Best Honey Extractors For Your Apiary

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Each Summer thousands of beekeepers enjoy harvesting honey from their hives. After managing the colonies over the last 12 months, it is very rewarding to collect a great crop. Though not a requirement, most beekeepers will begin to consider whether or not they should purchase a honey extractor. It can be an expensive investment but one that makes honey processing much easier.

What is a Honey Extractor?

Three large manual honey extractors image.

Before choosing the best honey extractor for your use, you need to understand what it is. You might also hear them referred to as a honey spinner or honey centrifuge.

Regardless of the beekeeping terminology used to describe one, they work the same way. A honey extractor is a piece of equipment that uses centrifugal force to separate liquid honey from the comb.

The most basic unit consists of a large container or drum (also called a barrel) and frame baskets (or similar structure) to hold beehive frames.

Modern machines are usually made of stainless steel. They are less likely to rust than older types that were galvanized – though you might still find some of these in use.

A slightly conical bottom directs the liquid from the sides of the drum to an outlet called a honey gate. This helps in emptying your extractor after you have finished spinning.

How Does a Honey Extractor Work?

After collecting supers of ripe honey from the hive, the frames of comb must be uncapped. Bees cover each cell with a wax cap that must be cut off.

This part of honey extraction (called uncapping) can be accomplished with hand held or electric tools. Some beekeepers just use a warm bread knife to slice off the wax cappings.

However, you can purchase special tools for extracting that make a cleaner and faster job of the task.

Uncapped frames are placed inside the extractor in the basket or holding frame. A motor or hand crank is used to apply power to the machine which spins the honey out.  

This is similar to a washing machine when it is on the spin cycle. Just like a washing machine, the liquid is thrown out of the comb by force.

Most honey extractors have a clear plastic lid to keep dust out of the machine. It also helps keep some of the fine honey mist or wax particles from flying out of the top during use. However, they are notoriously easy to break – mine is broken right now.

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Fresh honey flows from gate on honey spinner.

Types of Honey Extractors – Tips for Choosing

When a beekeeper is considering what to buy, there are several different types of honey extractors to consider.

In addition to cost, (let’s face it – the cost of beekeeping can be depressing) there are several other factors to think about.

  • size
  • tangential or radial
  • power source

How Big of an Extractor do you Need? 

Size is an issue when choosing this piece of beekeeping equipment. This is due to speed or the amount of time you must spend to process your crop. A small one works the same as a larger model – it just takes more time.

Extractors are measured by the number of frames they hold – at one time. This means that you fill the extractor with the required number of frames and run the machine. 

Once all of the liquid is slung out, it is time to remove the empty frames of comb and refill.  Therefore, the more frames you can put into the machine at one time – the faster your extraction job will go.

In general, beekeepers choose an extractor based on the number of hives in their apiary. A small 4-frame honey spinner is fine for a backyard beekeeper with a few hives. If you have more hives, you might want a larger machine.

All extractors work with shallow frames because this is the most common size used for honey collection. However, most also accommodate medium frames or even a small number of deep frames. These may require a bit of frame manipulation or extra time to complete the extraction process.

The smallest 2-frame models are okay to use. But, they will work you to death if you have more than 1 or 2 hives. Choose at least a 4 frame unit if possible.

Tangential vs Radial

Honey extractors come in two different types: Tangential and Radial. Don’t be put off by the fancy words.

This simply means that one kind of machine slings the liquid out of both sides of the frame at the same time (radial). In the other type, only one side is spun out and you have to flip the frame and repeat the spinning process for side two (tangential).

Tangential extractors are the most economical choice in most cases. They hold from 4 to 9 frames (or more) at a time. They work very well but do require more time due having to repeat the process for each side of a frame.

Radial extractors have become more popular in recent years. This is mainly due to the surge in interest in beekeeping as a hobby.

In this type of machine, the frames are placed inside similar to the spokes of a bicycle wheel. The motion of the machine is able to clean out both sides of the honeycomb at the same time. Though a bit more expensive than most tangential machines, a radial extractor is a big time saver.

Radial honey centrifuge with shallow frames of honey inside image.

Manual vs Electric

Another major consideration in choosing an extractor is whether to go with manual or electric model. Both work well and will do the job of helping you process your harvest.

However, if your beekeeping budget allows – opt for a model with an electric motor. A motorized honey extractor costs more but the savings in time and “elbow grease” is well worth the money.

However, if you just don’t want to invest that much and you have a lot of helpers – a manual extractor will get the job done. It just takes a bit longer and more effort on your part.

I began beekeeping with a manual honey extractor but it was capable of being converted to electric. I planned to use it manually for a few seasons and then purchase the motor attachment.

A manual unit has a large hand crank that is used to turn the inner workings of the spinner. The nicer models has gears that help accelerate the spin.

I only had about 6 supers of honey to extract that year. But after that first season, I ordered a motor and have never looked back.

A honey extractor is a valuable piece of beekeeping equipment that holds its value well.  If you decide after a few years that beekeeping is not your thing, you can sell your extractor. You should have no problems selling a well-cared for machine.

DIY Honey Extractors

Beekeepers are inventive individuals and you will find instructions online for building your own spinner. These can be very efficient but I have seen some dangerous models too. If you choose this route, be sure to use food grade parts for any area that comes in contact with the honey. 

If you have a beekeeping supply close by, you may have an opportunity to look at several models. But, if you shop online, be sure to check the reviews of the seller – you want to be assured they will honor the product description.

Honey Keeper Pro 2 Frame Stainless Steel ExtractorHoney Keeper Pro 2 Frame Stainless Steel ExtractorHoney Keeper Pro 2 Frame Stainless Steel ExtractorVIVO Electric Honey Extractor 8 Frame RackVIVO Electric Honey Extractor 8 Frame RackVIVO Electric Honey Extractor 8 Frame Rack

 

Benefits of Extracting Honey

Of course, there are other ways to prepare your honey crop without the use of an extractor. However, there are certainly benefits of the extraction process.

The major benefit is that the empty honeycomb (or drawn comb) can be reused by the bees. This enables a hive to produce more honey because they do not have to rebuild all the wax comb each year.

With proper care, the modern stainless steel units can last a lifetime. In recent years, inexpensive models have become available. They will get the job done and can be a wise choice for someone with limited funds.

However, the quality is often not as good as those sold by reliable dealers and there may be no warranty. If you are uncertain about whether or not you really need a honey extractor, ask around at local beekeeping clubs.

Some have units that they rent out for a small fee to local beekeepers. Another option is finding a beekeeping friend and sharing.

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