Introduction: Budget National Beehive (Wales)


There are some great beehives available for about £130 (2014) made from western red cedar and really good quality products,but for the beginner can be a bit of a stumbling block in terms of cost. Plywood is the poor man's substitute, but an equivalent system can be built for only £20 ($30). I've seen beehives made of all kinds of re-purposed stuff such as old car tyres, but none of these appeal to me personally as I would like to be able to extract the honey on frames in a reasonably tidy manner that will not harm the bees or rob them of their valuable wax comb, which can be returned to the hive.

When building a beehive, there are a few important things to consider, one of them being the space between frames and the internal sides of the box. This has a technical name, and it is called 'beespace'. Another thing to consider, is how easy it is going to be to inspect the bees and to manipulate the frames. With this design there will be limitations with respect to how easily the beehive can be managed, so the overall intention is to create a home for the bees that has slightly less Interference from humans than a traditional hive.

The beehive in this Instructable consists of two boxes each of which is split into two sections. The box on the ground floor will house the main nest and is composed of one row of brood frames and then a row of half brood frames. The upper box is composed of two rows of super frames, in which hopefully we will collect lots of honey. Just for clarification, the half brood frames and the super frames are the same size. The plan is to build the frames as well using some lengths of beech ripped down with a bench circular saw..

The queen excluder should be bought separately and is of the 'national' type, which is popular in Wales where I live. Wales is a small country located between England and the Irish Sea and we have the welsh black bee - Apis mellifera mellifera.

Step 1: Wood and Insulation Parts List

WBP plywood 5mm:

  • 460 x 460 x 4 of
  • 460 x 295 x 2 of
  • 450 x 295 x 2 of
  • 460 x 380 x 2 of
  • 450 x 380 x 2 of
  • 570 x 570 x 1 of

WBP plywood 18mm:

  • 414 x135 x 6 of (NB. four of these need to be cut to fit, so should be left in one long length until later, as in photo)
  • 450 x 220 x 2of
  • 450 x 135 x 2 of

Square section timbers:

  • 135 x 18 x 18 x 8 of
  • 414 x 18 x 18 x 4 of
  • 460 x 18 x 18 x 2 of

Insulation slabs:

  • 570 x 570 x 50 x 1 of
  • 570 x 390 x 50 x 2 of
  • 470 x 390 x 50 x 2 of

All dimensions in mm. (1" = 25.5 mm)

Step 2: Tools and Machinery

  • 1/2" paint brush
  • small cross point driver bits for cordless drill (important: get the right size for the screws - posidrive No.1)
  • 1.5mm drill bit
  • 3mm drill bit
  • 5mm drill bit
  • 12mm drill bit
  • 40mm hole saw
  • jig saw
  • circular saw
  • orbital sander
  • bench cross cut saw for the beech square section pieces
  • pencil
  • sharpie marker pen
  • foam paint roller and tray
  • hand saw
  • set square
  • hammer
  • dust mask (wear when using the circular saws and sander)
  • cordless drills x 2 of

Step 3: Materials and Marking Out

One of the great things about this design is that the 5mm plywood used all comes from one 8 x 4' sheet and there are very little off cuts and so very little waste - In theory we should be able to get 5 bee hives out of 4 sheets. The sheet thickness is 5 mm, although this does vary from one supplier to another. I have used WBP grade (UK) and, searching on google, it seems to be perfectly bee friendly. Apart from the plywood, strips of hardwood, I used Beach, need to be made and they are cut to a profile of 18 x 18 mm. I have also used a small amount of 18 mm thick plywood to take care of the beespace by the end of the frames and the upper parts made in this material are removable for ease of access to the lower frames.

In addition to the woodwork and screws needed for the basic assembly, there is also the need for a queen excluder, which should cost about 5 pounds. This is included in the £20 build estimate. The beech for the square profiles is sourced for free.

The screws required are 3mm x 16mm x 200 of and the pins are veneer pins, 20 mm long by 1.5mm in diameter. Wood glue, a can of expanding foam, some 4" nails and paint is also required.

Step 4: Start With the Bottom Box Side Walls

Nail the 450 x 220 x 18 board to the 450 x 380 x 5 for each side of the bottom box.

Step 5: Add Square Sections

Nail the 135 x 18 x 18 sections in with glue.

Step 6: Create a Corner Assembly

Next, create the assembly in the photo UPSIDE DOWN ON A PERFECTLY FLAT SURFACE. Do not be tempted to turn the structure up right in the next few steps or it WILL go wonky!

Step 7: Create an Open Ended Box.

Keeping the structure upside down on a flat surface, continue to build it into a box by nailing and gluing from the top and screwing from the sides. NEVER turn it on it's side during this step. Believe me cos I done it!

Step 8: Close Off the Box

Add the final side sheet with plenty of glue, again upside down and then finally you can turn it upright.

Step 9: Strengthening Struts

Glue and screw in the 414 x 18 x 18 struts to give the box strength.

Step 10: Removable 18mm Boards

The upper boards are removable to gain access to the lower frames and they should be 'made to measure' to get a nice loose fit. They will be approximately 414 x 135 x 18 mm in size.

Step 11: Floor Runners

Screw in the 460 x 18 x 18 floor runners from the inside of the box - this helps keep the hive above any moisture.

