Wax dipping beehive components.
What is wax dipping?
Wax dipping is a process where hot wax is heated to around 160oC and the wooden components of the hive (usually the base, lid and supers) are essentially ‘cooked’ for 10 to 15 minutes. The molten wax penetrates deep into woodware – up to 50mm in end grain – replacing the sap, air and moisture, which is boiled off.
Beekeepers in Australia and New Zealand have been using this technique for over 50 years, and the benefits are now being recognised around the world. Pure beeswax was once used for dipping, however this creates a thin film on the outer surface of the wood which inhibits the adherence of paint and can melt off in very hot weather. Much better results are attained with a mixture of paraffin and microcrystalline waxes, and the wooden parts can be easily painted straight after dipping.
Why wax dip?
There are two main reasons for wax dipping. Most beehives in Australia are constructed from pine, which is relatively cheap and easy to work with. However, this soft wood lacks durability and, with around 20% natural moisture content, is prone to fungal infection and rot. Unprotected beehives may have a working life of as little as two or three years, leading to costly regular replacement. Dipping dries and preserves the timber by removing moisture and substituting a mix of harmless waxes which are water repellent. The longevity of wooden items is therefore greatly enhanced; apiarists report that wax-dipped hives may remain in perfectly serviceable condition for as long as thirty years or more before requiring retreatment.
Wax dipping is also an effective way of disinfecting wooden parts, and can be used to salvage equipment exposed to foulbrood, as spores are eradicated by the extreme heat involved. The only alternative methods of sterilization are gamma irradiation and complete destruction by fire.
The initial set up for wax dipping is both complex and costly. A large 3-4mm steel vat is required to heat the mixture of waxes, with LPG gas being the most cost-effective fuel. It takes around three hours to get the wax to a minimum of 150oC. Wax dipping can be a dangerous exercise, as waxes have a low flashpoint and can easily catch fire if temperatures become too high. If woodware is dropped into the vat, this can create splashes capable of causing serious burns. Safety protocols should therefore be strictly adhered to, including the use of protective equipment and close monitoring of temperature.
After the woodware has been dipped, I apply two coats of white Solagard paint. This provides an additional layer of protection, and may extend the efficacy of the wax dipping. It also reflects the hot summer heat, which helps to prevent overheating.
Incidentally, wax dipping is also used as a novel final embellishment on beer bottle tops, and to eliminate unwanted noise from guitar pickups.
If you own beehives with wooden components, wax dipping is definitely worth the effort and will save you considerable time and money in the long term.