Last week, Grit magazine shared several articles about blacksmithing, beginning blacksmithing and some project ideas on Facebook and social media.
Among the collection of articles included a post I wrote for Grit last year about how to forge a fro. Re-reading the article got me thinking about how our bees help us with my husband’s metal work.
My husband Zach has been a blacksmith for over 12 years. When he first started out, blacksmithing was a lost art. It was difficult to find information of any kind. Even the internet was lacking.
I’ve noticed over the past few years, with the movement to return to lost artisanal crafts that blacksmithing is becoming more popular, especially among the younger generations.
Zach and I decided to keep bees several years ago for several reasons. First being, the delicious honey we would be able to harvest. We also felt strongly toward supporting the declining bee population and wanted to do our part to help. But lastly, Zach uses a lot of beeswax in his metal work. We had been purchasing our wax from a local supplier, but it can be rather expensive and with good reason!
Bees produce approximately 1 pound of beeswax to every 5 pounds of honey. It also takes more energy for a bee to produce wax vs. honey. Because of this, a wax harvest is more difficult for the bees to recover from than a honey harvest alone. So while we understand and can sympathize with the costs related to purchasing pure beeswax, we were excited that when we got our first hive, we would be able to reap some of the benefits of being able to harvest our own wax used for his metal work, (Or at least a portion of it.)
Click here to visit my post on harvesting beeswax for home use. Mind Your Beeswax
How is Beeswax Used in the Forge?
Zach forges mostly with mild steel. Many people think that blacksmiths work in wrought iron, however wrought iron is really a material of the past. Steel tends to be more forgiving than wrought iron when it is forged, but is also a harder material and takes more energy to do the same amount of work.
Steel even appearing to be dry and dry to the touch is still holding moisture within the unseen pores. To prevent rusting, we heat the metal objects to about 300 degrees over the coal forge, with a torch or often even in the oven.
This dispels the moisture from the steel without getting it to hot to burn the bees wax or draw unwanted colors to the steel.
While the metal is still hot, a layer of beeswax is applied
and brushed over the metal.
Then the excess is buffed away. The wax seeps into the pores of the metal and seals the object against rust. It also gives the metal a beautiful deep glow, highlighting the shadows and character of the metal.
If you have ever “blackened” a cast iron skillet, then you know how this is done.
Wax Solution with Mineral Spirits and Linseed Oil
A mixture of bees wax, linseed oil and mineral spirits can be used to prevent rust on everyday steel tools. It makes an easily applied paste that can be rubbed in with a rag without the need to heat it first.
This also works great to seal wood handles on axes or shovels and has bee used as a floor polish for centuries.
Having the ability to blacksmith has it’s benefits when you own a farm. Zach has often forged his own tractor parts, mangers for our goats, axe heads… among other things. We also use beeswax to lubricate the sickle bar blade.
The sickle bar is used in haying. In a sense it’s like a hedge trimmer on steroids. It cuts the grass low to the ground without grinding it up the way a lawn mower might. The beeswax lubricates the triangle shaped blades as they slide back and forth. Beeswax acts as a natural lubricant that won’t harm the goats if it gets on the hay. We just sort of grate it over the blades and the friction of the back and forth motion heats the wax and distributes it.
How do you use beeswax around your house? Any non-traditional uses you’d like to share? Leave a comment below or visit the Keeping Backyard Bees Facebook Page.