Written before I realised a thread had been started ....
Received a PM earlier today asking me for any tips/advice about cell-punching - so I thought I'd post the info ...
Ok - so why cell-punch ? A forum name like 'Little John' might give the clue that I wear XXXL clothes and have hands the size of shovels. My eyesight, although once excellent, is now rubbish. So - over-sized hands and crap eyesight together means I have great difficulty manipulating tiny sensitive objects like larvae. Hence my need to find a suitable method for raising queens.
Ok - so let's say you've found yourself a suitable-sized larva sitting happily in the bottom of a cell in a brood-comb, and you proceed to remove that larva, wax cell and all. Great - now what are you going to do with it ? So this is where my story begins ...
The punched-cell needs to be attached to something, preferably some structure which can be used to move the queen-cell once it has been fully drawn and capped. This is a photo of the first method I devised - the 'Mushroom System'.
The 'mushrooms' were made from gluing short lengths of dowel rod into the blanks which result from drilling holes in plywood with a hole saw. A dab of molten wax is then dripped onto the end of the inverted 'mushroom stalk', with 8 such 'mushrooms' being held in a purpose-made rack. Punched cells are then duly attached to those wax surfaces.
As a system it worked reasonably well, except that the bees glued the 'mushrooms' firmly to the bar which made their removal difficult, and there's no straightforward method of protecting the queen-cells from an early emerging virgin, as there is with the cages of the Nicot System.
Then I hit upon the idea of modifying the Nicot cell-cups to replicate the 'mushroom stalks'. This was done by slicing-up some suitable dowel rod into short lengths, and gluing them with epoxy into NEW, UNUSED cell cups. Then, wax was dripped onto their ends as before, and having attached the punched cells, the resulting queen-cells - when fully drawn and capped - could be treated in exactly the same way as if they had been created by initially grafting a larva into a cell-cup.
Here are some modified cell-cups:
and here's one inserted into a rack, showing the cages which I consider one of the best features of the Nicot System.
Ok - so now that we've established a technique for handling punched-cells, we can now address a method for creating them in the first place ...
Cell-punching is very similar in principle to using a pastry-cutter, except that we need to heat the ring punch (typically with boiling water), in order for it to cleanly cut through the wax comb. The comb itself should neither be old comb (for that is far too tough to cut), nor brand new comb (for that is too soft to handle). Brood comb which has been used once or twice is ideal.
Punch tools can be made from a plumbing fitting which is known as an 'olive' in Britain, but maybe you call these 'ferrules' or perhaps something else. It's the round copper or brass 'collar' which is slipped onto copper pipe before connecting it to a compression fitting. Any hardware store supplying plumbing fittings will stock these.
I've made several punches by soldering a couple of short pieces of brazing rod to a brass olive, and then epoxying the brazing rod into the end of a dowel-rod handle. Then bend the brazing rod to give a comfortable working angle - there are a couple in the next photograph, along with a Queen-Cell punch (more about that in another post).
A word about size. The most common olives are 1/2" diameter in the US, and 15mm in Europe. This size is really too large, and often a second cell is accidently included - so, be on the look-out for this, and simply spike the unwanted larva.
I suppose an olive could always be cut and squeezed to reduce it's diameter - but I've never done this.
You'll also see that I've cut a slot into an illuminated magnifying glass, so that the punch tool can be inserted through that.
Ok - so - procedure ... place the illuminated magnifying glass on the comb surface, and find yourself a suitable larva. Place the hot punch around the selected cell, and press gently downwards. The punched cell will come away with the tool, and then be 'stuck' inside it. So - if you go back to the 'Nicot Cages' photograph, you'll see a simple solution. Push down onto that vertical dowel rod, and the punched cell lifts out. Then hold that cell - ever so gently
- in your left hand. With your right hand, using the modified(*)
soldering iron shown, melt the wax on top of a modified cell cup and, pulling the iron away to one side, gently place the punched cell onto the still molten wax. Within seconds, it will be set in place.
And that's really all there is to it.
This iron has been modified in two ways: it has a diode fitted in the plug, so that it now runs on half power (a Dave Cushman idea), and it's round copper bit has been replaced by a copper tube, hammered flat to form a spatula tip (a Little John idea !). A useful tool, but a 'hot knife' would do the same job.