A Table Saw and Top-bars

I have been wanting to get a table saw since I left home. My father had a nice, very solid old one. Growing up around tools, I never realized how useful it was to have them around until I didn’t have them. I think I started telling my wife that I would like a table saw shortly after we were married. Being a student, we never lived in a place that had room for one though. We currently living in a condo while I finish grad school, but I finally decide that I would make room some how. Building the bee hives was a push for me to finally get the table saw. Where to put it still had to be dealt with though. After a bit of looking I found a reasonable portable table saw that folded up to be 15″ thick, and would fit in the small space in a closet next to our hot water heater. It fits with about 1/4″ to spare. 🙂 When I got it home, my wife mentioned that it would work well for when we put up crown molding…all new toys have a price I guess.

Most of the cuts needed for my top-bar hive should be pretty simple, but the top-bars themselves could be a little more complicated. The top-bars are have the most critical dimensions of a top-bar hive. The length of the bars depend on the hive design, and I am using 19″ bars so they will fit in Langstroth hives. The width of the bars does not depend on the hive design, but is dictated by the bees. The idea is to provide bars of the right size so that they build comb cleanly, each comb centered on each separate bar. The most common width used seems to be a combination of 1 1/4″ and 1 1/2″. The different sizes is to accommodate the different depth of comb bees build for different purposes. The smaller are used in the brood nest and the larger for honey storage. Most people also provide a guide of some sort to help the bees build their comb centered on the bars. There are a number of different ways provide a guide. Some examples on the web can be found here, here, and here. I didn’t want to try to insert foundation, and I don’t have any beeswax yet to insert in a kerf, so I came up with my own plan. I wanted to simply cut two equal rabbets on the bottom of the bar, leaving a ridge ~1/8″ tall (the width of my saw blade) and 1/8″ wide.

My first order of business was to make some feather boards. These will make the cutting of my top-bars much easier and safer. Feather boards are used to hold the wood being cut either down, against the fence, or both (both in my case). They are also pretty easy to make. I used two scrap pieces of 1×6 (actually I found it in the scrap pile at my local home improvement store and paid $0.51 for piece long enough for both). I cut the ends off at a 35 degree angle and marked a parallel line to serve as a stop line. Fingers are then cut in angled end, stopping at the stop line. These fingers are about 3/8″ think and now have some give to them. When they are attached, pressing against the wood bing cut, they not only keep the wood held against the table or the fence, they also help prevent kickback. Because of the angle of the fingers, they give when wood is pushed through forward, but don’t let the wood move backward. In addition to preventing kickback, they also increase safety because you don’t have to use your hands to keep the wood pressed in the correct position. You can safely use a push stick and keep your fingers well away from the blade. The feather board to hold the wood down is easy enough to attach to the fence (actually to a sacrificial fence – though mine is just a piece of scrap wood clamped to the fence). The feather board holding the wood to the fence needed a little more work. The miter gauge slots on my table are 3/4″ wide and ~3/8″ deep. I cut a piece of the left over 1×6 that was 3/8″ wide (its 3/4″ thick). This can fit into the miter gauge slot. I cut slots into the feather board and attached the two with bolts and wing nuts. This sits on the face of the table and can adjust to press various sized wood against the fence.

Before I could test my setup, I needed wood for the top-bars. I tested ripping 2×4’s in thirds length wise. It was doable, but a pain. It was much easier to simply use 1×2′. Since they are actually 1 1/2″ wide, thats perfect for the honey storage top-bars. For the brood nest, I will have to rip them down to 1 1/4″, but thats not to bad. With 8′ lengths, I can cut 5 19″ top-bars with only 1″ wasted. They are also 3/4″ think witch should be plenty strong. I went to my local home improvement store carefully cherry-picked the straightest, flattest, least knotty 8′ 1×2’s I could find and bought 6 (only $1.19 each 🙂 ). This should make 30 top-bars, a little less than half what I need for two hives. I cut them down to 19″ (notice the stop block, don’t make cross cuts using a fence, it can cause kickback), and get set up to cut the comb guides. You can see the feather boards both set up in the picture. I simply run the top-bars through on one side, then flip them over and run them through on the other. The blade is raised to cut ~1/16″ less than half way through, which leaves a guide of ~1/8″ thick. A scrap piece of wood is used as the sacrificial fence so that I can cut a rabbets instead of a dado. Once set up I ran all 30 top-bars through in about 15 min without hurrying at all. It was safe and easy. Writing this all up has taken my longer. 😛 The very last bit of work to finish the top-bars was to remove the guide at the very end of each bar. This is so that they will sit flat in the hive which will have a small shelf for them to rest on. I did this with a hand chisel. I went quickly, and my 3 year old daughter entertained herself collecting all the curly little shavings. You can see her leg in the photo (in pink pants). I now have 30, 1 1/2″ top-bars all ready. Now I just have to do the 1 1/4″ ones (and make the hive 🙂 ).

5 Responses to “A Table Saw and Top-bars”

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