Advice on building a beehive: plans, materials, wood paint and protection, and tools

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Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive | Posted on 07-03-2011

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Tools for making a beehive

Beehive making toolkit (clockwise from top): saw, hammer, rebate plane, tape measure and wood plane. You can get away with just the hammer, saw and tape measure.

As anyone who’s dealt with builders will testify, sometimes the only way to get a straight answer is to know what question to ask. A bit like playing “Simon says”. Making my own beehive was like that.

What type of beehive did I need? Well, that depended on personal preference and how I wanted to use it, I was told. I didn’t have a personal preference, and how should I know how I wanted to use it? I was a complete novice, remember. I presumed they were all designed to keep bees?

Fortunately, any further confusion was made irrelevant when I was given a set of plans for a modified national beehive. For the benefit of any novices asking themselves the same question however, I’ll say now: get a national unless – like me – you live in a rural area near to crops beloved of bees, in which case get a 14×12 if you have a bad back or a commercial if you don’t. If you want it to look like something straight out of Winnie the Pooh get a WBC. If you’re ever likely to move abroad get a Langstroth. If you live in Scotland get a Smith (apparently), and if you enjoy weight-lifting or just standing out from the crowd get a Modified Dadant. Why no-one ever puts it into those simple terms beats me, but there it is.

Beehive plans can be obtained from the British Beekeepers’ Association (Update October 2013: BBKA no longer appears to sell plans online) for a couple of pounds, or from the Scottish Beekeepers Association or magnificently psychedelic David Cushman website for free. Incidentally, I was very sorry to hear that David passed away in February. I know that his website will have helped thousands of novice beekeepers such as myself.

Choice of building materials was another straightforward issue. Cedar is the ideal wood type to use. It’s stable, lightweight, has some natural resistance to decay and insect attack, and can cope with the eccentricities of the British climate. But I had a stack of plywood left over from some work we had done on the house. Plywood is heavier, doesn’t respond well to preservative treatments and is prone to splintering, but it’s cheap. Especially if you already have a few large sheets lying around the garage. Lots of beehives are made from plywood. True, I had a little scare when someone (a builder, bless them) pointed out that there are different grades of plywood …after I’d started work. There’s interior grade, waterproof bonded ply (WBP) and marine. The only one you shouldn’t try making beehives out of is interior grade. Of course it’s not marked on the ply itself (of course it’s not). Mine turned out to all be 18mm thick WBP.

Sadolin Classic Wood Protection Colourless Base

Sadolin Classic Wood Protection Colourless Base

Then, there’s the question of what paint or wood protection to use. A beehive generates honey, so that’s food production. Which means that you can’t slap on any old lead-based, insecticide-ridden paint you like. Well, you can. But you wouldn’t necessarily want to eat anything that came out of it.

Until recently the poor (lazy) beekeeper’s wood preservative of choice was Cuprinol Clear. Due to changes in EU legislation however, Cuprinol can no longer claim that it’s bee safe. (It might still be, Cuprinol just can’t claim it is). Beekeepers’ suppliers sell beehive-friendly paint at around £13.50 a litre. And I’m told it’s very good. The real enthusiasts (in the evangelical sense) though, advocate a combination of boiled linseed oil and beeswax. Beekeeping forums are full of sound, and often conflicting, advice on the subject.

For what it’s worth, I used Sadolin Classic Wood Protection Colourless Base because – you guessed it – I happened to have some. I’ll be happy to take on board any comments from horrified readers.

Finally, tools. You really don’t need many: a saw, a hammer (or screwdriver) and a tape measure about covers it, at a pinch. Once again, I relied heavily on tools I already had. Here, at least, my motives owed more to sentimentality than penny-pinching. Most of the tools belonged to my late father. To his impressive collection of planes, chisels and saws of every size and description I added a rebate plane to enable me to make the runners out of softwood. That, the frames, foundation, queen excluder and porter escapes were the only items that cost me anything.

By summer 2010 I’d completed my first beehive.

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Comments (5)

I looked through the 3 links you mentioned for hive plans. Looks like they have all been moved or no longer exist.

Hi Aisha,
You’re right.
The BBKA appears to have stopped selling hive plans. Or at least, if they haven’t they’ve made it very difficult to find them on their website. Here’s a link to a useful page of downloads – but it doesn’t include hive plans: http://www.bbka.org.uk/learn/general_information/useful_leaflets_to_download
The Scottish Beekeepers Association link is now http://scottishbeekeepers.org.uk/PracticalBeekeeping/TechnicalDataSheets.aspx and the David Cushman website link you want is now http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/filef.html. I’ve updated both in the text.

If it’ll help – WBP stands for Weather and Boil Proof – so an easy way of finding what kind of plywood you have is to immerse an off-cut in a pan of boiling water for half-an-hour (when the wife’s out, of course … )

try eco wood treatment on your hives

What a blessing to find sensible advice from a novice!
I haven’t done a stroke in any direction, yet,being past the first flush etc….. and was sorely in need of sensible, practical advice from someone who’s ACTUALLY DONE IT !Thank you
Dennis
p.s. I live in the Algarve, Portugal.

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