beekeeping equipment

Never lose your hive tool again

I wasn’t joking when I said I spend 80% of my beekeeping time searching for my hive tool. I’ve never been able to hang onto the dang thing, and I sometimes lose it before I get to the first hive.

I begin by putting the tool in my hive tool pocket that’s sewn into my bee suit. But that suit hangs low, meaning the crotch is near my knees. When I walk, just bending my knee is enough to force it out of the pocket and into the grass. If I’m not wearing a bee suit, I stick it in my back pocket, which isn’t deep enough to secure it. It’s lost either way.

More lost opportunities

If I make it to the first hive, I soon get derailed by my bees. After I use it to pry off the lid and maybe remove a frame or two, I lay it somewhere or drop it. I don’t even notice it’s missing until I get to the next hive and can’t open it. Then I go back, cussing and moaning about my stupidity.

How it goes missing each time, I’m not sure, but I think I try to slide it into a pocket and miss. Down it goes and I don’t know the difference. Since I usually find it on the ground, that’s my theory.

Never done searching

Often, after I finish with my bees for the day, I see the empty hook in the shed and realize the tool is still out there somewhere — more cussing. I have to hunt it down, spending more time staring into grass and poking between weeds than I ever did beekeeping. The ticks love this.

I’ve tried painting my hive tools, tying survey tape around them, adding wrist bands, and talking to them. Nothing has worked. Each time I check my hives, it’s a repeat performance. Until now.

An attractive solution

My friend Cliff, over at BeeSmart Designs, took my complaints seriously and came up with a remarkable tool belt. The clever design will carry any kind of hive tool, it’s easy to use, and it prevents me from scratching my husband’s Model T when I squeeze by it in the garage. And I no longer need to worry about running the lawnmower over an errant metal tool.

The invention is lightweight plastic with two magnets that hold the tool in place. Mounted on little pedestals, the magnets protect the bent part of a hive tool so it’s not a scraping hazard. The belt is made of black webbing with a side-release buckle that’s quick to use.

I’m clueless about where Cliff got the magnets for these belts, but I’m surprised they don’t interfere with the earth’s magnetic field or require a permit. They are so strong it takes a good yank to remove the tool. But they are strong in a good way. So far, no tool — regardless of which type I use — has come loose on its own. And I know when it’s been reattached without looking because I can feel it and hear it click into place.

If you have any issues with lost hive tools, you should definitely give this one a try. It would make a splendid gift, too. BeeSmart Designs has innovative choices for beekeepers — like my favorite robbing screens and bottom boards — so check out their website while you’re there.

The BeeSmart Ultimate magnetic hive tool holder is available at Betterbee and other retailers. After you try it, be sure to let me know what you think!


The BeeSmart magnetic hive tool holder works with any type of hive tool.
The BeeSmart magnetic hive tool holder works with any type of hive tool.
News from the Field
Dr. Kit Prendergast down in Australia has some short bee videos, each one a compact little lesson about bees. Bees are bees, no matter where you find them, so these little lessons may come in handy for you, your friends, or your kids.

Why Are Native Bees So Important?

Are Bees at Risk of Going Extinct ?

Do all bees make honey?


  • That d@*^ tool!

    Just this week I bought a queen for a swarm colony that I apparently caught whilst their queen was absent (No capped brood, stores, etc). I left her in her cage for 6 days, checking her periodically to see if she was being accepted. Once the workers in the hive got where they swarmed to her to attend, I released her.

    With my smoker in one hand and the hive tool in the other, I could only watch as the newly released queen strolled leisurely to the end of a frame, and flew away. This was a first for me. I had never had a queen just leave before.

    • Jeff,

      That’s terrible! I’ve seen them do that, though. One time, one flew off but she circled back around and flew just above the open brood box. I swatted her down with the palm of my hand and she landed on the top bars. I quickly added the lid and all was fine.

      Since then, I use marshmallow plugs and let the bees release her.

    • Had a mature queen fly off last year after she’d been caged for 2 weeks for a brood break. Guess the break had slimmed her down to flying weight. A few days later she was back and laying.

      • Paul,

        I agree: I’ve seen and heard about them coming home. Maybe Jeff should just wait a day or so. She may have gone for a joyride.

  • I’ve just spent a couple of hours at the apiary in the pouring rain trying to find the spectacles that I must have dropped yesterday. I always take off my varifocals when I get to the hives and use supermarket reading specs.

    I don’t suppose Cliff has a solution for me.

    • Dave,

      You sound like me. I can’t hold onto anything and spend all my time hunting for keys, glasses, and wallet. I have special places to deposit all these things, but there’s always something more important to do first.

  • I decided a few years ago I was done with losing the tool, fumbling for pens, etc., so I splurged and bought a leather tool belt from Canada. I absolutely love this belt, it holds my queen marking pen, Sharpie marker, and pen. I have been a customer of BetterBee for a few years now, kudos to them for offering a tool belt.

  • Right there with you on losing things. There’s an expression about body parts and losing them if they weren’t attached! This is brilliant! And I have it from the horses mouth that more than one of these can be used on the same belt- Should help lots since I also use a flat cake icing knife to slice away brace comb the bees use to hold TBH comb they way they want it so I don’t wind up breaking comb when examining the colonies.

