# Build a Scale to Weigh Bee Hives

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## Introduction: Build a Scale to Weigh Bee Hives

Portable Hive Scale

The goal is to build an accurate, electronic bee hive scale for under \$50 that allows anyone to weight 4 hives per minute – up to 250 lbs each – without materially disturbing the colony.

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Problem

In my first year as a beekeeper, I had 2 out of 3 hives swarm. I think. I experienced a Tulip Poplar nectar flow. I think. I saw bees gather nectar – some days more than other days. I think. I say, I think, because I am led to believe that these things happened and I saw evidence that they did occur but I cannot be sure. And if they did occur, I cannot tell you if it was more or less than previous occurrences. But if I could have weighed the hive once or twice a day, I would have known for sure:

* I would know the population of the runaway swarm …estimated at 3500 bees per pound.
* I would know the mass of nectar (and pollen) gathered during the day and of water evaporated at night. One pound equals roughly 1.04 US pints.
* I would know the number of bees foraging by monitoring the loss of weight in bees leaving in the morning.
* I would know the rate of growth of daily nectar collection as a nectar flow began.
* I could compare my hives with the hives of others and with my own hives in previous years.

Lord Kelvin said, “To measure is to know.” If I could weigh a hive, I would know a lot more than I do now…

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How Does It Work?

The scale has 3 fingers or tongue that lift one side of the hive. The two outside fingers push down while the center finger lifts the hive. A \$16 electronic luggage scale measures the force required to separate the center tongue from the outside tongues. The force to lift up the back of the hive is roughly half the total weight of the hive.

## Step 1: Buy a Luggage Scale

This is the luggage scale that I bought off the Internet for \$16. You attach your luggage to these hand-held devices and lift them with the luggage attached. The scale beeps or stops changing value and then you read off the weight. Their maximum range is about 125 lbs – less than a lot of bee hives. However, if you measure the hive by only lifting one side - and assume that weight in the hive is more or less centrally distributed - then you are only measuring half the hive's weight. You have a loss in accuracy but your maximum range is now extended to 250 lbs.

You do not need to use exactly the same scale shown here. However, you may need to get creative in attaching the luggage scale to the scale handle.

## Step 2: Gather All Hardware Parts

Assemble all the parts in the photograph. You can find a complete parts list at http://www.beehacker.com/wp/?page_id=55. These are all available from Lowes or Home Depot.

Not listed are bolts, washers, and screws. I used mostly 1/4″ x 1″ rounded headed screws. You need washers to prevent the bolts from sinking into the wood and getting loose. Some of the parts are shown at right.  Moving clockwise, the parts shown are

* Electronic luggage scale
* 1-1/2″ corner brace (one of two needed)
* tee hinge (one of two needed)
* pulley as purchased. You need to break off the black hanger and drill out the axle.
* steel mending plate shown in the middle of the picture
* pulley assembly at top consisting of:
o two (2) 2-1/2″ corner braces shown prior to bending of bottom flanges
o 1/4″ clevis pin axle
o one 1″ nylon spacer with .257” ID, cut in half to get 2 1/2” pieces
o one nylon pulley

## Step 3: Drill and Cut the Wooden Paddle and Lever

Saw out the outline of the paddle in 3/4" plywood, oak, maple, hickory, or other tough wood. Make a lever that the user will use to pull the luggage scale with. Then drill the holes.  Cut out the center tongue as shown at right. I used a band saw for the two long cuts down the tongue then used a jigsaw to join the two cuts.  Sand and finish with a tough marine varnish.

A note on drilling the holes: the mending plates on the bottom share some of the same holes as the corner braces on the top. I could see no way around it. You just need to be precise in your drilling.

## Step 4: Assemble the Parts and Attach the Lifting Cable

The parts screw together quickly.  Note that the two smaller corner braces hold the luggage scale to the lever. In order to allow the luggage scale to move freely, I had to saw some plastic off of the side of the scale near the attaching screws. You may need a few slightly longer screws to hold the pulley assembly to the paddle and mending plates on the bottom.

The cable is 1/16″ wire rope attaches the lifting tongue to the luggage scale with ferrules on both ends. The ferrule is used as a stop on the lifting tongue.

## Step 5: Increase the Accuracy of Your Pry Scale

The photo shows that I added two things:

1. A red plastic level insures that the scale is held consistently each time I weigh the hive.
2. A threaded insert, bolt, and 1/4" screw are shown under the lever. This insures that the tongue is lifted a consistent amount each time.

