By far the easiest type of comb honey to produce is called “cut comb.” It requires no special hive equipment nor any special bee-handling techniques. It can be obtained from just about any type of hive and the options for packaging are many. Since the requirements are few, it is the most economical comb honey to produce.
Cut comb honey is produced by cutting the honeycomb free from its frame or top bar and then subdividing the comb into smaller pieces. These pieces—generally square or rectangular—are packaged for sale or for gifts in some type of container such as Styrofoam trays or clear plastic clam shells.
Some of the bee equipment suppliers sell a square cutting tool—a thing that resembles a cookie cutter—that will assure your pieces are of uniform size. However, since the comb will vary in thickness, most beekeepers who sell cut comb honey price it by weight.
Those beekeepers using Langstroth hives often use shallow supers for cut comb honey, although medium supers will work just as well. However, I don’t recommend using deeps. Since you don’t want wire running through the comb, deeps are hard to use because, unless you keep the frames absolutely vertical, the weight of the delicate comb can cause it to break apart. That said, some beekeepers wire deeps with fishing line, and then gently pull the line out from the side before cutting the comb.
Here are some tips for preparing cut comb honey:
- This may seem obvious, but remember that you can’t use plastic foundation if you intend to make comb honey. The supply houses sell ultra-thin foundation for making comb honey—a product that is more tender than the thicker sheets used for wired frames. Alternatively, you may use foundationless frames and thus avoid using commercial foundation altogether.
- Many beekeepers put nine frames in a ten-frame box (or seven in an eight-frame box) to get thicker comb. If you try this, space the frames as evenly as possible throughout the box.
- A queen excluder is usually placed above the brood boxes to keep the queen from laying eggs in the comb honey supers. If your bees seem reluctant to go through the excluder, it helps to smear the empty frames with honey.
- The most tender comb is made early in the year, so get the comb honey supers on as soon as the major spring nectar flow begins. When you see deposits of snow-white wax in the hive, it is time to super.
- All comb honey should be frozen after harvest, a practice that will kill all life stages of wax moths and hive beetles. You can freeze the combs before packaging or after, as long as it is done within a day or two of harvest.
- If you freeze the entire frame, be sure to wrap it in plastic before freezing and then leave the plastic in place until the comb is completely thawed. In this way, condensation will form on the outside of the plastic instead of on the comb. You can freeze after packaging as long as your outer packaging is something that will not be damaged by condensation.
- The length of freezer time needed to kill moths and beetles depends on how cold your freezer is. Any creatures living in there need to freeze hard. Overnight is about right in most freezers, but many people like to go two nights.
- Drip management is very important when working with cut comb honey because you want to keep your pieces as clean and dry as possible. After cutting away the frame, take care that it doesn’t drip on the comb by lifting it straight up and then sliding a cookie sheet or piece of cardboard under it.
- Use a very sharp knife or cutting tool so that the comb is cut rather than squashed. You want to damage as few cells as possible so care must be taken to keep your cuts clean. It is best to wash the knife or cutting tool between every cut to avoid smearing honey on everything. A hot knife makes a better cut than a cold one.
- My favorite method of cutting comb is to use a piece of dental floss. Directions for cutting with floss or thread can be found here.
- After your comb is cut, place the pieces on a cooling rack with a cookie sheet underneath. Allow the honey to drip overnight so all the damaged cells have a chance to drain completely. Cut comb prepared in this manner is attractive and not messy.
- Once the pieces are drained, carefully transfer them to trays or containers. The pieces can then be wrapped, weighed, priced, and marked in any way you like. Remember, however, that cut comb is very delicate and easily damaged. Even little things—like pulling the plastic wrap too tight—is enough to compress the comb and create a leak.
- Stacking can cause a problem as well. If you must stack your cut comb pieces, consider using rigid plastic containers.
- A final word of advice: All this neatness has its place, but it is not the only way to go. Here is a link to a video I love because it demonstrates the pure, unadulterated joy of cutting comb honey without rules—the love of bees shines through every gooey moment and the honey is gorgeous.
