Beeswax

Beeswax

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Beeswax is a natural wax
Wax
thumb|right|[[Cetyl palmitate]], a typical wax ester.Wax refers to a class of chemical compounds that are plastic near ambient temperatures. Characteristically, they melt above 45 °C to give a low viscosity liquid. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents...

 produced in the bee hive
Beehive (beekeeping)
A beehive is an enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the subgenus Apis live and raise their young. Natural beehives are naturally occurring structures occupied by honeybee colonies, while domesticated honeybees live in man-made beehives, often in an apiary. These man-made...

 of honey bee
Honey bee
Honey bees are a subset of bees in the genus Apis, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests out of wax. Honey bees are the only extant members of the tribe Apini, all in the genus Apis...

s of the genus Apis. It is mainly ester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s of fatty acids and various long chain alcohols. Typically, for a honey bee keeper, 10 pounds of honey yields 1 pound of wax.

Production


The wax is formed by worker bees (the females), who secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral
Anatomical terms of location
Standard anatomical terms of location are designations employed in science that deal with the anatomy of animals to avoid ambiguities that might otherwise arise. They are not language-specific, and thus require no translation...

 shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7. The size of these wax glands depends on the age of the worker and after daily flights begin these glands gradually atrophy. The new wax scales are initially glass-clear and colorless (see illustration), becoming opaque after mastication by the worker bee. The wax of honeycomb is nearly white, but becomes progressively more yellow or brown by incorporation of pollen
Pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 oils and propolis
Propolis
Propolis is a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps , while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax. Its color varies depending on its...

. The wax scales are about 3 millimetre (0.118110236220472 in) across and 0.1 millimetre (0.00393700787401575 in) thick, and about 1100 are required to make a gram of wax.

Honey bee
Honey bee
Honey bees are a subset of bees in the genus Apis, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests out of wax. Honey bees are the only extant members of the tribe Apini, all in the genus Apis...

s use the beeswax to build honeycomb
Honeycomb
A honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal waxcells built by honey bees in their nests to contain their larvae and stores of honey and pollen.Beekeepers may remove the entire honeycomb to harvest honey...

 cells in which their young are raised and honey
Honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

 and pollen
Pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 are stored. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive has to be 33 to 36 °C (91.4 to 96.8 F). To produce their wax, bees must consume about eight times as much honey by mass. It is estimated that bees fly 150,000 miles, roughly six times around the earth, to yield one pound of beeswax (530,000 km/kg).

Processing


When beekeepers extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell with an uncapping knife or machine. Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often a shade of yellow, depending on purity and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. Wax from the brood comb
Brood comb
The brood comb is the beeswax structure of cells where the queen bee lays eggs. It is the part of the beehive where a new brood is raised by the colony...

 of the honey bee hive
Beehive (beekeeping)
A beehive is an enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the subgenus Apis live and raise their young. Natural beehives are naturally occurring structures occupied by honeybee colonies, while domesticated honeybees live in man-made beehives, often in an apiary. These man-made...

 tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb. Impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax has to be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum
Slumgum
Slumgum in beekeeping is the residue of the beeswax rendering process.When the beeswax from brood comb is rendered to produce clean wax, it leaves behind the pupal lining, wax moth cocoons, excrements from larvae, and other residual debris included in the original material.Less slumgum can be...

.

The wax may further be clarified by heating in water. As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.

Physical characteristics


Beeswax is a tough wax
Wax
thumb|right|[[Cetyl palmitate]], a typical wax ester.Wax refers to a class of chemical compounds that are plastic near ambient temperatures. Characteristically, they melt above 45 °C to give a low viscosity liquid. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents...

 formed from a mixture of several compounds
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

.
Wax Content Type Percent
hydrocarbon
Hydrocarbon
In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons from which one hydrogen atom has been removed are functional groups, called hydrocarbyls....

s
14%
monoester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s
35%
diester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s
14%
triester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s
3%
hydroxy monoester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s
4%
hydroxy polyester
Polyester
Polyester is a category of polymers which contain the ester functional group in their main chain. Although there are many polyesters, the term "polyester" as a specific material most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate...

s
8%
acid ester
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

s
1%
acid polyester
Polyester
Polyester is a category of polymers which contain the ester functional group in their main chain. Although there are many polyesters, the term "polyester" as a specific material most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate...

s
2%
free acid
Fatty acid
In chemistry, especially biochemistry, a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a long unbranched aliphatic tail , which is either saturated or unsaturated. Most naturally occurring fatty acids have a chain of an even number of carbon atoms, from 4 to 28. Fatty acids are usually derived from...

