For the new beekeeper, beekeeping equipment is a topic filled with many new terms and ideas. It seems impossible to learn the name of each component in the first year. That’s okay -you just need to know the basics. One of the most important items in modern beekeeping is the beehive frames. While it is relatively easy to find assembled frames for sale, some beekeepers choose to put their frames together. This is not a bad idea as you will know for sure that they are assembled correctly. Let’s learn how to assemble frames for beehives.
Beehive Frame Assembly
Removable frames revolutionized modern beekeeping. They made it possible to be able to remove sheets of honeycomb for inspection without destroying the hive. This gives the beekeeper a chance to check for any problems that need to be addressed.
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Queen failures, diseases, the presence of pests were all easy to detect with the ability to look at the side of each sheet of comb. Lorenzo Langstroth gets most of the credit for designing his standard hive with removable frames.
Plastic Frames vs Wood Frames
A frame is basically just that – it is a rectangular structure that fits inside the hive. The ends (ears) of the frame hang on a special ledge inside.
In recent years, the use of plastic frames has become more popular. The goal was to have a sturdier and more lightweight option for beekeepers. However, plastic frames have issues of their own. In time, they too can warp or break.
Either type will work well in your hives when properly installed but most beekeepers still prefer the use of wood frames.
Langstroth Beehive Frames: Build or Buy?
Beekeepers who enjoy building their own hives do sometimes make their frames as well. However, frame construction is a more advanced project and best left to true craftsmen. Wooden frames are relatively inexpensive and last for years.
When buying frames for your hive, you often have 2 choices. You may purchase frames assembled and ready to go or buy the components and assemble your own.
When time allows, always opt to assemble your own frames. Why?
The beekeeper who takes the time to put together a frame is less likely to experience frame failure in the short term. Unlike mass produced products, you determine where each nail goes and how much glue is really in those joints.
Still, due to schedules etc, there will probably be times when you really have to use frames put together by a supplier and that’s okay too.
Select Frames for Proper Box Size
In the Langstroth Hive System there are 3 primary sizes of boxes used. The deep box is 9 5/8″ tall, a medium is 6 5/8″ tall and a shallow super is 5 3/4″ tall.
Standard Langstroth hives hold 10 frames per box, however 8 frame hives are available as well.
While the length of the frames are the same for each box, the height is not. Choose the correct size “side bars” to correspond to the box you plan to put your frames into.
- Deep Box Frames 9 1/8″
- Medium Box Frames 6 1/4″
- Shallow Box Frames 5 3/8″
Styles of Wooden Hive Frames
There are several components to be aware of in frame assemble. In general, each part will fit regardless of the manufacturer of your beekeeping equipment.
However, in reality you may have to use your knife to fine tune some of the wooden parts when using parts from different manufacturers. It is best to purchase your unassembled frames from the same source when you can.
In choosing the top bars and bottom bars of your frames, you will see terms such as Wedge Top, Split Bottom, Grooved Top, Grooved Bottom.
Wedge Top bars with split bottom bars are most commonly used for beeswax foundation. They look solid on the outside but inside each part is a groove to hold the plastic foundation.
The grooved versions are the top choice for plastic foundation though they can both be used each way with a little finagling.
Materials Needed for Beehive Frame Assembly:
- Frame components
- Knife or hive tool
- Wood glue
- Small nails 1 ¼”
Step by Step Assembling Langstroth Frames
Time needed: 2 hours.
How to assemble a beehive frame to hold wax foundation with a wedge top top bar and a split bottom bottom bar.
- Gather the Parts for Each Frame
For each frame you need 4 parts. A top bar, a bottom bar and 2 end bars of the same size. Your end bars will be the correct size to fit in the chosen size box or super.
- Remove the Wedge Strip on the Top Bar
Use your hive tool to pop off the wedge stir attached to the top bar. You will be using this to hold your sheet of foundation in place. Don’t throw it away!
- Use Hive Tool or Knife to Remove Excess Wood
After the strip is removed, use a sharp edge to scrape away any left over slivers of wood on the top bar. We want a smooth surface for the foundation to sit later.
- Fit First Side Bar to Top Bar
Check the fit of the wide ends of the side bars to the notch in the top bars. You may need to shave away a little wood. The fit should be tight but not so much that it breaks the wood.
- Add Glue to Frame Top and End Bar
Add a small amount of wood glue to the wide end of one side bar and one notch of the top bar. This will help make your frame very sturdy.
- Assemble Both Side Bars
Repeat for other side – both side bars are attached to the top bar. Yes, it will fall apart so be careful.
- Bottom Bar Angle
Your split bottom bar has a up side and a down side. Check the angle of the slot/split with your hive tool. We want the angle to be inside the frame – it helps the foundation slide into the split.
- Check Square of Frame
Now your 4 main components of the frame are glued together (rather loosely). Check to see that all the seams fit well together. Some beekeepers use a tool to check that the frame is actually square – I usually don’t but maybe I should.
- Nailing Wooden Frames Together
Not it is time to securely nail your wooden frame parts together. The glue is still wet so be careful while turning them around. I start on the bottom and use 2 small nails on each end of the bottom bar.
You will see a lot of guidelines about the size of nail to use. Honestly, it just needs to be long enough to connect the parts and small enough in diameter to “not” split your wood.
- Attach Top Bar with Nails
Once each end of the bottom bar is attached, flip the frame over and put 2 small nails in the notches of the top bar. We are nailing through the top bar into the side bars.
We know have a total of 8 nails – four on the bottom and four on the top.
- Extra Nail for Support
As a final tip, adding one more nail to your beehive frame will pay off big in the years to come. If you have a very small nail 1″ or less, nail one side of the side bar ear into the side of the frame. This is optional.
- Checking Final Assembly
Once all nails are in place, set your frame aside and let the glue dry. Wipe off any excess glue that squeezes out. And, don’t throw away that extra wood strip – you will need it to install your foundation.
Tips for Assembling Frames
Some beekeepers use nail guns to assemble frames for beehives. This is a great way to speed up the process – especially helpful for those of you with a large apiary. However, be sure to include the glue as this really makes a strong frame.
What happens if one of your end bars splits? It does happen and that’s okay. In most cases you can apply some extra glue and still be able to use the side bar.
Final Thoughts on Frame Assembly for Beehives
While it is not something that you “have” to do, many beekeepers enjoy the process of assembling their frames for the hives. Take your time and enjoy the process. It is one of the calmer aspects of beekeeping and you can enjoy doing it without fear of getting stung!