Introduction: Hexagonal Beehive Boxes, Warre Style

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A Warre( WAR-ray) hive uses top bars or slats, instead of frames, usually with a wooden wedge or guide from which the bees build their own comb.

(many of the commercial or Langstroth hives are equipped with wired frames, some even with (gasp!) pre-formed plastic honeycombs(!)... argh!!!)

It's named after its inventor, a French monk Abbé Émile Warré,(who doesn't love all the Monk contributions from the past?!) who developed the hive in the early 1900s after experimenting with over 350 hives. Warré wanted to create a hive that was simple to build, easy to manage, the right size for the bees, and still allowed for surplus honey harvest.

With a Warre hive, you don't inspect the colony frequently, (maybe just thrice a year), or purchase an expensive honey extractor(bad!) or use foundation full of chemicals(more bad!!). Maneuvering Warre hives means adding extra boxes to the bottom of the stack, causing comb to be regularly harvested and cycled out of use, called Nadiring, building from the bottom, rather than the top. (Langstroth hives add on supers to the top)This prevents old comb from being reused, which may be laden with environmental and agricultural chemicals and toxins. (you never know what they are sprayin' from above, or what your neighbors are spraying with). Warres are a healthy, relatively hands-off approach to beekeeping.

~ ~ ~

But, the Warré hive's square shape is not the most thermally efficient. A round or polygonal approaching a cylinder best simulates a hollow tree, and greater angles allow less cold to be trapped in them. The ideal shape would be a cylinder, as found in nature, in hollowed out trees.

There have been several individual and one commercial example of a hexagonal hive. No plans exist for one. This is a first and I share this with love and enthusiasm, for free. I have been diligent about methods and explanations and welcome any comments or questions.

~ Cynthia

Oh, and speaking about hexagons, why do bees build comb in that particular shape?

Why do they build a six-sided figure to house their ... everything? Is there something special about a six-sided shape?

A honeycomb built from spheres would have little gaps that would need extra wax for patching.

Pentagons, octagons also produce gaps. Which shape is better?

"It is a mathematical truth," says some Maths Dude named Lightman, "that there are only three geometrical figures with equal sides that can fit together on a flat surface without leaving gaps: equilateral triangles, squares and hexagons."

(so interesting!)

So which to choose? The triangle? The square? Or the hexagon?

One must be best, right? Another smart Dude, a Roman,(from a looong time ago) Marcus Terentius Varro made a mathematical guess — proposed that a structure built from hexagons is probably a wee bit more compact than a structure built from squares or triangles. A hexagonal honeycomb, he thought, would have "the smallest total perimeter." He couldn't prove it mathematically, but that's what he thought. (smart dude!) The more compact your structure, the less wax you need to construct the honeycomb. "Wax is expensive." A bee has to consume about eight ounces of honey to produce a single ounce of wax. The hexagonal honeycomb is absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax!!

Charles Darwin

(yeah, that guy)

Two thousand thirty-five years after Marcus Terentius Varro proposed his conjecture, a mathematician named Thomas Hales solved the riddle. Varro was right! A hexagonal structure is indeed more compact. (In 1999, Hales produced a mathematical proof that said it was so, so there.)

As the ancient Greeks suspected, as Varro claimed, as bee lovers have always thought, as Charles Darwin himself once wrote, "The honeycomb is a masterpiece of engineering. It is absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax."

Oh, and read on for the full, detailed tutorial on how to build your own hexagonal hive.

: )

~ Cynthia

update: I have just installed a colony of 10,00 bees into my hive! The video is at the end of this instructable.

