Building Bee Beehives or Bee Boxes
Are you interested in learning how to build a beehive? Many new beekeepers want the total beekeeping experience. After purchasing most of their beekeeping supplies & equipment, they yearn to build their own bee boxes. This is an obtainable goal for those of you with some carpentry experience.
This is an admirable goal for the new bee enthusiast. But building bee boxes requires planning. We have some things to think about .
Before you rush off to the local lumber store, you have some important things to consider.
Building a bee hive is NOT the same as building a bird house or even a dog house.
Our bees are much more discerning about their home structure. Yes, honey bees will often take up residence in the most unusual places that’s true.
Why they want to avoid my perfectly awesome hive for some tree in the woods – who knows? But poorly constructed beehives cause problems for the beekeeper later on.
Building Hives for Management
We beekeepers need to mange our colonies. We may need to check for pest problems inside the hive.
Another reason for management is knowing your queen status. The colony must have a good queen. We must be able to remove frames to check.
If you decide to build your own beehive, you must follow directions carefully. Exact measurement matter and make things much easier for you later on.
And, don’t feel that this is something you must do. The first year of beekeeping can be confusing. It’s important to remember – don’t get in over your head!
When you are ready to build your beehive, you need a plan. A good construction plan with clear directions. The internet is filled with free hive plans.
However, a book like Building Hives for Dummies (see on Amazon) is very valuable. It will give you not only measurements but also tips for assembly, wood choice etc.
Building a beehive requires an investment of time and money. Let’s be sure you get off to a good start with proper building instructions.
Do You Have The Skills to Build A Homemade Beehive?
I wanted to build a beehive from scratch when I first became a beekeeper.
My enthusiasm for this project was greater than my carpentry skills. (Even though in the past I could do some pretty good work with a hammer and nail!)
I was successful at building bee boxes for several hives and some are still in use today.
They don’t look the best in the world and I don’t want my engineer husband to look at them but the bees don’t seem to care.
While my hive components may not look pretty, I did pay attention to details that really matter to bees.
Bees fill the hive interior with sections of wax – they build out honey comb.
The bees want the hive to be filled in a precise way. They build walls of comb with a pre-determine space between them.
If the bee boxes are build to the wrong dimensions, you will have problems with comb where you don’t want it.
This is why learning how to build a honey bee hive is more complicated than building a birdhouse. Honey bee colonies have certain expectations for their home.
Ignore these points and your bees may leave or make such a mess with honeycomb in the wrong places – that you can not inspect them properly.
As you make plans to begin, it is important to learn what “means home” to a honey bee. Let’s looks at our challenges and opportunities.
Items You Will Need When Building Bee Boxes
- plans or directions with good measurements
- wood – lumber of the correct dimensions -consider purchasing frames
- any tools you require to cut the wood
- hammer, nails and good wood glue (can buy at Lowes or order from Amazon)
- beeswax foundation or plastic foundation (if you choose to use foundation & it doesn’t come with frames)
- any good light color exterior latex paint
Choosing Plans To Build A Beehive
It is easy to find plans to build your beehive. But you want to make sure these are directions that you can understand and follow.
Many new beekeepers purchase the top, bottom board and inner cover but enjoy building the outer bee boxes.
The square boxes of the Langstroth hive are easier to build than tops and bottoms. But you still need to follow measurements closely.
In fact, a large number of plans available on the internet are confusing.
Before deciding how to build your bee hive, you will have to choose what type of beehive you want to build.
Yes, there are many different types of honey bee hives in use around the world.
In the US, the most common beehive design in use is the Langstroth Hive (10 frame or 8 frame).
Another design with an enthusiastic following is the Top Bar Hive. They were originally popular in third world countries where modern hive components were not available.
How to Build a Bee Hive
The Langstroth Hive is a square bee box that typically holds 10 frames. (The use of 8 frame Langstroth hives is popular in some regions.)
This type of beehive has been the industry standard in the US since its development in the mid 1800’s.
It was the first beehive designed with removable frames for easier bee inspections.
Commercial beekeepers use this type of hive design. Langstroth hives can be easily stacked on trucks for transport. This type of hive continues to dominate the market today.
I use 10 frame Langstroth hives in my bee yard. Some beekeepers enjoy using the 8 frame size Langstroth due to the lighter weight. I feel that my 10 frame equipment provides my bees with more room to grow.
The Langstroth Hive is the common choice for beekeepers who want to product honey.
If you choose to build a hive in the Langstroth design, follow the measurements very closely.
