Top-bar Hive Construction

Construction of My Hives

I wrote about constructing my top-bar hives, but with it spread across a bunch of posts (that are organized in reverse chronological order) its pretty hard to go back and read about the full process. This page was made to have the whole construction described in one place. The description here is in some parts in a slightly different order from what I actually did. I put the steps in the order that would make more sense after the fact (and I didn’t include mistakes/changes :) ).

To start with, I figured it would be useful to let you know what tools I used. In addition to the table saw (you can see it in lots of the pictures), here are the tools I used:

When I took this picture I was sure I would forget something and I did. I forgot to include the spring clamps I used. You can see the in a number of picture describing the construction. As you can see, the tools needed are pretty common. The table saw is definitely the biggest thing.

The Hive Bodies

The main body of the hive is made from 3/4″ plywood. Two hives are made from one 4′x8′ sheet. Since my car can’t handle a full sheet and cutting full sheets can be a pain, I had the plywood cut down at the home improvement store where I got it. They have a nice setup for cutting full sheets of plywood, and the will do two cut for free. I had them cut the sheet into three pieces: 30″, 30″, and 36″ wide (all are 4′ long). The 30″ pieces I cut in half at home to use for the sides (each piece 15″ wide). The 36″ piece is for the ends.

The side pieces are 15″ wide and have a “tab” on the ends. This is to strengthen the connection with the end pieces. It allows me to use screws in two directions. The “tabs” also function so that the sides essentially hang on the ends, instead of placing all the stress on screws. Since the legs are attached to the end pieces, this strengthens the connection between the sides and ends. It does mean a little more work though. I first cut them to length, saving the small piece to use to make a brace later. To make the “tabs’, I did the majority of the long cuts on the table saw but had to finish with a hand saw. I band saw would be useful here, but I don’t have one. P The tabs were cut on both ends of all 4 sides.

I next turned my attention to the end pieces. These by far are the most complicated to cut. They have a number of angles, and are a bit to large to use the miter gauge. They also have some inside angles that can’t be cut fully on the table saw. I started by cutting the 36″ into pieces the correct size for the ends. This will also leave a 4′ strip that will be used for the clean out doors (at the bottom of the hive ends). I drew the pattern of the ends on each as a guide. These were cut out using a combination of the table saw and the hand saw. I found that trying to use the miter gauge for these end pieces was not helpful, and I mainly ended up just following the outline I drew. Again, like with the side pieces, I had to finish the inside cuts with a hand saw. I cut out the clean out doors from the 4′ piece that was left.

The end pieces needed a slot cut to receive the ridge pole of the roof, and I cut this using a combination of the table saw and hand saws. The ridge pole of the roof should slip into this, meaning that the roof can only be removed by lifting it straight up. This should keep the roof from blowing of or otherwise coming off by accident. I also needed to cut the entrance in one end piece for each hive. I wanted them to be straight and nicely cut. What I ended up doing was setting up the blade on my table saw so that I could lower the piece onto it and it would cut a slot of the right length. I then flipped the piece over and did it again. This cut a slot, but the end were not square. Due to the curve of the saw, the slot is a dome shaped cut from each side. I used a hand saw and a chisel to square and clean up the slots. I actually lowers it onto the saw three times to make the 3/8″ slot (the saw blade is about 1/8′ thick). I made the entrance slot about 7 inches long. A slot needs to be cut in two cleanout doors too, but I will wait until I put the hive body together so that the slot can be lined up with the brace.

The legs are made of pressure treated 2×4’s and are attached to the end pieces. I used 2 10′ lengths instead of the normal 8′ lengths. It allow me to make the hive a little taller. It should make it a little easier to work (don’t have to bend over as much). I cut 4 legs from each 10′ 2×4. One end was cut at 15 degrees (to sit flat on the ground), while the other was cut at 55 degrees (to meet the 20 off vertical sides of the hive). This puts the leg at 15 degrees off vertical, which seemed about right when I designed the hive (gauged by eye on the computer). These legs I attached to the end pieces. This was done with 2 bolts (and nuts) for each leg. By using bolts, the legs are both secure and removable. Being removable is important for transport. The bolts are 1/4″ by 3″ long. I just judged placement by eye, drilled, and bolted.

