Build a Warre Hive
The People's Hive
Abbe Emile Warre made several observations and devised his own version of a honey bee hive that would be conducive to 'natural' honey bee behavior and development, at the same time provide a system that would allow beekeepers to manage the hives to produce honey and wax to sell in order to support themselves.
Consequently, he called his hive "The People's Hive" and wrote a book, "Beekeeping For All", which documents his experiences and management techniques to go along with it. Abbe Warre was French and all of his very detailed instructions on how to build a Warre hive are in Metric measure. This is fine, but for the many beekeepers in the U.S. who don't use Metrics, we are looking for an American Standard measurement instead.
On this page, we will post the Abbe's exact construction directions with the only difference being the use of American Standard measure.
Building The People's Hive
The People's Hive with fixed combs comprises a floor, three identical boxes and a roof. The floor is the same size as the exterior of the hive-body boxes and is between 19/32" and 3/4" thick. The entrance to the hive is made through the depth of the floor.
This entrance through the depth of the floor is 4 3/4" wide and 1 1/2" deep if the walls of the hive-body box are 3/4" thick. The resulting notch in the floor is closed with a piece of wood 6 1/4" square (alighting board).
The alighting board is nailed underneath the floor in such a way that a piece 2 3/4" x 6 1/4" projects to the front. One could make the alighting board 16 1/8" long to strengthen the floor. The boxes rest directly on the floor and one above the other without interlocking.
There should be at least three boxes. Two boxes contain the brood nest in winter and spring. The third is added only for the nectar flow. But all three boxes are the same size. The inside dimensions of them are 8 1/4" deep and 11 13/16" wide (length and breadth).
At the top of the inside rim of the boxes, on two opposite sides, there is a need to make rebates to hold the combs (top-bars). These rebates are 3/8" wide and 3/8 deep. The thickness of the walls of the boxes should be at least 3/4".
On two exterior surfaces of each box are placed handles to ease manipulation. Each box should contain eight top-bars (comb supports). These top-bars have the following dimensions: 11/32 x 15/16 x 12 13/32.
The top-bars are fixed in the rebates with small pins, for example glaziers' pins. Moreover, these top-bars are placed at a distance of 1 13/32" between centres. Between each of them there is therefore a gap of 15/32" for the bees to pass. There is also a gap of 15/32" between the end bars and the adjacent walls of the box. This space allows the entire comb construction.
The roof surrounds the top box with a play of 13/32. The roof contains a sheet of material which covers the top-bars, and a quilt.
The quilt has the same length and breadth as the outside of the boxes. It should be 3 15/16" deep. Underneath the quilt is a sheet of coarse cloth. The square part of the roof will have the same depth plus 3/4". This square part is covered with boards which at the same time serve as covers for the quilt.
The angled part of the roof is empty and open on four faces. There is free passage of air at the top of the gables A (shaded area) and at the top of the eaves (shaded area). We have said that the roof contains a sheet of material that covers the top-bars of the top box to stop the bees sticking the top-bars to the quilt.
This sheet of material may be cut from used sacking. Its size should be at least 4 5/32" x 4 5/32" to begin with.
To prevent the bees from fraying this sheet of material, it is moistened with flour paste. To give this sheet of material the necessary shape and size it is placed still wet on the box. When it is dry, it is trimmed following the outer edges of the box. If the final cut of the material is made before wetting it, it will subsequently no longer be possible to obtain the necessary size.
Hive-body box of the People's Hive: G – eight top-bars rest in rebates at each end. They are 15/16" wide and separated by a gap of 15/32". H' – a coarse cloth covering the top box at all times; I – a metal mesh filling a slot in H; J – another piece of coarse cloth covering I. This fitting allows feeding with an upturned jam-jar. We prefer to use our large feeder. K – handle to facilitate manipulation. Avoid replacing this with a notch in the box or a metal handle as manipulation would then be more difficult.
In order to make the flour paste, mix into a litre of water four or five soup-spoonfuls of wheat flour, or better still, rye flour. Boil it while stirring with a spoon until it becomes a thick, homogenous paste. It is good to add a small amount of starch to the flour.
