The Bush Mechanic - DIY beeswax foundation mould
By Dr Garth Cambray
Following on from "Make your own honey extractor, this month gives some handy guidelines to making a beeswax foundation mold.
In modern beekeeping a sheet of beeswax is used as the starter for encouraging the bees to build their honeycomb in the places the beekeeper wishes them to build it. The foundation consists of a sheet of wax with the natural honeycomb patterns of the bees on its surface.
To make a sheet of foundation two options exist - milling sheets of wax through a roller mill with specially patterned rollers which then mill the sheets by squeezing through the two rollers and leaving a honeycomb shape on their surface. This is a high tech operation and requires a skilled operator and careful maintenance of the milling machine.
The second option is to mould wax. If a simple negative template of a beeswax sheet is available, pouring hot wax into it and closing the mould to allow it to cool will create a wax sheet that is slightly thicker and more brittle than a milled sheet but just as functional.
Both a mill and a mould are inherently quite expensive devices, so once again, in the interests of the development of beekeeping in Africa and the world, www.scienceinafrica.co.za brings you some handy bushmechanic tips on how to make your own foundation mould for about R250 (US$45).
What you will need:
600ml of Wacker Elastosil M4514 RTV-2 catalyst hardened silicone rubber.
Place the sheet of foundation on a flat surface. Stick sticky tape around the edges of it to create a dam.
Mix the silicone very thoroughly with the spatula - mix for at lease 10 minutes, in all possible directions - any unmixed reagents will create small sticky patches on the mould which will waste countless hours of your time later when you make foundation, so be over cautious with stirring here.
Pour the silicone into the mould, spreading it into the foundation with the spatula so as to displace any air bubbles from the template foundation sheet.
Leave for 24 hours and pull the mould off the template. Do the whole thing again to make the other half.
Congratulations, you now have a mould!
Using your mould:
Make a hinged piece of metal and place the two sheets on this - don't bother trying to stick the mould to the metal - catalyst hardened silicone sticks to just about nothing.
Keep some beeswax melted at 80C in a hot pot cooker. The advantage of the hot pot cooker is that it cannot heat hotter than 80C, so there is little danger of boiling your wax or burning yourself and your house down. Keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case - never pour water on burning wax as it explodes and kills you/removes your skin painfully.
Dip the whole mould, including metal flaps into a basin of water containing half a teaspoon of soap per litre. This coats the mould with something to stop wax getting stuck to it.
Remove the mould, shake the sheets to remove excess water, reposition them, pour wax over the mould liberally, close the mould and plop back in the basin of water.
Remove the mould after 10 seconds and remove your sheet of wax.
Repeat the process.
It is possible, depending on the dexterity of the operator, to produce up to
50 sheets an hour with this system.
Garth Cambray is Director of Makana Meadery, makers of Honey Sun Mead and other honey based products.
In South Africa, Wacker Silicone type Elastocil M4514 RTV-2 Silcone and catalyst are available from Specialist Composites, North End, Port Elizabeth. They are contactable on 041 484 3747 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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