Hive tools

Man is a tool-using animal, Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881)

The Scottish philosopher wasn’t talking about beekeepers, but he might as well have been. The quotation goes on something like “Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all”. Which pretty neatly sums up the beekeeper who has lost his hive tool in the long grass.

Hive tools ...

Hive tools …

Conducting a full inspection without a hive tool is a a thankless task. You can’t crack the crownboard off (unless it’s a sheet of heavy-duty plastic), propolis acquires the adhesive properties of SuperGlue and your fingers become clumsy, fat, bee-squashing sausages as you try and prise the frames apart.

A personal choice

There’s a huge choice of hive tools available. At the recent Welsh BKA Convention I saw about a dozen different designs on the Abelo stand alone, several not in their catalogue or on the website. Thorne’s list about 17 different hive tools. We’re spoilt for choice. Over the last few years I’ve bought, borrowed or otherwise acquired about eight different styles … some of those that haven’t been lost, given away or discarded in disgust are pictured here.

Take your pick ...

Take your pick …

From left to right …

  1. Thorne’s traditional hive tool. Perfectly adequate. Nicely weighted and pretty good quality stainless steel.
  2. Cheap knock-off variant of Thorne’s Claw Hive Tool. £2 each from a long-forgotten stand at a beekeeping convention. Light and relatively short (8″). My favourite by a long way. I bought half a dozen of them and wish I’d bought more.
  3. An American hive tool originally sold by Modern Beekeeping but now available from Thorne’s who call it their Frontier Hive Tool. Great quality, excellent scraper blade but too heavy and long for me.
  4. El cheapo hive tool bought from eBay. Strong, long, heavy and coarse. Horrible in my view. This one lurks in the bottom of my bee bag and is only brought out in a dire emergency.

Care and maintenance of hive tools

There’s really only two things that you need to do with hive tools in terms of care and maintenance. You need to keep them clean and try and avoid losing them.

Washing soda

Washing soda

I specifically said ‘try and avoid’. Losing hive tools is one of the inevitabilities of beekeeping. Like getting stung, running out of supers, not having enough frames, missing queen cells and ‘rediscovering’ a lost hive tool with the lawnmower. I lost three in one apiary a few years ago, finding all of them in the winter as the herbage died back. You can reduce losses by painting them bright colours. Blue works well. I’ve got a nice quality bright blue hive tool given away by Mann Lake at the BBKA Spring Convention when they first started up in the UK … somewhere.

Hive tools soaking

Hive tools soaking

Hive tools need to be kept clean. I keep a bucket containing a strong washing soda solution in each apiary. Between inspections the hive tools are immersed in the bucket. This guarantees three things; there will be a hive tool available for your inspections, the hive tool will be clean and the paint will have probably peeled off. The Frontier-type American hive tool (second from right, above) was originally bright yellow. This bucket is also a great place to keep a small serrated utility knife which is useful for all sorts of tasks during the season.

I know some people who keep a separate hive tool for every hive in an apiary as part of their ‘good hive hygiene’ practice. This seems like overkill to me and ignores the level of bees drifting between colonies. It’s easy enough to dip the tool in the washing soda between inspections if needed … and saves investing in loads of hive tools 😉

Lost and found ...

Lost and found …

 Thomas Carlyle had a famously unhappy marriage to Jane Welsh. The novelist Samuel Butler said It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.”

11 thoughts on “Hive tools

  1. Michael WALKER

    I made my hive tool from a length of flat bar steel and a angle grinder.## One end is the traditional axe blade whilst the other is L shaped.. idea; for prying apart and lifting frames. Wooden handle in the middle wrapped with masking tape which is regularly replaced when it gets dirty.

    I sprayed it yellow. Cannot lose it that way!

    ## I was educated in meanness by Aberdeen University.

    1. David Post author

      I’ve always contended that the Scottish higher education system is excellent … for both academic and non-academic learning 😉

      Not so sure about yellow though. I think I used car respray paint and it didn’t last long soaking in washing soda. Being colourblind I also find it more difficult to see – particularly in the dried grasses of late summer – than bright blue.

      1. Michael WALKER

        My paint was 30 year old cellulose respray can BL Yellow.. Last well.

        I cut the grass in my apiary 🙂 (Bottom of garden!)

        1. David Post author

          Most of my apiaries have been in fields so I periodically just hack them back with a billhook. This can be hard work and lead to some surprises if you make inadvertently catch the hive stand 🙂

          I’m assuming BL = British Leyland? It’s extraordinary that the paint lasted that long when you consider how fast the cars rusted 😉


  2. Sandra

    How long can I keep a solution of washing soda going for storing hive tools? When does is lose its effectiveness?

    1. David Post author

      Hi Sandra

      I replace mine mid-season. It’s still very soapy and not too dirty at that stage. The hive tools always come out looking clean however heavily propolised they are when I drop them in.


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  4. max

    I think the hive tool – second from left – is close to my favourite: A Jackel made in Germany.
    Love your posts and photos

    max , Australia

    1. David Post author

      Hi Max
      The second from the left in the top photo is my favourite, but it’s nothing like the quality of the second from the left in the second photo (which is German, but I don’t know the manufacturer), which I presume is the one you’re talking about.
      Actually, with a bit of Googling I’ve now checked – here’s a link to a site selling Jakel hive tools.
      They are great quality, have a really sharp scraping edge and are very strong … but they’re a bit too heavy for my liking. In addition, I lose a couple a year in the long grass and they’re about ten times the price of the ‘cheap and cheerful’ one I prefer 😉
      Pleased you enjoy the posts and photos.
      Cheers (and enjoy your winter)

  5. max

    Hi David,
    yes, it is the Jakel. I import them into Australia from Germany. More expensive then the Chinese imports but a very different quality. I love it.
    Yes, winter in on the way – down to 19C last night here. The bees are busy this morning and I’m painting 20 nuc boxes to be ready for Spring
    I have spent some time in your general area – I’m a Findhorn fellow but my wife and I have travelled by car past you and up the West coast – lovely place
    keep well ( and enjoy Spring)

    1. David Post author

      Hi Max
      … down to 19C last night … ‘ … we’ve only had two days above that temperature so far!
      I spend increasing amounts of time on the West coastof Scotland and it’s a fantastic part of the world.
      I updated the link 😉

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