Tag Archives: extraction

Saf Natura Extractor

Saf Natura Ritmo

Saf Natura Ritmo

This is a review of a 9 frame radial motorised Saf Natura Ritmo extractor, prompted by a recent discussion on the SBAi forum and the absence of many other reviews when I was researching the purchase. I hope it’s useful to others thinking of purchasing a machine.

Extractors are probably the single most expensive item purchased by the majority of beekeepers. Actually, that should have started “an extractor” because a well-chosen machine that suits your beekeeping should last a very long time. Try before you buy … borrow one from another beekeeper or, if your association owns one or more, book or hire one for a weekend to see how it suits your beekeeping needs. If your association is reasonably large it’s likely that demand will be high as the OSR finishes – honey must be extracted promptly or it will crystallise in the comb. Be prepared. Book the machine in good time and keep the removed supers warm to make extraction easier.

You may not need to buy an extractor at all. Many don’t. If you’re flexible about when you can extract, or well organised, you might be able to share with friends or use the association machine(s). I’m certainly not well organised and often have to fit extraction around inflexible work commitments …

Extractor size – 3, 4, 9, 18 frame?

This is my second machine … the first being a 4-frame Lega manual tangential model which, although excellent quality, was simply too small for the number of colonies (~10) I now have. Small or large extractors (in terms of number of frames) take about the same time to extract the honey per spin, so buy a larger model if you want to spend less time extracting. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere. Since I extract twice per year (OSR and late summer) from about 18-24 supers (~200+ frames each time) and don’t intend to scale up I’ve decided a 9 frame extractor will suit me for the foreseeable future. Famous last words.

Manual (hand cranked) or motorised?

Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas …

Motorised. End of discussion. Seriously. Unless you’re built like Charles Atlas, or want to be, I would strongly recommend a motorised extractor if you’re considering a 9 frame or larger model. My manual tangential model was hard work after a couple of dozen frames. 200 would have been purgatory. Remember that if you’re handling 20 or so supers you will already be moving about 1000 lb. of boxes around, before you start extracting, often in a warm room. For the model I discuss below the price differential between the manual and motorised version is about £280. I think this is a good investment. You can often retro-fit motors to manual models, but I have no experience of this.

Why a Saf Natura extractor?

After outgrowing my manual four frame tangential extractor I’d borrowed a polythene-barreled radial 9 frame motorised Thorne’s extractor from our association. I was convinced about the capacity and the motor but disappointed about the signs of wear on the polythene barrel. The machine had been used pretty hard by the association and would have become increasingly difficult to properly clean, so I wanted a stainless steel machine. All the standard suppliers sell these, at prices – for a 9 frame radial model – ranging from about £600 to £1600. The Thorne’s polythene-barreled model has a list price of approaching £800. I looked carefully Abelo extractors on show at the Yorkshire Beekeepers Association Spring meeting. Abelo sell 8 frame tangential and 12 frame radial models, but there were some rough edges on the stainless steel barrel of the model I inspected which put me off. I finally purchased a Saf Natura Ritmo extractor from Bee Equipped in Derbyshire. It was close enough to collect, so I wasn’t committed to purchasing until I’d checked the quality.

Ritmo motorised radial extractor

Manual motor

Manual motor …

The Saf Natura website provides details of this model. It is 52.5 cm in diameter and – once the bent angle coated steel legs are assembled and attached – stands 102 cm high at the top of the closed lid. The motor extends the height a further 12 cm. Note that the model illustrated on the Bee Equipped and the Saf Natura websites both show what is variously termed a Saf Natura motor, or – I think – a digital motor. These have an additional control box on the side, presumably controlling time of spin etc. Bee Equipped only sell this extractor model with a more basic manually controlled motor as shown in the images here. I presume this helps keeps the price down to a very attractive £620.

