If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The basic principle behind the honey extractor has remained unchanged for as long as they have existed. For sure, some new high-tech models might have been released down the years – and within the field of industrial beekeeping, different honey extractors suited for industrial quantities are used – but for beekeepers like you and I, the honey extractor is a beautifully simple piece of equipment.
A honey extractor is a simple mechanical device that utilizes the power of centrifugal force to extract honey from the intricate hexagonal lattice of the honeycomb. Inside a honey extractor – which is either a drum or some other container – are found the frame baskets. The honeycomb is simply placed here, the handles are cranked – or the motor is switched on – and the frame baskets are spun around, expelling the honey as it goes.
Harvesting honey is perhaps the most rewarding part of the whole beekeeping process, and even more so for those new to the game. Harvesting is when you finally collect the fruits of all your hard work over the last year. And for those newbie beekeepers, it might have been several years before a reasonable honey harvest is finally available, meaning that harvesting time is even more special! Regardless of how long it has been since you cranked that handle and collected your honey, the moment is an important one and you don’t want to have it ruined by shoddy equipment.
The Importance of a Good Honey Extractor
And sometimes, honey extractors can be downright shoddy. The mechanical principle behind them might be as old as the hills, but craftsmanship goes a long way, and you will want a well-built honey extractor that collects as much honey as possible without also contaminating it with little bits of comb. If the honey extractor is a little rough and forceful, then this is what will happen. Nevertheless, if it isn’t strong enough, you’ll end up collecting far less honey than is actually available. Therefore, the value of a good honey extractor lies in successfully striking the balance between craftsmanship and fine-tuning.
Another great advantage of a good honey extractor is that the alternative – extracting the honey without one – is nearly always something you would prefer to avoid. It is indeed possible to reap your honey harvest by means of crushing the combs and sieving out the comb material, but that wastes a great deal of useful material – besides honey – that your bees produce.
Worse even than this though is that destroying the combs to extract honey at harvest time could very well jeopardize future harvests. A healthy colony of bees will usually have enough energy reserves built in enough comb for the next year but leaving last year’s comb intact saves them a great deal of work. And saving them work means saving them energy and remember, there are many things that can go wrong in the world of beekeeping – from hive infections such as varroa mite to insufficient local bloom leading to weakened bees. In such circumstances, last year’s comb could literally mean the difference between life and death.
How do Modern Honey Extractors Work?
I have already mentioned that honey extractors are based on a very simple mechanical principle but require some fairly expert fine-tuning in order to work properly and expel the honey with the correct amount of force. This is something that will likely never change, but that’s not to say that modern honey extractors don’t come with a range of useful features, many of which having now become standard. When deciding what kind of honey extractor is right for you, it is important to consider the diversity of these extra features and the different kinds of each that are available.
All modern models, for example, will have a pumping extractor at the bottom. After the honey has been pulled out via centrifugal forces, it tends to then drip down the side of the comb and collect at the bottom. It is from here that it is extracted, and there are both manual and electric extractors that do this. You can have as little as two frames in your honey extractor, or you can many more; the drum itself can be made of various materials, which have different qualities optimal for different uses.
Honey extractors also need to be assembled and cleaned regularly. As everybody knows, honey is a viscous, sticky liquid – and there are all sorts of other debris that can build up inside it. Knowledge of how to assemble and clean is essential, and this can be a slightly different process depending on what type of honey extractor you have.
What Type of Honey Extractor is Right for Me?
Before choosing the right honey extractor, there are several things to consider and options to weigh up. These can be obvious and general or much more specific to the type of beekeeping you want to do. Here then are some of the most important things to consider:
Capacity and Size
When it comes to deciding what honey extractor is right for you, the first and most simple consideration is what capacity of honey extractor you will need. Naturally, this is all dependent on how much honey you can expect to be harvesting at the end of the year. As mentioned, honey extractors can hold as little as two honey frames but also be large enough to hold many.
It should be pretty obvious what size meets your needs. However, bear in mind that you can spin your honey extractor as many times as is needed. Accordingly, it might make more sense to get a two-frame extractor and reload/spin it a couple of times, rather than getting a bigger model when you only have a few frames to harvest. This is not a great deal of extra time and work, and it will also save you money.
Manual or Electric?
Honey extractors come in both manual and electric models – the difference is pretty obvious. A manual extractor has a hand crank which is used to spin the frames inside the drum. Naturally, manual models require a little more elbow grease on your part. Their main advantages though are that they are cheaper, and you will not require a power source to operate them (which means you can place them anywhere).
