What Is A Honey Extractor – An Essential Guide For 2024

A beekeeper crouched next to a honey extractor pouring honey into a container

A honey extractor is a mechanical device used to extract honey from honeycombs. Centrifugal force removes the honey quickly and efficiently from uncapped frames.

Beekeepers use extractors to harvest honey in a way that doesn’t destroy the bee colony’s comb structure. Once the extraction process is complete, the empty combs are suitable for reuse.

Types of honey extractors

The two common types of honey extractors are radial and tangential.

1. Radial extractors

A radial extractor positions frames vertically like wheel spokes. The frame’s top bar points toward the drum’s outside wall, and the bottom bar towards the center.

Radial extractors allow honey extraction from both sides of the comb simultaneously. Centrifugal force pushes the honey out from both sides of the comb simultaneously, so flipping the frames isn’t required. This feature is a huge benefit for beekeepers with a tight schedule.

A top down photo of a radial extractor holding eight frames of uncapped honeycomb
Radial extractors are a quick way to remove honey.

All things equal, radial extractors are more efficient than tangential models. They save time and effort, making them popular in the honey room.

Radial extractors:

  • Come in manual and electric versions and in different sizes to accommodate varying capacity requirements.
  • May not work as well with older or uneven combs. This comb can be more delicate and susceptible to damage from centrifugal force.

2. Tangential extractors

A tangential extractor positions frames with one side of the honeycomb facing outward towards the drum’s wall. Compared to radial models, they fit fewer frames into a barrel.

During spinning, honey is forced from only one side of the comb at a time. Beekeepers must stop the extractor, flip the frames, and re-spin. This extra step makes the extraction process labor-intensive, but you’ll get more honey from each frame.

A birds eye view of a tangential extractor holding three frames
Tangential models require frame-flipping half way through.

Tangential extractors tend to be gentler on the honeycomb as the force is distributed across a larger comb area. This feature makes them a good choice for older or more fragile combs.

Tangential extractors:

  • Are often smaller and less expensive than radial extractors.
  • Are an excellent option for beginners or small-scale beekeepers.
  • Come in hand crank and electric versions.

Also read: What is a cappings spinner?

Manual vs. electric honey extractors

Whether you choose a radial or tangential honey extractor, they may be spun with a hand crank or electricity. Each option has its pros and cons.

Tip: Read our full comparison of manual and electric honey extractors here.

1. Manual

Manual honey extractors are hand-operated devices mostly made from stainless steel or plastic. They have a hand crank that you turn to spin the frames inside the extractor drum. The spinning action is what forces the honey out of the comb.

Manual extractors are popular with beginner beekeepers as they’re cheaper and easier to use. You can also use them without a power source.

A mature woman operating a hand-crank extractor
Manual extractors cost less and are easier to use.

Some beekeepers get a lot of satisfaction from extracting honey this way; however, they may become tedious, hard work for beekeepers with over ten hives.


  • Cheaper than electric models.
  • Suitable for remote locations as no electricity is needed.
  • Low-cost entry point for beginners or small-scale beekeepers with a limited number of hives.


  • The extraction process is laborious, especially with a lot of frames.
  • Extraction is slower than in electric models.

2. Electric

Electric honey extractors spin the frames at varying speeds using a motor. Operators flick a switch, and the extractor does the rest.

An image showing the inside of an electrical honey extractor
Electric options increase cost but require less effort.

Commercial beekeeping operations and larger hobbyists prefer motorized extractors. They require less manual labor and quickly process a high number of frames. The operator can work on uncapping frames while the extraction continues.


  • Suitable for larger-scale operations or those who want to extract honey more quickly and effortlessly.
  • They can handle many frames at a time, making the process more efficient.
  • Often come with speed control options for the spinning process, offering greater flexibility.


  • More expensive than manual models.
  • Require a source of electricity, which reduces options for placing the equipment and increases power costs.

Interesting reading: Check out some alternatives to honey extractors here.

Are honey extractors essential for beekeeping?

Small-scale hobbyist beeks managing a few hives can get by without fancy equipment. Simpler methods like crush and strain will get the job done. However, this method destroys the honeycomb, which means the bees must expend energy and resources to rebuild it.

The value provided by honey extractors increases as your operation scales up. They are a crucial tool for medium to large-scale beekeepers focused on efficiency, productivity, and profit.

Photograph of a hand holding a frame above a high-capacity extractor
Some extractors can take a lot of frames.

How many frames can an extractor hold?

  • Most manual extractors can hold roughly 2-4 frames.
  • Radial extractors can have four to over 100 frames at a time.
  • Tangential capacity may range from 3-6.

5 compelling reasons to use an extractor

  1. Preservation of comb: Enables beekeepers to harvest honey without destroying the honeycomb’s structure. The colony can reuse the comb, saving energy and resources for future honey production.
  2. Efficient processing: Honey extractors allow for efficient and quick extraction of honey from multiple frames at once, depending on the size of the extractor.
  3. Higher quality honey: Purer honey is extracted with less debris from the honeycombs.
  4. Less stress on bees: Since the comb remains intact during the extraction process, it reduces stress and disruption for the bees.
  5. Economic processing: Although there’s an upfront investment, faster extraction saves time and cost.

