While it is relatively easy to find assembled frames ready to use – some beekeepers choose to learn how to assemble frames for their beehives. This is actually a great idea as you will know for sure that they are assembled correctly. If the frames come apart easily or don’t hold up under normal use – it will be because you didn’t put them together well.
Getting to know and understand the parts of a beehive is important. Each piece serves a function and when you know the “why” – you can determine how much effort to put into each one. Frames take a lot of abuse over the years – they should be sturdy.
Assembling Hive Frames
Removable frames revolutionized modern beekeeping. These frames and the standard dimensions of the Langstroth or Lang hive made it possible to inspect hives without destroying comb.
Queen failures, diseases, the presence of pests were all easy to detect with the ability to look at the side of each sheet of comb.
However, the action of taking frames in and out of the hive – with wax, bee propolis etc. attached can cause frame failure if the frames are not assembled properly.
Plastic vs Wood Frames
A frame is basically just that – it is a rectangular structure that fits inside the hive. The ends (ears) of the frame hang on a special ledge inside.
Frames can be used without a foundation but most beekeepers install sheets of beeswax foundation or plastic foundation into them.
In recent years, the use of plastic frames has become more popular. The goal was to have a sturdier and more lightweight option for beekeepers. However, plastic frames have issues of their own. In time, they too can warp or break.
Either type will work well in your hives when properly installed but most beekeepers still prefer the use of wood frames.
Bee Frames: Build, Buy, or Assemble
Beekeepers who enjoy building their own hives do sometimes make their frames as well. However, frame construction is a more advanced project and best left to true craftsmen. Wooden frames are relatively inexpensive and last for years.
When buying frames for your hive, you often have 2 choices.
- purchase frames assembled and ready to go
- buy the components and assemble your own.
When time allows, always opt to assemble your own frames. Why? The beekeeper who takes the time to put together a frame is less likely to experience frame failure in the short term.
Unlike mass produced products, you determine where each nail goes and how much glue is really in those joints.
Still, due to schedules etc., there will probably be times when you really have to use frames put together by a supplier and that’s okay too.
Select Frames for Proper Box Size
As parts of a standard hive, beekeepers can use hive boxes of 3 different heights. The deep box is 9 5/8″ tall, a medium is 6 5/8″ tall and a shallow super is 5 3/4″ tall.
- Deep Box Frames 9 1/8″
- Medium Box Frames 6 1/4″
- Shallow Box Frames 5 3/8″
How many and which size is used in the apiary is up to the beekeeper. Standard Langstroth hives hold 10 frames per box, however 8 frame hives are available as well.
While the length of the frames are the same for each box, the height is not. A taller box needs a frame with longer side bars (end bars) – that make sense. It is easy to tell the difference between deep and shallow frames.
But, if you are in a rush – it is sometimes easy to mistake mediums for shallows. Choose the correct size “side bars” to correspond to the box you plan to put your frames into.
For a backyard beekeeper with only a few hives – frame assembly is not a big deal. You need:
- frame components
- wood glue
- hive tool
- small nails
- foundation – assuming beeswax but plastic just pops in
There are several components to be aware of when assembling bee frames. In general, each part will fit regardless of the manufacturer of your beekeeping equipment.
However, in reality you may have to use your knife to fine tune some of the wooden parts when using parts from different manufacturers. It is best to purchase your unassembled frames from the same source when you can.
The side bars are fairly standard. But, there are several choices for top and bottom bars. These include:
- wedge top
- grooved top
- split bottom
- grooved bottom
Wedge top bars with split bottom bars are most commonly used for beeswax foundation. When the small wedge piece is installed, it holds wax foundation (with wire hooks) in place.
When it is time to rotate old brood comb out of the hive – the wedge is removed. The split bottom keeps the wax sheet in place and allows it to hang through the split if the sizing is a bit off.
The grooved versions are the top choice for plastic foundation though they can both be used each way with a little finagling.
Putting together wedge top – split bottom frame to hold beeswax foundation sheet.
1. After assembling your materials. Use your hive tool to clean off any extra bits of wood or ridges left behind when the parts were cut.
