KISS Langstroth Hives
Excuse me, did you say KISS?
By Golly yes I did.
The KISS Method (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I think applies just as much, if not more so, to beekeeping than anywhere else.
It's practically unanimous opinion in the beekeeping world that bees don't care what our hives look like or what joint cuts we use or anything like that. Those variations are for us.
Because of the relative low cost and uniformity of frames for sale, it's almost not worth building your own unless you have something specific in mind. To build a Langstroth hive, you can save money by building pretty much everything but the frames.
So, if you want to keep your life simple and spend more time working with bees instead of hemorrhaging money or building like a mad person, this article might be able to help.
Believe it or not, there will be pictures of each step for each of these projects in the near future.
These plans are for typical 10 frame hives. (Here are specs for the more experienced, box joint person)
Let's also bee clear that it is the inside box dimensions that are the most important here.
I will add notes and dimensions next to these though, to build 8 frame boxes as well. Eight frame medium boxes seem to be gaining in popularity.
You will notice that we do not stray into any complicated joining beyond the basic butt joint. If you glue with a strong carpenters waterproof glue and nail or staple the heck out of it, it will last plenty long.
We do cut rabbets though.
Also, we assume you are using wood with standard measurements so a 1 by is really 3/4" thick.
To get a board to cut a deep box, you are better off using a 1 by 12 and ripping one edge down to 9 5/8" (because a 1 by 10 isn't really that wide and if you just went with a 1 by 10 board, your frames wouldn't be keeping to bee space. Although, if you really want to observe proper bee space, you will make deeps 9 1/2" instead.)
To build a medium box, you can cut down a 1 by 8 board down to 6 5/8"
By the way, you can build one box from a 6 foot long board. if you buy a 12 footer, you can get two boxes out of it.
The Basic Base
Starting from the bottom up we have the base board. Yes, I do mean base 'board'. All of the fancy IPM techniques, tools and chemicals have not made serious dents in controlling mites. What has worked is keeping bees well fed, away from synthetic chemicals and pesticides and letting the bees build up natural resistances, tolerances and genetic hygienic behaviors.
The Basic Floor Board
None of those things are really deeply affected by using complicated hive bottoms. So if money is your deciding factor on what type of bottom board to use, go with what's simple. A board.
OK, I guess it's not quite that simple, much as we'd like it to be. It's a 14 3/4" x 19 1/8" board with 2 1/4" strips glued and tacked around 3 sides. Back, left and right. The front gets nothing tacked to it.
For 8 frame bottom, use 12 1/4" W x 19 1/8" L for the board
Two of the strips are 19 1/8" long and the rear strip is 16 1/4". (13 1/2" for the rear strip if building 8 frame)
Glue the side strips and the rear strip to the board in the center of the strips.
Hint here - the strips have room for 3, 3/4" spaces.divide the strips width into 3 equal spaced lines and use the center third to glue the big board
After these are glued on, tack them on with a brad nails or staples. You now have a bottom board with 3/4" above the board and 3/4" Below the board to keep moisture off the underside. not too hard really.
The Basic Entrance Reducer
Lot's of people find these handy and pay way too much for them. These are so easy and cheap to make, it's scary. If you bought enough wood to build some boxes, chances are you have some scrap pieces around that will fill the bill.
Get one piece of wood that you can cut to be 3/4" square and 14 3/4" long. Got it? Now your entrance block has 4 sides, Pick one and call it 1, turn it and you have side 2, turn again, 3, turn it once more, side 4.
Pick side 1 and use your handy jigsaw to cut a notch out that is 3/8" deep and 2" long over toward one end of the bar, maybe two inches from the end and work inward.
After that is cut, flip it to side 2 and start on the opposite end, about 2 inches in and cut 3/8" deep and 4 inches long toward the middle of the piece.
That's it. You have an entrance reducer with a winter entrance and a spring entrance.