Electric honey extractors naturally cost a bit more. They use an electric motor to spin the frames. With electric honey extractors, you can extract the honey faster and they are usually larger models for working with a lot of frames. Of course, as mentioned, they cost a bit more (because of the motor and because they are typically larger) and you will need to plug them in somewhere.
Radial or Tangential?
The difference between a radial and a tangential honey extractor is the direction in which the honey is extracted. A tangential extractor is the most common for lower capacities and will pull the honey outward towards the edges of the drum. Because the honey is only pulled in one direction, you will need to flip the flames after the honey has been extracted from one side.
Radial honey extractors, on the other hand, have a drum basket which positions the frames with the top bar facing outwards. The frames are then perpendicular to the outside wall and so the honey is extracted from both sides at once. Naturally, these are more time efficient and are more common with honey extractors designed for higher capacities.
How to Operate a Honey Extractor
The exact way in which you operate a honey extractor will naturally depend on whether you have a manual or electric model and a tangential or a radial. Between electric and manual extractors, the difference lies only at the spinning stage and is, of course, only the difference between manually turning the crank or switching on the motor. Between a tangential and radial extractor, the difference of operation lies in how you position the frames. However, the frame holders show you precisely where to place them. Just remember to flip the frames if you are using a tangential extractor.
Apart from these differences, the operation of honey extractors is the same across the board. Firstly, you need to prepare the frames. To do this, you need to remove the wax caps by scraping them off with an uncapping knife. After this, it is time to place the frames in their holders and close over the lid. Then simply switch on the motor or start turning the crank. You should do this for about ten minutes to extract all the honey from the frames, remembering to flip the frames and repeat in the case of tangential extractors.
Afterwards, honey can be removed from the extractor by simply turning the tap. You will notice that the honey at this point contains a few debris, so it will need to be strained.
The Top 11 Honey Extractors
So, after availing yourself of all the necessary knowledge regarding what type of extractor is right for you and how to use it, it is time to start browsing for your honey extractor. As mentioned, extractors can vary a lot in quality and so, generally speaking, you should avoid the very cheapest. This is not to say that expensive is automatically better – and there are certainly many extractors that are great value for money – but you want to make sure you purchase a model that will not let you down. To aid you in your search then, here follows what I think are the top eleven honey extractors on the market right now.
11. Vivo – Large Electric 3-Frame Stainless Steel Honey Extractor (BEE-V003E)
Proving that, even at smaller capacities, electric honey extractors can be worthwhile is the first extractor on my list. This model from Vivo comes with a remarkably quiet 120V AC motor and, importantly, a gate opening very close to the bottom of the barrel. This means that you can easily extract most of the honey from the barrel, and there is plenty of room underneath to collect it. That this extractor offers all these helpful dimensions while still being a relatively low-capacity model is certainly its primary advantage. This model is perfect for amateur beekeepers.
In terms of drawbacks, this model does take a little longer than is usual to completely clean out the honey frames (15 minutes). However, it does so thoroughly and, because you won’t be manually operating this extractor, this entails no extra effort on your part.
The next honey extractor on my list is a manual model. As mentioned, the great benefits of manual honey extractors are that they can be used anywhere, without requiring proximity to a power outlet. This model from VEVOR plays up this strength with fixable and adjustable legs, meaning that the honey extractor can be securely positioned almost anywhere. The crank action is also exceptionally smooth and the whole body will hold firm – wherever you position it.
One definite downside is that, even though the legs and therefore the height of the extractor is adjustable, they are still too short to fit a standard five-gallon bucket underneath. This seems odd, given that the five gallon is the usual size for this capacity of extractor. You will have to go with a smaller bucket.
Back to the electric models, this two-frame extractor proves that a good electric motor can be a real boon for small-scale or hobbyist beekeepers alike. The motor in this extractor has various speed options, allowing you to the control the strength of the extracting force. This can be greatly useful if the frames are in anyway delicate, or you would like to be extra careful.
At those higher speeds though this extractor can get a bit wobbly. But this is not disaster at these low capacities. In any case, the top of this extractor is very securely positioned, meaning you do not need to worry about any mess resulting from that wobbliness.
8. VIVO 4-8-Frame Stainless Steel Honey Extractor (BEE-V004B)
This model from VIVO (an excellent company well-represented on my list) is a significantly larger version on the previous entry. Perhaps surprisingly, it is also manual where the smaller version was electric. Accordingly, you might consider it a downside to have to manually crank this larger model but, then again, there is a great advantage to being able to take a larger capacity extractor out in to the field without a generator.
