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I was just at a beekeeping field class the other day and the students were wearing several different types of beekeeping gloves. I began to wonder, what type of beekeeping gloves should I be using?
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What type of beekeeping gloves should I be using?
Beekeeping glove choices are an individual, case by case evaluation of your need for gloves. Many seasoned beekeepers wear none. Your primary choices include cow leather, goat leather, rubber, and latex/nitrile. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each.
The first question to answer is: “Why wear beekeeping gloves at all”?
While many seasoned beekeepers do not use beekeeping gloves at all, the consensus of beekeepers that do not wear gloves will recommend the beginner always use beekeeping gloves until such time as they feel comfortable enough to handle their bees without gloves.
The second question to answer then would be: “Why do I need to wear beekeeping gloves”?
This is where the individual case-by-case consideration comes into play.
Some of the reasons you might consider wearing gloves would be:
- Perhaps you are allergic to bee venom, in that case, you would most certainly wear the most protective gloves that you could find. A cow leather glove provides that level of protection. We will discuss them later in this article.
- Some people will find they are allergic to the chemicals used to tan leather gloves and may be forced to choose a different material or different tanning process.
- Or maybe you just don’t like to get stung but want more dexterity than cow leather protective gloves offer. Goatskin leather gloves may be your optimal choice.
- Maybe you are trying to avoid being stung but are also afraid you may cross-contaminate from one hive to another while working with your beehives. Perhaps a thin leather glove with a latex disposable over the thin leather glove may be your choice.
- Possibly you don’t mind getting stung occasionally but have the need to have more ability to feel things through the glove, including bees, just so you don’t crush them while working with your hive. The nitrile beekeeping glove would be a good choice for you.
- Or maybe it is something as simple as you just don’t want all the beehive material, such as propolis, on your hands as it is very tough to get it all off after you are finished working with your beehives. A simple latex glove would be an acceptable choice.
Let’s discuss each option in more detail:
What is the most protective beekeeping glove I can buy?
The most protective beekeeping glove you can buy is the old standard cow leather beekeeping glove. Bees will not be able to penetrate a medium thick cowhide glove.
If you require this sting-proof glove you will also want to take into consideration the length of the glove gauntlet.
The downsides to this traditional beekeeping glove is its lack of dexterity and feel. You will most certainly crush some bees and they will sting the glove before they die. The problem here can be that a bee sting leaves a scent for other bees to attack and sting that same area. So just try to be as cautious as you can not to crush more bees than necessary to get your hive work completed.
And don’t forget about the placement of the glove/gauntlet venting.
Frequently it is placed at the glove/gauntlet interface at the level of the wrist. The problem with that placement is that when you are working at the hive, and a task requires you to flex your wrist, that action tightens the venting against the back of your wrist, compressing the venting material a little making it possible for a bee to sting you on the back of your wrist through the venting.
What beekeeping gloves are flexible but still offer the ability to be stingless gloves?
Goatskin beekeeping gloves are more flexible than cow leather, providing more dexterity, and they are still stingless gloves.
Goatskin beekeeping gloves and much softer and more flexible than cow leather gloves in part because the goatskin is naturally softer and more flexible, and in part, because goatskin is not as thick as cow leather.
One thing I have seen in goatskin beekeeping gloves is the technique of glove construction where the thumb component is a separate piece stitched to the glove. This construction seems to provide more dexterity than when the thumb piece is an extension of one piece of leather, just like the finger components.
How can I make my leather gloves last longer?
Leather beekeeping gloves last longer if they have a reinforced palm, a second layer of leather in the palm. Double gloving the leather gloves with a disposable glove, such as a nitrile disposable glove, will prevent glove deterioration caused by constant washing after each hive serviced.
While working with your beehives you will be using the metal hive tool a lot. This will involve bracing the hive tool in the palm of your hand to exert the leverage you will need to break apart the frames in the beehive. This constant wear in the center of your hand will destroy the palm portion of the glove much more quickly than any other part of the glove.
Any leather glove has the potential to pick up disease and/or pests and transfer them to the next hive to be worked.
The recommendation by seasoned beekeepers to prevent cross-contamination is to thoroughly wash the gloves after working EACH individual hive. The problem now becomes one of working with wet gloves. And after the day’s work and the gloves dry out, they become less flexible and slicker making them a hazard for dropping thing at the hive (like a frame of honey with bees). So if you are going to wash the gloves after each hive, treat them with a good leather conditioner. Just be sure to use a bee-friendly conditioner so the scent or chemicals will not upset or harm your bees.
How can I use leather beekeeping gloves without washing after each hive but still avoid cross-contamination of my beehives?
The best way to wear leather beekeeping gloves without washing them after every hive encounter, but still preventing cross-contamination of another hive, is to wear a latex or nitrile glove over the leather glove and replace the disposable glove after each hive service is completed.
What makes a leather beekeeping glove soft?
The softness of a leather beekeeping glove depends on what kind of animal produced the leather, the thickness of the animal hide, and the tanning technique.
Most leather gloves, be they cow or goat skin, are mostly cured commercial using harsh chemicals in a process called “Chrome Tanning”. This technique uses the chemical reaction between the leather and a trivalent chromium salt, usually a basic chromium sulfate, in a bath. Then dye is added to achieve the desired color os the leather. Either of these processes can leave chemicals in/on the leather that can produce allergic reactions of the skin in some people.
A non-commercial tanning technique is used by some trappers to produce super soft and flexible hides of any animal. The technique involves making the animal’s brain into a solution that is then painted on the stretched hide and allowed to cure. This is certainly the best leather that can be obtained, but good luck in finding anyone making beekeeping gloves using this technique.
What are the Pros and Cons of rubber beekeeping gloves?
The pros of rubber beekeeping gloves are they are sting-proof and can be washed in the field after each hive has been serviced to prevent cross-contamination.
The cons of rubber beekeeping gloves are they lack dexterity and feel and you will crush some of your bees as you service the hive.
Are Nitrile beekeeping gloves sting proof?
Nitrile beekeeping gloves are neither sting proof nor puncture proof.
Seasoned beekeepers wearing Nitrile gloves are doing so to protect their beehive from cross contamination.
Some speculate the nitrile glove is more difficult for the bee to anchor itself, which is necessary to deliver their sting.
So here is a thought:
- Why not double glove with nitrile gloves to offer a bit more protection.
- It will not decrease your flexibility of ability to feel by much (surgeons double glove routinely while doing surgery).
- You would only be using one more glove than normal to service ALL your beehives. You only need to replace the outer glove to prevent the cross-contamination.
If you are going to use nitrile gloves, be sure to buy the long-cuffed nitrile gloves.
And purchase a sleeve gauntlet separately if you feel you need a gauntlet.
Final thoughts on what beekeeping glove I am going to purchase for use myself:
After thinking about it for some time, it comes to mind how much stereognosis and flexibility I was able to maintain wearing my golfing glove. I could feel the shape of the golf tees and could tell how hard I was squeezing it between my thumb and fingers. Plus it handled being wet with sweat very well.
So I’m thinking my best bet would be a good fitting golf glove with a nitrile long-cuff glove over the top of the golf glove and a separate sleeve gauntlet. Golf gloves come in enough sizes and finger lengths to get a really good, tight fit.
Can’t wait to try out my new idea!
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