Beeswax is a natural wax produced in the bee hive of honey bees of the genus Apis.
It is mainly esters of fatty acids and various long chain alcohols.
Beeswax is can be used to cool tool heads. I use beeswax with my chisels. With my hot cut and walking chisels I keep a block of beeswax beside my work. I make a hit or two, then dip it in the beeswax.
- it helps quench the blade of the chisel, helping to keep the chisel from loosing its hardness
- it helps with the release of the chisel blade from the metal as you work the piece
- it protects the edge from rust after using because of the coating of was left behind on the chisel blade.
It's main use, however, is in finishing and protecting metalwork. As you'll read it is a main ingredient in a number of blacksmith finishing products recipes.
Beeswax can be used by itself. In fact, European smiths used it for centuries by simply melting the wax onto the workpiece while it was still warm. Unlike other waxes, bees wax is non-toxic and, therefore, can be used on cutlery and utensils. (Piel Tool Company website)
The wax is formed by worker bees, who secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7. The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker and after daily flights these glands begin to gradually atrophy. The new wax scales are initially glass-clear and colorless (see illustration), becoming opaque after mastication by the worker bee. The wax of honeycomb is nearly white, but becomes progressively more yellow or brown by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about 3 millimetres (0.12 in) across and 0.1 millimetres (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1,100 are required to make a gram of wax. Honey bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells in which their young are raised and honey and pollen are stored. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive has to be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F). To produce their wax, bees must consume about eight times as much honey by mass. Typically, for a honey beekeeper, 10 pounds of honey yields 1 pound of wax. It is estimated that bees collectively fly 150,000 miles, roughly six times around the earth, to yield one pound of beeswax (530,000 km/kg).
When beekeepers extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell with an uncapping knife or machine. Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often a shade of yellow, depending on purity and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. Wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb. Impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax has to be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum.
The wax may further be clarified by heating in water. As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.Caution: A number of recipes call for "boiled" linseed oil. Linseed oil is obtained by pressing the flax plant. Raw linseed oil is safe for human consumption. Boiled linseed oil is heated and treated with chemicals that make it toxic for humans.
Wyoming Metalsmiths: How to Care for your Ironwork
"Your iron or bronze accessories will last for generations if taken care of as you would your fine wood furniture. Just wax occasionally as needed. (A good quality carnuba paste wax is best, but whatever you use on your wood furniture will work.) bronze does not require any maintenance indoors or out but occasional waxing will renew luster.
Iron accessories in high traffic areas or that are exposed to abnormal interior humidity may require more frequent maintenance. to remove any rust that may form if maintenance has not been frequent enough for conditions: remove with #0000 steel wool, rub in furniture wax with soft cloth, best results ARE achieved by warming the iron or bronze with a hairdryer or heat gun and applying a good quality paste or furniture wax. This will allow the wax to best penetrate the surface for longer lasting protection. Buff with a soft cloth and use a horsehair brush if needed to get into crevices or hard to reach areas.
Most items are lightly hand sanded and hand rubbed with the traditional blacksmith's mixture of linseed oil, turpentine, and beeswax. The metal is heated to approximately 300° F so the finish not only penetrates but is actually baked on. Then the item is buffed as it cools. The antique iron furniture and most bath and kitchen accessories are given two coats of clear acrylic and need to be waxed occasionally as well . These finishes best show off the natural color and texture of the forged metal.
Items use around food are seasoned with vegetable oil and need to be oiled occasionally just as you would a cast iron skillet. Warm them in the oven and rub in oil with a cloth or paper towel. Then wipe off excess.
Remember, these iron finishes are meant for indoors."
Florida Artist Blacksmiths: Virgil Mayo's Bees' Wax
by Mary Brandenburg
At the Madison conference FABA member Virgil Mayo spent a few minutes watching the Family Program class on jewelry making, and came up with a good suggestion for dealing with the flyaway thread on which we were stringing beads for bracelets. He pulled out a stick of beest wax and invited us to draw the ends of,the thread over it. The lightly waxed thread was much easier to work with..
The remarkable thing, though, was Virgil's stick of bees1 wax. It was about an inch in diameter and eight inches long, like a chunky candle. He explained that he got the wax from a beekeeper, melted it down, and poured it into a mold.
Virgil makes his own primitive molds from bamboo, Bamboo, found all over Florida, grows as a hollow tube intersected by solid joints. Virgil cuts stalks bamboo just below each joint to make individual molds. That leaves an opening at the top of the mold and a solid bottom that is the bamboo's joint. He fills each mold with wax, lets the wax cool, and then releases the molded wax by knocking the bottom joints off with a chisel, which splits the molds apart.
The resulting cylinders of wax are easy to tuck into a shirt pocket and also easy to hold. Virgil uses them to coat newly forged iron pieces to keep them from rusting.
CB's Peanut Butter so named because our own Journeyman Charlie Boothe swears by this concoction and it does look like Peanut Butter. He said some of the items with it on have been outside for over a year and has no signs of rust on it.