Think you might need an extractor? Before you dive in, read our guide to the best honey extractors for new beekeepers.

An elderly man uncapping a frame while another man leans on a manual honey extractor and watches
Honey extraction is a highly rewarding part of beekeeping.

5 pitfalls of using honey extractors

  1. Initial Cost: High-quality honey extractors, especially electric ones, can be costly. Price could be a barrier for beginners or hobbyists.
  2. Storage requirement: Honey extractors suck up space which is a problem if you’re short on storage.
  3. Spread of disease: The high cost of an extractor means they’re often shared between beekeepers or loaned out by beekeeping clubs. Disease quickly spreads without proper cleaning after use. 
  4. Limited use: Honey extractors are designed for use with removable frame hives, not designs like top bar and Warre.
  5. Cleaning: Cleaning a honey extractor requires extra work, but it’s essential to prevent contamination. This step is time-consuming, especially with larger models.
Zoomed up shot of someone rinsing an extractor with a hose
The cleanup process is vital for reducing disease spread.

Parts of a honey extractor

Drum or barrel

This is the central part of the extractor where the frames are placed. It’s typically cylindrical and made from food-grade stainless steel or plastic.

Frame holders or baskets

The drum includes racks for placing honeycomb frames. These holders vary in design depending on whether the extractor is designed tangentially or radially.

Lid or cover

This part covers the top of the drum to prevent honey splatter during the extraction process and to keep the process sanitary. Many lids are clear to allow easy viewing.

Crank or motor

Manual honey extractors have a hand crank for rotating the frames within the barrel. Electric extractors have a motor that automatically turns the frames.

Stand or legs

Many extractors have a stand or legs that raise the drum off the ground, making placing a container under the honey gate easier.

Speed control

This feature adjusts the speed at which the frames spin in electric models.

Honey gate or spigot

A valve or tap is opened to release honey at the bottom of the drum.

A front on picture of honey pouring from the spigot and onto a strainer.
Honey pouring from the gate.

What is the process for extracting honey?

Using a honey extractor involves a series of steps to ensure you efficiently and safely harvest honey from your bee frames. Here’s a basic overview of the process:

  1. Remove frames: Carefully remove the frames filled with capped honey from the hive. To ensure the moisture levers are correct, check out our guide to the best honey refractometers for checking when honey is ready to harvest.
  2. Uncap the frames: Remove the wax cap that seals the honey in each cell using an uncapping knife or fork.
  3. Place frames in the extractor: Carefully place frames in the extractor, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Spin the frames: For manual extractors, turn the hand crank. If using an electric extractor, turn on the motor and select the required speed.
  5. Collect the honey: Check if the honey has been completely extracted. Spin more if needed, then open the honey gate at the bottom of the extractor to allow the honey to flow into a collection container. Use a strainer or cheesecloth to remove bits of wax or other foreign material.
  6. Clean the extractor: Thoroughly clean the equipment for a sanitary operation and to reduce the potential for disease spread.

Get the full guide on how to extract honey using an extractor here.

Macro image of a tool uncapping a frame of honeycomb
Comb is uncapped, allowing honey to flow from the cells.

What size extractor do I need?

Budget and available storage space will heavily impact a beekeeper’s choice of honey extractor. The biggest factor to consider is the number of hives in the bee yard. As a rough guide, follow this advice:

Number of hivesExtractor frame capacity

Commonly asked questions

What is the best material for a honey extractor?

Honey extractors are typically made of food-grade stainless steel or plastic. Stainless steel is often considered superior due to its durability and ease of cleaning. This material also won’t taint the honey’s flavor.

Can honey extractors handle different frame sizes?

Many honey extractors accommodate different frame sizes, like deep, medium, or shallow. However, always check the specifications of the extractor to ensure it can handle the frames you use.

What is a commercial honey extractor?

Commercial honey extractors are made for industrial beekeeping operations with a large number of colonies (at least 200). While the investment requirement is higher, they extract much higher quantities of honey.

Two apiary workers smiling while they work next to a large commercial honey extraction machine
Industrial honey rooms require a significant investment.

Does honey need to be heated before extraction?

Avoid heating honey before extraction. An ambient temperature of around 80-90°F is ideal but not essential.

Can I extract honey from cut comb or chunk honey in a honey extractor?

Honey extractors are designed for use with frames of capped honey. If you have cut comb or chunk honey, you’d typically consume it as is or use a crush and strain method to remove the honey.

What can I do with the wax cappings after extraction?

Wax cappings are ideal for melting into candles, lip balms, soaps, or other beeswax products. You can also render and clean the wax to make new foundations.

Interesting reading:

Summing up

A honey extractor is a valuable piece of beekeeping equipment. It makes honey extraction much easier and doesn’t destroy the comb.

Investing in an extractor is well worth the money if you’re a small-scale hobbyist beekeeper with the available funds. Mid to large-scale apiaries will find this piece of equipment essential.

In most cases, a small bee yard will do well with a basic, hand-crank extractor for their early years. If you decide to expand the bee yard, it’s easy to trade up to a better model.

Of course, most beekeeping clubs will loan their equipment out to members. At $10-$20 annually for a membership, that’s excellent value.

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