Our Beloved Killer Bees

We had to destroy our lone hive.  This was the hive that had been going like crazy and racking up a ton of honey.  The one that survived the longest out of any of our hives, and was obtained for free from an infested owl box.  I had been having increasing aggression problems with them.  It was slowly building as the colony got larger.  I haven’t been able to mow the back yard in a month because they would attack, and then stay mad for hours later.  It was to the point that we couldn’t risk someone else getting hurt.

I will spare all the gory details of how we did it.  Needless to say our backyard was a horror show, I have been stung nearly 30 times, and we are both drained from the ordeal.

We did manage to harvest about 30 pounds of honey.  The spinner worked well again.  Newspaper on the floor really helped keep it from being a slippery mess.  The only major harvesting issue we had was that our electric hot knife died before we even got started.  This was only the third time we ever tried to use it.

Sore, swollen from stings and sad at the loss of another hive.

Drill Powered Honey Spinner Demonstration

I have gotten a lot of activity related to my Drill Powered Honey Spinner.  In fact probably 90% of all the traffic I have ever received has been to that post.  I guess it was a good idea!  My explanation was pretty good, but could really be supplemented with a nice video.  I finally found the time to shoot and edit one, so enjoy and thank you for watching.

DIY Drill Powered Honey Spinner

There comes a time in every beekeeper’s life where he or she will want to harvest some honey.  This is usually done with a centrifuge extractor.  These start at a few hundred dollars for a very cheap unit, and the price goes astronomical from there.  I spent quite a bit of time and money building test articles and doing mini test extractions, but ended up with a really good design that can be had for 50 dollars and a minimal set of tools.


VIDEO UPDATE

Due to the attention on this post I felt a video was needed to help with some of the questions.  Enjoy and thank you for watching.


This spinner is specifically designed to hold medium super frames.  Slight adjustments will be needed to make this work for shallow super frames.

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The above images show what a loaded out spinner looks like.  The spinner now needs a container to catch all the honey.  I really wanted to use 5 gallon buckets for their price and size.  One bucket isn’t deep enough, so I cut the bottoms out to use them as height extenders.

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I used a mix of firehouse pickle buckets and white food grade buckets I bought at the hardware store.  I cut the bottoms off of two buckets to stack them inside each other to increase the height and allow for a good spin without messing up your kitchen.

The bucket with all the holes in the bottom holds the bottom shaft from the spinner and keeps it stable during a spin.  The center hole is just big enough for the 3/4″ PVC pipe.  The others are there to help the honey drip down into the white bucket with the honey gate.

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The stack up is: White bucket with honey gate, red bucket with holes, and two bottomless buckets for height.  It is a very small setup that will quickly process two frames at a time.  I just did 20 frames with this tool and had a really good time with it.  Best of all it doesn’t take up much space in the house.


The Spinner Build

You will need the following items for the spinner.  I included the prices I paid for everything, though your prices may vary.  Not included in the list below is the buckets and the honey gate.  The white food buckets can be had for 4-5 dollars each at lowes.  The firehouse pickle buckets can be had for 2 bucks each!  They do require a bit of soaking to get rid of the vinegar smell though.  Honey gates can be had for 5-10 dollars.

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In total you will spend about 50 dollars on the whole setup.  Filters, a capping knife, honey bears, and others will cost you more, but a whole extraction and bottling setup for under 100 dollars is very attainable.

From a tools standpoint you will need PVC pipe cement, a saw or PVC pipe cutter, tape measure, and a marker.  The pipe parts should look like those shown below.

UPDATE: Fresh PVC cement can be helpful.  Fresh glue allows longer open working time than old glue.  You only have a few seconds to get it right, so if your glue is old, get a new one.

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While assembling the sections be mindful of how much cement you use.  Too much will drip on your work surface, and will drip down inside to the sections you want to glue in the future.  Work slowly and purposefully.  Once you put two segments together, they are permanent in just a few seconds.  Dry fit everything beforehand to make sure it all fits with your frame hardware.

