What to Look for When Buying a Honey Extractor
A honey extractor is used to extract honey from combs without breaking or damaging them. It’s a cool gadget that works effectively, thanks to centrifugal force. Essentially, it’s a cylinder that holds your frame basket, pulling honey off it as it spins.
They’re also the most costly pieces of beekeeping equipment you can buy. Unlike our other tools, these machines are quite big. They’re usually made from metal (most commonly stainless steel), and require good design and proper mechanics to work well.
Given the complexity of the design, you should expect a price tag to match. This means choosing a honey extractor wisely is very important. Here are some things to think about before you rush out to buy one.
Are Honey Extractors Necessary?
Unless you’re producing honey for commercial reasons, the answer is probably no. Although they can add to your beekeeping, they’re not useful to all beekeepers. I hate to say it, but they’re especially unhelpful for beginner beekeepers.
Your first hive isn’t likely to produce enough honey for you to enjoy, and even if it does, it’s not a good idea to take that honey. It’s better to strengthen your hive for a while. Bees rely on their honey to survive the winter, they feed it to their young, too. If you want a thriving colony, the best thing you can do is leave the honey to the bees until they establish a strong base.
If you want to sell your supply or you’re taking excessive amounts of honey from a large hive, an extractor will save you time. Even then, wait until you actually need one before you invest. Otherwise, you’ll have a shiny new dust collector until you can put it to use.
Honey Extractors Are Not for Everyone
I understand the appeal of extractors. They’ll make even hobby beekeeping feel professional. Honey extractors have value when they’re needed, but if they’re not, they could be more trouble than they’re worth.
Honey extractors are a significant expense, as I mentioned. They are considered machinery, so the price is justified. But if you can’t afford one, don’t feel pressured into getting one.
Some beekeeper associations will rent out extractors, so there may be no need to buy one at all. Contact a local beekeeper, beekeeping association, or club. They might be able to help you, and you won’t have to commit to an extractor of your own.
Extractors only have one purpose; to serve beekeepers who need them as they’re intended to be used. They’re not worth investing in just for the sake of it.
Smaller hives, or fewer frames, aren’t suited to extractors. You’ll lose more honey than you gather. They’re also big, so if you don’t have ample space to store your extractor, it might become a burden.
They Are for Extracted Honey
The superiority of unmixed honey is a matter of opinion. We’ve even heard that some beekeepers would rather set fire to their hives than produce extracted honey.
The key argument here is that all extracted honey tastes exactly the same and can be bought at any grocery store you walk into. Since extractors pull honey from multiple frames at once, the flavor of each individual frame is lost.
If you’d prefer to taste your honey as raw honeycomb, or by its uniqueness, stay away from extractors. I don’t think they deteriorate honey, but it has to be said that they could reduce the flavor of your harvest.
What Makes a Worthy Extractor?
Are you still interested in getting yourself an extractor? If so, then you’ll have to pay attention to extractors as a whole. It would be a shame if you bought one and found out too late that it’s badly designed, useless, or unsuited to your style of beekeeping.
Know What You Need
Before you buy an extractor, understand what exactly you need it for. Part of the reason why extractors aren’t considered a beginner tool is that you may not operate them properly or efficiently if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Take time to get to know your hives, skill level, and methods first. Once you know more about frame size, equipment quality, and your own expectations, choosing an extractor will be less risky.
I’ll go into more detail later on in this article, but extractors come in various types.
Manual extractors are best for beekeepers who have minimal harvests. Electric extractors are better for dense extractions or industrial (commercial) purposes.
You’ll also have a choice between radial or tangential. The difference between the two is the positioning of the frames, which affects how the honey is extracted.
Size and Capability
If you’re managing up to 10 colonies, you’ll need an extractor that can fit at least three frames at one time.
Beekeepers who manage 10 to 50 colonies should go for an extractor that can hold at least four deep frames or eight shallow frames. Consider getting a motorized version too. This will save you a lot of manual labor.
If you’re looking to oversee between 50 and 200 colonies, you’ve reached commercial status. You’ll need a large extractor that can hold between 30 and 60 frames. It goes without saying that these should be motorized too.
Any more than 200 colonies and you’re officially an industrial-grade bee factory. Harvesting this much honey is quite a task. You won’t be able to manage it on your own. Bee farms this size usually have a number of people working multiple extractors. These machines will have a minimum capacity of 60 frames and be motorized to reduce labor.
The Best Honey Extractors
If you do need a honey extractor and you’re ready to invest in one, I have a few recommendations for you. Since extractors do an important job, you can’t afford to compromise on quality.