s
12%
free alcohol
Fatty alcohol
Fatty alcohols are aliphatic alcohols consisting of a chain of 8 to 22 carbon atoms. Fatty alcohols usually have even number of carbon atoms and a single alcohol group attached to the terminal carbon. Some are unsaturated and some are branched...

s
1%
unidentified 6%


An approximate chemical formula
Structural formula
The structural formula of a chemical compound is a graphical representation of the molecular structure, showing how the atoms are arranged. The chemical bonding within the molecule is also shown, either explicitly or implicitly...

 for beeswax is C15H31COOC30H61. Its main components are palmitate, palmitoleate
Palmitoleic acid
Palmitoleic acid, or -9-hexadecenoic acid, is an omega-7 monounsaturated fatty acid with the formula CH35CH=CH7COOH that is a common constituent of the glycerides of human adipose tissue. It is present in all tissues, but generally found in higher concentrations in the liver...

, hydroxypalmitate and oleate
Oleic acid
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid found in various animal and vegetable fats. It has the formula CH37CH=CH7COOH. It is an odorless, colourless oil, although commercial samples may be yellowish. The trans isomer of oleic acid is called elaidic acid...

 esters
Ester
Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

 of long-chain (30-32 carbons) aliphatic
Aliphatic compound
In organic chemistry, aliphatic compounds are acyclic or cyclic, non-aromatic carbon compounds.Thus, aliphatic compounds are opposite to aromatic compounds.- Structure :...

 alcohol
Alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

s, with the ratio of triacontanyl palmitate CH3(CH2)29O-CO-(CH2)14CH3 to cerotic acid
Cerotic acid
Cerotic acid, or hexacosanoic acid, is a 26-carbon long-chain saturated fatty acid with the chemical formula CH324COOH. It is most commonly found in beeswax and carnauba wax, and is a white crystalline solid....

 CH3(CH2)24COOH, the two principal components, being 6:1. Beeswax can be classified generally into European and Oriental types. The ratio of saponification value
Saponification value
Saponification value represents the number of milligrams of potassium hydroxide required to saponify 1g of fat under the conditions specified. It is a measure of the average molecular weight of all the fatty acids present...

 is lower (3-5) for European beeswax, and higher (8-9) for Oriental types.

Beeswax has a high melting point
Melting point
The melting point of a solid is the temperature at which it changes state from solid to liquid. At the melting point the solid and liquid phase exist in equilibrium. The melting point of a substance depends on pressure and is usually specified at standard atmospheric pressure...

 range, of 62 to 64 °C (143.6 to 147.2 F). If beeswax is heated above 85 °C (185 °F) discoloration occurs. The flash point
Flash point
The flash point of a volatile material is the lowest temperature at which it can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air. Measuring a flash point requires an ignition source...

 of beeswax is 204.4 °C (399.9 °F). Density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 at 15 °C is 0.958 to 0.970 g/cm³.

Natural beeswax (quoting Thorpe 1916 p737): When cold it is brittle; at ordinary temperatures it is tenacious; its fracture is dry and granular. The sp. gr. at 15° is from 0.958 to 0.975, that of melted wax at 98° - 99° compared with water at 15.5° is 0.822. It softens when held in the hand, and melts at 62° - 66°; it solidifies at 60.5° -63°.

Uses as a product


  • Beeswax is mainly used to make honeycomb foundation
    Langstroth hive
    The Langstroth bee hive, patented in October 1852, is the standard beehive used in many parts of the world for beekeeping. The advantage of this hive is that the bees build honeycomb into frames, which can be moved with ease. The frames are designed to prevent bees from attaching honeycombs where...

     for reuse by the bees.
  • Purified and bleached beeswax is used in the production of food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals:
    • As a coating for cheese, to protect the food as it ages. As a food additive, it is known as E901
      E number
      E numbers are number codes for food additives that have been assessed for use within the European Union . They are commonly found on food labels throughout the European Union. Safety assessment and approval are the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority...

       (glazing agent
      Glazing agent
      Glazing agents, or polishing agents, are food additives providing shiny appearance or protective coating to foods. Mostly they are based on waxes.Examples are:* Stearic acid * Beeswax * Candelilla wax...

      ).
    • As a skin care product, a German study found beeswax to be superior to similar "barrier creams" (usually mineral oil based creams, such as petroleum jelly
      Petroleum jelly
      Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum or soft paraffin, CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons , originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties...