UPDATE: Dry fitting is really important!  Some stores may sell fittings with different sizes and depths.  Dry fit every stage and check it often with your frames and bucket.  Use multiple frames, as there can be variation in their construction as well.

Bottom Hooks

These features are the depth stops for the frames.  Gather a cross, two elbows, two plugs, and cut 2x 1.75″, 1x 1.5″, and 1x 3″ sections of pipe.

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The 1.5″ section of pipe will connect to the bottom guide, the two 1.75″ pieces will hold in the bottom hooks that keep the frames from sliding down any further.  I used plugs to keep honey out of the lower section of the spinner.  This is what the finished part should look like

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Bottom Guide

Next comes a bottom guide to keep the frames from sliding left and right.  This step requires a cross, two tees, and two 2.75″ pipe sections.  Be careful with this step.  Too narrow and your frame will not fit, too wide and it will not fit in the bucket.

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Assemble the sections and attach it to the bottom hook as shown below.  Now the frame will come down into the hook and be held from sliding left and right.

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Top Guide

The top guide will hold the top end of the frame and prevent it from going out during the spin, and from going left or right.  Gather a cross, two tees, four elbows, 2x 2.75″ pipes and 4x 1.5″ pipes.

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It is probably best to assemble the two outer arms first, then attach them to the central cross.

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Drill Post

A short 3 inch section of pipe and the threaded pipe fitting goes on top to allow for the drill to be attached.  I chose 3inches for that length, but it could honestly be longer or shorter.

 

Central Post

A single 14.5″ piece of PVC attaches the top and bottom half.  Dry fit this piece to make sure it holds your frames correctly.  The two sets of guides should line up so that a frame can be slid down through the top guides into the bottom hook.

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Drill Barb

A threaded coupling was installed at the top of the spinner earlier.  Now comes the final piece of the puzzle.  An iron pipe threaded adapter takes the size from 3/4″ to, I think, a 3/8″ female thread.  That allows a brass barbed fitting to thread in.  The brass fitting is small enough to fit into my drill.  Most drills can chuck onto anything smaller than 3/8″ in outer diameter.  I used a hose clamp around the PVC threaded fitting to help reinforce it.  My dewalt drill runs it pretty well on the lower speed setting.  Just accelerate slowly, and stop slowly and everything will be ok!

Update: A good alternative is to cut the barb off and use the remaining brass hex portion as a nut.  Get an adapter for your drill and put the appropriate socket on there.  Now you don’t have to tighten your chuck every time, just slip on the socket and drive!

Mini Test Extraction

There is a lot involved in extracting honey.  You have to get the frames into your house without them being covered in bees, there is the removal of capping, the extraction, filtering and bottling.  Lots of steps with lots of potential for disaster and hang ups if you are new.  We are very new, so I thought a 2 frame mini test extraction would be worth a shot.  The girls are busy filling up the empty frames we added a few weeks ago, so we picked two (mostly) ripe frames to test my home built extraction rig.

This is the spinner portion of the centrifuge extractor.  I built it to go inside 5 gallon buckets so they would be easier to store.  There was an issue though, I didn’t give myself enough room on the bottom set of guides, and it didn’t fit.  So I started cutting and modifying and came up with an even better version that requires fewer parts.

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While modifying I broke the blade off my PVC cutters =(

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Now that I have learned how to properly build the bottom section I will make another and post it with full plans (parts list, lengths to cut, etc.).  Until then, just see what the results are from an extractor that cost less than 50 dollars in parts.


The Extraction

We took a set of full frames, de-capped both sides with an electric hot knife, and gave them both a spin.  The result was a pretty thorough extraction.

Once the honey settled and went through a filter we got some really amazing biscuits and honey.

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One frame was completely packed on both sides.  It lost 2lb 10oz going through the spinner.  The other was a bit lighter to start with and still had some open cells.  That one lost 2lb 1oz in the process.  We were able to bottle about 3.5lb of honey and 1oz of wax.  There is about a pound missing that probably got lost in the filters and side walls.  That will probably happen for extracting 2 frames or 20.

