Making Our Own Beehive Woodenware

In 2008, my daughter Petunia and I took our first beekeeping class at the Indiana Beekeeping School:

Rachel and Lais making our first beehive Jan 2008

We learned a great philosophy for keeping bees and even assembled our own woodenware (at least part of it) during the class. I’m not sure if the class still includes that time to make woodenware, since I think it’s only a day now. The woodenware came with a beginner beekeeping kit that had all you need to get started in beekeeping: helmet, smoker, even some smoker fuel.

The price of the class, the hive, and the beginner beekeeping kit was pretty costly, in my opinion. As I started thinking about raising more bees, the thought of buying more of those beginner hives made me so afraid of the crazy cost. And, this summer, I really needed more hivebodies as we truly grew our hives from 2 to 11 through splits that we made.

Fortunately, Pat is a woodworker and he decided to try to build our own hives. We found a great website that has the exact dimensions for several different types of hives:

Getting the dimensions correct is critical to creating a hive with the proper “bee space”. Honey bees need a certain amount of space to get through openings and it shouldn’t be too big or the bees will be tempted to make burr comb (which is any comb that really isn’t where it’s “supposed” to be). It is also important to use the correct dimensions so that any hive accessory equipment you choose to purchase will fit properly.

Pat reviewed the various designs but believed that they all had incorporated a bit of complexity that was not necessary. Each additional component of the hive costs money to install, maintain, and eventually replace. Pat believed a “simpler” design would actually be easier to maintain and more durable in the long-run. Our design is based on the “10-frame Langstroth” box hive with a couple of key deviations:

  1. We eliminated the metal tracks that many people say must be used on the hives. The bees can propolis down the frames, but we haven’t found that to be a problem.
  2. We used dovetails to join the hive bodies rather than nails. Nails are expensive and not something that we can easily get. Plus, Pat believes that our dovetail joints will stand up to the elements that the beehives must go through throughout the seasons. That first hive we built in 2008 is already starting to get scraggly looking and it had A LOT of nice expensive nails in it. One of the basic rules of woodworking is that a nail placed into the end grain of a piece of wood will eventually come loose. This process is only made worse when the hive is subjected to the extremes of mid-western weather.
  3. We decided that to purchase the internal frames and not try to make any of those ourselves. Making the frames does not seem to be worth the safety risk to us (to buy them is only about $1/frame unassembled) because the cuts necessary to make the frames on a table saw come really close to your fingers. So, we choose to buy premade frames. We have also decided to buy true beeswax frames and no longer like the plastic foundation (because we notice our bees don’t like to pull it out and make comb on it). These are the frames and beeswax foundation that we typically purchase:

Using dovetails to join the boxes does involve some skill with hand-tool woodworking methods but Pat has found the process to be much more enjoyable than spending hours hovering over a table saw which generates a lot of dust and noise. Cutting the dovetails in the soft pine wood is much easier and does not have to be done with the exact precision that would be typically required of a piece of fine furniture constructed with a hard wood like cherry or walnut.

Pat demonstrates our method of beehive woodenware construction in the series of videos below:

Playlist of Making the Langstrogh Type Beehives using Dovetails