A honey extractor is a mechanical device used in the extraction of honey from honeycombs. A honey extractor extracts the honey from the honey comb without destroying the comb. Extractors work by centrifugal force. A drum or container holds a frame basket which spins, flinging the honey out. With this method the wax comb stays intact within the frame and can be reused by the bees.
Bees cover the filled in cells with wax cap that must be removed (cut by knife, etc.) before centrifugation.
Extractors are either tangential or radial depending on how the frames are put into the basket.
Radial baskets have the top bar of the frame facing outwards while tangential baskets have one side of the comb facing outward. Large commercial extractors are radial and rely on the upward slope of the comb cells. This slope allows to extract honey by applying centrifugal force toward the upper edge of the comb (opposite to the direction of gravity while in the hive). The amount of work during extraction is reduced in the radial type because the frames do not have to be turned over to extract the honey from the other side of the comb (however some extractors are capable of turning combs automatically). Hobbyist extractors can be hand or electric motor powered. If the extractor is hand powered, it often has accelerating gear to spin with less effort.
The smallest extractors hold two frames. The largest commercial extractor holds more than a hundred frames.
During the extraction process the honey is forced out of the uncapped wax cells, runs down the walls of the extractor and pools at the bottom. A tap or honey pump allows for the removal of honey from the extractor. Honey must be removed in time and always stay below the rotating frames as otherwise it prevents extractor from spinning with sufficient speed.
Some hobbyist beekeepers and beekeepers in developing countries, especially keepers of top-bar hives, cut the whole honey comb out of the frame, and use it directly as cut comb honey. To extract liquid honey, the comb can be crushed to release the honey and strained to remove the wax and other impurities. Alternatively, cut comb is put into a honey press to squeeze out the honey.
A principal benefit of using an extractor is that drawn wax comb can be re-used. When using the crush-and-strain method or extracting cut comb, the bees must rebuild the comb structure. On the other hand, a high-quality extractor is a significant expense for a hobbyist, while crush-and-strain requires almost no specialized equipment.