CHAPTER XI Edit
POINTS ABOUT BEESWAX
HOW TO MAKE IT
BEESWAX is a unique product; the little socialists of the hive have formed a trust for its manufacture, which for many and good reasons has never been infringed upon. The special value of beeswax is that it retains its cohesiveness and ductibility, under both higher and lower temperatures, than do other kinds of wax. It has a specific gravity of 960-972, and melts at 143-145 F.
Beeswax has been in demand in the world since ancient times, being put to many and diverse uses. Now, however, the making of foundation-comb is the most important of these uses and most affects the beeswax market of to-day. Countless thousands of sheets of wax-foundation are manufactured yearly in America. When foundation was first used it was thought that it might be adulterated safely with paraffine, but it was soon found that beeswax thus adulterated, when subjected to the heat of the hive in summer, would invariably bulge, buckle and sag. We know an apiarist who lost money, honey, bees and temper through trying to use this kind of foundation, which did not stand firm.
Extracted honey in pails candicc
Extracted honey in glass jars ready for market. PLATE XX T
THE PRIMITIVE METHOD
The process of making wax from honey-comb may be primitive and yet quite successful. Well do we remember the method as practised in the days of our early youth in the kitchen of the old farm- house, usually a comfortable and altogether delight- ful room. Its yellow-painted floor seemed to have caught the sunshine streaming in through white- curtained windows and held it there for us to tread upon. The chintz-covered settee and Boston rockers, and a few widths of bright rag carpet, made one end a cozy sitting-room. At the opposite end the cup- boards, their shelves covered with elaborately scal- loped newspapers, and beset with orderly dishes and tinware, bespoke the kitchen. Midway between stood the heavy cherry drop-leaf table which revealed the dining-room; in the midst of this Protean apart- ment stood the cook-stove, polished so that it would put to shame the rosewood case of a piano, bearing on its top the pink-copper tea-kettle singing gayly after its daily bath of cleansing buttermilk, and holding within the roaring fire which ever seemed the spirit and soul of the place. The neatness that held sway in this kitchen was the perfect sort that conduces to comfort, and not to misery. Only at certain periods was this delectable room given over to discomfort and untidiness; these included "wash-days," the days following the yearly sacrificial rite of butchering and the days when beeswax was made.
We were wont to make beeswax as follows: The broken combs were packed in a muslin bag which was weighted by a sinker and hung in the wash- boiler by tying the bag to the poker, which was placed crosswise the top. By this contrivance the bag was completely surrounded by water, which filled the boiler, and yet did not touch the bottom, and so there was no danger of burning; the cloth acted as a strainer and the bag was pressed occa- sionally; this act being judiciously performed by means of the tongs, which had previously been cleaned. After the wax had boiled out the boiler was taken off and the whole contents cooled, after which the wax was taken from the top in pieces and remelted in a dish set on the back side of the stove so as not to burn, then poured into oiled bread-tins, and thus caked for the market. Some of it was clarified for special use thus: It was allowed to simmer on the back of the stove for some hours in water to which vinegar had been added, and then was dipped off into scalloped patty-tins and a neat little loop of cord inserted at one side. These cakes when cooled had a long though scarified existence ensconced in work-baskets with spools of thread, for wax thus cleaned and prepared made very pretty little gifts for lady-friends. But the ex- perience of rendering wax was never complete without spilling some of it on the stove, which spread with fearful rapidity and smoked with stifling smoke; because of the certainty of this accident we always made the beeswax in the late fall, lest our bees regarding the pungent smoke as a direct invitation should come visiting in embarrassing numbers.
Sundry old pieces of rag carpet were spread on the floor around the stove to keep the yellow paint intact from the wax, which was so hard to clean off. We had no benzine in those days, and our only resort was boiling hot water, which cleaned off the paint as well as the wax.
One privilege that was always granted to us children on this day was that of having "our fingers made." As the wax was cooling the finger was dipped in it, and the film was cooled while the finger was held very still; then the film was slipped off, a crucial point in the process, and used as a mould into which was poured the cooling wax; and presto! there was the finger as natural as life to every crease and wrinkle, but with a death-like pallor that rendered the row of fingers thus made a fascinatingly gruesome collection, as if they had been chopped off with a hatchet.
This old process of rendering wax in the wash- boiler is still practised where apiaries are small. Mr. Root advises the following modification: Sticks are placed crosswise the bottom of the boiler on which the bag is placed; the bag is packed very full of wax by pressing the comb into balls with the hands before it is put in. Water is added and the whole is placed upon the stove and brought slowly to a boil, then a board that acts as a follower on the bag is placed on top with a heavy weight upon it;
this acts as a press and decreases the bulk in the bag, leaving the wax floating on the surface.
THE SOLAR WAX-EXTRACTOR
There are many modern and up-to-date methods advised for extracting wax. The most common is through the use of the Solar wax-extractor, which was invented for extracting honey in California, where the sun can be depended upon to do its work unflinchingly day after day. There was more than myth in the story of Icarus who fastened his wings on with wax, and then dared to face the sun. The ancients evidently knew that no other substance of the sort is so susceptible to the sun's rays. I shall never forget my amazement at the efficiency of the first Solar extractor that I ever saw; it was home- made and there was naught in its appearance to indicate its power. The comb was hard and black- ened and full of dirt, while the wax that oozed out and hardened below was as shining and yellow as if the sun itself had exhaled it. A Solar extractor ought to be in every apiary where twenty colonies or more are kept, and into this every fragment of comb should be put instead of storing it to become in- fested by the bee moth, or leaving it around to incite the bees to robbing. The fragments thus are saved and without any expense or trouble are made into a beautiful product for the market.
