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Beeswax is produced by bees in the form of tiny scales which are "sweated" from the segments on the underside of the abdomen. To stimulate the production of beeswax the bees gorge themselves with honey or sugar syrup and huddle together to raise the temperature of the cluster. To produce one pound of wax requires the bees to consume about ten pounds of honey.
At normal hive temperature of 37C (100F), wax can support a considerable weight and yet still be moulded by the bee's jaws. Beeswax melts at 64C (147F).
Beeswax has a high resistance to the passage of heat but if cooled quickly will become pale in colour, more brittle and liable to develop cracks due to rapid contraction. For this reason wax for exhibition is cooled as slowly as possible to preserve the texture and colour. To preserve the aroma of fresh wax it should never be raised more than a few degrees above melting point and then only for a short period. Whilst stories abound of last years exhibit being left to soak in honey over the winter to retain the honey aroma, fresh wax and low temperatures are an unbeatable combination
IMPORTANT: When melting beeswax always use a water bath by placing the container of wax - probably a small saucepan - inside a larger pan of water. Never place a pan of wax directly on a hot plate or gas ring. Beeswax can easily become damaged by localised overheating and if it ignites can burn more ferociously than any chip pan fire. Beeswax does not boil - it just gets hotter and hotter until it ignites.
Wax should only be melted in stainless steel, plastic, or tin plated containers. Iron rust and containers of galvanised iron, brass or copper all impart a colour to beeswax and aluminium is said to make the wax dull and mud coloured. The next time you see a very orange wax in may have been melted in a copper pan.
The uses for beeswax are many but these days the most common are for better quality candles, soap, skin care products, the coatings of sweets and pills, furniture polish, batik art, and in quilting and heavy sewing it's put on the thread to ease its passing through tough materials. The polishing of parade boots by servicemen (thank you Larry), to lubricate zips, particularly for sub-aqua clothing and for the mouth piece of Didgeridoos! It is used in industry as a lubricant in metal drawing and ice cutting and on the strings of bows in archery. Finally in the making of moustache wax.
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Suggested further reading BEESWAX - RON BROWN
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