2. Place the top bar upside down and apply glue to the joints of the side bars – allowing you to assemble each side bar. You don’t have to wait for this to dry but before you are finished – make sure the frame is square.
3. Inspect the split bottom bar. It does have an up and down side. The widest angle is the top side- image how that helps guide the sheet of foundation down into the groove.
4. Since we currently have our frame upside down for assembly. Flip your bottom bar over and glue it to the frame side bars. You will be looking at the bottom of your bottom bar. (That sounds confusing but I hope it is not.)
5. You are not finished quite yet. While the glue is still wet, put some well placed nails in the frames (complete instructions at the bottom of this post). Two nails in the top and bottom of each side bar provides a sturdy structure.
The secret sauce – put a smaller nail 1″ in the side bar ear. This helps to keep those top bars from popping off at an unfortunate time in years to come. (This is optional but I always do this for my frames.)
Make sure the frame is square and leave to dry and set.
Some beekeepers use nail guns to assemble frames for beehives. This is a great way to speed up the process – especially helpful for those of you with a large apiary. However, be sure to include good wood glue as this really makes a strong frame.
What happens if one of your end bars splits? It does happen and that’s okay. In most cases you can apply some extra glue and still be able to use the side bar.
A Final Word
While it is not something that you “have” to do, many beekeepers enjoy the process of assembling their bee frames. Take your time and enjoy the process. It is one of the calmer aspects of beekeeping and you can enjoy doing it without fear of getting stung!
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Beehive Frame Assembly
How to assemble a beehive frame to hold wax foundation with a wedge top top bar and a split bottom bottom bar.
This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
- 10 pieces unassembled langstroth hive frame parts (any size to match box)
- 1 bottle wood glue
- 1 box 1 1/4″ nails
Gather the parts for each frame. For each frame you need 4 parts. A top bar, a bottom bar and 2 end bars of the same size. Your end bars will be the correct size to fit in the chosen size box or super.
Remove the Wedge Strip on the Top Bar. Use your hive tool to pop off the wedge stir attached to the top bar. You will be using this to hold your sheet of foundation in place. Don’t throw it away!
Use hive tool or knife to remove excess wood. After the strip is removed, use a sharp edge to scrape away any left over slivers of wood on the top bar. We want a smooth surface for the foundation to sit later.
Fit First Side Bar to Top BarCheck the fit of the wide ends of the side bars to the notch in the top bars. You may need to shave away a little wood. The fit should be tight but not so much that it breaks the wood.
Add Glue to Frame Top and End BarAdd a small amount of wood glue to the wide end of one side bar and one notch of the top bar. This will help make your frame very sturdy.
Assemble both side bars. Repeat for other side – both side bars are attached to the top bar. Yes, it will fall apart so be careful.
Bottom bar angle. Your split bottom bar has a up side and a down side. Check the angle of the slot/split with your hive tool. We want the angle to be inside the frame – it helps the foundation slide into the split.
Check square of frame. Now your 4 main components of the frame are glued together (rather loosely). Check to see that all the seams fit well together. Some beekeepers use a tool to check that the frame is actually square – I usually don’t but maybe I should.
Nail wooden frames together. Now it is time to securely nail your wooden frame parts together. The glue is still wet so be careful while turning them around. I start on the bottom and use 2 small nails on each end of the bottom bar. You will see a lot of guidelines about the size of nail to use. Honestly, it just needs to be long enough to connect the parts and small enough in diameter to “not” split your wood.
Attach top bar with nails. Once each end of the bottom bar is attached, flip the frame over and put 2 small nails in the notches of the top bar. We are nailing through the top bar into the side bars. We know have a total of 8 nails – four on the bottom and four on the top.
Extra nail for support. As a final tip, adding one more nail to your beehive frame will pay off big in the years to come. If you have a very small nail 1″ or less, nail one side of the side bar ear into the side of the frame. This is optional.
Checking final assembly. Once all nails are in place, set your frame aside and let the glue dry. Wipe off any excess glue that squeezes out. And, don’t throw away that extra wood strip – you will need it to install your foundation.