The hive tool is only one of a wide and growing variety of beekeeping tools and supplies from which to make a selection when starting out. But any beekeeper will tell you that the one you buy now will look like it lasts forever and it probably will, but it will only be one of many many hive tools that you will buy in your beekeeping career. We all keep losing them. Why? Who knows? I don’t know any beekeepers who still have their first or even their fifth one.
For the beginner beekeeper, the number of options that are available may seem confusing, and the easiest option may be to simply purchase a complete beginner’s kit and take what comes. However, these kits do not necessarily contain the best equipment, and with a little bit of knowledge, you should be able to select the appropriate beekeeping tool and equipment the very first time you shop for it. Get advice from your local club, but we will go over a few basics here.
When selecting your hive tools, you should keep their primary functions in mind. They essentially serve three different functions.
The main one is prying the boxes and frames apart when doing your hive inspections. In a healthy colony, the bees will want to seal up the hive in a bubble of propolis to reduce infections and seal drafts etc. The degree to which they do this will vary from colony to colony, but all honey bees do this. Beekeepers tend to dislike this because it makes their job harder, but it is good for the bees so nobody gets to bothered by it. Also, you can gather some of the propolis for sale if there is really a lot of it.
Scraping propolis, wax, and other products of the bees from your hives and frames, helping to keep them clean and organised during inspections and during clean-up at the end of the season. Although there are many additional applications for hive tools inside the apiary, such as removing queen cells or probing a wooden hive to determine whether any of its components have deteriorated, these are more general purposes that do not significantly influence the design or selection of hive tools.
The basic hive tool and the J-hook hive tool are the two primary varieties of beekeeping equipment that are offered for purchase by the vast majority of retailers and tend to be the most popular among beekeepers. Some beekeepers may have different unusual hive tools that they have made themselves or inherited, and invariably they will claim that their tools is better than those that are generally available. Even while the basic tools and J-hook tools all share a lot of similarities, there are a few key distinctions that set each manufacturer’s products apart, making some of them more practical than others. Both ends of the standard hive tool are tapered to a thin edge similar to that of a paint scraper. The standard hive tool is a piece of flat metal that has been bent through ninety degrees at one end to provide a short stub portion around 20mm (1″) long. A J-tool is a piece of flat metal that, similar to a paint scraper, has one end that is tapered like a paint scraper and the other end that is formed into a J.
Both of these tools have long, thin, tapered ends that resemble paint scrapers. These are the parts that are used to carefully slip in between the boxes of the hive until they can be separated by levering them apart. If the hive is firmly attached to the ground, it is possible that you may need to lever it from all corners in order to break the seal all the way around.
If the boxes are old and beginning to “lose their freshness” the levering of heavy boxes may damage the corners, but this is inevitable, particularly with heavy boxes that are full of honey and is not the fault of the hive tool. Just replace the damaged box when you can.
In order to separate the frames, the curved end of the standard tool is inserted between two adjacent frames, and then twisted in order to lever one frame against the next in order to move the frames farther apart. After both ends have been unlocked, the frame may be raised up and properly inspected. It is important for the J-tool to have the larger square portion at the paint scraper end (rather than a gradual taper, as is the case with the conventional tool), as this will be put in the space between the boxes and levered in order to pry the boxes apart. There are a few different variations of the J-design, tool’s and some of these variations do not have the square end part. Since these variants are slightly less functional, we would not recommend purchasing them.
After the frames have been removed from one another, the J-tool will become your secret weapon. The J portion of the tool is put under the end of the frame that is to be raised, and the lug on the rear edge of the tool is laid on the frame that is beside it. The J-tool may be used to lever backwards, which lifts the frame and makes it much simpler to get a grip of. Because of this, it is considerably easier and safer to remove frames, as there is less risk of crushing any bees that could be trapped in the spaces between the ends of the frames. Since the regular tool does not come equipped with a mechanism for lifting frames, the J-tool is widely regarded as the more effective option for beekeeping. However, due to the fact that it has a more intricate design, it is a little bit more expensive, and as a result, it is not always included in starter kits.
The scraper end of each of these tools is used, and their operations are rather comparable to one another in terms of how they are carried out. This is done for the purpose of extracting wax and propolis from hive sections and frames, as well as harvesting wild comb and drone comb. The bent end of the standard tool can be used for cleaning large flat areas like the hive sides or scraping across the queen excluder to clean it up because it is marginally better and slightly less likely to dig into the hive side than the scraper end of the tool. This is because the scraper end of the tool has a pointy edge that can dig into the hive side. However, the scraper end of the J-hook tool may be just as successful if it is handled correctly, and this slight gain in scraping does not in any way make up for the basic tool’s inability to lift frames. In a perfect scenario, the beekeeper would have both tools, and many beekeepers who have more than one hive do have them both; nonetheless, the J-hook tool is the one that the beginner beekeeper should start with.
It’s crucial to pay attention to the material that the hive tool is constructed of; stainless steel is the best option. Painted steel tools are OK to use initially, but after a short period of time, the paint will begin to chip and the tool will begin to rust. This will cause rust to form on your white beekeeping outfit, as well as on your hives, on your frames, and most importantly, may find its way into your honey.
Finally, a bright colour, preferably red, should be painted on one end of the hive tool. This makes it easier to find the tool in the event that it has been misplaced in the grass. If you simply paint one end, the other end, which is made of brilliant stainless steel, may reflect light from the sun, which will further assist in the hunt for your missing tool. It is recommended that the scraper end of both J-hook tools and normal tools be left unpainted because they are the ends that receive the greatest abuse and are, as a result, more likely to damage the paint. Both totally painted and unpainted versions of the hive tools should be avoided for the reasons stated above. Some hive tools are sold without any paint at all. If properly maintained and looked after, they are all good.