This extractor was designed to make the extraction process easy. It’s a stainless steel, electric extractor with a 120V AC motor. It can hold four frames and stands at 23.75 inches tall, with an 18.5-inch diameter; total height is 41.5 inches.
The legs allow you to fit a 5-gallon bucket below it, with the honey gate being over 15 inches from the floor. The gate is close to the bottom of the barrel so getting honey out of it is simple and hassle-free. It also has an automatic safety function that stops the motor when you open the lid.
It can fit shallow, medium, and deep frames. The gears on the Vivo are protected and safe from honey spills and damage. The lid is transparent, so you can enjoy watching it work. You also get a 1-year warranty upon purchase.
- It’s a spacious extractor with ample room for frames
- The extractor can fit a multitude of frame sizes
- It’s made from strong, lasting stainless steel
- The clear lid is a useful (and mesmerizing) feature
- It has automatic safety features
- Easy to assemble, disassemble, and maintain
- It’s good for all skill levels
- You get excellent value for money
- You can only fit four deep frames, which could be disappointing (or just inefficient)
- It’s huge, and moving it may prove to be problematic
The Beamnova electric honey extractor is also suitable for all skill levels. It’s similar to (and just as good as) the Vivo extractor above, but lacks some of the fancier features.
This honey extractor stands at 34 inches tall, with a drum height of 24 inches and a diameter of 19 inches. It’s got a 120-watt AC motor. Made from stainless steel, it’s built to resist wear, tear, and rust. It sports two transparent lids for monitoring your extraction.
It utilizes high-precision bearings for increased rotation speed.
- It’s strong and durable
- Higher rotation speeds make the extraction easier and more precise
- It has a lot of room inside
- Maintenance is easy, and its design promotes a clean cylinder
- It has transparent lids
- As with the Vivo extractor, it can only fit 4 deep frames
- Legs aren’t tall enough to fit a 5-gallon bucket below
If you want to cut back on cost, or if you don’t have a large enough supply to justify a motorized extractor, try a manual one.
This Vivo two-frame crank extractor is an excellent choice for both amateur and hobbyist beekeepers who don’t have large amounts of honey to extract. The drum is 24 inches high, 15 inches in diameter, and is easy to operate. The legs allow a 15-inch distance from floor to gate.
As with the first Vivo extractor we looked at, this one is designed to easily get you access to your honey. It can fit shallow, medium, and deep frames. It’s also built with the same protection features for its metal gears. The clear lid is a feature in this one too.
And since it’s Vivo, you get the same 1-year warranty.
- It’s an affordable alternative to electric extractors
- Good value for money for smaller or amateur beekeepers
- No disassembly is needed for maintenance, so it’s easy to clean
- It doesn’t use electricity, saving you money and power.
- It has clear lids for monitoring
- This extractor has the same safety mechanism as the electric one, which protects its gears from spillage or mess.
- The hand crank is not as durable as expected and is vulnerable to breakage if pulled too hard
- It can only hold 2 frames at a time and is unsuitable for larger or commercial beekeeping
Remember that there’s nothing wrong with going for an electric extractor if you are a hobbyist or amateur beekeeper. If you want an extractor that eliminates manual labor but isn’t industrial grade, the Happybuy electric extractor could be for you.
It has a 120-watt motor that is capable of 1300 RPM. You get a choice of speed, so there’s an added level of control that other extractors often lack. It has two transparent lids and the total height is 34 inches. The drum itself is 24 inches tall and 15 inches in diameter,
Like every other extractor on our list, this one is made from stainless steel, to prevent rust and provide durability. It can hold up to three frames.
- You can choose how fast it rotates
- Even though it’s not commercial or industrial grade, the motor makes extraction labor-free
- The extractor is easy to assemble and use
- Maintenance is simple
- It’s durable
- It has the expected transparent lids
- May be an extravagant purchase as it can only hold three frames
- It’s loud
Here’s another manual extractor that won’t burn a huge hole in your wallet. The crank on this one is good quality, and won’t tire you out too quickly. The extractor itself is made of the preferred stainless steel for durability.
In contrast to the Happybuy electric extractor, this one is specifically designed to make as little noise as possible. It has transparent lids and is quite heavy-duty compared to other manual extractors.
It measures 24 inches by 45 inches by 15 inches, and can hold two frames at a time.
- Sealed bearings provide extra stability
- Regardless of the fact that it’s manual, it’s easy to use
- It’s made of strong material
- The extractor is easy and quick to both set up and maintain
- It has transparent lids
- The crank is secure and strong
- Comes with a lifetime guarantee
- Some labor is required
- It can only hold two frames (which is well below the norm of at least four)
I have to mention one more by Vivo. It’s not that much different from the Vivo manual extractor I’ve mentioned before. The drum is taller, standing at 29 inches, and is 13 inches in diameter. This one is not as easy to use, though.