You can also use these when you notice other bees robbing the hive or when starting a new hive to make it easier to defend till the population rises.
The Basic Floor Box
OK, you want an IPM solution and you want a dead air space to provide better ventilation in the hive. Don't spend a boat load of money on a custom IPM box/floor. First, they cost too much, second, they aren't usually deep enough.
This just can't get easier. Get some 1" by 4" material, maybe that you have left over or maybe you pop out and pick up a 4 foot piece for like $5.00 at Home Depot. While you're there, get some window screen, not a big roll and make sure it's the metal screen, not the plastic. Five or seven more bucks tops.
Back in the shop, cut 2 lengths at 19 1/8" long and 2 lengths at 16 1/4". Make a box with them using the 16 1/4" pieces as the ends. (the side pieces are the inside pieces)
Once those are glues and nailed or stapled and squared, grab that metal screen and cut a rectangle about an inch bigger than the new box on each side.
Staple the screen down snug over the top of the box. Don't leave gaps that bugs can climb under. Nice and tight.
OK, now to make some 3/4" x 3/4" strips again, same lengths as the boards for this box (2 lengths at 19 1/8" long and 1 lengths at 16 1/4"), except, you only need one end piece for the rear and two side pieces (like the floor we made.) Nail or staple them over the screen, leaving the front open.
That's it. By sitting your bottom brood box on top of this floor box, you now have a nice deep, screened varroa floor that the mites definitely cannot jump back up through and it's a nice dead air space that will help ventilate the upper boxes. The beauty is, the entrance reducer we made will fit in the new entrance created by not putting a 3/4" front piece.
Total cost, maybe ten dollars, IF you paid consumer prices for the wood, if you used recycled wood, even cheaper and you didn't pay all that extra shipping or have to get fancy cuts involved.
The Basic Box
You have your choice of box depths to start with here.
Many people now-a-days are converting all their boxes to mediums so they have interchangeable everything. Mediums for brood, honey and anything else. It's not a bad idea. I like deeps though so I will give you the info for both deeps and mediums. you can go from there if you like.
The deep box is typically used for brood boxes now.
Pay attention to the inside dimensions. Those are the most important.
A deep box is
Outside Dimensions: 19 7/8" L x 16 1/4" W x 9 5/8" (9 1/2" if you want 3/8" bee space with frames) deep
For 8 frame, use 19 7/8" L x 13 3/4" W instead for outer dimensions
This means we need side boards cut at 19 7/8".
Inside dimensions: 18 3/8" L x 14 3/4" W x 9 5/8" (9 1/2) deep.
For 8 frame inner dimensions, use 18 3/8" L x 11" W
The ends are going to have rabbets cut into them, so we want to have the end boards cut at 14 3/4" (for butt joints).
Cut end boards at 12 1/4" for 8 frame
The easiest way to cut a rabbet is with a table saw. raise the blade to 5/8" and set the fence to 1/4" then run the end pieces (the shorter pieces) through.
Remember, when you set the fence on the table saw, the blade itself takes 1/8" off, so if you want 3/8 total removed, by setting 1/4" (2/8") between the fence and the blade, the blade will eat up the last 1/8" and you have a total of 3/8" taken off. If you were to set the fence for 3/8", you would end up with 4/8" (1/2") removed instead and that is 1/8" too much.
Once the first cut of the rabbet is done, change the depth of the table saw blade to 3/8" and set the fence to 1/2" (not 5/8" because the blade will take the remaining 1/8")
That's it. No more complicated cutting.
These boxes have no tops or bottoms to square them up, so, when you glue the sides to the ends (remember, the ends go in between the side pieces) you will need a square to make sure the boxes aren't crooked. Use a clamp on each end holding the long sides pressed onto the short ends.
Once the glue is dry and the boxes are square, nail or staple those things like a madman. I prefer to use approx. one inch spacing between my brads. These boxes have been given to children ages 5 to 10 years old and used for anything you can think of and some things you don't want to think of without breaking.
