Grafting Tools

The Idea

Queen Rearing

Top::Chinese(wood), Middle:German, Bottom:Chinese(plastic), Right:Master. I’ve given all but the Chinese tools away.

After using just about every conceivable kind of grafting tool, I’ve found the Chinese grafting tool is:

  • more user friendly
  • faster
  • cheaper

than any of the others.

The Details

Advantages

I’ve tried many grafting tools. The Chinese grafting tool is my favorite. It consists of a flexible tongue and a spring loaded extractor. Some advantages of the Chinese tool are:

  • easy use
  • can graft young larva
  • removes all the royal jelly with the larva
  • no larva contact
  • can graft by feel rather than sight

Preparation

Some Chinese tools require a little modification before they work properly. If the tongue is too stiff or blunt, it jabs the cell bottom and sticks slightly, rather than smoothly following the cell’s natural curvature underneath the larva. Use a fine sandpaper(400 grit) to thin and slightly taper a stiff/blunt tongue. Go slowly and frequently test the tip. There’s no remedy for a tongue that’s sanded too thin.

When the tip is too thin, it bends too soon when contacting the cell bottom. It’s almost impossible to use and quickly fails.

When grafting from old comb, a stiffer tongue works great. The same tongue, when used on new or plastic comb, will jab the cell bottom. If you graft from both kinds of comb, it’s handy to have a different grafting tool prepared for each kind.

Use

JzBz plastic queen cups.

Here’s how to use the tool:

  • Rinse the tip in distilled water
  • Hold the tool between your longest finger and thumb
  • Place your index finger on top of the plunger. The upper surface of the tongue should be aligned and be parallel with the lower right hand cell wall
  • Slide the tongue down the lower right hand cell wall
  • When the tongue bottoms out, rotate the tool, ever so slightly, between the thumb and longest finger. If you see the tool rotate, you’ve probably rotated too much. You should just feel it rotate
  • Withdraw the tool and larva along the cell sidewall

To place the larva in a queen cup, the process is repeated.

  • The tongue is slid down the lower right hand side of the queen cup wall
  • The larva is centered on the cup’s bottom
  • Now the larva is extracted off the tip by simultaneously pushing down on the plunger and withdrawing the tongue at the same rate. It sounds complicated, but is easy to do. The result is a larva that remains stationary while the tool is withdrawn. This leaves the larva undisturbed with only minor disruption to the royal jelly. Note, the larva isn’t bulldozed off the end of the tip which leaves the larva and royal jelly in a jumbled pile

Eventually, the tongue will become sticky and should be rinsed again.

Limitations

There are two different kinds of Chinese grafting tools. One is made entirely of a bright green plastic. It’s pressed together and has few problems. Sometimes, the plastic plunger cap tends to loosen up. Some hot glue permanently fixes that problem. This kind of tool will last almost forever if the tip is protected. It is a superior grafting tool. And at $6 each, they are well worth the extra price.

The other type is more cheaply made with a bamboo plunger. After a time, the wood tends to swell and stick when the tongue is rinsed. Eventually, it needs to be set aside and left to dry. Quality control is lacking with this tool. Some don’t work well. Some have plungers that operate roughly. Others, tongues that can’t be effectively modified. All of them need to be modified to work properly. And even the best of these seldom lasts beyond a single season. I’ve seen them advertised for about $1 apiece, so buy a handful of them. And consider them disposable.

New Source

I initially purchased the superior type tool from Thorne in England. This was before any Chinese grafting tools were available in the US.

Subsequently, the cheaper tools became available in America. And the superior tools disappeared from Thorne. At least it appears they only sell the cheaper tool now.

Swienty now sells an all plastic tool similar to the superior tool I purchased from Thorne. There appears to be some differences in the plunger. But maybe it’s the updated version of the model I purchased a decade ago. Check it out Swienty’s Chinese Grafting Tool.

Conclusion

Practice and a quick glance to determine a larva’s age, is all the looking needed. The Chinese tool slides down the cell sidewall and the larva is extracted by feel. Then, the larva is put in a queen cup the same way. A quick glance to make sure all is well. No peering at miniscule larva or grafting tool tips. With a little practice, you can graft about 5 larva in the time it takes to read this paragraph.

Update

Glorybee Chinese grafting tool.

Glorybee sells an all plastic Chinese grafting tool that’s the best I’ve seen so far. It’s action is smooth and light. And quality control seems much better, as all the tips were functional without any modifications.

Check them out in Glorybee’s Catalog.

Helpful Grafting Accessories

Here are several items that make using a Chinese grafting tool easier until you get the feel of it.

headlamp

-bW

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4 responses to “Grafting Tools”

  1. Brad Jones says:

    Nice. I was just commenting on a forum about the use of a wooden chinese grafting tool vs using a toothpick and came to the same conclusions. Nice run-down and good pics. Will be helpful for those thinking of getting started.

  2. Ron says:

    I have a commercial beekeeping operation in Peace River ,Alberta Canada. I am using the Chinese grafting tool. I agree with you. It is practically useful and inexpensive. Thank you for your writing.
    Ron

    • -bW says:

      Hi Ron

      Peace River, Alberta! Is it still a beekeeping paradise?

      About 4 decades ago, my brother and I almost started a commercial beekeeping operation there. But at the last minute, after running a few test hives in Delta Junction, Alaska, decided to make a go there. Alaska taxes were non-existant compared with the 40+ percent in Canada.

      Delta Junction was a flop. Should have tried the Peace River area.

      Thanks for the note.

      -bW

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