Why a Hive Tool is Essential

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The practice of keeping honey bees does not require a large number of specialized tools. A few basics and some personal protection is all you need to meet the minimum requirements. However, this short list does include the beekeeper’s hive tool. This versatile tool has many purposes and aids the beekeeper in almost every daily task.

Used hive tools from a beekeepers equipment box.

Every beekeeper needs at least one hive tool and some of you (like me) may have 5 or 6. They are an essential piece of beekeeping equipment and come in several different sizes and types. Even though they all do basically the same thing, every beekeeper has a favorite style.

What is the Beekeeper’s Hive Tool?

A hive tool is a handheld metal bar that is used when inspecting beehives to pry parts of the hive apart. Think of it as a “mini crow-bar”.

Length can vary with 8” – 10 1/2” being the most common size range with a hook or bend on one end.

Stainless steel (304) is the most common metal used in construction. They are very sturdy and hard to break or bend.

It is common to see one end of the tool painted with a bright color to prevent loss. (So you will not drop it in the grass and your husband find it with the John Deere 😉)

Short hive tools measuring close to 6” in length are handy to keep in your pocket. They too are very strong and will do basically the same tasks as the large version.

They do require more hand strength though and are more easily lost. I have one and have no idea where it is right now.

Three different types of hive tools in use.

Types of Hive Tools

There are several variations in hive tool styles and some of them get rather large and intimidating. Let’s investigate a few of the most common.

  • standard
  • J hook
  • multifunction scraper
Standard hive tool with parts labeled.

Standard Hive Tool

The standard hive tool is a thin flat metal bar with one sharp end (pry end) and a bent hook end. Measurements average 9-inch length by 1-3/4-inch width by 1-1/4-inch height.

A shaped opening near the bent end serves as a nail-remover when needed. This is the most commonly used tool and the one that generally comes in most beekeeping kits for beginners. It has a long history in beekeeping.

Uses

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Standard tools are excellent to use for prying beekeeping super boxes apart so you can lift and remove them to complete hive inspections.

They can also be used to pry loose the end of frames that may be stuck down. Removing the frames without damaging them for inspections or honey harvesting.

The scraper end is a bit wider than the handle. This makes it very useful for scrapping excess bee propolis and wax (such as burr comb) off the inside of the hive.

Dirty j hook beekeeper hive tool with frame lifter hook.

J-Hook Hive Tool

The J-Hook style has grown in popularity in recent years. It is made of the same stainless steel construction but is usually a bit longer – with a length of 10 1/2”. 

The sharp end has two beveled prying surfaces for separating boxes. There is also a nail remover notch on the handle. 

But, the most marvelous feature of this hive tool is the thin hook on the end. The hook has resulted in this tool often being called a frame-lifter.

Uses

The J-hook hive tool can do everything that the standard does. But there are a few things it does better. Most notably, it makes removing frames that are stuck down a breeze.

It is also better to use to push down fuel when lighting your beekeeper’s smoker (due to it’s longer length).

Two images showing a multifunction tool in use by beekeeper.

Multifunction Scraper

Multifunction Scraper Hive Tools are a favorite of some beekeepers. Think of it as the “Swiss Army Knife” of beekeeping tools. It is made from a combination of stainless steel and wood.

Uses

Various features on the tool make it suitable for many purposes – hive scraper, nail puller, queen excluder cleaner, pry bar and detachable hammer. Due to the attached pieces – it can do more than a standard unit.

It is a bit thicker than the standard tools and is a bit harder to manage – even though it is very useful. However, there is no doubt that it would be a useful item to have.

Choosing the Right Hive Tool

Deciding which hive tool is best for you can be a difficult task. Perhaps that is why most of us end up with so many?

You simply can not go wrong with the standard version. It will help with all those sticky beekeeping tasks and last for years.

But, I confess the J hook style is my favorite. It is a bit larger but the hooked end makes removing frames much easier. This is a special bonus for anyone who has reduced hand strength.

Safety Precautions

As you might expect, these sturdy tools must be rather sharp to be useful. Use care when handling to avoid cutting yourself.

Also, when scraping wax, propolis, or wax moth cocoons off wooden ware make sure your other hand is not in a position to be cut-if the tool slips.

Have a designated place to store your beekeeping gear and it will always be ready when you need it.

In Closing

Beekeeper hive tools are not very expensive so you can afford to invest in a couple. And trust me – you will misplace them so having extras is a good idea. 

Whether prying apart stuck boxes or removing stubborn frames- having the proper tools helps you be a better and more efficient beekeeper every day.

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4 Comments

  1. Michelle Kiba says:

    Revisiting basics is always good. Thank you for the great articles.
    Here’s a tip for keeping your hive tools nearby. I a couple of very strong Neodymium magnets in the chest pockets of my bee jackets. I simply put the metal hive tool over my pocket (letting the magnet work it’s magic) and the tool it stays where I can easily find and grab it. I have magnets in both chest pockets. Don’t forget to take the magnet out before washing!
    Michelle K

  2. Peter Hadeka says:

    Yes, I have several hive tools of different configurations. Because I have started using metal frame rests in my 10 frame supers, for a 9 frame configuration, I find the “hitchhiker” (or “J” hook ) tool to be most useful. Because I am prying “up” at the frame ends and not sideways. My tool of choice…Keep the good info coming. From West Central Vermont, yes USA….

  3. Charlotte Anderson says:

    I’m glad to hear it – we all have a favorite!

  4. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Thats a cool idea Michelle!