Step 1: Materials and Tools List

Materials list:

(2) 1" x 5.5" x 8' cedar decking(actual dimension)

(this is U.S. decking, sold as 5/4" x 6" x 8', 12', 16')

(1) 5/4" x 8" x 8' premium pine

4 x 4 post(for hive stand)

(additional lumber for the hive stand verticals)

~ 40 biscuits, size #0

wood glue

(additional lumber for roof board... ~ 12" x 48")

(8) copper 1/2" bell hangers

1/2" oak dowel

primer and color paint(for roof and stand)

paint brush,mini roller



screws(1 5/8", 2 1/2")

synthetic screening

galvanized screening

cedar shavings

organic bees wax

lemongrass oil

optional: markers, felt, wood-burning tool

Tools list:

miter compound saw

table saw

hand pull saw

biscuit joiner

ratchet clamps

variety of other clamps



variety of measuring tools, including angles...

staple gun, 1/2" staples

Other things:



Aim for perfection

Total time? Maybe 30-40 hours. (I built this in 2-3 weeks, during my spare time)

Step 2: 30 Degree Cuts

~ I started with one piece of my cedar decking.

~ I set the saw blade for 30 degrees(30 plus 30 equals 60 degree angles, six of which are 360), clamped down, and cut an edge off for the beginning angle of my first piece.

~ I then cut my first piece, and proceeded to cut the rest, flipping the board over each time to create each trapezoidal piece for the hexagonal box.

~ Miraculously, I got 12 cuts out of one board... perfect for two hexes!

~ I then sanded each piece( while the cat cleaned himself).

~ And placed together on the table to feel good about my effort and progress.

: D

Step 3: Biscuit Joints

I really like and appreciate the performance and beauty of biscuit joinery, with the tools available to make the process attainable.

That being said, one needs to aim for perfection while setting the measurements of the wood pieces and the joiner. If you don't have a biscuit joiner and don't want the hassle of the tedium, you can glue your flush angles together with Titebond or whatever your preference of wood glue is. This is a beehive, and not a chair where people will be sitting on, but if you live in a colder climate, the weather extremes will have their way with your exterior wood builds.

~ For this project I used #0 biscuits.

~ I marked each board 35mm from edges.

~ This was my guide for the center line for the router.

~ Two gouges(is that the correct term?)/slots cut

~ Two biscuits settled in nicely.

It is imperative that the biscuit cuts are consistently deep enough and exactly the same orientation into the wood to ensure that your finished hexagon is true and edges flush and tight.

The Ryobi is okay, but the settings tend to creep if not locked down super-tight, so I had to periodically check for sameness.

Step 4: The First Hexagon: the Bottom Board and the Top Quilt Box

If you are hip to the Warre system, then these terms make sense to you. If not, then this is what I am creating:

The Bottom Board is basically the Basement, screened to allow ventilation(to allow to good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out), and the Top, Quilt Box is where cedar shavings are housed to absorb moisture from below.

These do not need to be the full height of the other boxes, where the bees draw comb, so I am going to create a hex box, then cut it in half. (Sounds easier than creating two separate ones, yeah?)

~ Here are the six pieces laid out on my work bench.

~ Then readied on the table for gluing and clamping. Ratchet clamps are what you will need.

~ All tightened up. If your joinery cuts and measurements are very good, if not perfect, this process goes beautifully.

~ The finished hex

~ Bringing over to the table saw, to cut in half.

~ Gratifying, to get two(pieces) for the price of one(labor)

: )

Step 5: The First Full-sized Box

~ My second piece of cedar decking

~ Again, 30 degree cuts

~ 30 degree profile, plus splintering... : )

~ These(and the rest) need to be dado-ed to accept the top bars. I set the blade height, and then the fence width for just under 1 cm to create the ledge to hold the top bars.

~ All twelve of 'em!

~ The setting to create the biscuit joinery(repeated from previous hexagon joinery)

~ Glued with 12 biscuits and two ratchet clamps

Step 6: The Top Bars

Bars are what the bees build their comb down from. They need to rest on the box ledges and be flush with the top. I wanted to create the wedge style and came up with a method to make the bars and wedge as one piece. I did this using a variety of tools in several different ways.

~ Measure from ledge to ledge, looks like mine was just under 320mm.

~ Cut this amount off of board, I used premium pine, soft enough and good for making small pieces.

~ I got five sections from the board, with a small scrap leftover.

Step 7: Creating a Dado for the Bars

The bars need to sit flush with the boxes, so I measure the depth and width of the ledge.

~ I set the height of the table saw blade, along with the position of the guide fence, to first match the profile of the ledge width.

