bee stories

Where, oh where, has your hive tool gone?

So where, oh where, has your hive tool gone? It’s gone, gone away. There’s a song about that.

When I analyze my beekeeping time—the hours I actually spend in the apiary—I estimate fully 40% is spent looking for my hive tool. You probably believe that’s an exaggeration, but I think not.

I start the day reminding myself not to lose the damn thing and I don’t—not for at least fifteen minutes. But then I get all wrapped up in the moment, thinking, assessing, planning. Before you know it, I reach for the hive tool but it’s not there.

Now, my favorite place for all of life’s little treasures is my right rear pocket. Everything goes there, including the hive tool. Unfortunately, the pocket is way too shallow for such a service, so the tool invariably falls out. Still, I cannot break the habit. I’m programmed and everything goes there.

So I start searching the ground. I pat down my other pockets. I retrace my steps back to the house. When that doesn’t pan out, I begin re-opening hives. I get down and look beneath the hive stands. I survey the weeds and the grass, I re-pat my pockets.

Finally, I go looking for my husband. He sees me coming with a certain look on my face and before I even ask the question, he says, “No. I haven’t seen it.” How annoying.

“But I had it just five minutes ago,” I complain. “And now it’s gone!” Whenever I say that word it reminds me of the song Gone by John Hiatt: “Gone like a Nixon file, gone, gone away.”

So I wander aimlessly around the yard, tracing my route over and over. Pretty soon I’m looking in places I haven’t been for weeks. Seriously, it had to go somewhere, right?

Today after I spent an hour circling like a disabled airplane, I spent another hour rehashing the hive tool’s final moments. It pried open a box and separated a few frames. It bent the metal tab on a queen cage and forced the feed can from a shipping crate. It flipped a slug from my shoe. The last thing I remember: it got wiped with a wet rag—a rag I didn’t lose.

My husband keeps telling me to paint the hive tool pink. He has this idea because once about six years ago in a fit of annoyance, I spray-painted an ax pink. Pink because it was the only color in the garage—a color that’s always available because no one ever uses it. In any case, I haven’t lost the ax since.

So today after I finally found the hive tool lying in the grass about ten feet from the hive (I swear I did not go there) I considered the pink paint. But alas, I couldn’t do it. I’m sorry, but I just can’t be a beekeeper who uses pink hive tools. What would people think? Worse, what would the bees think? Certainly, they’d sting me to death for less.

So I did the next best thing; I wrapped the hive tool with a pink survey ribbon. Now, I know this is going to annoy me no end, all those dangly ends slipping down between my fingers and getting caught between the frames. The ends will stick to the propolis that sticks to my hands and I will be moaning and groaning and inventing new words. But that’s a problem for another day. For now, at least, I know exactly where my hive tool is.


Tools decked out in pink.

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  • Oh, Rusty, you crack me up! No wonder I love your blogs so much! I can so relate – down to the husband with rolling eyes, often holding the very implement I am searching for. I did paint my yard tools a lovely lavendar. A nice compromise to pink.

  • Rusty….I know the feeling. I am a very organized person. I put everything in its place in a garden way cart… And I still lose it. I think it just shows how involved you get caught up in the moment. It’s kind of like the absent minded professor!

  • For the same reason, I have painted a lot of my camping tools with fluorescent orange paint. Thanks to you, now I gotta paint my hive tools.

  • Yea hive tools get lost, I don’t like the things in my pockets so they end up on my lids. I never put them in the grass, that’s just asking for trouble. What’s wrong with a pink hive tool? At least you would never lose it, you could also put some reflective stickers (the kind used for night visibility) on them,. The dangling stuff would drive me more nuts then losing it all the time 🙂

  • Missing hive tools. Someone told me to buy 2 – one to use and one to lose! But imagine my excitement when someone gave me a box that they thought were some beekeeping bits and there are 4 hive tools inside as well as 4 hive straps, frame grips, broken mouseguard, secateurs ….. Now I should never lose them all at once. Oh, and there was an excitingly old and battered smoker, too.

  • Hey Rusty,

    A couple of girls that I know have a hive holster. It fits on their belt and there is an embedded magnet on the holster to hold the hive tool in place. I have asked them to get one from me as it a person at the University of Waterloo that makes them. It’s a pretty keen way to keep from losing as many hive tools.

    P.S. I lost one in the snow when I was putting on candy cakes in the winter on a mild day. I did manage to find it when the snow melted.


    • Hi Jeff. The pouch was designed and is made by Paul Kelly at the bee Research facility at University of Guelph. It is a great pouch–a place for the hive tool, queen cage… I keep a magnifying glass there (great to find mites and see the eggs). It fits on a leather belt and sits around the hips well. If you want one you could email Paul at:

  • I’ve been considering taking about 3 feet of cord, tying the crowbar-type hive tool on one end, and the frame-lifter hive tool on the other end. Then I’d hook it through my belt, and always have the tools attached to me with a long enough cord to work with. I should probably do that tonight and see how well it works.