Assuming you do a pile of frames you can expect around 2.5lb of honey per full frame, or 25lb per super.  I have 2 supers full, and a 3rd on the way.  Oh boy, that is a lot of honey.


Wax Refinement

After letting the cappings drain through the filters for a bit I put them in a tub and did a series of rinses and soaks.  After a day of rinse and soak they appeared to be free of honey.

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A jelly strainer bag turned out to be perfect for refining.  It has a fine mesh on it, and you can toss it when done.  Basically dump everything inside, put it in an old pot and set the stove for low.  After a while the wax will all melt out and the junk will be left inside.

There will likely be some water in there from all the rinse cycles.  No bother, it will separate from the wax naturally.  Once you get everything melted, dispose of the bag and pour the pot contents into a form.  I used an old yogurt cup.

The hot wax will separate and float to the top.  Once cooled, break the wax out.  I ended up with a fairly clean chunk of wax weighing just over an ounce.  Bees are the best pets ever, thanks girls!!!

Honey Extractor Test Article

Our hive is happily gaining weight at a somewhat alarming pace.  (Check out the bee log for details)  Before too long we are going to have a pile of frames that need extracting.  Honey extractors are quite expensive and take up a good bit of space.  I have looked at dozens of designs online and don’t see any that I want to copy.  I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, but didn’t want to first test it when extracting.  Extracting is a messy job, and I don’t want to get part way in and find out my rig doesn’t work.

A lot of people use metal or plastic trash cans for their extractor.  They certainly work, but if you are only doing two frames at a time, then that seems like a lot of wasted space.  A medium is about 20″ long and 6.5″ wide.  The inside diameter of a 5 gallon bucket is 10.5″ at its smallest.  This should leave enough room for two frames and a spinner.  Lastly there is height.  A bucket is about 15″ tall.  This is too short to use by itself.  If, however, you cut the bottom out of one and stack it on another it gets taller.

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Any honey that hits the sides of the top bucket will just drip down into the next.  The smaller hole in the right bucket holds the spinner shaft.  I decided to go with 3/4″ PVC.  It is light, cheap, and strong.  I started with a cross fitting that goes down through the hole, out to two side posts, and up to a bolt that my drill can chuck up.  The bolt is a 1/4-20 installed in a flat plug.

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It looks good in the bucket, but I need some weight to really test it.  A full medium frame should weigh no more than 5 pounds.  I wanted to put bags of sand or water (5lb each) on the sides of the posts. I didn’t have any sand handy, so water it was.  It didn’t go well.  The bolt wasn’t perfectly centered and aligned to the shaft despite my efforts, so it wobbled even with out weight.  Also the bags of water were horribly balanced which introduced really violent shaking.


Improvise Adapt Overcome

So what are the issues?  First, the bolt trick was neat, but not well centered.  I could try again, but wanted a different tack.  Instead I will use pipe reducers to get to something small enough to chuck in my drill.  It adds cost, but not much.  This brass barb fits in any standard 3/8″ drill chuck.  A pipe clamp helps prevent the PVC from splitting under the load.

Next I need to rethink the payload.  It turns out standard barbell weights fit really nicely over 3/4″ pvc.  I picked up a set of used ones and sank a screw in each pvc post to hold them in place.  I made them slightly off balance to simulate a set of frames that wasn’t perfectly matched.

They are set 4″ apart and are centered vertically about where a frame would be.  The spinner rig is the same height as it would need to be for full frames.  Now that everything looks nicer, we have to ask, will it blend?  I got out my zip tie GoPro mount and shot a tiny bit of footage.

Looks good to me.  I only had two issues crop up.  First, the hose barb is soft brass.  The chuck teeth really dug it up and caused some shavings to come off.  Next time I will tighten harder, and wrap the area with tape.  That way any shavings that do come off don’t get into the honey.

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Lastly, as I was taking my GoPro off its mount, the buckle clip broke.  I own dozens of GoPro accessories.  Most are cheap aftermarket knock offs, or something I built.  But no, the first one I break is an official part!  Oh well, at least the extractor looks like it will be a success.

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