~ Drawing it on the edge grain of the first one to avoid any cutting confusion.

~ Photo of the first cut along the edge, creating the width of the groove/dado for top bars.

~ All five boards cut. (I don't need this many for the two hive boxes that I am creating, but for future boxes that I create I'll be glad that these are already made.)

~ I then positioned the blade and fence to cut the height of the bar dado/groove.

~ First one cut... let's test fit it into the hex box.

~ Fits nicely so I proceed in cutting the rest. If it is too snug you'll need to adjust your fence away that amount to shave off the appropriate material. The goal is to be able to remove the board freely with a a tad bit of wiggle room.

~ Photo of all five pieces cut

Step 8: Creating the Individual Bars

Given the size of my hex box, and taking into consideration the bee space(the space between bars for the bees to move through(6-10mm is ideal), the correct measurement to fit 10 bars in gave me a bar width of 24mm.

~ I raised the blade up and moved the fence over to produce 24mm bars.

~ Making the test cut to check accuracy of fence position.

~ The first bar cut. The first 3 or four are easy enough to manage, the remaining ones need to be cut with extra caution, using appropriate push sticks, etc. Respect the machine. : )

~ Miraculously(?) the bar widths and the blade kerf gave me exactly six bars of even width and no waste. The Bee gods must have been looking down upon me.

~ 36 bars! Now onto the next, even more tedious step...

Step 9: Creating the Wedge

Again, by adjusting the saw blade height, position of fence, and now, the angle of the blade, I could create a wedge from the individual bars. I still have all my fingers so this is not as daunting as it appears it might be. The top of the blade is about a centimeter from the top, so using appropriate push sticks or jigs made specifically to assist you with this makes it doable and safe(-ish). Obviously you want to be scrupulous about your needed measurements and make some test cuts.

~ I thought I took a picture of the blade angle setting, but I guess not. Looks about 20 degrees.

~ This is what the profile should look like, the height and kerf of the saw blade barely comely through the edge.

~ The whole lot of them!

~ I needed to hand-saw a small, angular notch out so that the edges fit flush to the 60 degree angles.

~ I penciled the depth of what I thought and used a very fine pull saw blade, cutting down into, then across.

~ The final fit, nestled into the corner nicely.

Step 10: The Spacers

I needed to create little spacers that I would glue down onto the ledge to create the perfect spaces for my bars to fit in between.

~ I planed down using the jointer(and push blocks) to create a square stick that would be flush or just less than the height of the ledge, and the width of the bee space I wanted.

~ The width measurement for the bee space is 8mm.

~ I hand-cut all the pieces to fit the depth of the ledge.

~ Not the best cutting jig, but just fine for my purposes.

~ I got plenty to choose from!

~ Sanding then gluing all the little squares into their places.

~ The final layout of the middle bars.

Now onto creating the special-sized outer bars...

Step 11: The Outer, Smaller Bars

The bees will draw comb down from anything that you provide them with. These bars will be permanent and serve as nice, insulated outer walls to help protect them from the cold. After a couple of seasons I can remove them to cycle out the old wax, etc. by simply cutting the drawn comb off of the wedges.

~ I used the bee space stick scraps to position where the next to outermost two bars would be on the box.

~ I penciled in where the edges met

~ I needed a 60 degree cut, but my miter saw stops short of that, so I stacked three shims together and bolstered the edge of the bar out to make the resulting cut 60 degrees. (Good old shims... so many uses!)

~ I then cut the notch out to sit flush on the ledge. Better to cut a larger notch than you think you need.

~ The final position with a good fit.

~ Create one for the other side and glue. (I suppose you don't have to glue these down... probably be more convenient for the future when you want to remove the comb, but cutting little bee spacers at those angles seemed disproportionately more inconvenient) : D

~ Same cutting method for creating the last two outermost bars.

~ The final layout

Now repeat whole process for the other box(es)

: D : D

Step 12: The Hexagonal Roof!

