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Make a solar wax extractor
by Robin C Tomlinson
However did I manage without a solar wax extractor? I ask myself this question every time I see old comb and cappings melting away, frames glistening in the sun as wax and propolis run off them - the end result being a block of beautiful, aromatic beeswax, and clean dry beekeeping equipment. Yet somehow I did manage, using the term loosely, without it. To my amazement so too do many beekeepers, some who have kept bees for many years, but why? When wax is such a valuable part of the crop . . . free energy, simple in operation, hardly any moving parts to clean, lubricate or replace, virtually maintenance-free, non-polluting, and even an interesting conversation piece. It is also aesthetically pleasing.
So what are the disadvantages of a solar extractor? Cost: can I justify the cost? Given the number of colonies you keep and the amount of surplus wax they are producing, only you can be judge: if you are contemplating purchasing a manufactured one and you have only a few colonies then I doubt it, unless you share one or buy second-hand. But what about making one? Or better still getting a relative or friend to make one for you! However, before you embark upon the task it is as well to consider what a solar wax extractor consists of, or how it can be defined simply.
1. It is a box with four sides and a base, preferably double skinned in order to provide an insulated cavity. The box should be supported and at an angle of about 20° from the horizontal.
2. A transparent lid, preferably with a double layer of glass or perspex. The lid should be hinged and capable of being supported in the open position.
4. The unit should be mobile so that it can be moved with the minimum of effort; the principle I have applied is like a wheelbarrow but two wheels can be attached.
5. The whole unit should be weatherproof.
Do not read too much into the drawings; make your extractor to the dimensions that suit you best or to the materials that you have available. The lid, usually a discarded window frame, dictates the length and width. The drawings are only a guide.
2. Exterior grade plywood 10 mm or 15 mm thick for the exterior sides and base, 3mm exterior plywood for all interior surfaces. Hardboard would suffice.
3. 38 mm x 38 mm timber planed for the internal frame to form the cavity. This should be screwed to the external 20 mm plywood, the 3 mm plywood can then be nailed to this to flush off the interior and seal the cavity.
4. Insulation for the cavity can be expanded polystyrene granules/ sheeting/blocks/ cork granules or rockwool. Old expanded polystyrene packing profiles cut or broken up are ideal for this purpose.
5. 50 mm x 50 mm timber planed for the legs and handles. 76 mm x 50 mm timber planed for the wheel support. . . my extractor's wheel came off a scrap supermarket trolley!
At the time of writing I am contemplating building a larger extractor as I have just been given a sealed double glazed unit. I cannot resist doing something with it!
Reproduced with kind permission of the author from the Beekeepers' Annual 1991 published by Northern Bee Books. Photographs by Mary Fisher.