Before any assembly, I needed to cut the slot in the side to receive the removable bottom (I’l cut the bottoms later). I set the blade of the table saw at 20 degrees (the angle of the sides) so that the groove will be horizontal. I ran the sides though with the blade raised to slightly less than 3/8″. To make the groove a bit wider (to easily accept the bottom board), I move the fence slightly and ran them through again.

Now I got to put the main body together. Its the first time you get to see kind of how it will look. I had only seen it on the computer, and hadn’t tried putting anything together until now. With all the measurements on the computer, I cut out and dealt with all the part separately until now. I did a dry fir (no glue, screws, or nails yet). It was actually amazingly stable. The side has tabs that kind of form one half of a dovetail. Between that and the legs, the side slip in and are held pretty firmly in place. Even with only one side inserted, it holds together well. After the dry fit, I disassembled it all, pre-drilled holes where the screws would go in the end pieces and the tabs of the sides. I used 2″ course threaded drywall screws, and spaced them ever few inches. I think I used two in the tab and four in the end piece. I added wood glue to all the edges to add to the strength and reassembled it. I then used a smaller drill bit and pre-drilled a small pilot hole through the previously drilled holes into the end grain of the plywood. I’m not sure all the pre-drilling is needed, but I didn’t want to risk splitting the end grain of the plywood. With all the holes drilled, I screwed it all together and wiped away all the extra wood glue.

The Roof

The roof frames are made mostly from 2×2’s. The ridge pole is made from a ripped down 2×4. The roof is made of panel or tile board, ans the whole thing is covered with aluminum flashing.

First the ridge pole. The process of ripping the ridge pole also provides the railings that will be used to support the top-bars. The ridge pole was made from a 8′ 2×4 (making two ridge poles). I tipped the saw blade to 20 degrees (the angle of the roof) and using the fences ripped along the length of 2×4. The 2×4 was then flipped over and run through again, making a second angled cut with the ridge centered. In addition, this also produces a small wedge of wood with a 20 degree side that I used as the rail that the top-bars rest on. In order to get enough of the rails, I actually ran the 2×4 through this process twice (first with the fence further out, then with is closer). This produced the ridge poles and the rails for the top-bars. In the second photo, you can see how the ridge pole fits in the top of the end pieces.

The rest of the frame of the roof is made of 2×2’s. I cut the pieces for the long, bottom edge of the roof frame. These were made from 2×2’s and were cut to 4′ (the length of the roof). These were rabbeted to form a stronger joint. I did this by setting the blade to 3/4″ high and nibbling away the material in multiple passes.

The short sides pieces of the roof frame were a little more complicated, but still were not bad at all to make. All the pieces are identical and they fit together when one is rotated 180 degrees. I started by cutting a rabbet the same way I had for the long side pieces. This will be the end that connects with those long side pieces. The other end needs to form a rabbeted joint at the ridge of the roof. For this I did two miter cuts on the end, followed by cutting a rabbet at 20 degrees.

With all the pieces cut, I assembles the roof frame using screws. It turned out pretty sturdy.

I used tile board on the roof. It came in a 8’x4′ sheet. Like I had done with the plywood, I had the panel board cut when I bought it. I had it cut into three pieces, two 30″ and one 36″ wide. I ripped the 30″ ones in half for the 4 roof panels (15″x4′). The remaining piece will be used for the removable bottom boards. I drilled holes in the panel board and attached it with screws. The hardest part was covering the whole roof with aluminum flashing. I bought two 10′ x 20″ rolls. Cut into 4′ 6″ pieces, each covers a little more than half the roof (including wrapping around and under each end). This means that there is a seam a couple of inches down from the ridge of the roof on one side. The two pieces of aluminum overlapp with the seam on the downhill meaning that water getting through shouldn’t be a problem. After covering two roofs with aluminum, I suggest starting by folding the ridge line using the tile board as a straight edge. Once that fold is straight, you can fold the rest of the edges around kind of like you would wrap a present. Its hard to describe, you just have to try it. Maybe you will even do a better job than me. If you wanted, you could also use something like shingles or some other roofing material. That might be easier than the aluminum. I do like how the aluminum roof looks though.