  • I also use a magnet, but put it in the breast pocket of either my bee suit or shirt. Visitors are initially amazed, later awed, at the sight of my hive tool attached to the outside of the pocket ‘by magic …’

  • I’ve seen the hive tool belt, but I doubt it would work for me. My hive tools frequently end up in the same never-never land as my glasses, my phone, my keys, even that book I’m reading. I set the item down Somewhere other than where I would usually put it, and completely forget where that was. A few years ago I actually had to buy a third hive tool because I couldn’t find either of the tools that should have been in the shed, the garage, on the front porch, or out by the hives. Months later I found one of them in the plastic tote containing the bag of sugar that I carried out to the hives for winter feed (can’t remember where I found the other one but I’m sure it was equally stupid; maybe that was the time one was in the freezer). This year I’ve been looking for my J-hook for a couple of months, and I just found it at the bottom of a box of paper and rags that I use for smoker fuel.

    Right up there with The Tool I Lose is the tool I forget to take with me half the time (frame lifter, and frame hangers), or if I take them, I forget to use them. My favorite is when I leave the frame hangers on one side of the bottom brood box while I laboriously lift the two heavy supers and put the lids on from the other side of the hive. Yeah, my bees love this too.

  • Taking all the fun out of beekeeping. Usually I find mine inside the hive laying across the frames or down on the bottom board screens. Always take four with you and that way you may end up with one. Good idea and maybe the belt will hold the bee suit up. Why do bee suit crotches always meet the knees? Defect?

  • That magnetic hive tool belt looks like a terrific idea. Do they sell a magnet bee suit soze I won’t lose the belt?

    Also, totally off topic, yesterday I got 2?3?4? stings while I was minding by own business in the beeyard. And by ‘minding my own business” I mean smushing an ant colony under an observation window cover. This has happened enough times that I am _beginning_ to detect a pattern.

    • Roberta,

      Maybe they think you will kill them, too? Last night my dog kept barking at a dead possum. Really dead. I wonder why.

      • From what I’ve learned about possums they apparently don’t taste so good if grabbed once dead. Oh wait, maybe I should clarify- from what our LGDs do once they dispatch one in the pasture. Kinda a bummer cause they are beneficial- unless you also have chickens.

        • Gary,

          No more chickens, but I’ve noticed that cats down eat possums either. My grandfather did, though. An Appalachian thing, I think.

      • My suspicion is that since even I can smell the smooshing of the ant colony (something like Formic Pro, but not really) then the bees probably smell it even more. And maybe they don’t like it.

        Also, as the loving mama to an idiot dog, may I tactfully suggest that it’s because your dog is an idiot? (Sorry dogs; I know you can’t help it.) But maybe your dog is the exception, and he knew possums played possum and he was just trying to protect all of you in case the possum was faking. I mean, if squirrels are evil incarnate, opossums probably are as well.

  • Hi Rusty and friends,

    Kindred souls of the lost hive tool, there is a “simple” solution. I sewed recycled magnets (old hard drive) under each end of a 2″ x 6″ strip of recycled leather (old purse from Goodwill). This arrangement is on my upper off arm. I’m left-handed so the tool holder is on my right upper arm.

    When you hear ‘click click’, the tool is locked down and not going anywhere except where you go. Works for me, good luck.

    The sun is shining – get with it!

    Jon Sumpter

  • I only have 20 colonies, so I buy J-hooks in lots of 5 on Amazon. They are about $4 each. Then I just place one on top of each hive’s inner cover. This also helps with apiary hygiene.

      • Baloney! Don’t work for me. I am the proud owner of at least 30 or 40 hive tools. I have two hive tools on EACH hive starting in the spring. By summer, if you can find even one you are very, very lucky. By fall, I’m looking to buy more because I just can’t find even one. Then, over winter, when I go ‘try’ to organize all the bee stuff, I find the hive tools, put them in a bucket for cleaning, and then in the spring, I get to start all over again. Oh joy!

        • Well, Debbie, that’s also a good idea. I still use my very first hive tool, although what it has cost me in time is hard to quantify.

        • Debbie,

          Better body oxygenation helps with losing stuff. Oral B12, needed in making hemoglobin from iron, is almost impossible to absorb enough of orally. A B12 shot from your doctor, in combo with eating liver or red meat with greens, can really help. I should have done this years ago!

          Iron intake is also difficult as women 20-50 need 18 grams of iron per day. (Look up the iron in what you ate yesterday & see what I mean). If you are older and didn’t get it in your younger years, you could be running at a deficit as I was. Older men don’t get away easy, either. They (along with the over-fifty women) need 8 grams of iron.

          Wish someone would have told ME years ago! What gets me is all the money I spent on supplements that were not being absorbed. Anyway, balance this? Maybe save money on replacing tools, lol. Hope this helps!

  • Hi Rusty,

    Just curious – what do you use to clean your hive tools between visits to your hives? I’ve always used bleach, but I read somewhere recently that hydrogen peroxide would be better product to use.

    Thank you.

    • Jim,

      I prefer to use a propane torch. To be effective, most liquids need an extended contact period to be effective, something like soaking for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the concentration. This holds for bleach, alcohol, and peroxide. But if you have the time and patience, it’s fine to use one of the chemicals. Just make sure you look up the concentration vs contact time for whichever one you are using.

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