Installing Beeswax Foundation
Many beekeepers like to assemble their own beekeeping equipment. This is one way to know for sure that it is put together correctly using nails and glue. While it may seem a bit overwhelming at first – it is easy to learn how to install beeswax foundation in wooden frames.
Inside the boxes that make up a beehive, you will usually find frames. They can be made of plastic but wood is most common.
The frames are designed to hold sheets of honeycomb. Frames make it possible to remove comb for inspection – without destroying the hive.
Wax foundation is traditionally used inside the frames. These sheets of beeswax foundation may contain small support wires to help support the comb that bees will build.
Beeswax Foundation – Rotating Out Comb
Beeswax is a remarkable product. Made by the wax glands of worker bees, it provides structure the the brood nest.
It also absorbs many substances inside the hive. Propolis, honey and pollen stored in honeycomb cells causes staining.
Fresh beeswax will be white but it becomes darker quickly. After several years, the wax can become almost black.
Some chemicals brought into the hive from the outside world will be absorbed in the wax. Even we beekeepers contribute to the contamination by the used of various products for varroa mite control.
For these reasons, it is good beehive management by replacing the beeswax foundation periodically. Experts disagree on optimal comb replacement schedule but every 5 years is a good rule of thumb.
If you use wax foundation, this means installing new beeswax foundation in your frames.
For those using plastic foundation, you need to scrape the old wax off the plastic sheets and allow the bees to build new comb. It is quicker but a nasty job.
How to Install Beeswax Foundation in Old Frames
Old brood frames can hold some really gross looking honeycomb. In general, beeswax comb will become darker each year that it is used by the bee colony.
Old wax will be very dark, maybe completely black. As generations of brood (baby bees) emerge, they leave behind pupal cocoons.
These cocoons reduce the size of the honeycomb cells as time goes by. This makes for a very unhealthy environment for developing bees.
Perhaps some pests, such as wax moths, have damaged parts of the comb. Do you see any webbing ? This is a sign of wax moth infestation.
Small Hive Beetles are also attracted to old brood combs that have contained pollen.
But the worst issue with old comb is the tendency to absorb chemical compounds from the environment and hive management.
Let’s get that gnarly comb out of there and reuse the wooden brood frame.
Removing Wooden Wedge From Top of Frame
A wooden “wedge” is normally used to install beeswax foundation. This wedge fits under the top bar and it held into place with small nails or staples. For now, we want to remove the wedge.
Use your hive tool to gently pry the wedge loose from the underside of the top bar. You can also use a flat screwdriver if you prefer.
By taking your time and loosening the bar a little at a time all the way across, you can remove it from the frame without breaking it!
If you do break the wedge, don’t panic. You can still reuse the parts of the wedge when installing your new beeswax foundation.
When the wedge is loose, you will still have a little wax left to remove from the frame.
But first, use your hive tool to scrape the old comb from the wedge bar.
What to do with the old wax? You may be tempted to try harvesting usable wax from this old comb.
This could be accomplished by using a solar melter or melting with comb in a pot with added water.
Be advised that it will REALLY smell bad during the processing phase. Personally, I don’t think old comb is worth the effort.
It is a very messy job and sometimes the wax harvested is dark and unattractive. But you may want to experience it – at least once. LOL
Clean Off Excess Wax & Propolis
Before you install a fresh sheet of beeswax, you will want to clean off the wooden frame.
Use your hive tool to scrape away all the excess wax and propolis from all surfaces of the frame. Doing this on the inside and outside of the frame makes foundation installation easier.
Clean Out The Bottom Bar
It is important to pay special attention to the bottom bar of your frame. If you have a “split bottom bar”, it is easy to clean away any debris with your hive tool.
If your beehive has a “grooved bottom bar” that is solid with a small groove, cleaning will require a bit more effort. Use a hook or screwdriver to clean out the groove well.
Failure to clean the bottom bar may cause your new beeswax foundation to not fit properly.
When I install beeswax foundation, I flip my frame upside down. Why?
Because the sheets of foundation are reinforced with embedded wires. Small wire hooks are at the top of the sheet. The wedge bar is used to fasten the hooks to the top bar.
Be sure that the wire hooks are laying firmly against the top bar. Then you can attach the wedge bar to the underside of the top bar with a staple gun or small nails. The wire hooks will be “wedged” in between the 2 pieces of wood.
The foundation is attached to the top of the frame. Now we want to gently push the bottom of the sheet into the bottom bar.
This can be a bit frustrating so take your time and dont give up. I use my hive tool to push the little wires into the bottom bar slot.
Old Frame With New Installed Beeswax Foundation
The goal is to install the beeswax foundation so that it hangs straight. The top is secured using the hooks and wedge bar. The bottom of the foundation is held in place by the split bottom bar – or it fits down into a groove.
Many beekeepers no longer use vertical “cross wiring” but you can if you wish.
As the bees “draw comb” and build up wax on the sheet, it will become more sturdily attached to the wood frame.
Most important- we want our sheets of foundation to hang straight. If after several attempts you are still having trouble with the sheet wanting to curve.
Use bobby pins, small nails, or commercially available support pins in the side bars.
Due to the differences in manufacturing, you will occasionally get sheets of wax foundation that is just a bit too long to fit well inside your frame.
No problem, use a box cutter or scissors to nip off just enough of the wax and wire for the foundation to fit properly.
Installing beeswax foundation is time consuming. However, it is not an activity that has to be repeated every year. Take your time, enjoy the process, you are working for your bees.