What Are Basic Beekeeping Tools and Their Uses

We were surprised when we added the beekeeping tools to our first order of supplies. It seemed as though the list for beekeeping equipment goes on and on, and we are still adding items. The list for beekeeping tools is very short.

What are the basic beekeeping tools? After getting the necessary equipment of hives and protective clothing, the only beekeeping tools you really need are a hive tool and a smoker. You can add some other items, but they are not essential.

Read on to find about each tool, how it’s used, and what other items you may want to add.

What Basic Beekeeping Tools Do I Need?

The two tools that you really need are the hive tool and the smoker. There are other handy items you can add to the list, but they aren’t essential for working your hives. 

The Hive Tool

I love a good hive tool.  It makes checking a beehive possible.

The hive tool is a thin flat metal bar that is used as a multi-purpose tool in and around the hive.  They are generally made of stainless or tempered steel and come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  The shape and material makes them easy to clean, which is a good thing because they will get propolis all over them. And they are easy to sterilize, which is a help if you are dealing with an infected hive.

They are relatively inexpensive, compared to other hive equipment, and we use them all the time, so we have several of two different designs.

  • The standard hive tool is flat with one sharp beveled end for prying and scraping and the other end is bent over in a broad hook.  Usually hive tools are painted yellow, red, or pink, making them easy to find after setting them down somewhere.  We prefer the kind that has the beveled end unpainted because it is thinner and sharper. 
  • The other hive tool is sometimes called a frame lifter and scraper.  The end with the scraper is square and beveled on two sides.  The other end is in a flat J shape.

The hive tool is used to pry hive boxes apart after your bees have glued them together with propolis.  We use it to get under the end or the middle edge of frames to pry them up so we can pick the frames up for examination. We scrape propolis off frames and boxes with either end of the flat tool. 

Our mentor taught us that the curved end can be used for “closing ranks”.  When we’re finished examining a hive box, we use the curved end of the hive tool to torque all of the frames over one side of the box, then we push them back halfway.  That way there is equal bee space on both sides of the deep.

The tool with the frame lifter is designed for just that purpose – to hook under the edge of a frame so it lifts enough to pick it out of the box.  The flat end is used for prying and scraping the same as the standard tool. 

Beekeeping life would be infinitely more difficult without hive tools.

The Smoker

You’ll want a smoker, fuel, and a reliable lighter.  There are theories about why a smoker does what it does, but the result of smoking a beehive before and while you are working it is that seems to calm down the bees. 

The beekeeper puffs cool smoke into the entrances and on top of the open hive before inspecting frames. Then he waits a while for it to spread throughout the hive boxes and calm the bees before going to work.

There is a skill in using a smoker. Being able to light the smoker and keep it going for a long time is not easy.  I confess that this is something we haven’t taken the time to master. 

Smoker Fuel

The fuels used vary with the beekeeper.  You will find a wide variety of fuels available from bee equipment suppliers.  There are pellets to start a smoker that flame immediately when lighted. Bags of cotton fibers or small rolls of burlap are available for smudgy, smoky fuel.  

If you ask several beekeepers, you’ll find they use any number of readily available fuels.  A friend uses old egg cartons and partially burned chunks of charcoal from his grill.  We use shreds from our paper shredder to start the smoker, then add some cedar chips from the ground cover in our bee yard.  The local coffee roaster gives burlap coffee away free to any beekeeper for smoker fuel (the owner is a beekeeper).

Our mentor has advised us to put green grass on top of the flames to help cool the smoke.  You do not want to blow hot smoke on your bees.

Smoker Lighters

We unsuccessfully tried using the long skinny multi-purpose lighters that people use for grills and fireplaces. 

Then a beekeeping friend hauled out his 14-ounce propane torch.  What a game changer! 

We now keep a bottle of propane and a spare with a self-igniting torch attachment in our beekeeping equipment.

What Is A Bee Brush?

You’ll find a bee brush on many tool lists.  Some people use a large feather or a soft paintbrush instead of the bee brush.  

The brush is generally about 14 inches long, with soft long golden yellow bristles. 

It is used to move bees when you don’t want to or can’t shake them from their location. There are many uses for a brush.  You’ll use this to get bees off of a frame, to brush off stragglers that have remained on honey super frames, to get swarm bees out of a box.

The common lore is that bees don’t like to be rolled, so be careful when brushing or you may wind up with hostile bees.

We don’t use our bee brush often, but we do use it and we’re glad to have it.

Do I Want A Frame Grip?

A frame grip is one of those nifty tools that you don’t need but it can be a real help when you want to pull a reluctant frame out of a hive box. 

The tongs of a standard frame grip fit between frames, and when you close the handles, they seize the top of the frame so you can pull it out.  Sometimes a frame is so messy, or so stuck, or the ends are so propolized that prying with a hive tool is less convenient than just gripping and pulling. 

However, it isn’t that much more convenient that we use it regularly.  It is just a tool in our kit that we pull out occasionally.

Do I Need A Frame Holder?

Have you ever seen a bathroom doorhanger for towels?  A beehive frame holder is similar and can make your beekeeping life easier. It is a removable metal frame that hangs off the side of the hive that holds one to three frames. 

When you are checking your frames, you can put the first few on the frame holder.  Then you’ll have room to check and move the remaining frames inside the brood box. 

The Toolbox

Eventually, you’ll want a toolbox of some sort to carry your equipment to and from your hives.  We have metal baskets similar to the ones you find in supermarkets.  Besides just sticking in the hive tools, smoker, propane torch, and frame grip, we have empty yogurt containers filled with smoker fuel, marking pens, queen marking equipment, and other doodads that we think we’ll need when we check the hives.

By far the handiest all-round useful piece of equipment we have, though it probably doesn’t go under tools, is a garden cart. We regularly haul hive boxes and other woodenware with us to the apiary.  If you begin to have too much to carry as we do, you might consider getting a gorilla garden cart.  I’m not sure if it’s a garden cart doing double duty for the apiary or if it’s the other way around.  It is one of the best buys for the yard that we have made. 

The Fun Stuff

After you get settled in and see how crazy you want to be about your beekeeping, there is a variety of toys – tools – you can add. 

If you get into honey production, there are all manner of honey tools.  You can buy capping scrapers, uncapping rollers, hot knives, a refractometer to measure the amount of moisture in your honey, a luggage scale to weigh your hives to check on honey stores, and a honey extractor.

To check on the bee cluster during the winter without opening the hive, you can get an infrared camera to do thermal imaging on your beehives.

When you really want to see what’s going on inside your hives, get an endoscopic camera.  A friend of ours films his bees in all seasons of the year, inside the entrance, in the candy board feeder, in the brood boxes and honey supers. 

Related Questions

What to wear when working with bees?

The essential pieces of clothing to wear when working with bees are a bee veil and hat, a jacket, heavy shirt, or bee suit, gloves, long pants, and some appropriate footwear that covers your feet.  For a more detailed description of what you want to use, read What Do You Need To Know When Choosing A Beekeeping Suit.

How much does it cost to start beekeeping?

To begin beekeeping with one hive, all of the equipment, including hives, bees, clothing, tools, food and medication, it will cost around $600.  The cost of beginning beekeeping with two hives is about $1000. We give a break down of the items and prices in the article How Much Does It Cost To Begin Hobby Beekeeping?

How much does it cost to buy bees?

A 3-pound package of bees with a mated queen will cost between $110-$150.  A nuc (nucleus) of bees with bees, queen, frames with drawn comb and brood, will cost between $180-200.