An extractor is a special style of centrifuge, which is usually how beekeepers remove honey from wax combs, while saving the combs for the bees to use again. A honey extractor has an upfront cost, and also costs some time to rinse out after each extraction, but it's well worth it for the ease and efficiency it provides. In addition to being easier on the beekeeper, extracting with an extractor is better for your bees because the honey can be removed from the wax without destroying the combs. Since producing wax comb takes the bees a lot of time and energy (the energy is nectar they drink, which could have been stored and turned into honey), your colonies will thank you when you return their honeyless frames of comb for them to reuse.
However, beekeepers who don't have an extractor still need to harvest honey. In this article, we share some tips for extracting honey without an extractor using two different methods - both of which will destroy the wax combs in the process. Which of the two methods you choose will depend on the foundation under your wax combs. The "Crush-and-Strain" method should be used for frames of plastic foundation, or frames with thick or reinforced wax foundation. The "Cut-Comb" method can be used on frames with no foundation at all, or frames with special extra-thin cut-comb foundation.
The first step is selecting the combs of honey you want to harvest. You should trust the bees' instincts and the delicate sugar-concentration sensors in their mouths, and choose frames of honey that are fully capped. Capped honey will not spoil because the sugar concentration is too high for yeasts and bacteria to grow, but uncapped nectar contains too much water and can cause an entire batch of extracted honey to spoil. Keeping excess moisture out of your honey is crucial to long-term honey storage. For the same reason, dry all of your extracting equipment before use, and even avoid extracting on rainy or very humid days since honey can absorb moisture from the air.
Whichever method you choose, your extraction location should be dry, and also isolated from bees. Bees can smell the scent of honey in the air, so you don't want an open garage window to invite them into your extraction process. Warm honey and a warm room will make the honey flow more freely - this is desirable when spinning the honey in an extractor, or when crushing your combs and waiting for the honey to drip out of the wax. It is not necessarily helpful when making cut-comb honey, because soft wax and runny honey will cause your combs to be floppy and delicate while you're working with them. During the cutting process, you may have more luck if things are a little cooler and firmer. (But not so cold that the wax becomes brittle!)
At the end of both methods, you'll be left with some wax mixed with leftover honey. You can wash this in cold water to dissolve the honey without harming the wax, and then dry it. Alternatively, you can melt everything together in a double boiler and then pour it (carefully!) into a container to cool. The honey will sink, the melted wax will float and then harden, and once the wax completely hardens you'll have honey, wax, and a layer of "stuff" in between them. You can make use of the wax to coat hive equipment, or you can melt and refine it further for use in candle-making or cosmetics.