Resin cage

Resin cage …

The other clear cost-saving is the cage for the frames. In this model the top and bottom sections are moulded out of some sort of plastic or resin, rather than being constructed from stainless steel. The top and bottom sections are joined by stainless steel rods. The honey gate is also plastic. Half of the perspex (?) lid hinges up to add and remove frames for extraction, in doing so the motor safety cut-out (red and black in the image on the right) is engaged. The overall quality, rigidity and finish of the stainless steel is excellent. It looks and feels like a solid, well made, machine that should last a long time. I use Nationals and the extractor I purchased was set up for this frame size. By using longer stainless steel rods holding the resin cages apart it is possible to use Langstroth frames in the same model. I also purchased three mesh frames for tangential extraction from brood frames (deeps). Unfortunately these are only supplied in Langstroth dimensions so will need some minor butchering before being suitable for National frames (I’ll describe this later if I ever get round to it … the tangential meshes were only £25 for three and I didn’t want to have to pay postage at a later date).

In use …

It works well. The motor makes the expected whining noise as it speeds up or slows down. It sounds strained but I’ve heard exactly the same thing with other extractors and you soon get used to it. Full speed is amply fast enough to clear filled supers, even of viscous OSR honey. There’s nothing to stop you opening the lid or slamming the machine into reverse when it’s going full speed ahead … other than common sense and a small adhesive label stuck on the lid. I’ve not tried and I suggest you don’t either. As with all extractors it wobbles with an uneven load. I’m going to investigate castors or foam blocks under the legs. However, if the wobble is bad enough it’s worth rearranging the frames to sort the problem, rather than simply hanging on for dear life as it dances around the room. The worst wobble I’ve experienced, which got progressively worse as the length of spin increased, was due to my forgetting to uncap one side of one frame … D’oh! Crystallised OSR honey in part of a frame often causes problems for similar reasons.

I run the machine with the honey gate open, directly filtering the honey through coarse and fine stainless steel filters above a 30 lb. honey bucket. As long as you keep a careful eye on the level of honey in the bucket this method works well. A contributor to the SBAi discussion commented on the relatively short distance between the bottom of the barrel and the cage, causing the long frame lugs on National supers to foul the accumulated honey. This is avoided by leaving the gate open.

I’ve only had the machine for a season so cannot comment on longevity, spares etc. Dot at Bee Equipped told me they’ve been selling this model for at least a decade with no significant problems, other than some models damaged in transit. Redesigned or stronger boxes appear to have sorted this problem out.

In conclusion … highly recommended.

Note that many suppliers aggressively discount extractors in the spring shows (BeeTradex or the BBKA convention) and that the very worst time to buy an extractor is at the end of the summer 😉

Full speed ahead …

Honey bucket tipper

Honey bucket tipper

Honey bucket tipper …

If you bottle honey from large buckets or tanks you usually have to tip the container to avoid the slightly scummy surface layer which can spoil the appearance of several jars if you’re not careful. As the level drops you need to tip the bucket at an increasingly acute angle. Of course, you also need to tip the bucket to get the dregs out as well. This can all get a little precarious. There are a number of solutions available commercially. Thorne’s sell a honey tipper which has a strong spring which is depressed by the weight of the full bucket. As the level drops the spring extends, so tipping the bucket forewords. Although clever, it’s not an inexpensive solution. An alternative is the FillyBoy which offers a simple manual solution but doesn’t appear to have a UK distributer. The underlying principle of both approaches is the same – two pieces of wood, hinged along one side with the ‘upper’ piece fitted with some way of stopping the bucket sliding forward. This is easy to build at home.

The pictures are self-explanatory. I used offcuts of ply and softwood. The bucket ‘stops’ need to be suitably spaced for the bucket size you use. You also need to use a bit of trial and error to space the ‘stops’ on the baseboard to make sure the bucket is tipped at suitable angle. I placed the stop closest to the hinge so that the bucket was tipped at an angle of about 30o. Don’t be tempted to try and tip it much more than this or it might not be stable if your buckets are tall. Although not shown in the pictures I’ve now added a simple handle to the ‘back’ edge of the upper board (see the FillyBoy images for inspiration) that makes moving the wedge, and so increasing the angle, an easy task.

