Harvesting honey from your bees is one of the most rewarding aspects of beekeeping, but you will need some gear to get this job done. An uncapping knife is an important tool for the process and helps to extract as much honey from the comb as possible.
An uncapping knife in beekeeping is used to remove the wax cap from the honey cells to allow the honey to drain completely during the extraction process. The two main types of uncapping knives are electric or heated uncapping knives and manual uncapping knives. The choice depends on the operation size.
An uncapping knife for beekeeping is a tool used during the honey-harvesting process. The type of uncapping knife you use will depend on the size of your operation, your honey extraction method, and your personal preference. Some beekeepers opt not to use an uncapping knife at all!
What Is An Uncapping Knife In Beekeeping?
Beekeeping requires tools and equipment for many of the tasks and processes the beekeeper is required to perform.
Some tools are irreplaceable to the beekeeper, such as a smoker, while others are optional or have other alternatives.
An uncapping knife is one of those tools that are useful to have and use, but it is not an absolute requirement for a beekeeper.
When the bees store honey in the comb, the moisture content is too high, and the honey will ferment if sealed in that state. The bees fan the honey to reduce the moisture content; when it reaches about 17.6%, the honey cell is capped with a wax cap. At this stage, the honey is considered ripe.
The wax cap prevents moisture from re-entering the honey and causing it to ferment and protects it from contamination from other debris in the hive.
When the beekeeper harvests the honeycomb, the honey is sealed within the cells and will not come out easily unless the wax cap sealing each cell is removed.
There are several ways to remove the wax cappings, but one of the most efficient methods is using an uncapping knife.
An uncapping knife is specially shaped to lay flat against the comb, and as you run the knife down the face of the comb, it slices the wax cap away from the cells, allowing the honey to drain freely.
Once the caps are removed, the frame is placed in an extractor and spun to use centrifugal force to pull all the honey out of the comb cells.
Different varieties of uncapping knives are available for beekeepers, and the best one for you will largely depend on your beekeeping operation volumes and preference.
Types Of Uncapping Knives For Beekeeping
As mentioned previously, there are two main types of uncapping knives; manual and electric uncapping knives. We will discuss each type so you can decide which option best suits your beekeeping operation.
Manual Uncapping Knife
A manual uncapping knife is not electrified and rely’s on a cutting edge to remove the wax caps from the honeycomb.
A manual uncapping knife is sometimes referred to as a cold uncapping knife since there is no electric element to heat the blade.
The cold uncapping knife is “Z-shaped” to allow the blade contact with the honeycomb while the handle remains above the wood honey frame. The knife usually has two serrated edges, one on either side, so the knife can be used to cut in either direction.
The method of using the knife is to place the knife blade flat on top of the comb and, using pressure from your hand and wrist combined with a gentle sawing motion, cut the caps from the cells.
The manual uncapping knife is best for use with small quantity honey harvesting due to the effort required to uncap the comb and the time it takes to cut each frame open to prepare for extraction.
The main advantage of the manual knife is that you do not need electricity in your honey processing room, allowing you to use this knife in locations where electricity is not an option.
A manual uncapping knife is an inexpensive and durable option if you have 10 hives or less that you typically process at a time.
Best Manual Uncapping Knife
Cold or manual uncapping knives are of a fairly simple design, with not much difference between knives from supplier to supplier.
The biggest difference is in the quality of the materials used. Bearing this in mind, the manual uncapping knife that I recommend is the GOODLAND BEE SUPPLY Uncapping Knife.
This uncapping knife has a robust oak handle and a stainless steel blade with serrated edges. The blade is nice and thin, and it slices smoothly through the caps with minimal effort. The knife is lightweight, which helps to minimize hand fatigue when processing numerous honey frames.
The GOODLAND BEE SUPPLY Uncapping Knife is made and distributed in the USA.
Electric Uncapping Knife
An electric uncapping knife is sometimes called a hot uncapping knife in contrast to the cold, manual knife. The basic shape and design of the hot uncapping knife are very similar to the manual version.
The main difference between the two knives is that the electric uncapping knife has a heating element that runs along the length of the blade. The blade has a thin edge but no serrations along the edge, as in the manual knife.
When the knife is plugged into the electrical outlet, the element embedded in the blade heats the steel. The hot steel melts through the wax caps on the cells as the knife is passed across the comb.
The advantage of the electric knife is that it requires less pressure to push the knife through the wax, and no sawing motion is required. This is easier on the hand and wrist and produces less fatigue when many honey frames must be processed.
The disadvantage with hot uncapping knives is that you need an electrical supply in your honey room or wherever you use the knife to uncap the honey frames.
Electric uncapping knives are substantially more expensive than manual ones, but the additional speed with which you can uncap frames makes them worthwhile if you have more than 10 beehives to process.
Best Electric Uncapping Knife
There are many varieties of electric uncapping knives, but there are some features that I recommend you look for in a well-made electric uncapping knife.
One aspect I highly recommend is a variable temperature control on the knife. If the knife becomes too hot, it can melt the upper layers of the wax comb, and you will end up with a sticky mess when the honey runs out of the comb prematurely.
The Pierce Beekeeping Equipment Uncapping Knife is a product of the USA and comes with a variable temperature control and a stand to rest the hot knife in between uncapping.
The thin stainless steel blade makes the knife lightweight and easy to wield. The knife reaches the operating temperature within 30 seconds, so there are no long waiting times for the blade to heat up.
Alternatives To Uncapping Knives
There are other tools for uncapping the honey cells in the comb, some more successful than others. One tool that I do not recommend is the prick-roller version. This is a roller with spikes that pierce the caps to allow the honey to drain.
In my experience, the prick roller is not effective and requires more time in the hiney spinner to fully extract the frame.
Other uncapping tools that work well are an uncapping fork and an uncapping plane. Both these options are manual uncapping tools but are good alternatives for beginner beekeepers.
The uncapping plane requires more skill to get the depth of the cut correct, but it works faster than the uncapping fork once the depth is dialed in.
Uncapping knives are not essential for beekeeping or harvesting honey, but they certainly make the task quicker and easier for the beekeeper.
Whether you choose a manual or cold uncapping knife or an electric or hot uncapping knife, you will find that your honey processing times are decreased compared to using the other uncapping tools.
Writer’s personal experience.