Monday, 20 November 2017

The Love of Gloves - Part 2

Regular readers will know that I have been mulling over my glove options in advance of next year's beekeeping season.  And, more importantly, I have tried out a selection of gloves that I bought online, to see how well they suit beekeeping activities.  I'm going to compare them on three criteria, with marks out of 5 for each:
  • Are they sting-proof?
  • How much dexterity do they allow?
  • How good a grip do they provide?

I've also included, for comparison, bare hands (hint - not sting-proof!) and single-use latex gloves.  So, here are the reviews, and the all-important scores:

Bare Hands

Some beekeepers always do their beekeeping with bare hands.  I tried it once, and gave up after two stings in less than 5 minutes - and this was with a particularly gentle colony of New Zealand origin.  My problem was simple - I'm a bit sweaty.  If you sweat near bees they will smell it - in fact, bees have evolved an aggression reaction in response to mammal sweat.  This is because wild colonies can be subject to attacks by large mammals such as bears, so whenever bees smell bear sweat (or any mammal sweat) they will defend their hive.  Needless to say, bare hands offer no protection against stings - you just have to hope that the bees aren't in the mood to sting you.  On the plus side, if you are very non-sweaty, have very kind bees and are prepared to put up with the odd sting, then bare hands provide excellent dexterity and grip.  But for me, that trade-off ain't worth it.
  • Sting-proof:  0
  • Dexterity:     5
  • Grip:             5

Latex Gloves

Until this season, latex gloves were my go-to choice.  They actually don't provide much better sting-proofing than bare hands, though they do hold the sweat in, so the bees don't smell it and get angry.  Also, if you do get stung wearing latex gloves, simply pinching the glove at the site of the sting and pulling out around half an inch will be enough to remove the sting - if you can do this within 10 seconds of getting stung, it really reduces the effect.  Dexterity is pretty good, but the glove can occasionally get trapped between the frame lugs and the hive wall, which is irritating.  Grip is good, though if you get honey or syrup on the glove it can become a little slippy.
  • Sting-proof:  1
  • Dexterity:     4
  • Grip:             4

PVC Supertouch 23224 Fully Coated 45cm Gauntlet EN388 (4131)

The last four gloves all have EN388 ratings.  For glove nerds, or anyone else who finds this interesting, EN388 is a European standard for rating glove safety in four areas - abrasion resistance, blade cut resistance, tear resistance and puncture resistance.  Each of these is given a rating of 0-4, and then the ratings are put together (in order of abrasion, cut, tear and puncture resistance) to give a 4-figure number, which is the EN388 rating.  So, taking the Supertouch 23224 as an example, it scores 4 for abrasion resistance, 1 for cut resistance, 3 for tear resistance and 1 for puncture resistance, hence its EN388 rating of 4131.

You'd think the puncture resistance would be the factor that would matter most to a beekeeper.  And you'd sort-of be right, except that the test uses a 4.5mm rounded stylus which is pushed 50mm into a sample of the glove at a constant speed of 100mm/min.  This is quite different from a bee sting, which is really more comparable to a very thin, sharp needle.  So, the EN388 rating doesn't actually help us as much as we'd like in selecting a good beekeeping glove.

Nevertheless, I can attest that the Supertouch 23224 is most definitely sting-proof, as demonstrated by one very persistent bee yesterday who took it upon herself to give her life in the pursuit of rigorous glove testing.  The problem is that it's blooming bulky.  For doing things like lifting hive boxes, or taking the roof off to feed syrup, it's a good glove.  But for getting inside the hive and lifting frames, it just doesn't allow the sensitive finger movement that's required.  also, it can get quite slippy if you get syrup on the finger-tips.  So - good for shifting stuff around the apiary, but no good for hive inspections.
  • Sting-proof:  5
  • Dexterity:     1
  • Grip:             3

Nitrile Ansell 37-185 Sol-Vex Gloves EN388 (4102)

I like this glove.  It's a little thinner than the Supertouch 23224, but the payoff is better dexterity.  I've tried this for a hive inspection and found it had pretty good grip, and allowed for a fair amount of finger movement while still offering good sting protection.

The glove fits snugly to my hand, but unfortunately is a little too tight - one of the problems of internet shopping is you can't try for size.  However, it is available in a larger size, which I will be ordering ready for next season.

  • Sting-proof:  4
  • Dexterity:     3
  • Grip:             4

PVC Supertouch 22834 Double Dip 45cm Gauntlet EN388 (4121)

This is another solid, heavy glove.  Unfortunately, that means it shares many of the same problems as the Supertouch 23224 red gauntlet.  It's slightly less bulky, which means dexterity is a little better, though not much.  What it does have in its favour is a flocked surface on the fingers, which gives it much better grip than the Supertouch 23224.

As with the Supertouch 23224, it's fine for doing external work such as rearranging supers and brood boxes, but too bulky for lifting frames inside a hive.
  • Sting-proof:  5
  • Dexterity:     2
  • Grip:             4

Ansell 37-900 Premium Sol-Vex Gauntlet EN388 (4102)

This one is the lightest of the four that I ordered.  In fact, it's only a little thicker than household washing-up gloves such as Marigolds.  That means less sting protection than the others (though still better than latex).  I also found these very slippery if I got syrup in them.  They allow better dexterity than the heavier gloves, though not noticeably better than the Ansell 37-185.  Probably useful for a fairly calm colony, or a nucleus, where the chances of receiving a sting are lower.

  • Sting-proof:  3
  • Dexterity:     3
  • Grip:             2

So, that's the review - but what's the verdict?  Well, I can confirm that the winner of the "Which Glove Will Andy Be Wearing In 2018" competition is...

The Ansell 37-185!  It's a good, versatile glove - sting-proof, but still with enough dexterity and grip to handle all the various in-hive tasks including frame-lifting, queen-marking and syrup-feeding.  I will be ordering three more pairs - in the larger size 9 - shortly (unless someone fancies buying me a pair or two for Christmas...?!)