Economy roof for the People's Hive
The sloping roof is more stylish. The one described here is cheaper and suffices. However, it is better to give the side pieces a width of 6 1/4" instead of 1 1/2" to enable them fully to cover the quilt which is 4" deep and to enclose the top box to a depth of 3/4".
Cross-section of the People's Hive: Here the boxes are made of wood 3/4" thick. The lower box C is made of two sheets of 3/8" thick wood superimposed as can be found in old packing-cases. This is illustrated to show what can be done to economise. Other thicknesses can be used, but it is important to retain the internal dimensions of each box as 11 13/16" x 11 13/16" x 8 1/4". F – the top-bars rest on battens. They are easier to make than a rebate, but they make it more difficult to remove the combs. E – the top-bars rest on one thickness of wood that forms the rebate. The starter-strips hang under the top-bars. Here the hive is covered with a cheaper style of roof. There is no quilt below it.
Floor of the People's Hive: The sizes given are for a hive whose boxes have walls 3/4" thick. The battens at A and A' do not have any fixed width if not being used with our cast iron legs. In the latter case they would have to be at least 2 3/8" wide.
Sloping roof of the People's Hive:
1 – Wooden quilt 4" tall. 2 – Coarse cloth fixed underneath the quilt to support the insulating material: chopped oat straw, sawdust, etc. 3 & 5 – Cavity permitting a continuous flow of air. 4 – isolating board that prevents access of mice to the quilt. It is fixed to the roof. 5 – gap formed by assembly of the wood.
Cross section of sloping roof
Quilt: A – pack-cloth or old sacking.
Economical sloping roof for The People's Hive: B – top; A – base.
The basic rule in the People's Hive is to give each box internal dimensions as follows: depth: 8 1/4"; width and breadth 11 13/16" with a rebate of 3/8" x 3/8".
The external dimensions may vary according to the thickness of the wood used.
The floor must have a maximum size the same as the external dimensions of a box. It is preferable to make it < 1/64" less on all sides so that it will not trap water.
The quilt must have an exterior the same length and breadth as a box, less 3/16" to facilitate working. The roof should enclose the quilt and cover the top box by 3/4" with a play of 13/32" to facilitate removal and replacement.
What We Suggest
The way it is described in this plan, the joints are all butted joints. This is the easiest method of joining boxes as you simply glue and nail the end of one board to the edge of another board.
Using finger joints (commonly called 'box joints') does not require any adjustments to the measurements and arguably makes a stronger box.
One tip on cutting finger joints: stick a piece of masking tape firmly behind the area to be cut. This will eliminate tearing out at the back of the cut.
Rabbeted joints require that two of the sides (the two not having rabbeted recess' at the top for top bars) have 3/4" added to the total length of the board as the two end boards will have 3/8" rabbets cut into them to join the boxes.
Making them movable
First of all, to be legal in most states in the U.S., a bee hive must have removable frames/comb so as to be able to be inspected.
To make this work in a Warre hive, instead of nailing the top bars down in the box rebates:
- We just make a small cut in the center of each end of the top bars, just the width of the saw blade about half inch deep.
- After that, we place the top bars in the box rebates and space them out to where they should end up
- Tap finish nails into the wood through the cuts we made.
Finish nails have no heads, so the top bars can be picked up, yet the nails hold them from sliding around in the boxes.
Making them with common lumber
If we are using stock lumber, which today our 1 by thickness wood is usually about 3/4" thick, then we can make the box rebates to 3/8" by 3/4" to allow for the top bars being thicker.
When the good Abbe was keeping bees, mites were not one of the outstanding problems he faced, among others.
Some people like to build a bottom box, somewhat similar to a screened bottom board that is used on the Langstroth hives, only sized to fit under the Warre boxes and about 3 to 4 inches deep. This allows at least two inches or more beneath the screen so the mites cannot jump back onto the bees after falling through.
Being a completely closed or close-able solid bottom box, it helps to keep the heat intact as well.