I’ve tried about twenty ways to get beeswax from old combs. So far I’ve found nothing that works for me. Cappings wax is pretty much doable, but I tend to be thrifty and I can’t bear to dispose of those old, dark, cocoon-filled combs without trying to render the wax. I want to make it into candles—candles that don’t sputter and smoke—and I want to do it without ruining every tool in the kitchen.
I have learned several valuable lessons so far. The most important is you must deny everything. At the end of the day when your significant other says, “What’s that stuff all over the stove?” it’s best to say, “What stove?” Or “What stuff?”
Same goes for the kitchen floor. “Did you spill something on the floor?” my husband asks, looking down at one bare foot. He just walked from the sink to the fridge, but his right sock is attached to the floor, facing the sink. “Uh, you must have stepped in something,” I reply helpfully.
When that same person asks, “Where did you put the “_____?” (stock pot, funnel, strainer, wooden spoon, spatula, slotted spoon, measuring cup or anything else you ruined and hid in the trunk of your car) you need to look innocent and say, “I have no idea. I think you were the last one to use it.” You should practice your innocent face in front of a mirror because, I swear, you will need it every time you play with beeswax.
Second lesson: It seems that no matter how carefully I plan to separate hot gunk from hot wax, and no matter how many times I rehearse the steps in my mind, I always need just one more of the aforementioned objects—one more strainer, one more pot, one more spoon, one more pan. But after I requisition it from the cupboard or from the store—and it gets all gunked up—I need one more after that.
The third lesson I’ve learned is that these household objects will never—ever—be useful for any other purpose ever again. Once melted beeswax is all over it, it is history. Oh yes, I’ve tried freezing, melting, rubbing, sanding, and dissolving in alcohol. But forget it, beeswax becomes one with anything it touches.
The fourth lesson is that I need two sets of all that hardware to get the job done. The first pass through the strainers removes the macro stuff—the big, black, shiny, ugly clumps that really muck things up. The second pass is more genteel. It removes the fine particles—the tiny ones that cause candles to smoke and sputter, regardless of their size. But if you try to reuse the first set of straining tools for the second pass you won’t get the little specs. In fact, you may end up putting more back in. So just accept it: you need two sets of non-recoverable tools for one job.
Number five: save any burnable items that are infused with beeswax, including paper, cotton sheeting, and cheesecloth. These things burn like crazy and can be used a light a fire anywhere, like in a woodstove, fireplace, campfire ring . . . or even in a bucket of water.
The sixth lesson is you can only render wax in a devil-may-care, what-the-hell kind of mood. If you try it in a neat, clean, or anal kind of mood you will fail miserably. You need childlike non-attention to details to succeed.
Last week I did the “first pass” on a bunch of old comb I’ve been storing for years. I melted it with a heat gun and let it drip through a strainer and into a bucket of water. When the waxbergs hardened, they reminded me so much of cow pies that I put one in a dark corner of the hallway. I thought my husband would freak. But, alas, I’ve been married too long. He just muttered, “Is this another of your jokes?” and walked on by. Too bad. It should have worked.