He uses a double boiler:
- Melt ½ cup of bees wax
- Add 1 cup of Johnson's paste wax
- Add 1 cup of turpentine
- Add 1 cup boiled linseed oil
- Add 2 tablespoons of Japan Dryer (Sherman Williams)
Note: This produces a natural finish. Charlie put it on with ½" brush with the metal temperature of about 150 degrees. Lets it dry and then wipe it with a cloth.
From L.T. Skinnell: Tip of the month July 2013
There were several people that asked about the formula of the wax we used at our meeting in June. I got the formula from Doug Merkel. I took his class a number of years ago. It has been around for years in various forms. It works good on colonial and traditional type pieces. It is an interior finish. The ingredients are:
- 1 cup Johnson's or Butcher's paste wax
- 1 cup boiled linseed oil
- 1 cup turpentine
- ½ cup shaved/pieces of beeswax
I put all the ingredients in a metal container with a cover and heat slowly. CAUTION: This is a very flamable mixture and will catch on fire very easily. Don't put over an open flame. Those of you at the meeting saw the flamability first hand. Think about personal and property safety. I usually use the wood stove in the shop and heat slowly until everything melts. Stir until all the ingredients are mixed really well and let cool. It will become a soft paste. The turpentine keeps it soft. As you use this you can reheat and add ingredients as you like.
Purgatory Ironworks: Beeswax Coating for Metalsmiths
- 1 part Beeswax
- 1 part Turpentine
- ½ part Linseed Oil (raw)
Sootypaws Forge: Wax Finish, By Molly Schaffnit
Our finish recipe is derived from the one in Andrew's Edge of the Anvil:
- 3 or 4 oz. by weight of beeswax plus
- 8 oz. by volume of raw linseed oil.
- Johnson's paste wax is used for the final waxing.
Since we apply our finish hot, we use raw linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil uses heavy metal driers. We prefer not to breathe those fumes. The piece is heated (just warm, not too hot) and the wax is applied with a mop (made of a piece of rag wrapped around a stick and held with wire) or the piece is just dipped in.
After cooling the piece is wiped off and set aside for two days or so. After the finish is fairly dry we apply a final waxing with Johnson's paste wax. The solvents in the paste wax dissolve any clumps of beeswax and the final finish is smooth and attractive after buffing.
This is a very durable finish for indoor use. It will stand for a year or more exposure in a protected area like a porch outdoors.
Doug Merkel: Wax for All Seasons
A significant portion of my work deals with the repairs and reproduction of antique ironwork. Most of my customers want a natural finish that looks old, protects the metal and which can be touched up if needed without lots of work or fancy chemicals. To meet their needs I have modified a few formulas that have been around for sometime into one that works for me and my customers. For some of the larger jobs, I leave a small container of the wax for use by the customer. It wears well inside and does quite well outside, if applied correctly. I have a piece of ironwork with this finish that has been out in the elements for over a year without rusting.
- 1 cup Johnson's Paste Wax
- 1 cup Boiled Linseed Oil
- 1 cup Turpentine
- 1/2 cup Shaved/pieces of Beeswax
- 2 tbsp. Japan Dryer
The first three ingredients can be obtained at most any hardware store, such as Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. The Japan Dryer is used by artists to speed the drying time for their oil paints, so is available at many art supply stores. The beeswax can be obtained from a local beekeeper, beekeeper supply shops, or blacksmith supply companies.
Mixing The Ingredients: Put all the ingredients into a glass quart jar, put the lid on with the retaining ring very loose. A metal can may be used, but it needs a tightly fitting cover. Either set up a double boiler or set next to your forge to get the mixture to melt. Do not put directly on the heat source and watch out for open flames. Once the ingredients are melted, tighten the lid ring and shake like crazy until all the wax is dissolved and is a homogenous mix. As it cools, it will become a soft paste. Keep the lid on when not in use.
Metal Preparation: Remove all scale with a power wire brush or by hand. if you want a dark finish, remove the scale at a dull red and let the metal air cool until you can just handle it with your bare hands. For a brighter finish, use a power wire brush and remove all the scale while the metal is cold, then apply enough heat until you can just hold it in your hand.
Application: Apply the mixture with a brush, your fingers, or with a small rag. The heat will melt the mix and it will run into every nook and cranny. Let it cool and buff out with a rag. If you let the excess mix stay on the iron, it will eventually harden, but every place that has excess will show up as a bright spot. A second coat can be added to heighten the luster while the metal is cold. Just remember to buff off the excess with a cloth.
Gee Mom, look what else I've found!
- Beeswax Coating for Metalsmiths
- Wyoming Metalsmiths
- Florida Artist Blacksmith's Association
- Finishing Metal with Beeswax
- Beeswax Coating for Metalsmiths
- Old Dominion Blacksmith Association
- Purgatory Ironworks
- Topic: Oil and Beeswax Formula
"We all do better when we all do better."