All Coming Together

After all this work, you get something that looks like this:

After measuring the width of the slot for the removable bottom, I cut the remaining panel board to fit. There was enough to make one that covered the full length and one that was half length for each hive. Then, using the leftover 3/4″ plywood, I measured and cut braces to fit in each end. The edges are cut at 20 degrees, and they are glued and screwed in place. I made sure that had a little clearance above the removable bottom so any junk that falls through can slide out with the bottom. These braces also have a purpose besides just adding strength to the hive. They also provide a place where I can attach the #8 hardware cloth that will form the screened bottom. The hardware cloth comes in 36″ wide, and my hive is 41 1/2″ long on the inside. To save on how much I will need, I made the braces 3 1/2″ wide. That means that the hardware cloth will only have to cover a length of 34 1/2″. This way I can buy just 2 or 3 linear feet of the cloth for both hives.

The cleanout doors for the front are ready, but the ones for the back still need a slot cut in them for the entrance feeder I will use. The idea is that the feeder will only be accessible through the hive (like a top feeder is) and should therefore be less likely to cause robbing. They also should not have problems with drowning bees or (hopefully) leaking. The entrance feeders I got were from Betterbee. I got the larger size and despite what the description says, they fit into a 1/2″ slot (and are 5″ wide). First, I held the cleanout doors in place and marked on them where they met with the brace (pictured above). The slot will be cut so that its bottom is level with the top of the brace. I cut this slot in the same way I cut the entrance slot. I set the table saw blade to a height where 5″ of the the blade was exposed (front to back). After setting the fence at the right distance, I simply plunged the wood down onto the blade. The cleanout door is then flipped and the same is done from the other side. Then you move the fence 1/8″ and do it again (since my blade is 1/8″). I did this four different times to get a 1/2″ slot. If I remember correctly, with my saw blade the cuts from each side just barely meet each other to cut through the wood. The hole is enough to get my handsaw blade in to square up the slot (I also use a chisel to do the final squaring). To do the plunge cut on the table saw, I found that it helped to mark the centerline of the blade on the fence and also mark the centerline on the cleanout door. That helps you to keep the plunge centered. I also used stop block attached to the fence at the front of the table saw keep them centered. In the pictures below, I already had things painted and the hinges and such installed. Thats just because I did things in a different order than I am describing.

I wanted to be able to close off this slot for the feeder and to reduce the entrance if needed. To do that, I added some holes and nuts so I could bolt on a cover (or entrance reducer). I decided to embed the nut into the 3/4″ plywood of the hive. This would keep me from losing the nut, and would mean that I wouldn’t need to use a wrench on both the nut and the bolt (a good thing if the bees were mad at me). I pre-drilled a 1/4″ hole (the size of the bolt), and then on the inside of the hive drilled a little bit in using a bit slightly smaller than the nut. Then I just tightened the nut and bolt until it pulled the nut into the hole (and it was flush with the surface). I removed it, added glue, and put it back in again. Here is what it looks like:

I did a hole and nut on each side of the slot in the back cleanout door, and one hole and nut on one side of the entrance (just for a reducer, not to close it off). I had some leftover slats from some window blinds that I used for the entrance reducer and to cover the slots. You can use whatever you might have that works. For the entrance reducer, I made two holes for the bolt so that I could reduce the entrance to two different sizes. (ignore the patched slot in the back – that was from something I changed).

Next, I could turn my attention to the screened bottom and the rails for the top-bars. The screened bottom was easy. Just cut out a piece of #8 hardware cloth (1/8″ squares) to be larger than the opening. I folded the sides up a little to fit, and then used a manual staple gun (with 1/2″ staples) to attach it. My staple gun couldn’t always drive the staples all the way, but I just finished pounding them in with a hammer.