One thing you have to keep in mind is that this version doesn’t have legs. The honey collection could be messy and difficult, coming from a “honey gate” in the side. It does not have the handy transparent lids either, so monitoring your extraction won’t be as easy.
Its other features are the same as the others by this manufacturer. You get a wonderful 1-year warranty too.
- An affordable extractor that’s best for hobbyist beekeepers
- Maintenance is easy
- It’s a manual extractor that won’t cost you extra for electricity
- It’s large, with a lot of room inside
- Vivo is an excellent, trusted brand
- The hand crank is not strong and could break easily
- Does not stand on legs, so collecting honey can be tricky and messy
- It only holds up to two frames
Why You Should Consider Purchasing a Good Honey Extractor
I spent a bit of time explaining why honey extractors aren’t always worth it. Now that you’ve seen some examples of my favorites, I can tell you why sometimes they are.
There’s no universal rule that dictates how (or why) you should be beekeeping. There is protocol, true, but those are methods that protect you and your bees. When it comes to personal preference, no one can tell you how to manage your hive.
If you want a honey extractor, even if you don’t really need one, who am I to tell you not to get one?
Honey extractors come in handy because they do a better job of collecting honey than we can do. Especially with beginner beekeepers, incorrect form when extracting honey (without a machine) can damage your hive and hurt your bees.
Extractors flawlessly harvest your honey for you without breaking your frames or frightening and harming your colony.
They work fast and with precision too, even more so with motorized extractors. I’ve touched on this already, but they also eliminate manual labor.
If you aim to produce a large supply of honey, you can’t afford to go on without an extractor. This stands true if you want to sell your honey, or if you want a bee farm that is industrial grade.
Another consideration is that, as mentioned, extracted honey tastes different when compared to unmixed honey. If you’re looking to harvest honey that’s similar to what you find in retail stores, you won’t achieve that without an extractor.
If beekeeping is in any way a career or profitable avenue for you, you should seriously consider investing in an extractor. You don’t have to buy the biggest, heaviest duty machine you can find. To start off with, a basic extractor will make a huge difference in the efficiency of your honey production.
At the end of the day, you should get a honey extractor if:
- You want to produce store-quality honey
- You’re looking to turn your honey production into a business
- You have to manage a large hive and will produce large amounts of honey
- You don’t mind paying for a machine you won’t get to use that much—if you have a small number of hives, that is.
- You’ve covered the basics of beekeeping, and know what you like or want to get out of an extractor
- Your expectations of production are realistic
- Investing time, money, and space into an extractor won’t get you into trouble
How to Use and Maintain a Honey Extractor
Honey extractors are fascinating, but how do you utilize them? It’s not as complicated as you might think. After all, extractors are meant to simplify the harvesting process. They’re easy to use and understand.
First, you want to extract your honey while it’s warm. If you do so, it will flow better. You start the extraction process by individually removing your capped frames from your super.
You then have to uncap the cells. You can use an uncapping knife, a warm knife, or a hot air gun to remove the wax. Once your honey is accessible, you place the frames into the drum of your extractor.
The frames typically go in vertically, and the inside of your extractor should have a clearly marked and designated place for them. This makes it so that the frames are held in place, and won’t fall over.
When each frame has been placed correctly, close your extractor and start it up. If it’s an electric extractor, you’ll just need to plug it in and turn it on. With manual extractors, you need to start cranking.
A handy trick is to spin the drum in one direction for a few minutes, before switching to the other. After about 10 minutes or so, your frames should be depleted
Regardless of your extractor’s capabilities, make sure that it’s not spinning too fast. This can damage both your wax combs and the frames.
Once the combs are empty, open your honey gate. Spinning your frames will be slow and tedious if your drum is full of honey. Place a bucket or another receptacle underneath the honey gate so you won’t waste any honey that spills out.
From then on, you have full control of what happens to your honey next. Transfer the honey from the bucket into storage containers, and make of it what you will.
Depending on the design of your extractor, maintenance could require a lot of your time or almost none at all.
Some beekeepers suggest taking the lazy path and leaving your extractor for the bees to clean up. This is a terrible idea and you could spread disease through your colony if you do this.
If you have temperature control in any of your rooms, the most effortless way to clean your extractor is to use heat. Tip your extractor diagonally, so that it’s placed at an angle that the honey can run down. Turn up the heat, and leave it overnight.
