Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Build an Inexpensive (Cheap) Solar Wax Melter

Now that I am a couple years into my beekeeping adventure, without any honey to show for my troubles, I figured it was time to turn my attention to any aspect of beekeeping that could be a positive point of light.  Although all my hives swarmed this past spring and weren't strong enough to make any honey for the Good Wife, they all did survive the winter, which is a positive point all itself.  However, having a couple white boxes out in the horse corral that have bees in them, just isn't much to show for all the time and money put into this hobby, project, adventure...challenge.

One thing I did have was a couple small jars of burr comb and left over wax from scraping the frames and working in the hives.  It wasn't much, and it didn't look too appetizing.  However, lots of things can be made from beeswax, such as lip balm and candles.  Although, looking at the wax I had accumulated, I didn't really want to put my lips on it!

What most people do is filter the wax to remove all the impurities, and then use the filtered beeswax for the creative projects.  There are all sorts of plans and instructions on the internet for solar wax melters, but they would all require time and materials to build.  I wanted something cheap.  Something inexpensive.  And I had already been put on notice by the Good Wife that the bee equipment in the basement seemed to be multiplying and taking up more and more space.  So a large solar wax melter would be out of the question.

One day at work, a 4' x 8' piece of 1/4" EPS insulation with the silver reflective coating showed up and was going to be thrown out.  Being the pack rat that I have become, I volunteered to take it home and figure out some use for it.  Maybe cut it into strips and insulate the inside of the roof of the chicken coop.  That would keep them warm in the winter and cooler in the summer.  Maybe.  But then it hit wax melter!

So here is how I built a cheap solar wax melter and spent under $10 and take up less space than an inner cover when not in use.

I started with a deep hive body that wasn't being used.  Using a utility knife, I cut five pieces from the 1/4" EPS insulation with the silver coating.

Cut Pieces:
Qty: 2 - 18-3/8" x 9"
Qty: 2 - 14-3/8" x 9"
Qty: 1 - 20" x 16-1/2"

The two 18-3/8" pieces get inserted into the hive body against the long side walls, with the silver coating facing the inside of the hive body.  The two 14-3/8" pieces get wedged into the hive body along the short ends.  These will be a tight press fit, holding the longer pieces and themselves in place.  This makes it easy so you don't have to use any nails, screws or staples to hold the insulation in place.  This also creates a lip all the way around the top edge of hive body at the same level as the frame shelf on the ends.

The only thing I had to buy was one 18" x 24" piece of acrylic from one of the big box hardware stores.  You can buy acrylic, lexan or anything that is clear.  This was cut to size to fit the inside lip of the hive body.   Once cut to size, place into the hive body across the top.  It won't be easy to get out, but it doesn't matter as you won't be lifting the top to get into your solar wax melter.  I used a utility knife and made several cuts across the acrylic, then broke it on the mark using the edge of a work bench.  I did find out that a hacksaw doesn't work too well, although I may have had a blade with too large of teeth.

The 20" x 16-1/2" piece will go under the hive body when it is ready to be used.  The only other thing that is needed is a plastic container, rubber band or string to go around the top, and a paper towel or cheese cloth to go over the plastic container.

When ready to use your solar wax melter, place the 20" x 16-1/2" piece of insulation with the silver side facing up on a table outside where it will get good sun exposure.  Take your plastic container, put some water into it to cover the bottom, then place the paper towel on the top using the rubber band.  I used a tea cloth towel I absconded from the Good Wife.  Place your plastic container onto the center of your insulation piece.  Once it is positioned, place the wax you would like to filter onto the top of the cloth.

This is how mine looked.  And yes, this was put out at night.  And I do know that the sun doesn't come out at night.  However, I was going to be going off to work the next day before the sun came up, so I figured it could sit out there all night, waiting for the sun.

Then simply take your deep hive body with the insulation and acrylic cover and place it over the wax sealing it up on the bottom piece of insulation.

Mine was placed out on the patio table on the back deck.  You can't see it, but the acrylic piece is covering the top.  The next step is to wait.  Unfortunately, the next day was cloudy all day and rather cool, so it didn't melt anything.  I started to get discouraged.  It sat out all day and didn't do anything.

 It stayed there the next night and all the next day, which was sunny and warm.  It did condensate a bit on the inside, which is that "halo" forming around the center of the acrylic in the picture above.  One sunny day is all it took.

The wax all melted through the cloth and all that was left on top were the impurities left from the wax.  It kind of looks like a dog or cat got in there and took care of business.  It was very stiff and rigid when I took it out.  After looking at it for a minute, I decided to throw away the piece of cloth as it would take more effort to get it clean than it would be worth.  Next time I will use a paper towel.  The final product though, was golden, pure, filtered beeswax!

The water was put in the container to keep it from sticking.  I was able to lift it right out of the container without any problems.  It smelled sweet and pure like the beehive in mid-spring.

The one thing I will do differently next time, other than using a paper towel, is to use a cardboard orange juice container with the top cut off as my catch bucket.  They have a waxed coating on the inside, and don't need to have water put inside.  The wax can be stored in the container until ready to use, and it makes a nice block when the container is cut off the block of wax when you are ready to use it.

The best part is that when you aren't using the solar wax melter, you can pull off the acrylic top, and pull out the insulation pieces and stack them flat.  It hardly takes up any space.

It may not look like much, but it is all I have to show right now for two plus years of beekeeping.  The Good Wife and Youngest Son want to make lip balm with the wax.  A kit has been ordered with all the other necessary items.  I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.  This wax I wouldn't mind putting my lips on!