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September 2005



The Bush Mechanic

Make your own Honey Extractor

Dr Garth Cambray

There are few people more symbolic of rural African ingenuity than the bush mechanics. People with no formal training in mechanical repair, or engineering, who build strange contraptions to solve everyday problems and maintain fleets of ancient vehicles that keep Africa slowly moving forward. In many cases the bush mechanics are highly qualified in another field in which they are not employed - but due to their problem solving skills they gravitate into the mechanical fields.

To kick of this new section of the magazine, one of our editors, Dr Garth Cambray, a self professed 'bush mechanic' (and biotechnologist by profession) shows how he designed and built a very low cost honey extractor from readily available scrap parts.

Honey extraction

In modern beekeeping, honeybees build wax in special frames that hold the beeswax that contains the honey (honeycombs). Beekeepers remove the frames, spin the honey from the comb and return the empty wax to the hive to be refilled. This has the advantage that the bees do not have to rebuild the wax, and thus greater honey production is achieved.


Wild honeycombs (left) and honey in a frame. Photos Garth Cambray











These two pictures show how the honeycombs in a wild hive (left) and in a managed hive differ. The honeycomb displayed by Phumlani Honi of Makana Meadery has been built in a specially designed frame used by most beekeepers around the world so that they can be removed without breaking from a beehive.

However - commercial honey extractors are expensive, and in the case of most of Africa - made from parts which are difficult to replace due to the remoteness of good beekeeping areas from cities with engineering capacity. Hence throughout Africa, very little use is made of modern beekeeping techniques and African beekeepers are perhaps seen by the global beekeeping community as special case beekeepers who should use low technology beekeeping.

The Makana Meadery Bicycle Wheel Extractor.

To make this extractor you will need the following easily obtainable parts:

220l metal drum (one that has been used to store something that does not leave poisonous residues)
2 old bicycle wheel rims
1 meter of thick threaded rod - that can fit through the wheel hubs
10 bolts for this rod
4 400mm sections of 8mm threaded rod
16 8mm bolts
One pillow block bearing with an internal diameter roughly the same as the large threaded rod
One self centring bearing with the same internal diameter.
2 pieces of wood.
6 coach screws
A small electrical drill (variable speed)
1 meter of 2-3mm fencing wire

The following tools will be needed:

Electrical drill
Hack saw or angle grinder
Welding machine or else Loctite to secure nuts later
Spanner or socket set to tighten coach screws and nuts


Cut the bottom of the drum out - this is important - the top of the drum has two pouring holes with plugs in them - the top of the drum will be the bottom of the extractor. If the drum has had alcohol in it, as was the case with the first drum I used, do not cut the bottom out with an angle grinder - this will result in a dangerous explosion that destroys the drum (and possibly you as well). Rather rinse the drum out with water by filling it completely to displace all alcohol fumes first. In our case we used a  Propanol drum - once the propanol has been emptied and rinsed from the drum no toxic residues are left.

Extractor bottom is visible. Photo Garth Cambray


Here the wooden block is visible secured to the bottom of the extractor. Note the two metal plugs that are visible. These will be where honey leaves the extractor.

Place piece of wood across base of drum and drill holes through the drum so that you can secure it in place with coach screws.

In centre of the piece of wood secure the pillow block bearing with coach screws.

Place the threaded rod through the centre of a bicycle wheel rim. Bolt it firmly in place 10cm from one end of the threaded rod. Lock two nuts together at the one end of the hub.

Lock another two nuts together 15mm from the end of the rod. These will rest into the bearing.

At the other end of the rod, thread a nut down so that it is 395mm from the hub of the other wheel. Place the next wheel onto the rod and rest it against this nut. Secure it in place with another two nuts locked against each other.

Drill holes in four points around each wheel rim and bolt the rims together with the 8mm threaded rods. Lock 2 nuts on each end.

Thread another nut down the rod so that it is at least 15cm from the last nut securing the wheel. Place the self centring bearing against this nut and secure in place with another nut.

At the end of the rod, thread two nuts onto the rod so that 2cm of rod protrudes, cut a slot at least 3mm wide and 10mm deep in the end of the rod and then thread the nuts back up to the end of the rod and lock them together.

Extractor self centring bearing in place. Photo Garth Cambray

If you have access to a welding machine, weld the nuts together lightly.

Here is the extractor cage, assembled and bolted together.

On the bottom wheel rim, attach the wire in a circle on the spokes 5-8cm from the wheel rim. Your frames will rest against this.




Photo Garth Cambray

The wire secured to the frames will allow frames to rest and not fall through the bottom wheel.

Place the extractor basket now created into the drum and rest into the pillow block bearing.

Bolt a piece of wood to the self centring bearing with coach screws and attach the piece of wood to the drum sides.




Extractor complete. Photo Garth Cambray

Here the completed extractor is visible with the top bearing in place and some honey combs in the extractor cage.

Take the electric drill and place a screwdriver bit in the chuck.

Place the chuck in the slot in the top of the threaded rod.

Place honeycomb frames into the extractor sliding them through the spaces in the bicycle wheel spokes and resting them inside the rim at the bottom against the piece of wire.

Give the extractor cage a hand whirl with the drill in position and then slowly turn the drill on (once your hands are clear).

The extractor being operated by Vuyani Ntantiso of Makana Meadery. Photo Garth Cambray

Most modern drills have a variable speed drill trigger, hence the extractor operator can control the speed of the extraction - if combs explode slow down!!

When a certain volume such as 25-30l of honey has been extracted, the extractor is lifted and placed on a chair (2 person job).

The metal plug is removed from the bottom of the extractor (which was the top of the drum) and honey flows rapidly out into a bucket. Have two or three buckets on hand.

A wooden stick is useful for coaxing stubborn pieces of wax through the hole into the bucket.

Notes on operation: Bearings are normally packed with grease and sealed. Grease is not a food grade product (unless special food grade bearings are purchased).

Remove the bearing seals and rinse all grease out with hot water and soap.

Honey is sufficiently viscous that it appears to act as an effective grease in the bearings.

This extractor is the 'Volkswagen beetle' of extractors. It is inexpensive and if you use it wisely it will allow you to eventually purchase a fancier model. There is a problem in beekeeping development where many people try to buy very expensive equipment and then have to pay off huge investments - rather start with simple, inexpensive functional equipment and earn the money to buy fancy equipment.

More information:

Makana Meadery 



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