As a new beekeeper, there are several basic pieces of equipment you will need to work with your bees. These items include a smoker, a bee brush, one or more hive tools and some form of protective clothing.
When choosing equipment, there are various designs available and it can become confusing as to which style would be the best one for you. I’d suggest you talk with an experienced beekeeper to find out what he or she uses.
An even better idea would be to ask if you can attend their next hive inspection. This will give you first-hand experience and a close look at what tools the beekeeper is using, as well as how he or she uses them. Experienced beekeepers are usually very willing to share – observe closely and ask questions as the inspection proceeds.
What Tools Do You Need For Beekeeping?
Here are the tools I recommend as absolutely necessary when starting as a beekeeper:
The Hive Tool
The hive tool is a robust metal tool used to remove the lid and the frames from the hive without damaging them. It’s also used to remove burr comb from around the frames, sides of the box and under the lid. Bees build a lot of extra comb which can make removing the lid and the frames difficult.
There are two designs of hive tool, the Australian and the American. I prefer the Australian design, though both have advantages. Within each design there are different styles and sizes. As you gain knowledge and experience in using your hive tool, you will be able to work out which one suits you best.
I think it’s actually a good idea to have more than one. First of all, if you have more than one hive to inspect, using a separate hive tool for each reduces the risk of possible disease being transferred between them. Secondly, you may misplace one of them so a spare is always handy.
After each inspection, I clean my hive tool in a bucket with some bleach, as well as scraping off any sticky comb with a scourer. The hive tool can also be cleaned by placing it inside a burning smoker, effectively sterilizing it too. I’ve never tried this method but it makes sense, given the smoker is used during an inspection anyway.
The Australian or J-tool
The Australian hive tool is often called a J-tool because one end of it looks like a big metal J. It’s usually the most preferred tool of choice for beekeepers.
The end with the J hook allows you to easily remove frames by hooking the J under the end of one frame and levering it up. The other end of the hive tool has a sharp, chisel-like edge and this is effective in opening up the lid, levering apart frames and boxes that the bees have glued together with excess comb.
It’s also useful to remove burr comb from inside the lid and boxes. Burr comb is the small pieces of wax workers build in places other than the central part of the frames.
The American Hive Tool
The American hive tool has a crowbar shaped hook at one end instead of the J and a chisel-shaped edge at the other end, just like the Australian hive tool. The crowbar shaped hook isn’t as effective when attempting to separate frames that have been glued together by the bees because it is thicker than the J tool and can’t as easily get between the frames. The J tool can more easily raise the frame enough for the beekeeper to get a good grasp on the top of the frame.
However, the American hive tool can be a better choice if you have many hives to inspect. When removing a glued lid, the beekeeper inserts the chisel-shaped end between the lid and the box and hits the palm of the hand against the bent crowbar end. If a beekeeper has many lids to lever open each time, the bent crowbar end can be hit with the palm of the hand without the hand getting too sore.
Just make sure when choosing your hive tool that the chisel end is sharp and can be levered between the lid and the box to open it, as sometimes the chisel end is too thick and won’t do the job as effectively. If it’s too thick then you can end up damaging your hive or lid.
One of the most important tools a beekeeper uses when inspecting a hive is a smoker. It’s used by beekeepers because the smoke from it helps to calm the bees and diverts their attention to the protection of the hive and away from the beekeeper.
I’d recommend you purchase the best quality one you can afford because it’s a tool you will use often, and for a very long time.
A smoker is comprised of several parts: a steel cylinder that holds the burnable fuel, the leather or vinyl bellows that keep the fuel alight and the lid from which the smoke issues. Many smokers also have a heat shield around the outside that protects you from getting burnt. I recommend when you purchase one to get one with the heat shield.
Before purchasing a smoker I’d suggest that, as a new beekeeper, you go to a more experienced beekeeper for advice about the size and type of smoker he or she uses.
If you only have a few hives to inspect then a medium-sized smoker should be suitable for you. It’s convenient because it is not too heavy to carry. Just make sure you take extra fuel with you to the hive site to ensure you’re prepared in case the smoker should go out. I’ve sometimes been so enthralled at looking inside the hive that I’ve forgotten to activate the bellows to keep the cool smoke going. You don’t want that to slow down your inspections!
I purchased a small smoker at first but after a few inspections I bought a medium-sized smoker because I could light it more easily and it stayed alight for longer too.
Unless you’re a commercial beekeeper with many hives to inspect then you probably won’t need a large smoker with a greater capacity to hold fuel and to stay alight longer. These are naturally heavier to hold and operate.
The bee brush is not an expensive piece of equipment, but it is essential. It’s used to gently remove bees from frames or the edges of the hive box or lid, so when you replace the lid there’s less likelihood of squashing any bees.
Usually, nylon or horsehair bristles are used. Either is fine, just as long as it’s a brush specifically used for bees. The brush will have a single row of bristles so that during use bees won’t become trapped in the bristles. I prefer horsehair as it’s a ‘natural’ type of product and is softer, but I find the horsehair bristles lose their shape after a few rinses and splay out. The nylon bristles on the other hand don’t lose their shape when you wash them, but aren’t soft.
It’s entirely up to you what you prefer, just don’t try using a brush from a dustpan as it will trap and annoy the bees. As well as trapping bees, other debris can get caught in the bristles too. As with the hive tool, you must clean your brush as it can harbor and transmit disease. I put mine in a bucket with some bleach in it.
Summing Up – Tools You Need For Beekeeping
The three basic tools you need as a new beekeeper are the hive tool, the smoker and the bee brush. These items come in various designs so it’s a great idea to talk to an experienced beekeeper about what they are using before you visit a beekeeping supply store to look at what they have available. In my opinion, buy the best you can afford as you want the equipment to feel comfortable and serve you well. A well-designed tool, if properly taken care of, can last many years.