      ), when used according to its protocol.
    • Beeswax is an ingredient in moustache wax
      Moustache wax
      Moustache wax is a stiff pomade applied to a moustache as a grooming aid to hold the hairs in place, especially at the extremities. It can also have restorative properties, which become more important as the hair length increases...

      , as well as hair pomades.
    • Beeswax is an ingredient in surgical bone wax
      Bone wax
      Bone wax is used to help mechanically control bleeding from bone surfaces during surgical procedures.It is made of beeswax with a softening agent such as paraffin or vasoline and is smeared across the bleeding edge of the bone, blocking the holes and causing immediate bone hemostasis through a...

      .

  • Candles
    • Beeswax was traditionally prescribed as the material (or at least a significant part of the material) for the Paschal candle
      Paschal candle
      The Paschal candle is a large, white candle used at liturgy in the Western Rites of Christianity . A new Paschal candle is blessed and lit every year at Easter, and is used throughout the Paschal season which is during Easter and then throughout the year on special occasions, such as baptisms and...

       ("Easter candle") and is recommended for other candles used in the liturgy
      Liturgy
      Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

       of the Roman Catholic Church
      Roman Catholic Church
      The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

      .
    • Beeswax is used commercially to make fine candles.

  • Although only about 10,000 tons are produced annually, a variety of niche uses exist:
    • As a component of shoe polish
      Shoe polish
      Shoe polish , usually a waxy paste or a cream, is a consumer product used to polish, shine, waterproof, and restore the appearance of leather shoes or boots, thereby extending the footwear's life...

    • As a component of furniture polish, dissolved in turpentine
      Turpentine
      Turpentine is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin obtained from trees, mainly pine trees. It is composed of terpenes, mainly the monoterpenes alpha-pinene and beta-pinene...

      , sometimes blended with linseed
      Linseed oil
      Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, is a clear to yellowish oil obtained from the dried ripe seeds of the flax plant . The oil is obtained by cold pressing, sometimes followed by solvent extraction...

       or tung oil
      Tung oil
      Tung oil or China wood oil is a drying oil obtained by pressing the seed from the nut of the tung tree . As a drying oil, tung oil hardens upon exposure to air. The resulting coating is transparent plastic-like and is exploited in most of its applications, which include wood finishing and the...

    • As a component of modelling waxes.
    • As a blended with pine rosin
      Rosin
      .Rosin, also called colophony or Greek pitch , is a solid form of resin obtained from pines and some other plants, mostly conifers, produced by heating fresh liquid resin to vaporize the volatile liquid terpene components. It is semi-transparent and varies in color from yellow to black...

      , beeswax serves as an adhesive to attach reed plates to the structure inside a squeezebox
      Squeezebox
      The term Squeezebox is a colloquial expression referring to any musical instrument of the general class of hand-held bellows-driven free reed aerophones such as the accordion and the concertina...

      .
    • Used to make Cutler's resin
      Cutler's resin
      Cutler's resin is a synthetic resin made of pine pitch, beeswax, and sawdust or carnauba wax used for centuries to attach knife handles. It is used as both an adhesive and for waterproofing. The word cutler means "one who makes knives"....

      .
    • Used in Eastern Europe in egg decoration. It is used for writing, via resist dyeing
      Resist dyeing
      Resist dyeing is a term for a number of traditional methods of dyeing textiles with patterns. Methods are used to "resist" or prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern and ground. The most common forms use wax, some type of paste, or a mechanical resist that...

      , on batik
      Batik
      Batik is a cloth that traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Singapore.Javanese traditional batik, especially from...

       eggs (as in pysanky
      Pysanka
      A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated using a wax-resist method. The word comes from the verb pysaty, "to write", as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax...

      ) and for making beaded eggs.
    • Formerly used in the manufacturing of the cylinders used by the earliest phonographs.
    • Used by percussionists to make a surface on tambourine
      Tambourine
      The tambourine or marine is a musical instrument of the percussion family consisting of a frame, often of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles, called "zils". Classically the term tambourine denotes an instrument with a drumhead, though some variants may not have a head at all....

      s for thumb rolls.