This model plays up to precisely that advantage and is very secure. Its dimensions also work in its favor, keeping the extractor well clear of the already extracted honey – which is an advantage at larger volumes.
Another offering from BestEquip, this extractor is another one that prioritizes stability wherever it is used. The gear system is enclosed and so will not contaminate the honey, there is ample room underneath for the appropriately sized buckets, and the legs are secure and sturdy. They are also fixable and can be securely staked into the ground, or even bolted onto another surface.
The mechanism is wonderfully smooth and surprisingly efficient for removing the honey from the frames, doing so is quicker than a good many other manual tangential extractors. This is a winning extractor for sure.
6. VIVO 2-Frame Stainless Steel Manual Crank Honey Extractor (BEE-VOO2C)
Another from this familiar line of VIVO honey extractors. This model is undoubtedly one for the hobbyist or low-capacity beekeeper, being only a two-frame extractor and not including fixable legs. Accordingly, it is purely for removing small amounts of honey – although, at these capacities, that extra stability is not really needed.
For low capacities, however, this a great extractor, boasting above all a very smooth mechanism that will extract the honey faster than the ten-minute average (and even faster still if you give it that extra elbow grease). It is also durable and portable, and it can be used almost anywhere. If you are an absolute beginner, this is the extractor for you.
My last entry was a honey extractor for the beginners, hobbyists, and those without too many hives. I recommended that one for being “all you will need”. However, if you are beginner and wish to push the boat out a little further, this first entry from HoneyKeeper is a great choice.
Boasting a smoothness of action and efficiency of extraction, this honey extractor is also a little more versatile out in the field on account of its extendable and fixable legs. For beginners this is the premium – if not exactly necessary – option.
What marks out this model from VINGLI as an excellent four-frame honey extractor is the unique design of the crank (perhaps that’s what makes it “upgraded”). And that’s not where the design innovation stops. Although a manual mode, this extractor contains a range of innovative features in its construction that make honey extraction much less of a chore. Clearly designed for use anywhere, this model not only has secure, adjustable, and fixable stands, but the frame holders inside can hold multiple different sizes of frame at the same time. The frame holders are also slightly rounded on the inner side, which protects the honeycomb from breaking. These are design features that are relatively rare among extractors.
Because of these extra features and a range of add-on accessories that come with this model, it can unfortunately be a little difficult to assemble and to do so to a proper degree of stability. But that is really all I can think of here in the way of downsides. Overall, an excellent low-to-medium capacity honey extractor.
Another manual model from VIVO. This extractor only holds two frames but is a good deal larger than the typical two-frame extractor. The advantage of this is the ease of honey extraction and the sheer amount that can be pulled out quickly. Not so large as to be cumbersome, it is still a versatile honey extractor, great for extracting a lot of honey at once with pretty much the least effort of any manual extractor of this size.
One minor design issue blights this otherwise excellent extractor. The ball bearing pivot at the bottom is not stainless steel and so could rust over time. This part of the machine is however nowhere near any of the honey, and it can be replaced very easily.
The main reason beekeepers purchase electric extractors at low capacities is to increase the thoroughness of the honey extraction. Other than this, electric extractors are not really needed when there are only two frames. Good job then that this electric extractor from VINGLI has covered every single base where this is concerned.
Not only do you have adjustable speed in order to balance comb protection with honey extraction, but this model can also hold different sizes of frame at once and has the rounded inner side for further comb protection. It is also rock solid when in operation and has sturdy adjustable and fixable stands. For every target this extractor aims at, it scores a bullseye.
The largest extractor on this list is also the one that clinches the top spot. This is not only because of the power and thoroughness of this 120V AC motor-powered extractor, but also its sheer versatility. Holding all the way up to eight frames, it is also efficient at any number below this and can hold frames of all sizes. The speed of the motor is fully adjustable and so too are the sturdy and fixable stands. Like the other VIVO models on this list, the honey gate is also very low, meaning you will be collecting a lot more honey than you’ll be cleaning out afterwards.
All of this combines to make a very versatile honey extractor, one which is ideal all the way up to medium-sized enterprises, as repeated use is a breeze. Although it requires a power outlet, it is transportable and, with the aid of an extension cable, will even work well out in the field if the hives are close enough. This extractor is an exemplary all-rounder, and that is why it’s the best.
Hopefully, this run down of the best extractors on the market right now will give you a clear idea of the range of models available for sub-industrial beekeeping enterprises, as well as the range of benefits and drawbacks that inevitably need to be balanced when you pick out the best extractor for you. Honey extractors work via an ancient and simple mechanism, but modern engineering has made them truly formidable pieces of kit. Every beekeeper should have one.