Making Beeswax

Many architects, engineers and mathematicians have studied honeycomb. They found that hexagon (six-sided) shaped cells are the strongest possible shape that could have been used by honeybees. Hexagon shaped cells give maximum storage space & take less wax to build than other shapes.

The wax for the comb is made inside a worker bee’s body in wax glands. There are four pairs of glands that open on the underside of the bee’s body. Each gland produces a flat, oval, nearly transparent wax scale.

The size of a scale is about 3 mm across and 0.1 mm thick.
1100 are required to make a gram of wax.

The worker chews and shapes each scale with its jaws and fits it into place on the comb.

Honeycomb is constructed with cells on both sides but the cells on either side are offset, or not exactly opposite each other. The offset gives strength.
The cells are tilted backwards to prevent honey leakage.

Beekeepers use wooden frames in a bee hive to hold wax comb foundation sheets which have *starter cells* pressed into them. They are also wired to give extra strength.
Honey bees would build comb in a frame without the foundation but it would not be straight and perfect. This would cause problems when checking the bees and honey would not be easy to extract.

The worker bees build up this foundation until they have the size of cells that they need.

This is a super foundation frame built up to store honey.

Wax darkens with age due to bees walking all over it and also using propolis.

New comb

Old comb

When they get bored they make caves!

Honeybees need to eat protein (pollen) and carbohydrates (honey) and also need warmth to produce the wax.
Wax makers eat about 8 lbs of honey to make 1 lb of beeswax.
1 lb beeswax, containing about 450,000 wax scales which will provide enough wax to make 35,000 hexagonal cells that can store 22 lb of honey.

Honeybees in the wild build comb like this.

Each comb is started at the nest top by attaching a small piece of wax to the ceiling. Then pieces of wax are added around the edge of the tiny comb until it hangs down, perhaps several feet.

Several combs are built side by side with just enough space between them to allow the bees to move freely. The number and size of combs constructed depends on the shape and size of the nest. The amazing thing is that many bees are building different parts of comb at the same time and in many places and yet, all the cells fit together neatly in the end. Even if they have never seen combs honeybees can build them like this.

This specimen was collected by our Tony Smith

And just because we give them a nice home they will still do what comes naturally if given a chance!

Some beeswax uses