Building Bee Hives
For the handy person who wants to save money and do it yourself, I offer the below information and links.
First of all, there are a variety of designs for top bar hives to work from. You want to take into consideration, do I want a Vertical top bar hive (like a Warre hive) or a horizontal hive (like a Kenyan Top Bar Hive). This page will cover providing pdf files you can download that have detailed plans you can build a hive from. These are plans that are found all over the internet, but it’s nice to have this information all in one place as well.
Building Langstroth Hives
- Langstroth Hive
At BBE-Tech Apiary, we believe the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method is an undeniable truth. Over-complicating things in most cases never really helps anything in the long run and usually is an expression of denial or the inability to accept the things life throws at us. For those who want a simple method to build a Langstroth hive on their own, we offer our own KISS Langstroth plans over on our BeeWiki.
Another set of free plans that are out there are these Plans For Constructing A Beehive. You are more than welcome to use these plans as you wish. After all, the Langstroth Hive was invented well over 100 years ago, the patent on it’s design ran out long ago. It’s there now for everyone to use. Don’t forget to use a good exterior wood glue on butt joints. The glue is HUGE in keeping the boxes square and staying together.
If you want to use finger joints instead, I find the method used at this website, Router Workshop, reasonable. Feel free to check it out.
Building Top Bar Hives
Horizontal Hives –
One thing to remember about horizontal hives is that there is no conventionally agreed upon dimensions. Most horizontal hives are home made projects and built to each individuals interests.
Having said that, there are a growing number of horizontal hives being sold to the public by builders, particularly online and at local craft shows. Again, none of these will have standardized dimensions except among their own line of products.
When it comes to Tanzanian or long hives, it is generally common to find builders using a width of approx 19 to 19 1/2 inches so as to accommodate langstroth dimension frames. When it comes to lengths, that’s pretty much entirely up to the individual, however, the most common advice is that bees will not fill a horizontal hive longer than 5 foot.
The 5 foot length applies generally to the kenyan tbh as well. However, While you may frequently see many people say they still hold to a 19 inch top bar width, that is not quite as common as it is among the ttbh long hives. I have seen top bar widths range from 16 inches to as much as 24 inches.
- The ‘Micheal Bush Kenyan Top Bar Hive
I call this the Micheal Bush Kenyan Hive, It is a very simple, straight forward hive that is low cost to build and gets right to business. You can find the How To on his site. This is the model I use most of the time.
- BackYardHive.com Kenyan Top Bar Hive
Here is another Top Bar hive, also in the Kenyan style, from “BackYardHive.com” Theirs is a more ‘upscale’ design that is attractive in a well accentuated backyard. Get it here.
From BioBees, a companion pdf file to go with the book “The Barefoot Beekeeper” is available, yet another Kenyan style hive, somewhat along the lines of the BackYardHive. Get the pdf file here.
Perhaps the most well known vertical top bar hive is known as the Warre Hive.
Specifically, It works or breaks down as shown in this next photo:
- Warre Hive, exploded view
You start with having two boxes, the quilt box and the roof, as the colony grows, you add more empty boxes to the bottom of the stack. That’s right, the bottom. As the season comes to an end in the fall, you remove the upper boxes, which should be the honey boxes and leave the hive once again with only two main brood boxes, although, this may vary and have as many as 3 even 4 boxes, depending on how big the colony is and how much honey stores you are leaving them.
There are a few plans out and about on the internet to build a Warre Hive.
On our own BeeWiki, we have the original Abbe Warre plans converted to U.S. Standard measurements.
On Making Top Bars
There seems to be basically two ways to go with Making your top bars in terms of sizes. There is the “make them all 1.375″ wide” approach, making all your top bars a consistent size that falls right in between the two size approach.
The two-size approach is to have two sizes of top bars, one at 1.25″ for brood comb bars and another at 1.5″ for honey comb bars.
A spin off of the two-size approach is to make all the top bars at 1.25″ and then have some .25″ spacer bars made for giving more space between the honey comb bars.
Starter strips or not
The thinking on starter strips on top bars starts from having none at all, just use the plain wooden bar as is. Which is fine, but I have seen more reports of “crosscomb” being made across bars, which causes damage when trying to pull the bars up.
Then there is the practice of cutting a thin line into the bottom of the top bar (called a ‘kerf’) and filling it with melted beeswax.
Another method is simply running a straight line of melted beeswax lengthwise across the bottom of the bar.
Also, there is the trick of taking a piece of string and fastening it to the bottom of the top bar covering it with melted beeswax.
Yet another method is to cut a groove lengthwise across the bottom of the top bar and inserting a piece from a paint stick or popsicle stick edgewise into the groove and fastening/coating it with rubbed or melted beeswax.
Even simpler and just as effective is to glue a wood strip about 1/4″ thick by about 1.5 to 2 inches wide to the bottom of the top bars. This is the method I use.
Lastly, there is the triangle strip that is featured in Micheal Bushs page above and is also used in the BackYardHive.com hives as well.
The Micheal Bush method is to cut a square piece of wood lengthwise in half at an angle so the end result is two triangular wood sttrips which are then fastened to the bottom of the top bar lengthwise in the center. (You can see one of these in the Micheal Bush hive photo above)
The method seen in the other is having top bars custom milled so that the triangle downside of the top bar is all one solid piece as a top bar.
- BackYardHive Top Bars (milled)
There are also a variety in the ways to create entrances into the hive. For example, Micheal Bush uses only a top entrance, created by leaving a .375″ (3/8″) gap between the first top bar and the hive body. This allows ventilation and escape of condensation in the winter and being only .375″ it is easily defended.
Another entrance style is the lower, center holes. These are 1 to 4 holes drilled into the middle of the hive body in a horizontal line, each hole is approx 1″ in diameter.(as seen in the biobees hive photo above).
There is the end lower entrance, which may or may not have a landing board (as seen in the BackYardHive photo above) this is more like a traditional Langstroth hive entrance, if perhaps a bit smaller and a smaller version of an entrance reducer can be used with it.
There is also the 4 hole end entrance which runs vertically (my method). The holes run from a 3/8″ hole at the top of the end board or on a side, next to an end, progressing in size to the bottom as 3/8″ ,1″, 1″ and 1/2″ sized holes. The holes can be covered in the winter or with small colonies leaving the 3/8″ hole open in the winter or for new/small colonies thus allowing condensation to escape, ventilation and an easy to defend entrance.
You can also leave the 1/2″ hole at the bottom open in Winter as well as the top 3/8″ hole. This can provide ventilation and a floor level entrance for the bees to easily do housecleaning. The 2 one inch holes in the center can be closed off and opened as weather and traffic dictates.
By placing the holes on a side, next to an end, you get the further benefits of better protection from weather as the sloped sides provide shelter and the entrance isn’t so easily blocked or stood in front of as it is on an end board, helping to keep the bees from getting defensive due to blocked access.
As the temperatures warm and/or the colony grows, the lower holes can be uncovered allowing more room for bees to get in or out. In case of robbing, the lower entrance holes can be covered easily, leaving the bees to only need to defend the 3/8″ and maybe the 1/2″ entrance.
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