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A low-cost foundation press

by Rafiq Ahmad

A foundation press is one of the most important components of frame hive beekeeping. They are manufactured in industrialised countries and therefore even if available in developing countries, are extremely expensive. Consequently, embossed wax foundation sheets are not easily available to beekeepers in : many countries. Studies were therefore conducted to develop a low-cost foundation embossing machine or press. This article describes how to make one for Apis cerana or Apis mellifera at very low cost.

Making the press

Take a perfect sheet of embossed beeswax foundation for Apis cerana or Apismellifera and place it on a plain wooden sheet or floor (Figure 1*). Mixtures of white cement and water, or portland cement and water, or plaster of Paris and water are used to prepare the press. Fill all the cell cavities of the foundation sheet with cement or plaster of Paris mixture, and turn it upside down. All the cell cavities of the other side of the wax sheet are now filled with the mixture (white cement and water ratio 32 g: 16 ml, or plaster of Paris, sodium carbonate and water ratio 27 g : 3 g : 21 ml) rubbed into each cell with your fingers for 15-20 minutes per 40 cm x 20 cm sheet area, in such a way that air bubbles are completely removed from all the cell cavities (Figure 2*). This is the most critical stage. A little carelessness in filling the cell cavities will spoil the mould. The beeswax sheet is placed in a rectangular frame of “deodar” or some other good quality wood of size 40cm x 20cm, depending upon the size of the hive frames (Figure 3*). This wooden frame is half-filled with a mixture of white cement and water (ratio 2.5kg: 1 litre) or plaster of Paris, sodium carbonate and water (ratio 2.2 kg- : 50g : 1.75 litre) and finished with a steel trowel. Four horizontal and three vertical iron strips are placed to give strength to the press plate. An iron or wooden handle is fixed on to the plate (Figure 4*). The mixture is further used to fill up the wooden frame to give cm 3 or more thickness to the plate and it is finally finished with a steel trowel. Then it is left for five to eight hours to dry thoroughly. Thereafter, the comb foundation wax sheet is removed (Figure 5*) and, if made of cement (not of plaster of Paris) the plate is placed in water for 48 hours. It is afterwards dried in the shade for at least two days. This plate forms one part of the press. The other part of the press is prepared in the same way but without a handle. Both plates, made either of cement or plaster of Paris after lining up the indentations, are united by using hinges. They are now ready for imprinting of wax foundation sheets (Figures 6 and 7*).

Making the foundation

A releasing agent containing one tablespoon of honey in one litre of warm water and 125 ml of methylated spirit is prepared. The beeswax is melted in a pot placed in another container with water to prevent burning of wax. A sieve made of very fine fabric is hung into the melted wax to obtain clean and liquid wax.

The releasing agent is brushed over the lower and upper plates. The press is closed for a few seconds. Then the upper plate is lifted slightly and excess liquid is poured off from a corner: this is important to gain the best results.

The hot wax is taken out in a small ladle from the sieve and poured on to the lower plate (Figure 8*). Quickly completely cover the lower plate with a thin layer of wax, and close the press before the wax has time to set. Surplus wax, if any, is quickly poured off at a corner. The hotter the wax the thinner the sheets.                                  

The top plate is lifted and the edges of the wax sheet are cut with a hot knife and all hardened wax is removed. This facilitates removal of the embossed wax sheet. After removing the sheet of wax, make sure that both the plates are very clean and free from wax, and pour fresh releasing agent on to the lower plate.

The next wax sheet can now be printed. The top plate, on adding wax, sometimes sticks to the lower plate. Under such circumstances do not force the plates open as this may ruin the mould. To get the plates open, place the over press steaming water. In this way the wax melts and the loose plates open easily.

For cleaning, the plates are brushed thoroughly with hot soda water to remove all wax and washed again with spirit and finely sieved wood ash. After use, the press is cleaned and dried and comb foundation sheets are properly stored. This cement or plaster of Paris press, unlike a metallic one, does not require a water cooling system.

Cost of production

The material used for the preparation of the comb foundation includes: white cement 5 kg (Rs 17) or plaster of Paris and sodium carbonate 5kg (Rs 10), beeswax comb foundation sheet (Rs 5), wooden frame (Rs 5), iron rods (Rs 16), hinges (Rs 7), screw (Rs 3), formica (Rs 5), iron handle and bars (Rs 6). One person can prepare four to six comb foundation presses in a day (Rs 16 per two hours). Thus, the cost of production of a white cement press comes to Rs 80 ($US4.5) and a plaster of Paris press to Rs 73 ($US4) per unit in Pakistan.                                                                                                                       

* Where reference to figures is made, please see the original journal article.                                                                                 

Rafiq Ahmad is Chief Scientific Officer of the Honeybee Research Programme, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.