A hive tool is used for a variety of beekeeping tasks, including prying apart frames, and loosening the cover and body parts of a bee hive. It is also used to scrape away wax, propolis, and burr comb.
The hive tool is an essential tool for a beekeeper. It is a blunt metal chisel used for a variety of beekeeping tasks. “Hive tools are like a beekeeper’s crowbar – allows you to lift hive boxes that have been sealed with propolis,* manipulate frames in the hive, scrape burr comb** off frames, and open capped cells for inspection,” says Sarah Myers, Bayer bee team apiarist.
*propolis – bee “glue” made from tree buds
** burr comb – honeycomb constructed by bees where a beekeeper doesn’t want it
The hive tool usually measures between 9 and 11 inches long. The standard design has a flat, sharp blade on one end, with the opposite end bent at a right angle to the shaft. There is also a J-type hive tool, which has a wide square blade on one end, and the opposite end is a J-shaped hook.
Painting one end of the hive tool a bright color, such as red, can help to make it easier to find if it’s accidentally dropped in the grass. Misplacing a hive tool is apparently a common dilemma for beekeepers. Notes Sarah, “Always know where your hive tool is located! You can never have enough around as a beekeeper, and yet somehow they always go missing when I’m out and about checking my hives. Now I keep one in the truck, my bee supply bag, home office – everywhere!"
What Is ‘Bee Space’?
To better understand the need for a hive tool, it’s important to understand the concept of “bee space.” Bee space was first recognized by Lorenzo Langstroth, who developed the Langstroth bee hive, which is the standard beehive used in many parts of the world for beekeeping.
Langstroth realized that his bees would treat any space smaller than 1/4 inch as a crack, and they would fill it with propolis. In any space larger than 3/8 inch (1 cm.), bees would build excess comb (burr comb). Thus, bee space is a passageway for bees to move throughout the hive that is between 1/4- to 3/8-inches wide, just large enough – no bigger and no smaller – for a bee to fit through.
A hive tool helps a beekeeper stay ahead of this habit of bees. It is very handy for loosening propolis that might be gluing frames or other parts of the hive box together, and for scraping away unwanted wax or burr comb.