The rails for the top-bars was made when I cut the ridgepole for the roof. It was a small wedge that was angled right so that when placed on the slanted side wall had a flat top surface for the top-bars to rest on. This worked out nicely since my sides and roof are at 20 degrees off either vertical or horizontal. I measure at what height that the hive was a little wider than 19″ and marked it. The top-bars are 19″ and I wanted a little bit of extra room on either side. I glued and clamped them in place and then added staples for strength (and to hold them as the glue dried).

Now, its pretty close to done. If you have already made the top-bars, you can see how it will all work. I added a thin strip that was leftover from making the 1 1/4″ top-bars to the end of the hive. This is to make sure that the bee space is correct. The strip is about 1/8″ wide. After having started the two hives, I believe that using two strips might actually be better to keep the combs centered on the top-bars.

Painting

Now, on to painting! I removed the legs while I was painting. Since I didn’t measure the placement of the holes for the leg bolts (I just drilled the holes in the legs and ends together), each leg only fits in one place. I made sure to mark each leg and its corresponding position on each hive so I didn’t have to search for which ones fit where.

With the legs off, I stood the hives up on end and painted them. I used a good quality exterior paint. I gave it a couple of coats and tried to make sure that all the exposed end grain of the plywood was especially well coated. Don’t forget to paint the small extra pieces like the cleanout doors, the entrance reducer, etc. Once it is all painted and dried, you can put it all together and install the cleanout doors with hinges. I also added some latched to the cleanout doors to make sure they stay closed.

In the end, you end up with this: (minus the cute little girl :) )

54 Responses to “Top-bar Hive Construction”

  1. Len Says:

    So according to your site, you walls are 20 degrees? And the cuts in your end pieces are 20*? I’ve read everything from 15 to 30 degrees. If you made another, would you choose the same angle?
    BTW, beautiful design!

  2. kawayanan Says:

    Yes, the walls are 20 degrees. The end pieces have a bunch of angles, partly because they have attachment points for the legs. I think the angle is fine. I have not had any problems with attachments to the sides (they seem to like to attach the first comb to the front wall of the hive). There are a range of angles people use. I think that both Dennis Murrell and Michael Bush say they make vertical wall without much difference in attachment. I went with angles side because I think it make the comb stronger and easier to remove, and because I think it looks nicer. :)

    If I did it again, I would probably use the same side angle, but might change a few other things. First, I might add a window in the side to look in without opening the hive. Second, I think I would have the top-bars sit on the side and overhang a little (not sit on a rail inside the hive). It not a bit deal, but might make them easier to get out. Third, I don’t know that I would use a metal roof. It was a little of a pain to fold. Shingling would probably be easier.

  3. Ryan Mullins Says:

    Hiya,

    Love your design, I can not get it to come up correcty on the google website though. Could you email the blueprint?

    Thank you,

    Ryan

  4. kawayanan Says:

    I sent you an email

  5. Daniel Says:

    I was looking over your stuff for this hive. WOW. Great detail in the plans and execution. I will be starting mine soon. One thing I thought of was on how to help make your entrance slots (if you dont mind round ends that is). Use a drill bit that is the same diameter of the slot and drill each end of the slot before you drop it on the table saw. when you do drop it on the saw, you just have to cut the outside lines because the center plug will just fall out. Or you could use a jig saw at that point, either way, it make the cut easier.

  6. kawayanan Says:

    Thats a good idea about drilling the holes first. :) I think the jig saw would probably be the best way to go, I just don’t have one (yet).

  7. Scott Says:

    This is just what I have been looking for. I tried to open your plans on Google, but couldn’t get it to work.
    Would you be so kind as to send them to me via email?
    I just caught a swarm about a week ago and have them in a Langstroth hive body but want to move into top bar hives.
    Thanks and good luck with your bees.

    Scott

  8. Rusty Says:

    I was wondering if you have a blueprint-type of plan with dimensions. The google drawings are beautiful, but I couldn’t find anything with numbers (dimensions) on it. Thanks.

  9. kawayanan Says:

    I don’t have any blueprints (or pictures with the measurments). In order to get the dimensions, you would have use Google Sketchup. In the program, there is a “tape measure” tool that allows you to measure any edge or between any two points. There is also a protractor tool that allows you to measure any angle.

