • Beeswax is very stable; samples of thousands of years old beeswax is identical to new wax.
  • The oldest known notebooks used sheets of beeswax  for pages. Recovered from ancient Mediterranean  shipwrecks, stylus marks pressed in the wax pages can still be read after centuries on the sea floor.
  • Of 100 volatile constituents in beeswax, only 41 have been identified.
  •  Beeswax forms the oldest known dental filling.  A fragment of beeswax was found in a 6500 year old jawbone, being used to plug a gap in a tooth, predating the first recorded amalgam filling by around 5,200 years.
  • It is a wonderful furniture polisher and is what the professional antiques industry uses to beautify its furniture.
  • In the 11th century there are records of huge quantities of beeswax being used by the Church, usually in the form of candles. Every monastery and abbey had an apiary to meet this need.
  • Beeswax candles burn brighter, longer, and cleaner than any other candle. In the process of burning, the candle gives off negative ions that are known to clean the air and invigorate the body.
A perfect frame of honeycomb that is capped with wax, ready to be sliced off to remove honey filled cells
A perfect frame of honeycomb that is capped with wax, ready to be sliced off to remove honey filled cells
Removing beeswax cappings with a heated knife. The darker area is an older honeycomb that was formed earlier. The comb darkens with age.
Removing beeswax cappings with a heated knife. The darker area is an older honeycomb that was formed earlier. The comb darkens with age.

Other Uses of Beeswax

Food Storage

I found a new product called Bee’s Wrap, which is a beeswax/cloth food storage solution and is found at www.beeswrap.com. This is an innovative product which claims to be the new “old fashioned” alternative to plastic wrap. Environmentally friendly, beeswrap is a reusable cloth impregnated in beeswax that with the warmth of your hands, can be formed around pieces of cheese, bread, or cut pieces of fruit, keeping the moisture in. Once in the fridge, the cold keeps the wrap stiff and in place. Ingenious! Fully washable, the cloth can be reused over and over. I am using this for all my cheese and fruit from now on.

Beeswrap around a chunk of cheese
Beeswrap around a chunk of cheese

I wanted to see if I could make something similar with my store of beeswax. It is a ton of work to grate beeswax, but if you want the DIY method, here it is:

DIY Beeswax cloth
DIY Beeswax cloth

Basically, I cut a piece of unbleached muslin and placed it onto an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. After evenly grating a chunk of beeswax over the fabric, I placed the cookie sheet into a preheated 170 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Making sure that the beeswax melted completely to fully saturate the fabric, I pulled the sheet out, removing the fabric from the foil immediately. When cool, I used pinking sheers to cut around the entire piece so it doesn’t fray.

I loved doing this but since this was so much work, I think that this was a good case of buying it rather than making it! Buy at Beeswrap.com.

Arts and Crafts

Beeswax can be dyed different colors and used in different applications, like modeling or sculpting. For tips on dying beeswax with natural spices, like turmeric and cinnamon, go to http://www.wikihow.com/Add-Color-to-Beeswax.

Dyed beeswax for modeling purposes
Dyed beeswax for modeling purposes

Beeswax ornaments for Christmas will literally last forever and add a faint scent of honey to the room along with pine scents from the tree.  To make an ornament, beeswax is easily melted and poured into molds and inserted with a hanger to make a beautiful Christmas ornament.

Beeswax bunny ornament
Beeswax bunny ornament
Dyed beeswax ornament rolled in cinnamon
Dyed beeswax ornament rolled in cinnamon

Candles

Beeswax candles from my hives
Beeswax candles from my hives

Candles are the most common use of beeswax for crafters, as it is easy to pour the wax into molds or roll sheets into tapers. Beeswax candles are environmentally friendly with no chemicals discharged such as benzene, styrene, toluene, acetone, and particulate matter, which paraffin candles emit polluting your indoor air.