With special thanks to Phillip at Mudsongs.org
Ahh, another treat in the series. Thank you.
At what point should you freeze the cut comb? Would cutting be easier and dripping be minimal if you cut the comb while it is still frozen?
I just put together a dozen 1-cup sized mason jars with cut comb honey in them for holiday gifts. I added a little liquid honey at the bottom to fill the jar, and made a label with eating suggestions. It was fun to do it this way, and made some really nice gifts.
It is especially cool because you can literally see the difference of nectars the bees used, as some cells have darker honey.
Adding eating suggestions is a great idea, especially with chunk honey. I think it would have prevented nearly all the questions that I received. Thanks for the tip!
I have one question. Can we make comb honey if we first put wax honeycomb on the frame? If in honeycomb have paraffin, can that damage comb honey? Kind regards from Serbia.
While humans can eat refined paraffin, it would not have the flavor, texture, or aroma of beeswax.
I have one question: honeybees made a nest inside a iron pipe. How can I collect honey from pipe?
Please give me some tips.
In my mind an iron pipe isn’t very large. I guess there are enormous iron pipes, and if honey bees have built a home in one, it must indeed be a big one. Either that or what you are seeing are not actually honey bees. How large is this pipe and where is it?
What is your favorite container for packaging comb honey?
My favorite set-up is to put the wooden boxes in the cardboard window containers.
This was my first season with honeybees, thank you for how easy to follow your tips were, and I really appreciated the video you posted–in my anxiety about how to get started I’d lost sight of how this is supposed to be fun, and that simple reminder was exactly what I needed. Thank you again!
How much should one sell a 500 gram jar of chunk comb honey for?
That will depend on your local market.
I have mini frames (roughly 5” x 5”) for comb honey. Is it necessary to put the pins through the eyelet holes to hold onto the wax?
No. For comb honey I don’t use pins, wires, or any other support.
Your article in the American Bee Journal, February 2020, p157, you discussed starting comb honey with just one frame (pp161 and158).
Will you please elaborate on how to cut and attach the thin foundation to the frame?
Also, I am using medium frames in my hives. Can I introduce a single small frame between the mediums to launch my first comb honey attempt?
I usually cut the foundation with a straight edge and a knife. The strips vary in width from about a 1/2-inch to an inch. I take the frame and dribble a line of wax in the groove of the top bar, then just stick the strip into the groove until it hardens, about 30 seconds.
You can use a small frame in your medium box. Just realize that your bees will make all the combs the same length, meaning they will add comb under the bottom bar. You can easily cut this off with a knife, and it is often fill with delicious foundation-free honey.
Also see, “Making comb honey should be simple and fun.”
Rusty, thanks so much for the advice given as always. I have regular comb honey in the jars but haven’t tried the small blocks before. Fresh built comb going this year so I will definitely try this. You have my curiosity up!
My question is: I’m new to beekeeping and really want to get some comb from my plastic foundations, but everyone says you can only get liquid from it. Is it possible to get some comb, maybe not perfect looking but still comb off my plastic foundations to put in my jars of honey?
No, you can’t because the plastic foundation takes the place of the midrib on the comb. You can’t remove the comb from the foundation without opening the cells and having the honey drain out. Depending on where you live, you may still have time to get some comb honey. Just put one empty frame (no foundation) between two frames with foundation. The bees may draw a comb or not, but it’s worth a try.
I enjoyed your article.
am mildly allergic to bee stings so have avoided them for 50 years. After retiring from farming I moved to a small property near a small town and discovered I needed pollinators for a small orchard and garden. Hence a hive of bees that have expanded to three and a surplus of honey in 4 shallow supers.
Since I can only absorb 10 or so stings a day without getting in trouble keeping it simple is a plus. Cut comb seems the way to go.
I have a family member that does the “strained honey” pollination service thing so we are going to bottle up some with combs. Neither one of us knew how long to freeze the combs. Thanks for the information.
Pierce Beekeeping Equipment has a heated cut comb cutter. It is amazing. Makes the job much easier It is not available on the website yet.