Top Bar Hives – Another Type of “Bee Box”
Are you more interested in bee culture or pollination than honey harvesting? A top bar hive might be the right choice for you.
The Kenyan Top Bar (TBH) was designed to replace log hives in Africa.
This simple hive design requires less lumber and no special tools to assemble. (Yet they are expensive to purchase from bee suppliers – ? )
Top Bar Hives have increased in popularity in recent years. Some beekeepers feel this hive design is a more organic approach to beekeeping because bee build their own comb.
Top bars hives are not usually associated with large honey harvests.
Beekeepers desiring bees for pollination of a garden often choose the top bar hive. A substantial honey harvest is not their beekeeping goal.
If you decide to try top bar beekeeping, it is important to connect with other top bar beekeepers who are successful.
Management styles for this type of hive are different than a standard Langstroth hive.
Are you an experienced top bar beekeeper looking to advance ? I have not used this hive design yet but I hope to someday.
Building Bee Boxes to Proper Measurements
Ok, I am sure you are tired of hearing me tell you to follow directions carefully. But, you really need to make the proper cuts when building your bee boxes.
If you choose to not do so, your hive inspections will be more difficult to complete due to misplaced comb.
All beehive box plans have specific measurement guidelines that you should follow. If a piece of wood needs to be 9 ¾” long, cut it 9 ¾”.
Pieces cut to the wrong dimensions will cause you heartache down the road.
Bee Space Matters in Hive Construction
Beehive plans are based on the concept of “bee space”. This is the amount of space that bees naturally leave between the honeycombs.
In general, the measurement of 3/8″ is considered bee space. Modern bee hive plans will be developed with respect to bee space.
If you follow the directions closely, you should be able to construct a workable bee hive. This makes hive inspections easier for you and the bees.
Whether building the parts or buying them, assemble your hive parts correctly, paying special attention to inside measurements.
Also, do not use treated wood. Lumber treated with chemicals can be very hazardous to honey bees!
Bee Hive Plans for Building Bee Boxes
Fortunately the internet is full of free plans for building beehives. So I see no need to re-invent the wheel here. These are just a few plans you can try.
Plans for building beehives from Beesource: Build it Yourself.
Build Your Own Beehive – Mother Earth News
Another simple beehive plan.
Consider Buying Beehive Frames – They Are Difficult to Build
Frames are removable parts that fit inside the bee boxes. They consist of small parts that are difficult to cut.
Many beekeepers who build their own hive boxes, still choose to buy frames.
Unless you are a woodworking craftsman, consider purchasing your frames. Construction of frames is time consuming and tedious.
If you build your boxes to plan specifications, purchased frames will fit.
As you assemble purchased equipment, bear this in mind. In theory, everything should fit together just right.
In reality, it doesn’t. So make sure your boxes are square etc.
Foundation – You need Foundation For the Hive
One of the last components of your beehive will be foundation to fit inside the frames.
Most beekeepers will place foundation inside the wooden frames. The use of foundation gives the bees a guide to begin comb construction.
Beeswax foundation is the most popular choice and the product that I use. Some beekeepers choose to use plastic foundation or even no foundation.
I don’t recommend foundation-less beekeeping for beginners. I feel it brings additional challenges that the new beekeeper doesn’t need.
Painting Your Honey Bee Hive
The final step in building a honey bee hive is painting.We do not have to paint our beehives. I promise, the honey bees really don’t care.
We paint the hives for our pleasure and to preserve the wood.
A good coat of latex paint adds beauty to the bee yard. It also protects the wood from rain and snow and prolongs the life of the wooden ware.
Paint only the outside parts of the hive exposed to weather. You should do this several weeks before putting bees inside. Use any light-colored latex paint.
Ok, now you are ready to order your bees .
How to Build A Honey Bee Hive – Step by Step
- choose a hive plan or style – download and print several copies
- gather your materials
- cut out materials closely following directions – size matters
- assemble parts with nails and good wood glue
- purchase frames, wax foundation or any parts that you chose not to build
- paint your beehive with exterior latex paint to preserve the wood
After getting your hive assembled and painted, your next step will be to find the best location for your beehive.
For even more important information on finding the best location for your bees and what to do to get them off to a good start, check out my Online Beekeeping Class.
Beekeeping is a great adventure. Building a honey bee hive, or two, with your own hands can give you a real feeling of accomplishment.
If you decide building bee boxes is something you want to do, go for it. Just be sure to get the proper beehive plans.