Choosing a Hive Tool

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Hive tools are one of the most important tools used in beekeeping. They aid the beekeeper in almost every task – from inspecting and manipulating hive components to cleaning and maintaining the hive environment. Whether you are a new beekeeper or one with experience, having a good hive tool will make your beekeeping adventures much more enjoyable. In this guide, I share with you some of my favorite types of hive tools and why they work so well.

Used hive tools from a beekeepers equipment box.

Personally, I never go to the bee yard without at least one hive tool. I would love to share with you how many I have – but I honestly don’t know. An essential piece of beekeeping equipment and tools, you can choose several different sizes and types. Even though they all do basically the same thing, every beekeeper has a favorite style.

Common Uses for Hive Tools

Each beekeeper has favorite ways to use a hive tool and make life a bit easier. However, here are some of the most common uses that I think we could all agree on.

Inspecting the Hive

One of the primary ways to use a hive tool is to inspect the beehive. Right away bees begin to use wax and bee propolis to stick down all the moveable parts inside the hive.

A hive tool acts as a mini crowbar to separate hive boxes that are stuck together and help lift frames from the hive.

This is necessary to enable a thorough inspection of the comb. When done carefully, the hive tool allows us to do this without causing damage to parts of the beehive.

Scraping and Cleaning

The flat end of the hive tool is wonderful for scraping excess wax or burr comb from the tops of frames or other areas of the hive.

Propolis is also easily scraped away when needed to allow frames to sit well in the box as designed. Over time, propolis can build up on the side of the frame “ears” and make removal and replacement difficult. A quick scrape with your tool can remove the excess.

A Jhook hive tool used to scrape excess wax off the tops of hive frames.

Other Uses

They can also be used to open feed buckets, remove nails, and even as a temporary lever or hammer in a pinch. I use my hive tool to help light my bee smoker – it is very handy to use to pack materials down into the heat chamber.

Whether we admit it or not, hive tools are also used for pest control. How many of you have squished Small Hive Beetles like a mad-man on occasion. Perhaps even whacked at a lizard that was hanging around the hives?

Types of Hive Tools for Beekeeping

A hive tool is a handheld metal bar that is used when inspecting beehives to pry parts of the hive apart. The length can vary with 8” – 10 1/2” being the most common size range. Most have a hook or bend on one end.

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 lawnmower 😉)

Three different types of hive tools in use.

There are several variations in hive tool styles. Let’s investigate a few of the most common:

  • standard
  • J hook
  • multifunction scraper – everything – all in one
  • minis

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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.

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 and is usually a bit longer – with a length of 10 1/2”. 

The J-hook hive tool can do everything that the standard does. But there are a few things it does better. 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.

I think I have 4 of these (which I constantly misplace). When I can’t find one you might hear me say “Now.. where is my good hive tool”.

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. Depending on the manufacturer, they may be called multi-tools, all-in-one or everything hive tool.

Various features 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. A bit too bulky for me but there is no doubt that it would be a useful item to have.

Mini Hive Tools

Sometimes you will find some mini hive tools for sell. These short tools measure 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 would show you a picture of mine but I have no idea where it is right now.

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. But, I confess the J hook style hive tool is my favorite – it makes lifting frames so much easier. A special bonus for anyone who has reduced hand strength.

It is best to try several until you find one that you like best. Thankfully, they are not very expensive and last for years.

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.

FAQs

What is a hive tool used for in beekeeping?

A hive tool is an essential tool for beekeepers. It is used to separate hive boxes, lift stuck frames from the hive, clean away excess wax and propolis and a multitude of other tasks.

What is the small hole in a hive tool for?

The hole or notch in a hive tool is used to pull out nails – much like a claw hammer.

Which hive tool is best?

The best hive tool is a matter of personal beekeeper preference. Many beekeeper love the j-hook style but the standard tools work well too.

How can you clean a hive tool?

There are many ways to clean a hive tool. Propolis and beeswax can be scraped off the surface and then a wash with baking soda and water will remove some left over residue.

Final Thoughts

As long as I am able to have beehives, I will have hive tools. Invest in a couple. Trust me, you will misplace them sometimes – 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.