    When I build my hives, I had my laptop with sketchup running, so I could refer to it for any measurements or angles.

  10. M.Smith Says:

    Would it be possible for a set of drawings to be sent? The basic shown structure here is the type I would enjoy working with at my age.

    Thank you.

  11. Stone Says:

    Hi,

    This is an absolutely awesome design and description! I too would love to get your drawings on this hive. Google sketchup is a real head scratcher for me and it would be easier to just follow the schematics on paper – if you have them.

    Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

  12. Tyler W. Cox Says:

    I’ve uploaded the drawings that I made to http://www.decieve.us/KTB/
    They may be of use to those who are having problems using Google ShetchUp. The drawings are 300dpi 8 1/2″x 11″ images to allow for high quality printing.

  13. Mjanby Says:

    Just curious if there is anyone that has figured out the dimensions yet and willing to share them? Ie. post a link or email them so they could be posted here.

  14. Randall Phelps Says:

    Thanks for your work. I have downloaded and printed the drawings. Sufficient measurements seem to be on the drawings. I will modify the roof to incorporate a ridge vent, using shingles for the exterior covering. Another concern I have is the top bar sitting high against the roof. How far is the rail below the wall edge? How would you have the top bars higher to allow easier removal? I would suggest leaving the bars sitting below the wall edge but fasten a couple cabinet knobs on each bar, not interfering with the roof, to enable easier removal.

  15. ken ward Says:

    I think this is a brilliant design but cannot download it for some reason! I really feel this is the way forward for eco friendly beekeeping!!!! Could you email your plans,I would love to make a couple.

  16. philip storm Says:

    can you email me pics and blue prints

  17. Daniel Says:

    Just a quick question. Many top bar hive owners use a following board to keep the bees in just enough room to make sure they focus on filling the hive from front to back. In this manner of thinking would it be better to put the feeder slot in the front of the hive so that the bees can get the syrup from start to finish of the hive growth?

    • Randall Phelps Says:

      I understand they put the brood in the middle of the space and stores toward the outside. Given this arrangement, I plan to use a top feeder resting on the top bars with underneath access provided by removal of one top bar.

  18. Julie Says:

    Once again can email me plans and blueprints ;))

    • Randall Phelps Says:

      e-mail me and I’ll help.

      • Randall Phelps Says:

        I have not yet finished the hive I was building from the design since I wish to incorporate the changes I suggested. I have been puting together frames and supers for the honey flow, but plan to start finishing the design changes next week.

  19. Randall Phelps Says:

    This is a fine looking product, and the plans are great for an experienced wood-worker. I am building according to these plans. I think the effort to be cute & efficient failed because supplemental materials are needed, the design needs tweaking to work, the design requires complex cuts that yield structural weakness, and insufficient illustration and explanation is made of the assembly process. Simplicity and a stronger structure would result from the use of angle brackets and screws, asphalt shingles with provision for a ridge vent, and a better explanation of the placement of the bottom board and screen. The angles and amount of space provided for the bees are not really explained. Thanks for getting me started building one.

  20. Bernard Says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the wonderful design, everything worked perfectly at first attempt, download, measurements, to-buy list, layout, wood-work, final assembly. Just great, it saved me so much time, the result is beautiful. When building it I could appreciate all the thoughts you put into it regarding structural design, and matching to existing supplies. I added a window on the side to be able to observe the bee’s life inside. This window has a cover to block it from light. Thanks also for mentoring me in this process as I am a moderately skilled handyman.

  21. Rob Says:

    I have put windows in the sides of my TBHs (the long sides) and will offer my advice: Be sure to strengthen your hive when adding windows. The hive will seem fine at first, but when the bees build out comb and add honey, the added weight will act to bow the window side of the hive ‘out’, leading to a bunch of other problems. The windows are wonderful and I’m working on a solution that I will incorporate with this hive design (the design is beautiful!).
    At the moment, I’m thinking of incorporating support at the top of the hive body with a welded ‘frame’ of 1/2″ x 1/8″ angle steel. The top bars will rest on top of this frame rather than sit on a ridge inside the hive body (I can’t see how it would be possible to get the top bars out if they are inside the hive…). I’ve thinned the body to 1/2″ plywood to put more focus on the frame as support (I’m not sure about the legs yet). I’ve also included a third support at the bottom of the hive body in addition to the two already in the design to help keep the shape of my hive since I’ve used such flimsy material… The final tweak was using Douglas Fir for the top bars. I’ve used regular 2×4 pine in the past and the top bars end up twisting and warping to the point where they never fit back into the hive ‘spacing’. The Doug Fir should be more dimensionally stable over time, but I guess we’ll see. The finished product should look just as pretty as the original design. Thanks!