Both of these improvements will improve the accuracy of your hive scale.

## Step 6: Create a Slot Stick

In order to pry up one end of your hive, you need a slot that you can insert your pry scale into. You can either route out a slot on your bottom board or deep body or simply build a stick like the one shown that you will simply leave under the backside of your hive.

## Step 7: Contribute to a NASA-sponsored Research Project

There is currently a NASA-sponsored nation-wide research project  (http://honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov) that asks volunteer beekeepers to take daily weight measurements of their bee hives. The data is used to estimate when nectar flows begin in order to answer how changing climate effects honey bees.

For more information on this project and many other projects for beekeepers, hackers, and beehackers, visit http://www.beehacker.com.

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## Questions

Hi I am Serbia. I made this device but I think it is accurate only in ideal conditions. Problem is that conditions are never ideal. Beehives are tilted towards front side and weight is rare centrally distributed. i think even diference in weight is not going to be very accurate.

2 replies

I agree.

Hi Serbia,

Your scale looks great. However your experience is the same as mine before I added 1) a stop to insure that the handle is depressed exactly the same each time and 2) a level to insure that the measurement is consistent. Yes, it will not be as accurate as an iron platform scale but if you measure hive weight over time, you should be able to see trends and infer problems or nectar flows.

Nice try. However I don't think the scale offers enough consistency. Standard deviation is the polite way of saying that you have mosty +-1000grams different measurements in 99% or so cases. That is at the very edge of usability IMHO.

Now the interesting point: I have made myself a solution that differs about 10grams from mean value. I think my Slavne scale is more suitable, sorry for my directness. You can check this solution at:

http://nesic.rs/sajt/en/2015-09-15-19-34-55/58-201...

My congratulations goes to trearick of course. It was not easy to come to his solution either. But we are here to improve our solutions, convey knowledge (if we have it, myself excluded :-) and help each other in this disrupted world, right?

That a clever idea. Last year I wanted to bring my beehive to scout camp (where i worked for the summer) and being a Biologist wanted to be able to make some a project out if it with some hard data. But couldn't find a way to weight it cheaply. On the way to a flea market I saw this scale for sale. I said we will stop, I 'll ask, he will say too much and I can walk away. \$20 dollars later its in the car. People throw away the scales it the hanging weights people want. Also not pictured was a indoor out door thermometer. Which is more useful to tell when the bees come out of hibernation. but also when I added the second brood chamber it remained at ambient temperature for three weeks until they built it out and then raised to about 98 deg after they built it out. As my luck would have it, New England had a hot dry summer and the hive went from 125lbs to about 90lbs (I have never Checked to see if the scale is accurate I just wanted to know when the nectar flow started) After checking with other bee keepers this was a low flow year. Last year we had a lot of rain and there was no poilen or nectar

HI turbo bug Can you tell me what brand/make the scale you purchased is??

Very cool. Kind of a mechanical/electronic solution.

I just put each hive on its own Nintendo Wii-Fit Board. ;-)

What app do you use to read it? Do you need to reset the Bluetooth every time?

wow... i am learning a lot. i have never kept bees but am planning on doing so once the conversion of my property is further along. i plan on getting rid of all the grass and planting a lot of bee loving wild flowers and many more fruit trees. i want my 1 acre to be all food generating.

i live in N. Idaho which is not the warmest place on earth. are you saying that in cool climates like here, i have to worry about the bees getting food even if the hive has honey because the honey is too cold for them to get? is there a way to warm the hive? i am building green houses... would it be useful to have hive against the green house to warm in a bit in winter? i was not thinking about these things at all... thanks for bringing it to my attention :-)

4 replies

Bees are amazing. They overwinter in Maine and throughout Canada. So if a colony is healthy and has food, they can survive weeks of subzero temperatures without you doing anything. They can do fine in N. Idaho.  Of course, if a beekeeper is greedy (takes too much honey) or if the bees are sick or if the hive is drafty or has leaking water, all bets are off.

oops... the link did not work... you can email me directly if you would airforced@verizon.net. i also would appreciate any links and books you recommend for a beginner who always studies in detail before jumping in and doing it. i love honey and i plan to have my acre full of fruit trees and wild flowers and i know bees are very beneficial even without the honey so i am very serious about keeping them. i had contemplated placing hives on east and west of the greenhouse before with possible opening into the greenhouse. the problem is that the green houses are attached to the house on the N side and i did not want the bees in the house :-) i may place the hives on the sides of my other greenhouse that is connected to the barn... that would protect them a bit too and bees in the barn are not a big deal unless they turn the whole barn into a beehive... that would be a lot of honey :-) cheers, Al...

