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. 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 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.
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 )