Step 12: Entrance Hole

Drill an entrance hole in the bottom of the brood box with a holesaw, it should be about 40 mm in diameter. Then fit a rotating disk of plywood above the hole so that the hole can be blocked off if necessary. If you're going to use rigid foam insulation then fit the insulation box, then drill right through the insulation and the hive together with a 5mm pilot drill so that you get a perfect fit. The hole in the insulation itself should be much smaller that that in the box, ideally 12mm.

Step 13: Ventilation Holes

Drill 3 mm ventilation holes in the bottom of the double super box side and fit a rotating plywood disk, the same as was used for the entrance hole. Do the same, but bigger, in the floor of the brood box and screw the disc on the outside underside.

Step 14: Brood Box Top

After screwing a top onto the brood box, cut out a hole as shown in the photograph – this will be where the brood box meets the double super box with a queen excluder in between. Then cut an identical hole in the floor of the double super box to facilitate this.

Step 15: Roof

Now we will look at the roof. Measure up for the square section as we did before, screw them onto the side of the plywood – these will be removed in a short while – position on the roof and then screw the roof down from the top. Finally remove the site screws and the roof can be released.

Step 16: Painting

Now we can paint the beehive components. Generally, we would not want to paint the inside of the hive at all as the base would probably not like this very much. It is also generally Recommended to use water-based paint on the outside, but I am going to use normal gloss paint as it is a bit more weatherproof. I will make sure that the paint is thoroughly dry and it's not giving off any vapour before putting bees into the box, or it may kill the bees.

Step 17: Making the Frames

To do a really good job of this beehive it would be a good idea to put frames inside it. Here, I have used pieces of beech that I machined off from larger planks, creating sections of 20 x 10 mm. I then got a ball of 1.5mm cottom string and carefully unwound it into some molten bee's wax, keeping the loose end free, then wound it back onto a piece of card to keep it tidy. Some rubber gloves are quite handy because of the heat of the wax.

Next, I created the frames with the vaneer pins and some glue to secure the wood work. A 1.5mm pilot drill is really handy to get the vaneer pins started. Lastly, I threaded the wax coated string through the pairs of holes drilled at the dimensions shown in the last photo. There are supposed to be 12 frames per layer, so that's a total of 12 x 4 = 48, so this will take a bit of time. The idea is that the bees will make wax along the string in reasonably straight lines rather than creating random comb which would be a pain in the butt. The frames can be spaced out evenly across the inside of the boxes by screwing positioning screws into the edge of the resting lugs.

Finally, coat the underside of the top internal frame wood work with molten bees wax using a clean paint brush. This will further encourage the bees to produce comb along the frame, as they will start from this top underside surface.

Step 18: Other Recommendations/ Improvements

Finally, there will be a whole host of improvements that can be made to this design, so please leave comments and I may well be able to update this Instructables accordingly. Some things that immediately come to mind, are:

1. Cladding the beehive with King span or similar foam insulation used in the building trade during the winter, then wrapping the whole thing with industrial shrinkwrap to keep it warm and watertight.
2. Not to use frames at all, to save money. Instead suspend hemp twine from the underside of the super roof, dipped in beeswax, and just let the bees form their own comb randomly inside the box.

Step 19: Insulation

This diagram shows how the 50mm rigid foam insulation would be arranged. The popular trademark in the UK is 'kingspan' but there are other cheaper versions of the same thing. The insulation properties are pretty amazing - much better than rockwool or straw and much easier to work with. Insulation is particularly important in the Winter and means that the bees will expend less energy trying to keep warm and so consume less honey stores in the hive. The insulation would add about £10 ($15) to the build cost. Wrap the whole insulated structure with copious amounts of high strength pallet wrap, paying particular attention to the need to keep the top waterproof.

Note that only the bottom section of the hive is used during the Winter - this is because the colony will be smaller and it will stay warmer in a smaller space. It also, rather conveniently, saves on insulation cost.

Step 20: Cut Insulation Boards to Size

Also, make a cut-out in the 570 x 570 x 5 plywood sheet 50mm all the way along the edges to mate with the insulation boards. The wood will protect the foam from knocks during use.

Step 21: Remove Aluminium Foil on Mating Surfaces

The boards are going to be glued together with expanding foam from a can, so the mating surfaces need to be foam, not foil. Cut the foil with a box knife and peel it off to reveal the foam underneath.

Step 22: Glue Together

Squirt foam on all the mating surfaces and assemble the insulation box. 4" nails can be used to pin the boards together during this process. Don't try and remove the excess foam until it is dry or you will make a mess!

Step 23: Lid

The lid is made from a square cut from a sheet of 1mm galvanised steel to dimensions 625 x 625 mm. This allows eight squares to be cut from one sheet to create eight bee hives if needed. Cut out 20 x 20 mm corners as shown in the photo and bend the edges on a bending machine if you have one or else with a hide hammer. Don't try and weld the seems - just leave them as they are.

Step 24: Finished Box

This photo shows the finished beehive set up for winter. In summer the lid can be used on the beehive to protect it from the rain and there is not generally such a need for insulation. The box itself is shrink wrapped to give it extra protection from the rain.

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