  22. Stone Says:

    On one of the TBHs I constructed, I installed a window also. After opening the hive and seeing the enormous amount of condensation it produced along with the resulting mold, I’m going to remove it. Lots of dead bees covered by mold. I think it’s because glass (and probably Plexiglas to a lesser degree) are such great conductors of heat and cold. The show isn’t worth the pain to the girls. Back to wood walls.

    Regarding the twisting of the top bars: Interesting observation. I had a little of that too. Seems the bees take care of the gaps with a little propolis. I have a lot of scrap cherry boards that I’m going to try out and see what happens.

  23. hubert boyken Says:

    so many good ideas love your site. are the above steps you talk about when you make the top bar hives all I will need or do I need blue prints. this is all new to me so I need all the help I can get. thanks for all you might do to help me I know you must devotr a lot of time with this.

    hubert boyken

    livermore ky.421352

  24. George k Munyua Says:

    I have never kept bees and i am very interested on how to begin.
    What am expected to have as preliminary requirements and information.
    Thanks,
    Bantu

  25. Beardy P Says:

    Have you experienced any moisture problems/solutions?
    Here in the uk a big concern is internal condensation on account of our wet cold weather. The usual TBH line is to use unpainted wood not ply as it supposedly breathes/absorbs moisture etc better, and ensure roof ventilation. Research indicates there is not much in it, neither are good so, yes, ventilation is important.
    Window condensation is also an issue – double glaze and/or add extra wood/insulation to the window cover.
    How much does your empty hive weigh? How portable actually is it? Hives here really need to be one-man/barrow portable.

    Thanks to Rob for pointing out the window structural issue. A lot of TBH’s are being sold here that are going to hit this. However, most add a rail each side onto the bottom to stiffen it up and to rest on, e.g on blocks. 1/2″ ply is too thin thermally for our winters !!
    Cheers

  26. Patrick Says:

    How did you attach the aluminum flashing? I’m finding it to be quite difficult to work with. Did you screw or glue any part of it?

  27. Daniel Falkowski Says:

    Unable to open plans .Would you bee so kink to email me a set ?
    Thank you
    Daniel

  28. Randy Thornton Says:

    could you email me your plans. Great blog. just starting

    Randy Thornton

  29. Peter Wild Says:

    Hi there

    What a great site you have.
    I went to a bee meeting last night and we chatted about TBH.
    So would you be kind enough to forward the pland to me so I can make a hive and start this great hobby

    Regards

    Peter

  30. Laura Sanders Says:

    Thanks so much for doing all the leg work for us! I did try to open your plans in googlesketchup but they just aren’t working for me! its probably more operator error than anything. Would you please send me an email containing the plans?
    Thanks
    Laura

  31. Gary Says:

    Hi there
    I too have tried to download your plans using sketchup but nothing appears,so could you please email them.
    Sorry to be a pain.
    Thanks
    Gary

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  33. Don Douglas Says:

    question: I see different designs for access into the TBBH thru slots in the ends or thru holes drilled in the sides. Which is better for the hive/bees (not convienent for the bee keeper)?
    v/r
    Don

  34. laila Says:

    hey
    is it ok to make the observation window in plexi glas?
    greetings

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  50. Kevin Says:

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  51. David Meneo Says:

    Hi, I also would like to thank you for all the work you did putting this together… the original post was in ’08 I just found this site and it is mid ’14 has there been new plans made with all the above modifications?

    Could you please email me the latest blueprints for this hive.

    Thanks again.

    Dave

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