    Alternatively, the cord could run through the handle on my tools bucket.

  • Sew a small pouch/pocket to your bee suit with a rare earth magnet in it. Or drop a magnet in your pocket. Your hive tool will cling to you and is easily removed and replaced. No more fumbling around trying to get a sticky hive tool in and out of an inconvenient pocket.

  • RUSTY … Jeff said that someone at The University of Waterloo makes magnetized hive tool holsters. Who … What … Where can I get one? Thanks! Rusty. Herb

  • After loosing my hive tool once too often, my husband tied a long cord to the end, and tied the other end to a bee brush. The cord hangs around my neck, with the lower ends of both tools at about the level of my knees. It’s not totally convenient – sometimes I have to pull on the tool I want to lengthen the cord sufficiently to reach – but I haven’t lost a hive tool or brush since.

  • I still have my original hive tool from 1964 but it’s at the bottom of a Tupperware tub that carries my miscellaneous stuff like extra gloves, duct tape, newspapers, smoker fuel etc. The one I use is slightly larger and orange. I keep the ‘in use’ either in a metal pail with my smoker (hot or cold) or in my left hand. I simply never put it down. Back pockets are bad because it will ultimately hurt you or your vehicle. I’ve also thought about leaving a stash of things in a hive body at each bee yard but that seems overly compulsive. There is one of those weird flat hive tools at the bottom of my box, too. It has the hook at the end which seems only appropriate for breaking frames.

    • HB,

      I don’t know, but it’s the reason I always carry two. Some people hate the j-shaped end, but I use it a lot. It allows me to pull a frame straight up, whereas the other pry tool forces one frame against another . . . or so it seems to me.

    • I use what is called a 14 in 1 painters tool. It has a scraper/wedged point and a curved edge for lifting frames, a nice handle and a hammer in the butt of the handle. It has screwdriver bits and a place in the hammer head to mount them if I need to turn any screws (not in my bee yard yet at least).

      I haven’t mislaid it YET but then again I only have the 1 hive and its in a fenced off area with ‘shelves’.

  • Oh, and your ‘AX’ (in photo) is not actually an axe. It’s a hatchet. Just sayin’…

  • Hatchets are about 18 to 24 inches long and have a smaller striking head. Axe’s are about 4 feet long and have a larger striking head. Double bit axes have 2 striking faces (think Paul Bunyun).

  • I bought glow in the dark paint to paint my tools…I seem to misplace them at dusk!

    I got a 1/2 off code for a vendor on Amazon and the paint glows SUPER bright. Only cost me $11 for 2oz

  • My husband marked all (and I mean all) his tools with day-glo orange tape. He did this so when he took a rake or shovel to a church clean up, or a hammer and some screw drivers to work for some project, he could easily tell which we’re his.

    My point here is, no need to paint. Duct tape comes in all kids of fun colors and patterns now, so tape away! :).

  • Now this is pretty funny, went out and worked bee hives with a bee farmer yesterday. After the second stop I told the guy I am not taking a beehive tool anywhere anymore because the first thing I do is loose it. Once it fell out of my back pocket at the very end; the next time the farmer had picked it up before I even made it to the hives. (Of course he didn’t tell me until I started looking for it and said something.)

  • Great story,sounds very familiar. I finally started buying hive tools by the dozen. My son sent me the link to this story because he’s heard my laments for lost hive tools.

  • When I go to the lumber yard, I usually ask for a (free) carpenter’s pencil. One time, the counter person gave me a PINK pencil (advertising Owens-Corning fiberglass – “Pink Panther”). When I stuck it in my pocket, he asked if I would like some more. “Sure”, I said. He then gave me a huge handful of them. Apparently, they couldn’t give them away as no self-respecting carpenter would be caught dead with a PINK pencil.

    It’s easy to find where I left my PINK pencil. Plus, no one has ever “borrowed” one of my PINK pencils. They’re 100% loss-proof.

    Of course, one must endure the funny looks and odd jokes, but it’s a small price to pay for always having a pencil.

    • I’m not the only one! In my toolbox at work the same pink mechanical pencil has lived for the past 13 years. It’s missing the eraser and the pocket clip broke off long ago…but no one steals a pink pencil!!!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have used a large split ring, such as from a key chain, to attach my J hive tool to a curly springy cord (from the Dollar store) … at the other end of the curly cord I’ve used a 3″ carabiner clip to attach to the belt on my bee suit or my pants belt. I can drop the tool when I need both hands and the tool stays with me! The curly cord lets me reach a little farther if I need, without the added length of a string getting in the way. Love it!

  • Had to look at this just to laugh. The first thing I do to all my hive tools is flo orange paint. Even after loosing a few of them I’ve ended up attaching them to retractable key rings. I have it on a belt I can put on and just pull it out to use it. Just don’t let it go to retract on its own.

