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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Using a Refractometer

I bought this refractometer on EBay for around $50 a couple of years ago. If you buy one, be sure it is a refractometer designed to measure the amount of moisture in honey - there are many types of refractometers to measure liquids in a variety of ways. You don't want a refractometer for measuring motor oil if you are measuring honey!

Instruments that involve math-like operations or calibration just cow me and I have stared at this thing for as long as I have owned it.
I didn't know how to use it until I helped judge the honey contest with a certified Welsh honey judge in West Palm Beach at the Southeastern Organic Beekeepers Conference. Dr. Mikhail Kruglyakov taught me what to do. Thanks so much to him for his lesson.

So for any of you equally intimidated by the refractometer, here's a simple lesson in how to use it to measure the moisture content in your honey.

This is what the instrument looks like. The eyepiece is on the left end and the place for the honey is on the right.

You lift the plastic cover like so:

There's a pipette to use to place the droplet of honey on the refractometer, although I sometimes use a chop stick.

Then like in chemistry lab, you place the plastic top down on top of the droplet, flattening it on the viewing window.

I can't take a picture of the next step, which for me is first put on my glasses, then look through the eyepiece with the instrument held up toward the light. Then focus by twisting the dial near the eyepiece until you can read the chart. There you'll see the good or bad news.  The chart indicates the moisture level which you want to be at about 18.6%.

At first the reason that I thought I couldn't use the thing is that I didn't know I could focus it - so I would diligently put on my glasses, hold the loaded refractometer up to the light and see only a blur through the lens.

I thought something must be wrong - and it was - I hadn't focused the eyepiece!
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  1. Anonymous7:12 AM

    It is important to calibrate it in the wright way before one start the measurement.

  2. You are supposed to calibrate it first with a droplet of distilled water. But you only calibrate it at the beginning and then after a number of uses you check the calibration again. Directions for calibration come with the instrument.

  3. I've got to get one of those. It looks like a lightsaber!

  4. Thank you for the lesson, Linda!

  5. Thanks Linda! I just purchased one of these & then checked your blog & "VIOLA" here's the instructions!
    You are Yoda! :) Tam

  6. Very very nice Linda, thank you so much for sharing this great and detailed information!

  7. Is it necessary to test the moisture in honey if it has been capped over? I thought the bees only cap it when they know the moisture content is down to 18%

    1. LizzeB1:37 PM

      Actually I had read an article in American Bee Journal where a young beekeeper of MANY hive had dangerously high moisture and he insists it was all capped. It was a very humid summer. He may have tried drilling holes in the front of each super, and inserting a wine cork during robbing seasons.

  8. I have always understood that the bees didn't cap the honey if the moisture is higher than 18.6%, but I recently harvested three totally capped frames of honey (that had been capped for a month) and thought it was thin. I test the honey at it was 20.2 % - so not necessarily so.

  9. Last summer was so wet that almost everyone in our bee club had honey with moisture between 19 and 21. And that was capped honey. We were warned that the honey could grow yeast and ferment if it wasn't either dried more or eaten up. One beek told of having a huge vat of honey that he didn't know to check it's moisture content and it had fermented. He had to throw it out.

  10. Thank you Linda for the information! I appreciate learning this before I went ahead and extracted honey that wasn't ready. I'm completely new to this and have much to learn, your blog is very helpful!

  11. Thank you Barbara for the additional info! :)

  12. Your posts are very useful for me .Thank you.

  13. Linda, we got a refractometer for honey moisture measurement. Still can't figure out the instructions. Cowed, I am! It says to "adjust the Calibration Screw until the light/dark boundary coincides with the null line." I cannot find the null line. Can you help, please?
    Clueless in Richmond

  14. Hi Linda how did you calibrate with distilled water what should it read on the metre thanks Karl (England)

  15. Anonymous5:43 PM

    Hi, I am also frustrated because there is reference to the null line in the instructions on my new refractometer, and i can't find any illustration or direction to what line this is.... help !

  16. I'm not Linda, but I can tell you what happened with me. I had the same problem with a refractometer I purchased on eBay. I wrote the seller and got a reply that I needed a drop of dioptic oil and another piece of equipment to read the null line which they would supply for another $10. I wish the seller had mentioned this before I bought it so I would have gotten everything I needed for a reading. I still have not received the pieces/parts I need to use the refractometer. Very frustrating!

  17. Do not use water to calibrate for honey testing. Use virgin olive oil. The "null" line is between 78 and 80 in the middle. Very easy to use once calibrated

  18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI-tAnwGEus

    This video is excellent on how to use your refractometer and calibrate it.


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