Posts Tagged ‘top bar’

I mentioned the other day that P had built two beehives for me, so I thought I’d show them and share some of the process with you.

These long trough-shaped top bar hives have been used in Africa for a very long time, the design is really simple and the hives can be built relatively inexpensively. You can use regular lumber, even scraps that you’ve got laying around the house, so long as the wood is untreated. There is only one measurement that needs to be exact and that is the width of the top bars themselves (I’ll explain more about that later.).

Another bonus is that there is no heavy lifting with this system, something I definitely find appealing. With conventional systems there is alot of lifting and while those little boxes may not look it, they are really HEAVY! Having to move those boxes around multiple times is not really something that I want to do.

With this system there is only one big box and the only thing you lift is the individual combs.

Of course there are some disadvantages with this system (although not everyone considers them to be disadvantages!)

  • There is less honey produced and the honey can’t be extracted in the usual way, by centrifugal force.
  • The system is not standard so you can’t swap parts with other hives or buy extras from your local beekeeping supply shop
  • They are harder to move once they are full of bees
  • Not as many beekeepers have experience with this system so it might be harder to find advice or help when needed (of course there is plenty of information on the net so not really a problem)
  • The local beekeepers might look at you in a strange way
  • You might be considered a bit of a rebel


  • No heavy lifting
  • instead of just the honey, you get real honey-in-the-comb of the highest quality :O)
  • easy to build and maintain
  • the bees build natural sized cells
  • not as much equipment is needed
  • no foundation sheets or frames to fiddle around with
  • less supplies and equipment needed = lower cost
  • The local beekeepers might look at you in a strange way
  • You might be considered a bit of a rebel ;O)

Ok, so how do you go about building one of these hives…

Well, first of all you download and print out the instruction booklet which you will find here on Phil Chandler’s site

His site is full of great information about natural beekeeping so you might want to have a look around while you’re there.

The booklet will tell you all you need to know to build the hive.

P used wood that was up in our attic, it was left over from when we remodelled our house.

The wood we used was about 4″ wide by 1″ thick and cut to 4 ft. long. P used 3 pieces of wood glued together to form the front and back pieces of the hives, which ended up being 1 ft. tall.

Then he pressed them together with clamps until they were dry.

He built up the side pieces the same way.Here are all of the pieces ready for assembly. Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied and so I didn’t get any photos of the actual assembly.

All of those short slats in the front are the top bars, those are the strips of wood where the bees actually build their combs. As I mentioned, this is the one measurement that needs to be exact. The slats are all 1 3/8″ wide, because that is how wide the bees need them to be to build the comb properly and still have room to move between the combs. P cut 30 for each hive, including some extras. On one side of each of those slats, I glued and stapled a small triangular strip of moulding down the center. This is done to show the bees where they should begin building their comb. Onto each triangular strip I painted a thin stripe of beeswax as a starting point for them.

This is the assembled body of one of the hives, standing on end.

The bottom of each hive is enclosed with a strip of heavy-duty plastic mesh. The mesh-covered bottom aids in ventilation and also, it allows the varroa mites to fall out of the hive while keeping other things from crawling into the hive.

In the middle of the front of each hive, P drilled three 1″ holes, these are the flight holes. These hives are built to allow the beekeeper to make splits right inside the same hive. There are partition boards which are added on the end of the hive and at the back of the hive there is one hole drilled to allow the splits to fly. But all of that is in the instructions if you’re interested.

I didn’t get photos of the making of the legs but you can see that they are similar to the legs of a sawhorse. The bottoms are painted with tar to help keep them from rotting.

It’s a good idea to build these hives at least a few months ahead of time if possible so they have a chance to air out. Bees are pretty sensitive to smells and they would probably not like the “new” smell of freshly made hives. We are keeping these outside and probably wont use them until next spring.

So here is the hive with top bars and everything in place.

When the hives were finished, P painted the outsides with a mixture of linseed oil and beeswax to help protect them from the elements.

And this is a view of the inside with most of the top bars removed. You can see the hole I mentioned at the back of the hive designed for a split.

And the finished hive complete with roof. The roof is just a strip of heavy plastic roofing material. The roof is only there to help keep water out, the top bars are flush so they actually form the true roof of the hive, this is just an additional covering. In the winter we will probably lay a packing blanket or something between the top bars and this roof for added insulation. The roof can be designed in a number of ways, every hive like this that I have seen has a different style roof. We may change this one, but it was fast and easy and cheap and so we are trying it out, we just needed something to keep the water off. This roof is held on with two long bungee cords.

For further inspiration, look around on the net for different body styles, roofs and building materials used. That is the nice thing bout these hives, the possibilities are endless. Here is a Google image search that I did to get you started.


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