Just remember to close your honey gate, so that it doesn’t make a mess. After you leave it in the heat, the residual honey will be easy to collect, and cleaning your extractor will be easy.
To give your extractor a wash, remove the hand crank or the motor from the top of the extractor. Fill it with cold water and leave it to stand overnight. Then empty it out and wash it with warm water to remove any remaining honey. Finally, dab it dry with a kitchen towel, use a hairdryer on a cool setting, or leave it to air dry.
Some extractors are designed to avoid residual wax and honey from building up. If cleaning and maintenance are too much of a hassle for you, consider getting one of these. They won’t require that much of your attention.
What Are the Differences Between Manual and Electric Extractors?
There are a few differences between manual and electric extractors, although at first glance they don’t seem too far removed from each other. The most obvious thing that separates them is how they function.
If you aren’t going to produce immense amounts of honey, and so don’t mind putting in a bit of work, a manual extractor will suit you. This means you’ll have to physically operate it, but it’s not too difficult or labor-intensive if your harvest is small.
Manual extractors require some effort on your part. They spin when you turn their handle. The amount of energy you put into them determines the amount of power you get out of them.
There are some advantages to manual extractors. They don’t use electricity, which means they can be set up almost anywhere. They also save you money on your electric bill. They’re usually more affordable than electric extractors, too. They’re quieter, and you can control the speed at which they spin.
The main disadvantages of manual extractors are that they’re slow and you have to physically keep them going. It can create tedious work, that might not even be worth the effort if you have a bad (or small) harvest.
Electric extractors, on the other hand, are motorized. They’re high-powered and are standard in industrial honey production, because they lessen the amount of human effort needed.
For commercial or industrial harvests, you should consider an electric extractor. These are programmed to do the work for you. They’re built to spin at optimal speeds so that you can extract honey quickly, efficiently, and consistently.
They do the exact same thing as manual extractors, just with more power, less effort from you, and more precision. They’re often unnecessary for small-scale beekeepers, but make a massive difference for commercial honey harvesters.
They work faster than manual machines do, they’re easy to operate and have automated functions that you don’t have to think about.
Although electric extractors are somewhat more sophisticated than manual ones, they have a few drawbacks. They’re costlier because of their features, for example. There’s also a higher risk of them damaging your wax combs.
Some of them are too overpowered for beginners to use successfully, and because they’re mechanical, they tend to be noisy. Finally, they must have a nearby power source, of course.
What Are the Differences Between Radial and Tangential Extractors?
Radial and tangential are both kinds of forces in physics. The different honey extractor types take their names from these terms because they utilize these forces respectively. Without getting too bogged down with science, let’s take a look at each.
Radial honey extractors have the top bar of your frames facing outwards. They work by utilizing centrifugal force on to your beehive frames. Radial in this context means outward or inward from the center of gravity at work on your frames.
Radial extractors are wider. They require more room than tangential extractors do. They’re great for amateur and industrial beekeeping and are the preferred extractors in honey harvesting. They can typically hold up to 100 frames.
To use a radial extractor, you follow all the steps as usual. The only one that changes is that you have to pay attention to the placement of your frames.
Tangential honey extractors use tangential force. They hold your frames inside a basket that faces outwards. You can completely remove your honey from one side of a frame at a time.
Although radial extractors are preferred and are generally the norm, there are beekeepers who would rather use tangential extractors.
When loading a tangential extractor, you have to take care to fill it correctly. Try to fill each basket with a frame. If you can’t, ensure you balance them out. You can also use empty frames to compensate.
There is a formula for tangential honey extraction. It’s called the 50-100-50 method. You start off by removing 50 percent from one side of a frame, then switch to remove all the honey from the flipside. When that side of the frame is done, turn it over again, to remove the remaining 50 percent.
This is done so that your honeycomb isn’t damaged by too much weight on one side.
A drawback is that there is an extra effort involved in switching your frames around. Radial extractors are preferred because there is less work needed to operate them.
But some beekeepers claim that honey from tangential extractors is thicker and that you get more out of them.
Others swear by radial machines, implying that the honey produced from them is smoother, better, and there’s more of it. There is no evidence to suggest that either machine affects the quality of the honey that’s produced. It’s subjective. The only way of knowing is to try them both and see which one you prefer.
To summarize, honey extractors are fascinating machines that help a lot in honey production, but they’re not always needed. Quite frankly, they can be a waste of time and money if you’re inexperienced, have a beginner hive, or don’t intend to produce much honey.
Honey extractors are best suited for beekeepers looking to grow their business, or for already established commercial and industrial bee farms. Although it makes more sense to only get one when it’s necessary, if you want to be prepared in advance, feel free; your investment could prove to be rewarding.