Many people decide to build a bee hive, perhaps because they don’t know where to buy one, or because they’re trying to save money. I think this is a great idea, if you have the skills and tools, with a few provisos. You might also consider a Kenya Top Bar Hive, excellent kits are available which can be assembled with nothing more than a philips screwdriver and a staple gun.
If you have a few woodworking tools such as an electric circular saw or preferably a table saw, drill and some clamps you can quickly make bee boxes from scratch with quality plywood, sawn lumber, or even re-used plywood.
A pneumatic nail gun, even a light duty one can make the job quicker and makes assembling frames a breeze. Don’t even think about making the frames which go inside the hive. They have to be made to quite a high tolerance, but paradoxically they’re not very expensive. I made a jig which holds the end bars for 10 frames in place while the top and bottom bars are glued and pinned. It makes the sometimes tedious job of assembling dozens of frames much faster.
If you decide to build a bee hive I suggest you buy a Langstroth hive first and use that as a template. Click here for the plans to a 5 Frame Langstroth and a 10 frame Langstroth. It’s much easier to build something you’ve see rather than from plans. It’s important to know what is critical in the operation of a beehive.
The Langstroth hive body consists of four pieces of ¾” exterior plywood with a rabbet along the top of two pieces. The honey super shown in this picture has the same width and breadth as the hive body, but it’s shorter. Conventional ¾” lumber, or ‘tree-wood’ as a friend of mine used to call it, is lighter but a little more expensive. Plywood also is less likely to warp. If you’re a real handyman you can make proper joints at the corners, but I just glue and nail, or screw, the pieces butted together. Take care to make sure the box ends up as square and true as possible.
The space between the frames, the side of the box, above and below the frames is crucial. If you make the spaces too large, the bees will fill them with burr comb, too small and they’ll plug them with propolis.
Even if you feel totally confident that you can build a bee hive, whatever you do, do NOT attempt to make a WBC hive. These look great out in your backyard, but they’re too small for most colonies, which encourages swarming. They have twice the lumber of a Langstroth hive because essentially they have two walls. They’re difficult if not impossible to move once they have a bee colony established inside.
Before I started to keep bees I borrowed a WBC hive, intending to build a bee hive. Although I was fairly handy with wood, it proved so daunting that it delayed my beekeeping for about 5 years.
The floor and roof of a Langstroth beehive are just as simple as the body. There are several different types and the choice may depend on the weather conditions where you live. A so called migratory roof is really a flat board with a lip on each end. A telescoping lid is like an upturned tray, often with a metal cover. This is much less likely to blow off in a strong winter wind.
The floor is another flat board with a ½” bead on three sides. The hive body sits on this, leaving the third side open as an entrance. A piece of wood with a slot cut, called a entrance block, can be placed in the opening to restrict the size of the entrance when necessary. Usually entrance blocks have slots cut on two sides so it can be turned round to give a different size entrance.
I like to cut a hole in the floor which I cover with metal screen, giving extra ventilation and allowing varroa mites to fall through when they’re knocked off the host bee.
If you’re trying to save money and you want to ‘kick-start’ your beekeeping perhaps you should consider buying a hive with bees already installed.