Stephanie asked me this question a couple days ago:
My husband has 4 hives of bees and this is his first year. We had a super full of honey and we harvested it by hand. It was a horribly messy experience. I was wondering if you like your extractor and was it expensive.
First of all, Stephanie, I'm not a pro by any means, so this is just my opinion and experience - ymmv (your mileage may vary).
I can only imagine how messy it was to harvest your honey without an extractor. An extractor is sticky enough! Also, when you harvest without one, you lose all the honeycomb that the bees have built. Granted, you can render the beeswax, but the bees have to re-build all that honeycomb every year, which takes energy away from honey production. When you use an extractor, the honeybees can re-use last year's honeycomb.
There is a beekeeping organization here, and the organization owns an extractor. Everyone who belongs to the group can use the extractor. It's bigger than mine, plus it's motorized. How cool is that? You might want to see if there is a beekeeping cooperative of some sort in your area. The membership would very likely be a lot less than the cost of an extractor, plus you get to learn from other local beekeepers. I've never belonged to the organization here - they meet on a night that I just can't get there.
I got my extractor from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm - the extractor is here. I've had it a few years - I think I paid $285 for it, now it's $335, which sounds about right. I like this one because it's all-in-one, with the bottling tank on the bottom. There are other models and options available - if you're planning major expansion in the future, this might be too small for your needs.
We paid for ours the first year we had it. I think it was the 2nd year that we had bees. I've never had more than two hives, so I'd think you could pay for an extractor rather quickly if your bees are doing well. That said, I'm all about caution. If you're able to beg or borrow use of an extractor, that's probably the best option, especially if you aren't sure how long you'll be keeping bees....but if you can't I think an affordable extractor is a good investment, because it allows you to maintain the honeycomb year to year, and it's a lot less messy!
I hope that helps. If I missed something, or if you have other questions, let me know!
Best of luck!