It’s also worth giving the entire thing 2-3 coats of clear varnish to make it ‘wipe clean’ – not that honey ever gets spilled during bottling …

Honey tipper - top view

Honey tipper – top view

Honey tipper - opened up

Honey tipper – opened up

Honey tipper - side view

Honey tipper – side view

Super honey warming cabinet

Underfloor heating

Underfloor heating …

If you go to the trouble to build your own honey warming cabinet it’s worth ensuring that the dimensions allow you to also use it to warm super frames ready for extraction. This makes extraction more enjoyable (or at least much less painful?) because the honey flows out of the comb more easily. I use National hives, so my boxes are all 46 cm square. By constructing the honey warming cabinet with external dimensions almost exactly the size of two supers they can be stacked side by side with the lid inverted on top. The (hopefully considerable) weight of the supers is taken by the side walls of the box, not by the insulation. Most supers drip a bit of honey – perhaps due to broken brace comb between boxes – so line the cabinet with a few sheets of newspaper to catch the spills. Adjust the thermostat to keep the boxes at a gentle heat until you’re ready to extract them – in my case I usually collect supers over a couple of days and maintain them at about 38oC, rotating the pile once or twice to ensure they get warmed through.

Honey filled supers

Honey filled supers …

My honey warming cabinet is 87.5 cm long – fractionally too short for two supers side by side (either a design flaw or dictated by the original pieces of wood I had available – too long ago to remember). However, I use quite a few Sweinty polystyrene supers which have very thick walls. By placing these at the bottom of the stack, overlapping the cabinet box ends slightly, I can ensure little heat escapes. My cabinet has a small mains powered fan circulating the air, ensuring good heat distribution through the stack of supers.

Extracting the early honey from oil seed rape (OSR) and hawthorn must be done before the honey crystallises – unless you’re going to melt and crush it out of the comb of course. This year I extracted over the unseasonably cold late May bank holiday weekend. Without some sort of gentle warming the honey gets viscous, making extraction both difficult and less effective. It’s a tiresome enough task as it is, so make it as easy as possible by pre-warming the supers.

Clearer boards

One visit or two? If you shake the bees off the frames (or use a leafblower) you can clear supers in a single visit. However, juggling all those frames on a hot day with the air full of bees can be a little trying. Although it takes two trips, I prefer the less disruptive approach of using a clearer board. The usual approach is to insert a Porter escape into the hole in the crown board and return the following day to find the super largely empty. But not always. Porter escapes have moving parts and a bit of propolis or a fat drone can easily block them. There are a number of alternatives, with Thorne’s selling about eight different types of escapes, as well as the conventional Porter unit. I’ve used several alternatives but have settled on the design shown in the picture (which I originally found on the Beekeeping forum described by ‘Poly Hive’ but they’ve lost all the images in a server crash) as it works extremely well. It has no moving parts, clears supers in as a little as a few hours – probably due to the space underneath and the widely separated exits – and, most importantly, is simple and inexpensive to construct.

Clearer boards

Clearer boards

Construct a flat, square and true eke from 46 mm x 21 mm softwood (see a previous article) and cover it on one side with a sheet of 4-6mm plywood. Glue and screw or nail the sheet of plywood in place. From now on I’ll refer to the ‘top’ as the plywood. Acquire a rhombus escape from Thorne’s (hint, these are always discounted in the sales, usually to £1). Cut the lozenge-shaped rhombus in half across the shorter diagonal using a small fine-toothed saw (see image). The resulting triangles should be offered up into opposite corners of the underside of the clearer board. Before fixing them in place drill a 2-4cm hole through the plywood – as close to the eke as possible and as far from the rhombus ‘exit’ hole. Refer to the picture which should be self-explanatory. Finally, fix the rhombus halves in place – I simply fixed them down with a thin smear of Gorilla glue. Slap a bit of wood preservative all over the exposed bits once the glue is dry.

Clearer board in use


Put the clearer board underneath the bottom super you want to remove, with the plywood sheet at the top. Return later in the day or after leaving in place overnight. You should find that the supers are more or less empty of bees and can easily be removed for extraction. The bees will be densely clustered on the underside of the clearer board. For some reason the bees usually seem very well tempered and can be given one good shake to return them to the brood box.