    • Ricky, that’s actually some great advice! It shouldn’t be able to wear a hole in your pockets this way, and if combined with paint or tape, that would be quite foolproof, to me.
      I’m going up and down aisles with a tool to find the best magnet, and life will be good. Thank you!

  • A commercial beekeeper told me his trick… His employees would lose an amazing number of hive tools every year. So he started making them supply their own hive tools (at their expense). Hive tools never got lost again.

  • Yeah…Why don’t I have a day-glo pink hive tool? I should know better too. Years ago I joined sign painters & display local 510, they needed women in the ranks but didn’t really want to work with us. It was back in the day when men really believed pink could make a man weak so I painted all my tools day-glo pink. It worked! I still have them. When I find any one of my several hive tools, I am going to do the same to them. LOL

    I am enjoying your site tonight.

  • Habits are hard to break I know, so at our beekeepers club we train all new beekeepers to keep their hive tool in their hand at all times, no matter what the temptation to put it down. In five years I have only lost one, and I will shamefacedly admit that it was because I did not follow that excellent habit.

  • Why not make, or buy, a hive tool pouch that would hang from your belt over your right hip. Then you could stick the tool into it and it wouldn’t fall out. You could even glue a magnet inside the pouch to hold the tool securely. Between that and the colorful duct tape mentioned earlier, you should be set!

    • Yeah yeah yeah! [like the Beatles] I was just thinking that. I did spray the tool dayglo but the paint melted off during sterilization. Now if I could just put my hands on one, I have just the super magnet to attach it with! I used to have one at each lot. That worked great until I had to moved hives around. I am imagining playing quick draw hive tool already!

      Have fun!

  • 1. All my tools and equipment, not just hive tools, are painted or marked yellow. This way I just go to my son’s and friends’ garage, pick up all yellow tools and repatriate them.

    2. A hive tool is seldom lost. It’s mostly misplaced. I have three hive tools, that’s the key to success! and never spend more that 15 seconds looking for it. Just take the next one. By the time I am done in the bee yard I usually have them all back together. sthey may have fallen down, or I placed a cover on them, or my clipboard, etc, etc.

    • Dieter,

      I’m afraid by the end of the afternoon I would have three missing hive tools!

  • R – this is such an old post but first time I saw it. I loved it. You’re hearing from a forester/biologist who for 30-years wrapped virtually everything in colourful flagging tape so as to find the tools we love or cannot afford to lose. Still lost a good share, but everything I use has a small piece of bright orange and black or florescent tape attached. All my knives, every camera, every case of any sort – even my international luggage nicely identified by flagging tape! I’m still angry about losing my best hand axe – it is still sitting somewhere on that project.

    A SUGGESTION: take that pink tape and wrap the handles of your tools with it – don’t tie it. Start out with a wrap and then stretch the tape to almost breaking then wind it along the tool. To finish it off its OK to simply tie a single overhand knot but set that knot nicely and trip trim the tails. That way nothing will get in the way when you use it. You have to love flagging tape especially pink, orange or red – blue actually is very good. Let’s not ask the question – why do all those hunters and fisherman demand their clothing, packs, guns, knives, watches, and hats be coloured CAMO???? Could it be none actually hunt or fish???????

    • Vince,

      I think you are right about the camo. I have a friend who must have everything in camo, his toothbrush, wallet, tools, clothes, boots, rifle, camera, etc. But every time I see him he’s sitting on his porch drinking beer. I think beer cans are the only thing he can still find.

      • Rusty,

        1. If three aren’t enough, get six. They are not lost. They will turn up sooner or later. They aren’t that expensive and my time in the bee yard is too valuable to me.

        2. Camo is a fashion, has nothing to do with hunting anymore. Saw a lady the other day, overweight, walking on a cane with camo pants.

        3. The reason I prefer paint and don’t like flag tape, its awkward to clean/brush and scrape the tools from honey and propolis.

        • Dieter,

          Your comment reminded me that I lost a pair of garden shears once. I looked all over, backtracked, hunted on my hands and knees. Nothing. Then one day, three years later—three whole years—I tripped over them while I was walking through some brush. It was totally weird. I cleaned them up, sanded a bit of rust, re-painted, and today they are still in use.

          Regarding camo: I frequently wear army fatigues, not for the color but for the pockets. The ones I have belonged to my daughter when she was in the service. We are the same size, so they fit perfectly. I especially like them for photography because the pockets are big enough for spare lenses, flashes, filters, or whatever I want to take. Camo sold for fashion just doesn’t have the same utility.

  • Over the years I have collected various hive tools of different types but the one I like best is no frills and comes painted yellow. Although it should show up, I lost the first one and ordered two identical to be on the safe side. As a back up, at each out yard I keep one of my non-favorite hive tools wedged between the fence post and the fence. I guess I’m counting on misplacing my favorites again.

  • I love my pink hive tools. Plural. Because all total I’ve purchased three and lost two. I’m hoping at least one of the recent “it’s somewhere in my apiary” turns up soon. If not, I’ll be purchasing # 4.