Though often overshadowed by honey, beeswax is very important in its own right. In fact, it could be argued that historically, it has been even more important than honey.
And though we aren’t quite as reliant upon beeswax as our ancestors were, it’s still used in hundreds of applications for which no other known material serves as effectively.
Just What Exactly is Beeswax?
Have you wondered? Many people have through the ages. But beeswax is a complex material, and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that scientists had the means to accurately analyze it and resolve all the questions about it’s composition.
As it turns out, it is composed of hundreds of chemical components including hydrocarbons, diesters, triesters, acid polyesters, fatty acids – and even a bit of alcohol.
If you’re like me, knowing about all those ingredients isn’t really all that interesting. But what those ingredients combine to form – beeswax – is actually a rather fascinating substance.
The Properties of Beeswax
Here are just some of the unique properties of beeswax that have helped make it so indispensable to mankind throughout history:
The chemical makeup of beeswax is such that it is virtually unaffected by the passage of time. In fact, there have been pieces of it taken from ancient tombs that were pliable and perfectly use-able, even though they were thousands of years old.
Insoluble in Water
Beeswax is impervious to water, which has made it highly valued for its waterproofing properties. It has been recovered from shipwrecks in perfect condition, even after years submerged underwater.
And part of the reason it has been so valued as a polish is because of its ability to seal out water. In World War II, hundreds of thousands of pounds were used to waterproof equipment such as tents, ignition systems and ammunition.
High Melting Point
At a melting point of 145 – 150 degrees F, beeswax has one of the highest melting points of the natural waxes.
An Excellent Fuel
Throughout history, beeswax has been highly valued for its use in making candles. For centuries, it was the only wax available for this purpose.
But even today, with many types of wax available for candle making, it still makes the best candles. That’s because beeswax candles burn cleanly with a uniquely bright, white, compact flame. They don’t smoke or produce an unpleasant odor.
Honey Bees Are Master Builders…
The unique properties of beeswax – combined with the instinctual skill of the bees in using it – results in an engineering marvel: honeycomb. It is derived from the blood of the bee, and secreted in flakes from glands on the abdomens of worker bees.
And somehow, within the darkness of the hive, thousands of bees work together to form the snowy white flakes of wax into honeycomb. The comb is then used for storing honey and pollen, and for raising brood.
Mother Nature is a wise old lady, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the engineering genius of honeycomb. The cells of the comb are constructed so that they tilt slightly upward from the base to the opening. That prevents gravity from causing nectar and honey to flow out of the cell.
And in the hexagonal geometry of the cells, nature has engineered the optimum compromise between strength and utilization of space. Though the walls of each cell are no thicker than 2 or 3 thousandths of an inch, the comb is able to hold 22 times its own weight!
In fact, the weight to strength ratio of honeycomb construction is so efficient that man has copied it in thousands of engineering applications.
Beeswax is Still Highly Valued
Even with all of the modern materials that science has concocted, beeswax is still an important commodity. It’s used in hundreds of applications beyond the most obvious – candle making.
Here are just a few of the modern uses of beeswax:
- Cosmetics: facial creams, lipsticks, lotions, soaps and many others
- Pharmaceuticals: lip balm, salves, ointments, pill coatings, and others
- Wood finish and furniture polishes
- It’s used in the grinding and polishing of optical lenses.
- It’s used in the production of candies and chewing gums.
- It’s used in the crafting of dentures, crowns, bridges and other dental equipment.
- It’s used in the manufacture of many lubricants.
- It’s used as a grafting wax in horticulture.
- It’s used in the manufacture of adhesives.
The list could go on and on!
Honey Bees Are SO Important!
The importance of beeswax just serves to reinforce how valuable the little creature called the honey bee is to mankind. We rely upon them for so much.
If the honey bee ever disappears from the earth, humankind will be in a world of hurt. Let’s each do what we can to assure that never happens!
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Pure beeswax candles are the best candles you can buy – in my opinion, anyway! They’re the best-scented candles, and they emit the best light – a cheery, steady, sunny glow, free from the constant flickering of other types of candles.
Beeswax candle making? There’s nothing to it! It makes the very best candles, and there’s a very easy way to make candles with it. And making candles from it is a great project for kids.
Though candle making with it may be thought of as the predominant use of it, there are actually a great many uses. Here are just a few of the more obscure yet wonderful uses for it:
Beeswax lip balm has been around for a loooooong time. That’s because it is among the most important of lip balm ingredients. Even some of the most popular brands such as ChapStick and Blistex still use it as one of their lip balm ingredients in at least some of their products.
Beeswax wood finish and beeswax furniture polish has become more popular in recent years. People are searching for a natural alternative to modern wood finishing products containing chemicals such as toluene.
Beeswax crayons offer a more natural alternative to traditional paraffin-based crayons. Crayons made with it are long lasting, and the natural transparency reveals vibrant colors.
Have you considered making homemade soap with beeswax? If you’ve looked at a package of soap lately and read the ingredients in soap, you just might be inspired to make your own.