What Is A Hive Tool? An Essential Guide

A hive tool next to other tools on a beehive

Bees are hard-working insects but also excel at making messes inside the hive. Dealing with unwanted burr comb and propolis is much easier if you have a hive tool on hand. They’re super-versatile and an essential part of a beekeeper’s arsenal.

What is a hive tool?

Hive tools are multipurpose gadgets used during beekeeping inspections and for hive maintenance. While they have many uses, scraping and prying are their primary functions. Along with the bee smoker and suit, a hive tool is an everyday implement that beekeepers consider indispensable.

A beekeeper cleaning comb off frames with a hive tool
Hive tools are ideal for removing unwanted comb.

12 uses for a hive tool

Hive tools have a wide range of uses and beekeepers regularly come up with new possibilities. Here are some of the more common options:

  1. Scraping propolis and burr comb off the hive.
  2. Harvesting propolis from a propolis trap.
  3. Prying apart boxes (supers) joined by wax or propolis.
  4. Scraping debris off the hive’s floorboards.
  5. Cleaning honey and beeswax off frames during extraction.
  6. Levering open beehive covers glued shut with propolis.
  7. Banging loose nails into wood.
  8. Loosening frames that are attached.
  9. Opening bee packages and nucs.
  10. Scraping out bee stingers without releasing venom.
  11. Opening a bee smoker that’s jammed shut.
  12. Separating vertical hive components
Prying apart frames in a super using a hive tool
Prying apart frames is easy with the end of a hive tool.

Types of hive tools

There are two main types of hive tools, the regular and J-hook. Other options include the multifunction, Italian, and Kent Williams hive tools.


Regular hive tools are the most used option and look like a flat mini crowbar. They have a long flat end with a sharp bevel that’s useful for push scraping. This end also offers good leverage, so it’s excellent for separating boxes. The shorter, curved end is a handy pull scraper and an invaluable frame separator.    


J-hook hive tools are similar to the regular ones, but they are often longer, and the curved end has a j-shaped hook for lifting frames. It is a helpful tool for beekeepers that need plenty of leverage, but they typically cost a little more than regular hive tools.

  • The red j-type is a popular variety that is narrower and more affordable than other j-style tools.
  • The orange j-type is stronger and broader than the red option. 

Multifunction scraper tool

These gizmos are the Swiss Army Knife of the beekeeping toolkit. They have additional parts like a hammer and teeth for cleaning queen excluders. They cost more than the regular ones, but they’re extremely useful.

Italian hive tool

An Italian hive tool is extra-long and thin, providing beekeepers excellent leverage when prying. They’re easy to handle and are a good option if your bees like making a lot of propolis.

Kent Williams hive tool

The Kent Williams (aka KW) hive tool is a mix of j-hook and standard hive tools. The beveled end is straight rather than rectangular. Instead of a notch at the j-hook end, it takes advantage of a pull scraper. There are various other tools similar to the KW.

Various types of hive tool on a board
They come in a range of shapes.

Hive tool features

Well-built hive tools are mainly constructed using stainless steel, which means they’re strong and rust resistant. They have a hard life and get used regularly, so it’s worth paying for quality.

They are painted in bright colors to stand out when lying in grass or amongst leaves on the ground. As the tool ages, you may find the paint wears off. If this happens, wrap the handle with some bright reflective tape to make it easy to spot.

Short hive tools that measure around 6” in length are good pocket tools. Some products could be as long as 15” and provide helpful leverage for big jobs.   

Quick tip

Hive tools are notoriously easy to lose, and experienced beekeepers often keep more than one at their disposal. They’re inexpensive, so we recommend buying at least two when you start keeping bees.

Commonly asked questions

Why do I need a hive tool?

The hive tool is needed because honey bees produce propolis and brace comb to seal openings and cracks in the hive. If too much space exists in their home, it will soon get built out with propolis. Bees will not tolerate gaps in boxes and frames. A hive tool makes cleaning up the hive much more manageable, which means the beekeeper provides minimal impact on the colony during inspections.

What hive tool alternatives are available?

While there are no all-in-one utensils to replace a hive tool, a beekeeper can use a combination of paint scrapers, knives, screwdrivers, crowbars, and putty knives. For convenience, nothing compares to a hive tool.  

Hive tool on a bench with labels to highlight the main parts.
The two ends of a hive tool.

Why do hive tools have a hole?

Hive tools have a hole for pulling out nails and are also great for hanging up the implement when not in use.

Should I buy a regular or j-hook hive tool?

The regular and j-hook models are both handy devices for beekeepers. We prefer the regular option as it is cheaper, easier to use, readily available, and most hive woodenware works better with them.

How to use a hive tool

Check out this helpful video demonstrating how to use a hive tool for best results. Always clean the device before use to ensure you’re not sharing pathogens from the last hive.

Summing up

The hive tool has been used by beekeepers worldwide for over a century. Although they have a simple design, they’re cheap and incredibly useful. If you’re starting out in beekeeping, this is one piece of equipment not to skimp on. It will pay for itself many times over, making it easier to keep a tidy beehive.  

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