Beeswax Candles
Beeswax Candles, on the right natural colored, on the left, bleached

Soap/Cosmetics

I love making soap using beeswax. For posts of soap making with beeswax, go to Orange Citrus Soap with Beeswax, and DIY Soap. Beeswax adds a welcome honey scent to the bars.

DIY Soap with Beeswax
DIY Soap with Beeswax

Body Butter

Body Butter is expensive to buy and I have found a very simple recipe, that prepared with just five ingredients, an immersion blender, and about 45 minutes of your time, you can make enough butter for the dry winter months ahead. Go to Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter to see the step by step process. If you need beeswax, I found a source at http://www.beeswaxco.com/catalog/12/Bulk-Beeswax where you can buy a one ounce bar for just $2.00. For any of these projects, a small amount of beeswax goes a long way.

If you like this blog, please take a minute and vote for my blog at http://www.bhg.com/blogs/better-homes-and-gardens-style-blog/bhg-blogger-awards/ Many thanks!!

Finished body butter ready to use
Finished body butter ready to use

   

Beeswax Citrus Soap

 I am experimenting with different varieties of handmade soap and I love orange flavor, and recently made some citrus soap bars. They turned out great, so wanted to share this variation using a base of olive oil soap.  I call it Beeswax Citrus Soap. Think how good this soap is for your skin with all this olive oil and beeswax! Beeswax softens and protects skin from environmental elements and is naturally nourishing and antibacterial and anti-allergenic. the addition of orange peel adds to the exfoliant properties. Orange Citrus Soap

Orange Citrus SoapI love handmade, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores.  The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical of making soap, which is called saponification.

In the old days, when people had to make their own soap, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water, and liquid lye would float to the top.

Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!
Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!

 

Beeswax cakes from my hives
Beeswax cakes from my hives

Gather Materials

Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don't have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one
Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don’t have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one

First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed.  They are:

  • Immersion blender
  • Digital cooking thermometer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for soap making; a heavy saucepan, plastic 2  quart beverage container, and wooden spoon
  • Soap mold-You can use a small kitty litter pan; I used a milk container for my soap
  • Old clothes and apron
  • Goggles
  • Rubber Gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves

Safety Precautions

I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. A caustic substance, lye has to be handled very carefully. If you use common sense, and pay attention to directions, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.

Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to go. The following is your basic procedure and ingredients. The final step is adding your flavoring/scent and you can add any scent at all that you like.

Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap

36 ounces olive oil

6 ounces coconut oil

3 ounces castor oil

2 ounces of grated beeswax

12 ounces distilled water

6 ounces lye

2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are endless)

Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
  1. Measure 12 ounces of water into the plastic pitcher. Your kitchen scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water.  Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
  2. Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
  3. Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir

A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off –  away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.

Measuring out your oils on the scale
Measuring out your oils on the scale

4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool slightly. You will measuring the temperature of this mixture to be around 98 to 110 degrees F.

Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last
Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last

5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.

6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of both the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 F which is called equalizing. This is the most difficult part of the whole process.  The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:

7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.

8. Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.

10. Without turning on the blender, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit.  I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!

11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency.  Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top.  The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.

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12. Add your essential oils ( I used 1/4 ounce each of lemon and orange oil). Grate 2 oranges to get about 1/4 cup of grated skin and add to mixture. I also sprinkled some turmeric on top to increase the intensity of the orange color.  This is for color only, not for any flavor. Mix in and I liked the swirls of turmeric so didn’t mix that in completely.

Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Swirl the colors and oil in
Swirl the colors and oil in
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours

13. Pour your soap into your mold (here I used a wax covered milk container with the top cut out).

14.  Wrap the container in an old towel and set aside for 24 hours.

15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife. I peel off the container and chop it up with a warmed knife.

Peeling off the milk carton
Peeling off the milk carton

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Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my personal use and lots of gifts.

Clean up

To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water –  same with the digital thermometer.

Aging

You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.