How I Decap Honey Frames with a Heat Gun

I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.

    For anyone who came late: Honey bees store honey in wax cells like little Mason jars. Mason jars aren’t cheap and neither are the lids, so the bees simply seal them with wax. These wax lids are called caps. When the bees get hungry for honey, they chew threw the wax caps and dig in. When humans get hungry for the honey, they can’t chew open the comb because that’d be silly. Instead they remove the wax caps with a long straight blade sometimes referred to as a decapping knife. Then they put the frames full of opened honey combs into a machine called an extractor that whips the honey out of the cells through the use of centrifugal force — by spinning it really fast. The honey then drips down into a bucket and the humans eat it.

I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:

1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.

2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.

Decapping a frame of honey with a hot knife. (Oct. 1, 2011.)

Decapping a frame of honey with a hot knife. (Oct. 1, 2011.)

I’ve had no problems extracting honey from frames that were decapped with a heat gun (and the bees have no problem refilling the frames afterwards). Sometimes I scrape the caps with a fork as well (yup, a regular old kitchen fork) just to be sure the caps are unsealed. That takes an additional three seconds. Big deal. So this is me, Phillip, the curator of all beekeeping things a la Mud Songs, giving a big thumbs up to depcapping honey frames with a $30 heat gun instead of a messy $150 decapping knife.

Here’s a one of my old videos that shows the decapping knife in action starting at the 5-second mark:

Here’s one of my old videos that demonstrates around the 45-second mark how to decap honey with a heat gun:

Now I hear what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Phillip, why would you get into the ugly business of extracting honey when comb honey is so darn delicious?” Here’s one of my old videos, one that’s been viewed almost 400,000 in the past three years, that shows off the deliciousness of comb honey:

But yes, I hear what you’re saying. Comb honey is so beautiful, so pure and so much better than liquid honey could ever be. Who cares about extracting honey? I can’t argue with that. But another reality is this: It’s easier for me to extract honey than to cut it up into comb honey or crush and strain it. I feed my bees back their own honey instead of sugar syrup, but I’m still left with more honey than I need. So I sell it in liquid form because that’s the quickest way to get rid of it. I used to give it away, too, but the cost of Mason jars that nobody ever returned made that a losing proposition in a hurry. I suppose I could save myself time and money by getting rid of most of my bees, but what’s the fun in that?

In other news, my fancy pants home made honey extractor — the Mud Songs Mark 1 — has bit the dust. Using it to extract honey was always a precarious operation, but when it worked, it worked well. I’ll forgo the grim details of its demise. We can rebuild the Mark 1. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster. But probably not any time soon. I plan to make a deal with a local commercial beekeeper in a few weeks to extract whatever honey I have left. I also expect I’ll bite the bullet sometime over the winter and purchase a commercial extractor for next season, something dependable (specifically the Maxant model 3100). If I get all eight colonies making honey, or even half of them, the extractor will pay for itself after the first honey harvest. Look at me. I’m hitting the big time.

5 thoughts on “How I Decap Honey Frames with a Heat Gun

  1. Your posts are very much appreciated in the UK – thank you
    Chris Parker
    Member British Beekeeping Association

    • Thanks, Chris. I receive more emails from beekeepers in the UK than anywhere else, even now after I’ve more or less shut down this website (temporarily, I hope).

  2. late to the game, but a question on the heat gun technique: Where do the cappings go when melted? Isn’t that wax still there somewhere? Does it get into the honey itself maybe? Also, does the heat melt the comb itself in the process?

    • Some of the wax falls into the honey and needs to be filtered out. But most of the cappings seem to melt and stay on the comb. You can see exactly how that looks in this post:

      I have a hot decapping knife which is a more common method of decapping honey, but I’m getting into using the knife only after the extraction is complete. I use the knife on the emptied frames to create a smooth flat surface of comb for the bees. That produces left over wax, but it’s a lot less messier than it would be if I used the knife on the comb when it’s full of honey.

      I’m not saying it’s a better way, but I prefer it over the mess created by decapping with a knife on frames full of honey.

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