There are several of these Solar extractors made and sold by dealers. The Doolittle, the Rauchfuss and the Boardman are the three commonly used.
The Doolittle is small and all right for a small apiary. The Rauchfuss has a clever arrangement by which the wax in flowing out overflows from one pan to another and thus cleanses itself automatically. The Boardman is especially adapted for large apiaries, and is on rockers so that it may be tilted to face the sun. The general plan of the Solar wax-extractor is as follows : It consists of a shallow box lined with sheet-iron on which is a frame for holding the comb with a strainer below it, and a place where the wax thus extracted is received. The box has a tight- fitting glass cover, and all the woodwork on the box is painted black so as to absorb all the heat possible. The box is tilted so as to get the direct rays of the sun, and it is important that the cover be of one pane of glass, or several panes matched without cross sash, as such sash interferes with the rays of the sun. Here in the East this extractor works excellently during the summer months. If the wax does not look clean as it comes from the extractor, it may be put through again. The only difficulty with the Solar extractor is that here in the East it works only in the summer time, and that it does not extract all the wax from the refuse which bears the graphic and euphonious name of "slumgum."
THE SWISS WAX-EXTRACTOR
There are many patent wax-extractors which are run by the heat of a stove. The best of these utilise steam for heating the wax, though some of them use hot water in a sort of a modification of the old wash- boiler method. The best of these machines for a small apiary is the Swiss extractor, which may be set over a kettle of hot water, like an ordinary vege- table steamer, which it resembles. The comb is placed in a wire basket, which has a cone-shaped bottom, over which the wax flows down as it melts and drains off through a spout into a pan in which it is to be caked. This machine costs only three or four dollars and is simple and excellent; though it takes but comparatively little comb at a time, it keeps jup a continual performance and there is no danger whatever of burning the wax. The basket may be replenished from time to time, and a large amount of wax may be extracted in a day while other work is being performed in the room. Mr. Root has an improved Swiss extractor and so has Mr. D. A. Jones, and both of them are most satisfactory. Mr. Jones's machine is the larger and may be used as an uncapping can as well; the cap- pings when taken off falling directly into the ex- tractor.
Wax is such a precious product in these days of the manufacture of foundation-comb that every particle of it should be saved. This is quite im- possible with any of the extractors; as the slumgum always holds much wax, to extract which a wax-press is needed. All wax-presses are necessarily rather expensive machines when bought, and not very easily manufactured at home. In some of them the comb is melted by steam and in some by hot water; in others the heated wax is dipped from a kettle of hot water and poured into the press.
The German steam wax-press is in general use in America, Mr. Root having an improvement on it. It is a strongly built can, at the bottom of which is a place for water, and above it an arrangement to receive the wax drippings. A basket of perforated metal holds the comb and occupies the larger and upper part of the can ; a follower worked by a screw presses down upon the heated comb and forces the wax down and out through a spigot. This machine weighs sixty pounds and costs fourteen dollars, and if the apiary contains more than forty hives of bees, such a wax-press will pay for itself soon with the wax which would otherwise be lost.
We have seen one home-made press constructed from a half barrel worked by the machinery of a cheese-press. The follower was cleated on the under side, and the barrel was filled with boiling water; the wax as it was pressed out was run off by a spout at the top. Another which was used successfully was simply a box with cleated bottom and a cleated follower into which the hot wax was poured and pressed out most successfully. One of the wax presses used by many is called the Hatch-Gemmill press, which is run on the principle of dipping the hot wax off hot water and squeezing it through the press.
REFINING WAX WITH SULPHURIC ACID
On a small scale this may be done in an agate or porcelain-lined kettle. Mr. Root even advises on occasion the use of a large iron kettle. The kettle is filled half full of water, 100 parts to one part acid, and is brought nearly to the boiling point over a slow fire; the wax is then added and is kept hot for a little time after it is melted, and then the fire is allowed to die down; as soon as it is cool enough so that the dirt has settled, the wax is dipped off, great care being taken not to stir up the settlings. If an iron kettle is used it should afterward be thoroughly washed with boiling water, and rubbed with fresh lard or some other unsalted grease to stop the action of the acid upon it. Beeswax may be bleached by exposing it in thin sheets to the sunlight.
Dishonest dealers have attempted to adulterate beeswax with several substances; tallow, paraffine and cerasin being more commonly used. Tallow or other greasy adulterants may be detected by the smell; and because the cakes of wax containing them feel and look greasy. But paraffine and cerasin are not so easily detected by the eye or feel. The specific gravity test is the one used by dealers. A piece of wax known to be pure is placed in a jar of water, and enough alcohol is added so that the wax will just settle to the bottom. Then a piece of the suspected wax is placed in the jar, and if it contains either paraffine or cerasin it will still float. Another test but not so exact is made by chewing the wax; if it is pure it will be brittle and break as it is chewed, but adulterated wax is cohesive like gum.
MAXIMS FOR BEESWAX MAKING
The wax-market is always good, and the wise beekeeper saves every scrap of this precious material.
Do not be mussy when making beeswax, or it will take longer to clean up than to make the wax.
Do not use galvanised iron vessels for boiling wax as the quality is thus injured.
Clean wax off with hot water or benzine.