Frame Grippers

Ways To Stay Away From The Bees

By: Jim Thompson

Do you know there are people that keep bees and don’t want to get close to them?

I thought that this was a new trend, but no, Crawford Holt developed a frame grip that he called “Tongs for Handling Comb Frames.” His patent was issued June 9th, 1891 and had a handle that would keep you a foot above the frame. There were several thumb screws on the “grip” so it could be adjusted for the type of frame that you were working. He claimed that it would give you a better grip, but I wonder about the handling ability once you got the frame out of the hive.

In 1916, Ferdinand Ross patented his “Appliance for Removing Comb Frames” and it was a handle that had wires that would turn under the top bar and hold the frame in place as long as you kept your thumb against the button. Now we have the start of a device that might rip the top bar off of the frames if the frames were not assembled right. I wonder just how long the wires would hold their shape and work correctly, as they seem to be fairly thin.

In 1925, Payton Wilson’s “Tool for Extracting Frames” is starting to look like the frame grips of today only it grips the top bar from the sides rather than hooking below it.  When you squeeze the handle, there are spurs that will dig into the wood. This may work fine until the frame gets scared up from multiple manipulations.

The design “flaw” of having hooks digging into the side of the top bar was continued into Hugo Zeitler’s “Device for Lifting Frames” as he had a plate on each side of the grip that had three hooks. It appears as the grip had enough depth to go under the top bar, but he must have wanted the plate to crush bees.

I know that this isn’t a frame grip, but it fits right in here time wise. On April 22, 1930, Laurence Wilson received a patent for his “Beehive Frame Hook”. You might have to shorten the ears of the frames in order to get the hook to go on the frames while they are still in the hive. Any burr comb and propolis will take up space, preventing it from going on the ears. It looks like a set of modified ice tongs that will keep the frame about a foot away from you and has the possibility of slipping off the ears of the frame. At some point, you are going to have to remove the frame from the holder and the best way would be to have a helper.

In the 1920s, Dadant sold a combination hive tool and frame grip. It was well made but caused you to choose what task you were going to do.

Perhaps Anton Kouba got his inspiration from the Dadant tool as it had only a small area to grip the frame. It had the hive tool on one side of the “pliers” and makes me wonder if you could even use the hive tool as a scraper. I’ll bet he was a mechanic and patterned his “Honeycomb Frame Handling Pliers” after the brake shoe pliers that were used on drum brakes. It also looks like one would have a balance issue with this tool.

On August 5, 1941, Edward Sterling introduced his frame lifting tool. Not only was it a long tool of 19”, but it would clamp on the ears of the frame. Just think about lugging this tool around the bee yard so you can remove frames.  Then you would have to work the grippers under the propolis and burr comb on the ears of the frame and yank out the frame. I seem to remember that the weakest part of the frame is its ears, so maybe one should invest in a bunch of those metal ear repair units.

Cecil Hartley was granted his patent for a “Honeycomb Frame Lifter” on June 6, 1944. It featured a big wooden gripping handle, sheet metal gripping arms, and a complicated pivot system. The jaws of the lifter are back to the spur gripping method and the pivot system limits the amount of space that the jaws will open. There were no springs so one would have to open and close the lifter manually.

Now we are talking, a “Locking Handle Grip”! August 22, 1961, Horace Daum introduced a cast aluminum frame grip that had external springs and attachments to lock the grip in the closed position. The springs could pinch skin or gloves and the casting spurs may encourage one to release their hold, so the locking feature was necessary. The locking feature was located at the end of the grip and you would have to turn the locking lever under the cross arm. This made it easy to lock and somewhat more difficult to unlock.

However a California firm developed a cast aluminum frame grip that had an internal spring and was pleasant to hold. If you ordered enough of them, you could have the name of your company molded into the handle. I remember seeing one that had A.I. Root printed in one handle and Walter Kelley in the other, so someone goofed in assembling the grip. The drawbacks to this frame grip were that the spring would pop out and get lost and the pins holding the two handles together would slide out. Would you believe that I have a couple of these and can’t find them currently for a picture?

I purchased four different frame grips recently. The quality of the frame grips is much worse than the California cast aluminum one, but how often will they be used? The first frame grip has an angular handle of metal and feels cheap to hold. The one with metal tubes gives you an eerie feeling when you are squeezing; the handle. The tubes move with your hand but then pop as there is about a 1/8” clearance. The wood handled one feels good to hold, but how long will it last with the screws going into end grain? That leaves the one that is made out of bent steel rods. The operation is much smoother than the rest.

June 20, 2006. William Pointer developed an “Apparatus for the Removal and Handling of Honey Frames”. It is a handle that is longer than the frames and has two turn screws or thumb screws that attach the handle to the frame. It would require you to drill the top bar of each frame that you ever thought that you would ever remove. The two holes would have to be located precisely so that the proper sized threaded inserts or rivet nut threaded inserts could be used. Then you would have to have a stand made to hold the frame and handle.

Also on the market is a combination hive tool and frame gripper. I had to file the hive tool for about a half hour in order to get it sharp enough to use. Then it seems that when using the frame grip, the hive tool is somewhat in the way.

Can’t you tell by now that I don’t think much of frame grips? They can be destructive to the frames by pulling off top bars. If I took every type of beehive accessory out to the beeyard, I would have to have a wheelbarrow to haul the stuff and a check list to see that I don’t lose something.

Jim Thompson has been a beekeeper and a beekeeping historian for many years. He lives in Smithville, Ohio.