Are you interested in learning how to build a beehive? Many new beekeepers want the total beekeeping experience from start to finish. After ordering their new bees and purchasing most of their tools and protective wear, they yearn to build their own bee boxes. This is an obtainable goal for those of you with some carpentry experience. However, there are few important details that you need to know.
One of the most important aspects of hive construction is having a plan. Building homemade beekeeping equipment (hives, boxes, feeders etc.) requires attention to detail and correct measurements.
Make a Beehive for Your Bees
Building a bee hive is NOT the same as building a bird house or even a dog house. Beekeeping equipment should be built to a closer standard. We must strive to give the bees what they want.
Honey bees are very discerning about their home structure. Yes,they will often take up residence in the most unusual places.
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.
Do You Have the Skill?
Building a beehive requires an investment of time and money. I wanted to build a beehive from scratch when I first became a beekeeper.
Unfortunately, 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!)
While my hive components may not look pretty, I did pay attention to details that really matter to bees (correct inside measurements – need for ventilation, etc). But even then, I made some costly beekeeper mistakes.
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Beehive Construction Materials
Before you get out the saw, take a good look at the materials you will need to do the project. I “assume” you have the proper tools needed and know how to use them.
- beehive plans or blueprints with proper measurements – buying a book is optional
- 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
Do not use treated wood. Lumber treated with chemicals can be very hazardous to honey bees!
Beekeepers across the world use many different materials for making hives for honey bees. Simple pine wood is the most common resource used in the United States.
Cypress wood is another popular choice but availability can be an issue and it is more expensive.
Plywood is not the best choice for beehive wood. The glues and chemicals used in making it are concerning. Though some beekeepers do use plywood for temporary boxes to attract swarms.
Steps to Build A Honey Bee Hive
- choose a hive style
- find good construction plans – download and print several copies
- gather your materials
- cut out materials closely following directions – size matters
- assemble parts with nails and good wood glue or screws and glue
- purchase frames, wax foundation or any parts that you chose not to build
- paint your beehive to preserve the wood
Choosing a Hive Style
There are many different types of honey bee hives in use around the world. In the US, the most common beehive design 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.
The top bar and other horizontal hives have gained in popularity in the US. Management of this type of hive is a bit different – do your research before deciding.
The Langstroth Hive is a made up of square boxes that typically holds 10 frames. (The use of 8 frame Langstroth hives is popular in some regions.) After starting with a basic box, more are stacked on top as the colony grows.
Today, most commercial beekeepers use this type of hive design. Langstroth hives can be easily stacked on trucks for transport – great for migratory beekeepers too.
The Langstroth Hive is the most common choice for beekeepers (of any level) who want to produce honey.
Are you more interested in bee pollination than honey harvesting? A top bar hive might be the right choice for you.
Top Bar Beehive
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 bees build their own comb. Similar in some aspects to colonies housed in bee skeps.
You may produce some honey in a hive of this style. But, top bar hives are not usually associated with large honey harvests.
If you decide to try top bar beekeeping, it is important to connect with other top bar beekeepers who are successful. Check out this advanced top bar beekeeping information. -> -> Top Bar Beekeeping Book <- <-
Get Plans with Correct Measurements
Once you decide what you want, it is easy to find beehive plans (some are available for free). Also, you do not have to build every component and I suggest you don’t try.
If you have extras boxes of each size on hand, that comes in handy when it is time to add another honey super to the hive.
After deciding which kind of hive you want to use, check out some good books like – Building Hives for Dummies. It gives you measurements but also tips for assembly, wood choices etc.
Paint or Finish
The final step once your hive is constructed is protecting it from the elements. You don’t have to but most of you will want protect your wood by painting your beehive.
I promise, the honey bees really don’t care. We paint the hives for our pleasure and to preserve the wood.
A simple coat of latex paint will work or you can get really creative with some painted hive designs. Now, the outside components of your hive is ready. What about the inside?
Frames & Foundation for Your Hive
Frames are removable parts that fit inside the bee boxes (hive body and supers). They make it possible to inspect sheets of honeycomb without tearing the comb apart. You can buy plastic frames but wooden ones are most common.
Frames consist of small parts that are difficult to cut. Most beekeepers who build their own hives still choose to buy frames.
Frames can be purchased ready to go or as a part of a beehive starter kit that you put together. If you have the time to assemble your hive frames, this is an enjoyable task-if you don’t have too many to do. And, you can make sure they have plenty of glue to hold them together.
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. However, you may 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.
Why Measurements Matter When Building Beehives
Honey bees can and do live in a wide variety of structures. But, if you build a beehive to the proper dimensions, life will be easier for you and safer for your bees.
Modern beehive construction is based on the concept of “bee space”. This is the amount of space that bees naturally leave between the honeycombs in the hive.
In general, the measurement of 3/8″ is considered bee space. Today’s hive plans will be developed with respect to this measurement.
Whether building the parts or buying them, assemble your hive parts correctly, paying special attention to inside measurements in your instructions.
As the bees build out honeycomb sheets, they want the hive to be filled in a precise way. If your boxes are built to the wrong dimensions, you will have problems with comb where you don’t want it. This is called burr comb.
Ignore these called for measurements and your bees may leave or make such a mess that you can not do proper hive inspections.
Easier Hive Management
A beekeeper must practice some hive management techniques in order to have healthy productive colonies. Checking for signs of queen failure or disease helps insure colony survival.
In order to know what is happening inside the hive, you have to look. With a mess of wild comb placed here and there, looking inside the hive is more difficult.
Removing frames and breaking open cells of honey causes the bees to become over excited and you may even accidently damage your queen.
Building your own hive can be cheaper than buying one ready to use. However, it depends on the type of hive you want, local lumber prices and tools you have on hand.
Unlike a bird box for birds, honey bee hive require maintenance. However, if you want to build your own beehive – do your research, learn about the various parts of the hive and how to take care of your bees.
The cost to build a beehive depends on several factors but the average price for a hive made of pine is about $200 – including all the necessary parts and a metal top.
A Final Word
Don’t feel that making your own beehive is something you must do-especially if you are new. The first year of beekeeping can be confusing. Unless you are a skilled carpenter that loves woodworking – save hive construction for another year.
Did I save myself any money by building my hives during those first years when beekeeping costs are high? No, it would have been much cheaper to buy the components and do the assembly myself.
Once your new hive is built and ready to use, be sure to invest some thought into finding 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.
If you decide building bee hives is a challenge your woodworking skills are up to – go for it. But for heavens sake – please follow the directions 😉