Traditionally, small scale honey extraction involves use of a heated de-capping knife. This is a time proven method. With fully filled super frames de-capping is a breeze. It can become challenging for a novice when the comb is uneven in depth, but with a little practice and patience even these frames can be uncapped.
Traditional heated de-capping knife
This year to add a little spice to our extracting party we tried three other methods. We had 5 people running the equipment. One novice, two highly experienced and two with intermidiate experience. The article summarizes our findings. The first alternate was an “uncapping punch”; essentially a narrow plastic roller with short spikes that penetrate the cappings. It was a breeze to use; making an elongated hole in each comb cell. It was much faster than the uncapping knife; especially on uneven comb surfaces. However, it seemed to have two drawbacks. The spikes seemed to load up with wax over time; resulting in a shorter elongated hole in the cappings. As this happened extraction efficiency degrades. Over time we began finding frames that were getting only partially extracted. Stopping frequently and cleaning the tool could probably have alleviated this issue. Since the objective is to get as much honey as possible, our consensus was to stick with the heated de-capping knife and only use the uncapping roller in comb areas not readily accessible to the knife. The second drawback is that the face of the comb has hundreds of tiny wax flakes adhering to it. These flakes fall off the comb during extraction and speed up the plugging of the coarse screens which we use to remove wax debris from the extracted honey. (We don't filter our honey, but do run it through a series of 3 screens; 600, 400 and 200 microns, to remove wax and other debris. Pollen passes freely through all three screens.)
De-capping roller; notice the small spikes.
During our lunch break we viewed a Utube video of de-capping using an industrial heat gun; a hair drier on steroids. Not having an industrial heat gun we actually pressed a hair drier into service. Although its power output was lower the hair drier did uncap dry cappings (“Dry” cappings are white in color due to a thin air bubble beneath the cap. A “wet” capping has no air bubble beneath the cap and the cap appears the color of the honey touching the cap’s underneath side. ) Using the hair drier was definitely slower than the heated de-capping knife. A few days later we tried an industrial heat gun. The industrial heat gun definitely was faster than the hair drier; about on par with the de-capping knife. However, we noticed that even some dry capping cells glazed over again with wax. There was honey in some cells after extraction. The consensus of the group was to put the heat gun aside.
Our final experiment was a de-capping plane. This tool was definitely faster than the decapping knife; a definite plus. However controlling the depth of cut was a little more difficult. We noticed there was a tendency to cut too deep. This puts more of the valuable honey in the de-capping pile. We fully recover the honey from the de-capping pile, but why cause ourselves additional work.
All said and done everyone gradually moved back to the heated decapping knife. Sometimes the old tested designs are the best. Of course, if someone were to let us try an automatic de-capping machine we could probably be convinced to give it a test next year.
Put together 10 beekeepers and you get ten different opinions. Feel free to provide any feedback you desire. Maybe we were missing some important techniques that make these other tools more efficient.