If you are using nails, you will likely want to pre-drill the holes so that the nails don't split the wood.You want nails that are at least going to go through 3/4" and then at least another 3/4" so maybe look for 1 1/2" nails and drill holes accordingly.
You now have made a hive box. Easy and pretty satisfying.
For a medium box, you follow the same procedure as above except you want dimensions of
Outside Dimension:19 7/8" L x 16 1/4" W x 6 5/8" deep
Inside Dimensions: 18 3/8" L x 14 3/4" W x 6 5/8" deep
You now have made as many boxes as you need or want for a lot cheaper than you can buy them.
I keep talking about "heavy dropsies" for the record, general guess-timating puts a 10 frame deep box, full of honey, at about 90 pounds. Don't let that fall on your foot. A medium is supposed to be about 60 pounds.
A five frame nuc box can be guess-timated at about 25 to 30 pounds. Much less heavy to carry around than those big 10 frame boxes.
All too often, beekeepers aren't very gentle as they stack boxes, the heavier the box, the harder they land on top of the box below. All of that stacking and un-stacking causes wear and tear, stress, on the boxes.
Basic Box Handles
These are fun.
Find yourself a couple of strips of 1 by whatever wood. Cut yourself two pieces that are at least 1 to 2 inches wide and 16 1/4" long.
Glue one of each to the front end and rear end of your box. I'd suggest about 2 to 4 inches down from the top of the box. Then, nail or staple them firmly in place.
Remember to use nails or staples that will not drive all the way through the inside of the box. Think 1 1/4" nails or staples.
The Basic Covers
There are three covers most used on Langstroth type hives.
The inside cover The outside cover.
Wait a minute, I said there were three types overs, that's only two.
There is an inner cover and most commonly a telescoping outer cover. That's two. However, there is also what is called the 'migratory cover' which can be used in place of the telescoping cover.
See, that's three.
The Basic Inner Cover
I make these the simple way.
Take a piece of wood, or two pieces glued together (I personally prefer solid board over plywood for these) to make one, and make it 16 1/4" x 19 7/8". There ya go.
What you can add now is a hole smack in the middle of the board. 1 1/4" W x 3 1/2" L. To make this, I will draw a rectangle in the middle of the board with those dimensions. Then I take the biggest drill bit I have then drill a hole on the inside edge of the corners of the box I drew, be careful not to drill outside the lines.
Taking my handy little jig saw, I start off inside one of the holes I drilled and begin to cut out the inside of the rectangle. That's it.
That's all there is to an inside cover.
The Basic Telescoping Cover
A telescoping cover is pretty easy too. You can use plywood here if you want.
Outside Dimensions: 21 3/4" L x 18 1/8" W
Board dimension: 20 1/4" L x 17 3/8" W
Outer Strips cut at: 2 ea 21 3/4" 2 ea 18 1/8"
All the strips are glued to be level or flush with the board on one end so they project down from it.
The short strips fit between the long ones, when clamping.
When the glue is dry, nail or staple those bad boys as much as needed.
Lots of folks will cover the telescoping cover with a sheet of aluminum or copper. I don't. I just coat the holy heck out of the top with waterproofing and let it be.
If you want to get some ventilation under your cover or use it for a top entrance, all you need to do is place an entrance excluder underneath it. That props it up enough.
That, is the Telescoping cover.
The Basic Migratory Cover
You just don't get simpler than this.
Get a piece of wood, plywood is fine and cut it 19 7/8" x 16 1/4".
Now you have a migratory cover. you don't even need an inner cover with these. Although, I guess, you could use an inner cover under it if you really wanted to.
If you want to make it a little more secure, make a couple of the box handles and attach them to the ends so the handles and board are flush on the top, but the bars form a lip on the bottom.
This allows the cover not to slide front to back and a well fastened strap or two will hold it down snug.