Back in the 70s or 80s in the Dallas, Texas area, I had the opportunity to OBSERVE a  random WILD hive that bees had set up in the detached one-car garage of an abondoned farm house.

This observation was made at night with the assistance of a handheld flashlight,  and there must have been MILLIONS [or it seemed so] of bees on that hive.  When the light of the flashlight was trained on any portion of the hive, the bees seemed to go wild and began making a loud "humming" noise, wing beating I guess.

Being untrained in bees back then I was absolutely ASTOUNDED at the size of that hive, AND the TREMENDOUS HUMMING NOISE they made when a flashlight was shined on them at night.

The combs were started at and hanging from the ceiling joists [about 7 or 8 feet above the floor] at the right front corner [just to the right of the door opening, and there were about a DOZEN "FANS" of comb that reached from the ceiling joists almost to the floor.

And from the front edges of the combs to the side wall to which they were also attached averaged about 3 or 4 feet!!!!

That means something like 25 square feet per comb, and with about a dozen combs, that approximately equals some 300 square feet of comb, and being double sided, that means about 600 square feet of honey filled comb!!!!!

I only recently began reading and studying, and considering to begin beekeeping, and knew little to nothing about bees back then.

wow... that would be a lot of honey! my barn is very big so if i turned the whole thing to a hive it would be tons of honey :-) the problem, of course, is that in the case you mention and what my barn would become, the hives would be a mix of nursery cells too so it would not be the best scenario for actual harvesting. in the standard multi-level hive mostly used for harvesting honey, the queen is kept apart from the harvest section of the hive and is confined to the nursery section thereby keeping the brood from the harvest-able honey.
seeing that wild hive must have been truly awesome though... and a little scary i bet. as i was reading your post i was picturing the whole thing and it was an intimidating scene to say the least :-)

Any assumption, such as "and assume that weight in the hive is more or less centrally distributed" makes me wonder a little about results, because sometimes our assumptions are wrong. The queen might move around from day to day, for example, and the mass of bees with her. Still, I like the general idea behind your invention. May it provide you with correct and useful information.

3 replies

I suspect that the difference in weight from "shifting" of the Queen position, and her attendants, is probably negligable, BUT... what does concern me is that I notice that the direction of the cord attached to the pull ring on the scale to the center "paddle" is routed over a PULLEY, and my recollection from high school physics [about 1957 or 8] and college physics [about 62 or 63] is that the actual weight on the paddle would be divided by the mechanical advantage of the radius of the pulley, and thus induce error in the weight indicated on the scale.

IF I'm correct, this would indicate LESS weight than actual,  but IF you're only "comparing" changes in weight rather than actual weight, then this error is not an issue.

Perhaps if you weighed one side and then went around to the other side and did a comparison weight you might be able to check if the bees are all hiding on one side... just a thought... But I agree with being wary of assumptions... and i also didn't think that lifting one side would give an accurate reading.. like a fat man standing on one leg on a set of bathroom scales... but i could see that it would provide a base for comparison readings for the hive under different conditions and let you see changes in weight of the hive... and i think this is the main point of the exercise more than finding the 'true' mass of the hive..
A great instructable..

You might wish to weigh both sides of the hive but you would not want to lift the front unless you have full gear on. The bees don't take to large animals obstructing their flight path.

Regarding accuracy, I am most interested in relative changes - net weight loss and gain. That will tell me if the bees are finding nectar, absconding, foraging - or not, and so on. A platform scale can be more accurate but it has its problems also. See www.beehacker.com for more on that.

Hi, thanks for the instructable. I have just completed my second set of scales, one for me and one for our local bee association training site. I am new to beekeeping, infact two hives plus bees should arrive at the end of the month. I have also built two hive stands following the design on "www.beehacker.com".
Best regards from France (Lorraine).

Clever idea! At 1st glance I worried about the accuracy because of the lever arm, then I looked a little closer and see that my concern is unfounded, the attachment of the cable is near the end of the lever arm, at nearly the same place the weight from the hive is applied.

Seeing that (afaict) the distance lifted is very small, I think you can get a quite accurate total weight by weighing first one side of the hive, then the other, and adding them together. (If the distance lifted is very small, the center of gravity of the entire hive will shift very little, thus allowing you to add the two weights to get a total with fairly good accuracy.

what is the purpose of this thing?im new to bee keeping.i always thought one build the hives buy the bees and that's it