Top Bar Hives

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The age-old practice of beekeeping has evolved over the years with various beehive designs coming into use. One style that has continued to catch the attention of beekeepers is the Top Bar Hives. Known for its simplicity and natural approach, the Top Bar Hive offers an alternative to traditional Langstroth beehives. In this guide, I share with you some of the advantages of Top Bar Beehives and what you should consider before buying or building one.

Open top bar hive with bees and top bars in place.

My main goal as a beekeeper has always been honey production. Therefore, I use the standard type of beehive that is best suited for that purpose (Langstroth 10 frame). But, I have beekeeping friends that would never part with their Top Bar Hives.

Why Choose a Top Bar Hive?

As one of the oldest beehive designs, Top Bar Hives date back to ancient times. Beekeepers used simple horizontal bars placed over containers to support natural comb construction.

In recent years, Top Bar Hives have seen a resurgence in popularity – primarily due to their connection with natural beekeeping practices. They offer a different approach to beehive management by letting the bees build in a way that mimics their natural habitat.

Also, their design makes them easier to inspect and manage without heavy lifting which appeals to beekeepers with physical limitations. I can testify that boxes of honey get really heavy.

Wedge shaped honey comb from top bar hive, with bees and empty comb.

Benefits of Top Bar Beekeeping

I have touched on a few items, but let’s review the benefits of beekeeping with Top Bar Hives. This will explain their continued popularity over many years.

  • Natural comb
  • Ease of inspection
  • Simple honey harvesting
  • Lower cost to build

Bees Build Natural Comb

One of the more significant advantages of using Top Bar Hives is the ability to allow bees to the build comb naturally.

Instead of use pre-formed plastic or wax beehive foundation to guide the bees, hives are filled with simple top bars for bees to attach comb.

Natural comb can lead to healthier happier bees because it gives them control of which cells sizes to create. This is similar to how a wild colony living in a tree would build honeycomb sheets.

Easier Hive Inspections

Because they are essentially a type of horizontal beehive, routine inspections are easier with Top Bar Hives. Individual bars are lifted out one at a time causing less disruption to the whole colony. It is also much easier on the beekeeper’s back.

Simple Honey Harvest

Harvesting honey from a Top Bar Hive is as simple as cutting the comb off the top bars. Then, the honey is separated from the comb using the crush and strain method. There is no need for expensive equipment.

Lower Cost to Build

The beginning costs of beekeeping is a burden for many new beekeepers. Setting up a Top Bar Hive is generally less expensive than a Langstroth hive – if you use cheap wood.

In my experience, finding cheap wood to build a Top Bar is not easy. But, people do build them out of many different materials. This makes them a good choice in undeveloped countries where modern materials are hard to get.

Two images with full top bar hive on left and vertical langstroth hive on right.

Top Bar Hives vs Langstroth Hives

To compare, a Top Bar Hive and the industry standard Langstroth Hive we must look farther than just physical appearance – though the two do look very different.

Structural Differences

Top Bar Hives:

  • Horizontal design with a single horizontal cavity (one box)
  • Bees build comb from individual bars that span the width of the hive
  • Sides of the hive often slope inward to discourage bees from attaching comb to the walls

Langstroth Hives:

  • Vertical design consisting of stacked rectangular boxes that contain removable frames
  • Frames and foundation added to boxes to guide bees in building comb
  • Standardized Langstroth hive dimensions makes parts interchangeable
Infographic sharing the top benefits of two hive designs - top bar and Langstroth.

Pros and Cons of Each

As with any kind of beehive, each one has pros and cons. Sorry, there really is no one perfect hive style to choose.

Top Bar Hives


  • Natural comb construction promotes healthier bees
  • Easy to use and inspect, honey harvesting without heavy lifting
  • Lower cost for initial set up due to fewer components
  • Less invasive inspections reduce stress on bees


  • Limited honey production compared to Langstroth hives
  • Less flexibility in space management due to only one box
  • Variable comb shapes and sizes makes sharing resources more challenging

Langstroth Hives


  • Designed for maximizing honey yield
  • Standardized interchangeable parts make maintenance easier
  • Adding super boxes allows for flexible management of colony size and storage


  • Higher cost for initial set up and required equipment
  • Can be more time consuming as it requires more intensive management
  • Heavy lifting of multiple boxes and frames can be physically demanding

Building Your Own Top Bar Hive

If you are blessed with basic woodworking skills and some tools, building your own Top Bar Hive can be a rewarding project.

However, even though this hive design allows for a little more of a freewheeling attitude – it is a good idea to have a good plans before you begin to build. These sources also offer guidance on managing your new hives – very valuable information.

Resources for Plans for Top Bar Hives

Here are some trusted resources to visit if you are considering building or even using Top Bar Hives in your own apiary.


Can Top Bar Hives be used in cold climates?

Yes, you can keep bees in Top Bar Hives in cold climates. However, they require extra attention to ensure they have enough honey stored and good ventilation to prevent moisture buildup.

How do I prevent cross-comb in a Top Bar Hive?

Unwanted comb – burr comb – cross comb can occur in Top Bar Hives. To reduce this – be sure the hive is level, consider using a small starter strip on the bottom of the top bars and/or inspect the hive frequently in the beginning to ensure comb is being built straight.

What type of bees work best with Top Bar Hives?

Any of the honey bees typically used by beekeepers (European or Western Honey Bee) can adapt to life in a Top Bar Hive. Choose a breed or strain that does well in your climate.

Final Thoughts

Top Bar Hives present a compelling approach to beekeeping and offer numerous benefits for the beekeeper and the bees. However, choosing between Top Bar Hives and Langstroth hives depends on your goals and circumstances. You can be a great beekeeper or a really bad one no matter which hive you use.

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