If you’re planning on using your bees to produce honey (and really, who isn’t?) then you’ll want to consider investing in a honey extractor. This cylindrical piece of beekeeping equipment makes it easier and faster to procure honey from your frames. And, unlink the crush and strain method, using a honey extractor won’t result in damage to your combs. This is particularly important, as it can take weeks for your bees to rebuild their comb before they can start storing honey again.
Honey extractors use the power of centrifugal force to conveniently pull honey out of the comb. With your frames secured inside a holding tank, they’re spun around at such a high velocity that the honey flings onto the interior walls of the tank. Gravity then takes over, as your honey slowly drips down and out from a spigot at the bottom.
There are two main differences to look out for when purchasing a honey extractor: manual vs. electric and tangential vs. radial. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Manual vs. Electric Honey Extractor
You’ve probably already guessed what the difference is between these two, but we’ll cover them anyway. A manual honey extractor has a built-in hand crank that is used to spin your frames. The main benefit here is that you can extract honey without needing a power source.
Manual extractors typically accommodate 2 to 4 frames and take about 10 minutes to completely flush the honey out from your combs. This, of course, depends on how fast you spin them.
As a side note, its often easier to have a second person hold the extractor steady while you spin the frames. Things can get a bit wobbly at high speeds. Better yet, hold the extractor yourself and get them to do the spinning!
Electric honey extractors, on the other hand, do all the heavy lifting for you. While they tend to be more expensive than their manual counterparts, they certainly make up for it in ease-of-use. Simply secure your frames and flip the switch. As you can imagine, most veteran beekeepers with multiple hives on the go will use an electric honey extractor. They speed up the process considerably.
If you decide on purchasing an electric extractor, we suggest you find one that has a variable speed motor. If you consider how heavy honey can be, you can imagine the force put on your frames when you start whipping them around at high speeds. Using a variable speed motor lets you gradually increase the speed, helping to avoid damage to your frames and comb.
Tangential vs. Radial Honey Extractor
The second difference you’ll come across relates to the way frames are secured. A tangential honey extractor will have one side of your frame facing outwards. The downside with this type of extractor is that once the honey has been removed from one side, you’ll need to flip the frames and repeat the process. If you’re using a manual extractor, this can become quite a tedious activity.
With a radial honey extractor, you’ll get the job done twice as fast. With the frames perpendicular to the outside wall (think of spokes on a bicycle wheel), honey is pulled from both sides simultaneously.
Due to the varying size of frames, you’ll find that most honey extractors will actually accommodate both of these positions. While deep frames will typically need to be placed tangentially, medium and shallow frames are often small enough to fit in a radial format. You’ll know if this is the case if the description of the honey extractor contains a number like “6/9” or “10/20”. The first number specifies how many deep frames it can carry, while the second number refers to both medium and shallow frames.
Preparing your frames
Regardless of the type of honey extractor you decide to use, there are a few things you’ll need to prepare before you can start pumping out honey.
First and foremost, you’ll want to remove the wax from the comb. This process is commonly known as ‘uncapping’. Bees use the wax they excrete to trap honey in the cells of the comb. In order to access the honey, a knife can be used to scrape off the top layer of wax.
A tip to the wise: leaving your frames indoors where it’s warm will make this process a lot easier.
Beekeepers are smart people though, so they came up an even easier solution – a hot knife. Note that this doesn’t involve holding a kitchen knife over an open flame! A hot knife looks almost identical to your standard uncapping knife, except that it uses electricity to heat up the blade. As you can imagine, this makes the uncapping process as easy as cutting through butter.
Starting from the top, simply slide the edge back and forward across the surface of the comb. The key here is to avoid cutting too deep. You’ll only need to remove the top centimeter or so—anything below that and you’ll start digging into the comb.
An alternative method is to use a uncapping fork. Apart from completing your beekeeping dining set, this tool is used to dig under the wax and pry off chunks in one go.
Once the wax on both sides of your frame has been removed, you should be good to go. Throw it into you honey extractor and repeat the process with the remaining frames.