When I bring in a bin of dripping, honey-filled frames from the beehives, I always get excited. The next steps are definitely sticky, but nonetheless incredibly satisfying. I find dripping honey mesmerizing to watch. Whether you’re extracting honey with top-end equipment or with items you found around the house, it’s definitely going to be a process.
What Equipment You’ll Need to Separate Honey From Wax
There are two main ways to extract your honey: with an extractor or using the crush-and-strain method.
Extractors work best if you have a lot of honey to process and don’t have the time or energy to do it by hand. They can also be a cleaner way to do it, for both the honey and your kitchen table, as the honey stays mostly contained. A variety of extractors are available to be purchased. You can get ones that hold multiple frames at once. You can also purchase manual or electric extractors, depending on your needs. If you’re using an extractor, you’ll also need some type of uncapping tool.
If beekeeping is something of a hobby, you don’t want to spend money on extraction equipment, or you only have a few frames to extract, the crush-and-strain method can be done with things you probably already own. You’ll need:
- A large working space, like a countertop or kitchen table.
- A large bowl or pot to hold the strained honey.
- A honey strainer or a large piece of cheesecloth clipped to a colander with binder clips or clothespins.
- A pan to hold the honeycomb while you crush it.
- A potato masher, large fork, or anything else that can be used to crush honeycomb.
- A knife to cut the honeycomb from the frame.
- Lots of damp towels to clean up spills.
How To Separate Honey From Wax Cappings (Step By Step)
Now that you’ve pulled the frames from the hive and brushed off any lingering bees, it’s time to dive into the process of extracting the honey. Before you start, just accept that it’s going to be messy – you’re working with honey, after all.
If you’re using an extractor, follow these steps.
- Purchase an extractor that works with your frames.
- Uncap the honeycomb.
- Follow extractor instructions.
For the crush-and-strain method, follow these steps.
- Collect equipment and set up.
- Cut honeycomb from the frames.
- Crush it using a potato masher, a fork, or your fingers.
- Strain it through a honey strainer or cheesecloth into a large bowl.
Using An Extractor
To extract honey using an extractor, follow the steps below.
Purchase an Extractor That’s Compatible With Your Frames
If you keep bees, you probably have some knowledge of the different types of foundations and frames. Not all extracting methods work well with all foundation types, so you’ll want to make sure before purchasing an expensive extractor.
- Foundationless frames don’t have any sort of foundation in them. They leave the bees to do their thing without any guidance. This usually results in irregular honeycomb that may not work well with extractors. However, it will be easy to cut, crush, and strain the comb.
- Wired frames typically have two to four wires running across them to guide the honeycomb. This helps create fairly even honeycomb that can be extracted or cut from the frame.
- Wax foundation gives the bees a starting place and a guide for building honeycomb on the frames. Honeycomb built on a wax foundation is typically quite regular and can be processed with an extractor or by removing it from the frames.
- Frames with plastic foundations may or may not be coated in wax. Honeycomb built on a plastic foundation will be uniform. It’s possible to extract it using the crush-and-strain method, but this foundation works better with an extractor.
Uncap Your Comb
If you decide to use an extractor, you’ll need to first uncap the honeycomb before you place it in the extractor. Uncapping can be done by scraping caps off with an uncapping tool. You can purchase tools designed specifically for uncapping honeycomb, like an uncapping pick, or you can simply cut the caps off with a kitchen knife.
You can also melt caps off with heat. When separating honey from wax with heat, use a heated knife or heat gun to melt the caps off the comb.
Follow Extractor Instructions to Extract Your Honey
All extractors work a little differently, so follow your specific extractor’s instructions to finish the extraction process.
Using The Crush-And-Strain Method
To extract honey using the crush-and-strain method, follow the steps below.
Set Up Equipment
Collect the equipment you’ll need and clear off a large surface to work on. Clip cheesecloth in a colander and place the colander in a large bowl, or set up a honey strainer over the bowl. Prepare a pan with the potato masher or fork.
Cut The Honeycomb Off The Frames
Next, go ahead and cut the honeycomb off the frames. If you’re using foundationless frames, wired frames, or wax foundation, you can simply cut the comb off the frame entirely. Do it over a cookie sheet, pan, or clean surface – it’s going to be messy. Place honeycomb in a pan.
If your frames have a plastic foundation but you still want to try the crush-and-strain method, slice the caps off with a knife. Then use a spatula to scrape as much honeycomb as possible into your pan. Be careful not to damage the foundation, especially if you plan on reusing it.
Crush Comb As Much As Possible
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Using a potato masher, a fork, or your hands, break up the comb as much as you can. It should be a giant mess of honey and honeycomb when you’re done.
Strain The Honey
Here comes the fun part: dump the mashed honeycomb into a very fine strainer, like a honey strainer or cheesecloth, and watch the thick, golden honey drip through into a bowl. Once most of the honey has dripped through, help it along by pushing it through a strainer or squeezing it through the cheesecloth.
My Top Tips to Ensure Success With This Process
Honey extraction is an extremely sticky process, but here are my top tips to help it go as smoothly as possible.
- Accept and expect the mess. Prepare for it by cleaning off a very large surface to work on. Gather equipment prior to beginning the extracting process – simply grabbing a bowl from a kitchen cabinet becomes a challenge when your hands are covered in honey. When I use the crush-and-strain method, I like to keep a bowl of warm water available so I can soak the honey off my hands when necessary.
- Take it slow. The extraction process might take longer than you think, and it really can’t be rushed. If you’re using an extractor, don’t exceed its capacity. Do only one or two frames at a time with the crush-and-strain method.
- Use equipment you don’t care about or that’s designed for honey extraction, especially if you’re using heat in the process. If you use a heated knife to uncap your frames, you’ll never get the wax off. Wax can be also quite damaging to a strainer or cheesecloth.
- Have a friend, neighbor, or family member help with the process, especially if you’re learning how to separate honey from wax. A lot of things could go wrong and simply having another person there could make a world of difference.
- Don’t worry about wasted honey. You won’t be able to get all the honey off the frames or out of the honeycomb. After you’ve extracted all the honey you possibly can, place the frames and wax outside near your hives. The bees will take all the wasted honey back to the hive, and you can harvest it next year.