Historical uses


Beeswax was ancient man's first plastic and for thousands of years had wide variety of uses, including:
  • As a modeling material in the lost-wax casting process, or cire perdue.
  • For wax tablet
    Wax tablet
    A wax tablet is a tablet made of wood and covered with a layer of wax, often linked loosely to a cover tablet, as a "double-leaved" diptych. It was used as a reusable and portable writing surface in Antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages...

    s used for a variety of writing purposes.
  • In Encaustic painting
    Encaustic painting
    Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used...

    s such as the Fayum mummy portraits
    Fayum mummy portraits
    Mummy portraits or Fayum mummy portraits is the modern term given to a type of naturalistic painted portraits on wooden boards attached to mummies from the Coptic period. They belong to the tradition of panel painting, one of the most highly regarded forms of art in the Classical world...

    .
  • Used in bow making
    Bowyer
    A bowyer is someone who makes or sells bows. Bows are used for hunting and for archery. The development of gunpowder and muskets slowly led to the replacement of bows as weapons of war which decreased the importance of bowyers. Someone who makes arrows is a fletcher.-History:Historically, a huge...

     (see English longbow
    English longbow
    The English longbow, also called the Welsh longbow, is a powerful type of medieval longbow about 6 ft long used by the English and Welsh for hunting and as a weapon in medieval warfare...

    ).
  • Used to strengthen and preserve sewing
    Sewing
    Sewing is the craft of fastening or attaching objects using stitches made with a needle and thread. Sewing is one of the oldest of the textile arts, arising in the Paleolithic era...

     thread.
  • As a component of sealing wax
    Sealing wax
    Sealing wax is a wax material of a seal which, after melting, quickly hardens forming a bond that is difficult to separate without noticeable tampering. Wax is used to verify something such as a document is unopened, to verify the sender's identity, for example with a signet ring, and as decoration...

  • To form the mouthpieces of a didgeridoo
    Didgeridoo
    The didgeridoo is a wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians of northern Australia around 1,500 years ago and still in widespread usage today both in Australia and around the world. It is sometimes described as a natural wooden trumpet or "drone pipe"...

    , and the frets on the Philippine kutiyapi
    Kutiyapi
    The kudyapi, is a Philippine two-stringed, fretted boat-lute. It is the only stringed instrument among the Maguindanao people, and one of several among other groups such as the Maranao and Manobo. It is four to six feet long with nine frets made of hardened beeswax...

     - a type of boat lute
    Lute
    Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....

    .
  • As a sealant or lubricant
    Lubricant
    A lubricant is a substance introduced to reduce friction between moving surfaces. It may also have the function of transporting foreign particles and of distributing heat...

     for bullet
    Bullet
    A bullet is a projectile propelled by a firearm, sling, or air gun. Bullets do not normally contain explosives, but damage the intended target by impact and penetration...

    s in cap and ball and firearms
  • To stabilize the military explosive Torpex
    Torpex
    Torpex is a secondary explosive 50% more powerful than TNT by mass. Torpex is composed of 42% RDX, 40% TNT and 18% powdered aluminium. It was used in the Second World War from late 1942. The name is short for Torpedo Explosive', having been originally developed for use in torpedoes...

     - before being replaced by a petroleum-based product.
  • In producing Javanese batik
    Batik
    Batik is a cloth that traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Singapore.Javanese traditional batik, especially from...

    .

See also


  • Apis mellifera
  • Ester
    Ester
    Esters are chemical compounds derived by reacting an oxoacid with a hydroxyl compound such as an alcohol or phenol. Esters are usually derived from an inorganic acid or organic acid in which at least one -OH group is replaced by an -O-alkyl group, and most commonly from carboxylic acids and...

  • Encaustic painting
    Encaustic painting
    Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used...

  • Paraffin
    Paraffin
    In chemistry, paraffin is a term that can be used synonymously with "alkane", indicating hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n+2. Paraffin wax refers to a mixture of alkanes that falls within the 20 ≤ n ≤ 40 range; they are found in the solid state at room temperature and begin to enter the...

  • Carnauba wax
    Carnauba wax
    Carnauba , also called Brazil wax and palm wax, is a wax of the leaves of the palm Copernicia prunifera, a plant native to and grown only in the northeastern Brazilian states of Piauí, Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte. It is known as "queen of waxes" and usually comes in the form of hard yellow-brown...

  • Bone wax
    Bone wax
    Bone wax is used to help mechanically control bleeding from bone surfaces during surgical procedures.It is made of beeswax with a softening agent such as paraffin or vasoline and is smeared across the bleeding edge of the bone, blocking the holes and causing immediate bone hemostasis through a...

  • Batik
    Batik
    Batik is a cloth that traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Singapore.Javanese traditional batik, especially from...

  • Pysanka
    Pysanka
    A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated using a wax-resist method. The word comes from the verb pysaty, "to write", as the designs are not painted on, but written with beeswax...