Building Bee Boxes
Becoming a beekeeper is a very exciting time. It is common to want to enjoy the total experience. Rather than purchasing everything that bees need, some folks choose to build a beehive of their own.
This is an admirable goal for the new bee enthusiast. But building bee boxes requires planning.
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 bee 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, we as beekeepers want to manage our colonies for pest control and health problems. This requires a better structure than a hollow tree deep in the woods.
Also, it is important to remember – don’t get “in over your head”. The first year of beekeeping can be confusing enough without the added project of hive construction. There are many aspects of beekeeping to learn.
When you are ready to build a beehive, the first thing you need is a good construction plan. The internet is filled with free hive plans. However, a book like this one is very valuable.
It will not only give you the measurements and directions for cutting and assembly of the hive. It will also give you tips regarding: what type of wood to use (or not use), assembly aids 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 honey comb. They want the area to be filled in a precise way. If the bee boxes are build to the wrong dimensions, you will have problems.
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 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 Langstroth 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 produce honey. If you chose to build a honey bee hive in the Langstroth design, follow measurements in your plans 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.
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.
Beehive plans are based on the concept of “bee space”. This is the amount of space that bees 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.
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!
Plans for Building Bee Boxes & Bee Hives
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.
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.
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.
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 building plans.
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