Sunday, 5 August 2018

A steam-powered wax extractor

Earlier in the season I tried making a solar wax extractor from a large plastic box but, despite sunny weather and the fact that the temperature inside the box went off the scale on my greenhouse thermometer (>50℃), it never got hot enough to melt the wax. Then I saw an article in the July 2018 edition of the BBKA magazine with a design for a home made steam wax extractor.  The design, by Steve & Marie Attrill, used a small stainless steel sink and a wallpaper stripper but seemed quite complicated, building a wooden platform for the sink and a wooden frame at the top to deliver the steam.

I decided to simplify the design and I think it works just as well.  I bought a small stainless steel sink and a wallpaper steamer from B&Q, each less than £30 with my pensioners' discount.  I used a few scraps of wood and chipboard to support the sink.

Two small pieces of wood, each with a hole ∼25mm⌀, attach the steam hose to the hole for the tap.

I closed the side overflow hole in the sink with a piece of gaffer tape.  Then I cut a piece of mesh to fit over the sink and that was it.

The sink is 480mm square so a national brood box (460mm square) fits perfectly on top.  The old brood frames go in the brood box and a crown board seals the top.  A roof would do just as well.

The steamer takes a few minutes to get up steam and within a few more minutes the wax starts running out of the hole in the bottom of the sink into a container.  I put a small amount of water in the bottom of the container so the wax will float and not stick.

There is a little bit of water condensation as well and a small amount of steam escapes from under the crown board but as I run this in the greenhouse it is no problem.  After 20 minutes or so the wax stops running and the process is complete.  The wax is pretty clean as all the debris is caught on the mesh floor but it will need refining and filtering at some stage.

The frames are easily scraped clean while they are still warm and are then ready for fitting with new foundation. The frames and brood box get sterilised in the process as well.

Most of the first frames I treated this way were quite old and dark.  It was fascinating to see that the propolis linings from multiple uses of the brood cells still form a comb when all the wax has been melted out.

It seems a shame to throw away perfectly good frames so I am pleased to have found an easy way to reuse them.  After a few dozen the machine will even have paid for itself.


  1. Great design Christopher, I'm now on the lookout for a similar sized square sink. I already have an unused wallpaper steamer bought on a whim from a car boot sale (even though all our walls are painted with emulsion!), so I'm off to a flying start! Regards, Ray

  2. Now that is a better mouse trap! For three months of the year (on clear days) my homemade solar melter works fine but I do admire your efficient steamer.