Building a beehive – national, modified national and 14×12 hive types explained


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive | Posted on 10-05-2011

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As a b2b writer I’ll occasionally get the urge to revisit an article and tweak it. A word or a sentence will start to bother me. So I’ll change it. And then the paragraph it sits in won’t work as well. So I’ll swap it around, only to find that doing that messes up the ending. Before you know it I’ll have cut and pasted the thing to shreds and found that I’ve had to start over again practically from scratch.

My first homemade beehive, completed in the summer of 2010, is back in pieces on the garage floor.

It didn’t have a varroa mesh floor, which wasn’t the end of the world, but it struck me as sensible to provide it with one before installing a colony. More significantly, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to remain a modified national. And I didn’t like the roof. And, well, I’m not terribly good at sawing wood in straight lines so wasn’t convinced about some of the gaps between brood chamber and super. And then I bought a tin of bee-friendly beehive paint and thought that I should probably use it to cover up the untested Sadolin Classic Wood Protection Colourless Base I’d already coated it in.

All that said, my haphazard approach should at least reassure any DIY beekeepers contemplating making their own beehives: believe me, if I can do this stuff, you can.

modified national plus 14x12 eke and frames

A modifed national brood chamber, together with eke to convert it to a 14x12, plus national DN4 frame (left) and 14x12 frame (right) for comparison. I'll fix the eke permanently to the underside of the brood chamber.

Let’s focus on perhaps the most serious problem. I chose the ‘modified national’ design because, well, I was given a set of plans. And because the ‘national’ remains the most popular type of beehive in England. Interestingly, it isn’t the most popular hive type among experienced beekeepers in these parts (north Essex). We’re surrounded by fields of yellow oil seed rape – as anyone who’s driven up the M11 couldn’t fail to spot. The bees love it and they make lots of honey out of it. Local, more experienced, beekeepers therefore tend to favour the ‘14×12’, sometimes referred to as the ‘national 14×12’.

Now if you’re wondering what the differences are between a ‘national’ beehive, a ‘modified national‘ and a ‘national 14×12’ you’re not alone. I searched high and low before being told the answer.

A ‘national’ beehive, sometimes also referred to as a ‘standard national’, has a brood box measuring 460mm x 460mm x 225mm externally. So does a ‘modified national’. The only difference between the two is that a ‘standard national’ has a double-thickness wall on two sides (the sides that carry the frames). The ‘modified national’ has L-shaped rails top and bottom, connected to the side walls (see photo above). The top rail carries the frames. The bottom rail extends outwards to line up with the floor. As a consequence the ‘modified national’ can be made with four walls of uniform thickness. The ‘national 14in x 12in’ shares the 460mm x 460mm footprint, but is a lot deeper – 315mm deep to be precise. It can therefore take taller frames, which means more brood and, ultimately, more honey. Whoever came up with the idea of mixing imperial and metric measurements was clearly having a laugh.

All three hive types share the same floor, super and roof dimensions. The differences only affect the brood chamber. Both the ‘national’ and ‘modified national’ brood chamber can be converted to a 14×12 by means of an ‘eke’ – a 460mm x 460mm x 90mm wooden spacer. Which is what I’m now adding.

Many ‘homemade’ hive plans quote internal or (occasionally) external dimensions only, forcing the DIY beehive builder to compensate based on the thickness of the timber they’re using, or compromise based on the standard external dimensions of shop-bought crownboards, queen excluders and floors. The internal dimensions are more important. Get those wrong and either your frames won’t fit or your bees will fill the gaps with brace comb.

national brood chamber dimensions

National brood chamber dimensions: the figures in brackets show the width at the narrowest point, where the frames hang.

That being the case, why did I quote external dimensions? Because if you ask any experienced beekeeper what size a national brood chamber is, chances are those are the measurements they’ll supply. The internal dimensions of the brood chamber are shown in the table above.

And if you think that’s confusing, don’t get me started on brood and super frame types and spacing…


Comments (7)

Am seeking a hive to commence beekeeping.
Primarily wish to set up to increase number of bees in area (abut farmers fields) rather than wish to collect honey.
Can you recommend a pre-built/assemble yourself hive or plans to self build.

Thank you.

Hi Kelly,
As someone who builds their own hives I’m probably least qualified to comment on shop-bought hives. To be fair, any hive made by a limited liability (Ltd) company that that has been in business for more than two years is probably worth considering. I’d avoid buying from eBay. There are plenty of reputable suppliers on eBay. Unfortunately there are also plenty of fly-by-nights.
As far as hive plans are concerned, the Scottish Beekeepers Association has a useful download page with plans, and the Beekeeping Forum has a whole section devoted to swapping hive and bee equipment plans.
Best of luck!

Am in my first year of beekeeping and like you I have a standard national hive and I was thinking of moving the frame size up to 14×12 to give the brood some more room, I was wondering if you’ve had any problem’s with using deeper frames ?

Hi Dave,
Not really. Early on I was advised to always be sure to nail the top and bottom bars of the 14×12 – advice I’ll pass on to you. When full of brood and/or stores 14x12s carry that extra bit of weight. If you don’t nail them they’ll fall apart. Apart from that, the only nuisance has been their sheer size – they won’t fit a standard brood box without an eke, or a standard nuc, which can otherwise take both standard and commercial frames (which is sometimes handy).
I live in the country and am surrounded by fields that get planted with oil seed rape, which the bees love. Nearly every local beekeeper around here uses 14x12s. Sometimes it’s easier to just follow what those around you are doing! Best of luck.

It’s all very confusing, especialy when you throw in the Rose one size box and the fact that some beekeepers use a comercial brood box with national supers

We never had this trouble until some irresponsible beekeepers imported queens from Italy. My bees were all imperial up until then but now that they’ve interbred…………………….

Nice one…

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