I'm pretty sure no one has ever made one like this, certainly no sane person, that is. There really isn't a formula to figure out all the measurements and final angle for cuts because of the thickness of the wood, which makes the final peak, pitch and crown difficult to fathom, as with each cut these numbers change. It was a total Mind Maelstrom. I asked two different Dudes(one was a Dudette) with Maths Smarts if they could fashion a solution to my predicament and they both said, "Ick."(Well, one said, "Whoa.")

Actually, I would think it really is just as easy as whatever angle the sides are, would be the same angle to set your blade, but it just didn't work for me.

(Some hexagonal rooves are made from thin copper triangles welded together, or even just flat(how boring... and easy!) tops.)


I did change the design of my roof, and have kept both photos. I wasn't happy with the lack of enough overhang or top ventilation. I knew I could do better, so I made a second roof with a lesser pitch, and recycled my old roof by cutting its cap off on the table saw, using that as the vent. I used the same principles(or lack of) to make the second roof. : ) The bottom (new) roof has a 2" hex opening at the top, so should serve nicely as a heat escape.

So what did I do?

~ I first made a cardstock paper model of what would fit onto a segment of the hex box section. The width or bottom of the triangle would be a little wider as it would hopefully overlap a bit, and the height to reach the center of the box with an attractive pitch.

~ I traced this out onto my board.

~ I found the angle of the sides using my handy, little angle tool. This is what I would set my saw angle at.

~ Easy enough, using a square flush with the blade pulled down to check for accuracy. My conundrum was that my saw can only cut a width(or triangle height) of half of what I needed. : (

~ So I had to flip the board over and make the mirror version of that angle cut to finish the triangle cutting. Lots of tinkering, to say the least. Hopefully you have a 12" blade... or some other power tool availability/set-up.

~ Six triangles of the same size. Not so difficult. But wait...

Now comes the fun part: finding the angles to re-cut the depths of the wood so that all six pieces fit flush with each other.

And then I am going to cut biscuits slits to further torture myself.

Step 13: Finding the Solution for the Angle

I'm not sure what the surface of the area I cut is called, I don't think it is considered the butt, but anyways, it is along the lengths/sides of the triangles that I need to solve the angle.

~ My method was to masking tape the triangles together from the inside, which were touching along the edges.

~ Using my handy, little angle finder tool, I approximated what that triangle opening was. Cutting that in half, since I would be joining two together, should come pretty close to giving edges that would be flush to each other after the cuts were made. It was about 42(it's cut off in the photo), so I set the saw blade angle for 21 degrees. (I could always cut away more... giving back is the tricky part) : D

~ I flipped a triangle to create a parallelogram and taped together to recreate triangle edge angle.

~ I taped the top and bottom together at the seams.

~ Checking the line-up. I don't want to make these triangles any smaller, just to take off the angle that I need.

~ after cutting each side, I untape and place new edges together.

~ Taped and ready to cut the other side. Make sure the board is flipped on the correct side so as not to end up will parallel angles.

Miraculously, they fit together pretty damn well, nearly perfectly flush. Again, the Bee Gods were surely looking down upon me, guiding my luck in a good way. After joining them together with biscuits, I had to fill in some of the seams with wood filler, but I think that was more a result of the stupid board being cupped(3 triangles cupped one way, the other three the other way), so this affected the way the table saw blade cut the profile, I think.

Speaking of biscuits...

Step 14: Biscuit Joinery for the Hex Roof

Go ahead and torture yourself if you want to. These biscuit cuts need to be very precise and pronounced, and perfectly lined up on each triangle. That being said, you could just glue these together. I felt like I had to because of the stupid, prior-mentioned board cupping. I was out of wood and had to use what I made. Treat yourself and use best-quality wood to make your roof out of and you should have fewer issues to contend with.

Lots of photos in this step so I won't explain each one, just that most are of up-closes of the biscuit router settings, because it is all about the settings. They are different for the two different planes of the triangle. If you choose to make a hex roof out of thick wood, you'll have to tinker with the settings as well(have fun!)( And make sure they are locked in tightly, once you are confident with them. I have experienced lots of creep with this router if the settings are not as tight as I can make them short of using wrenches.)

I glued two, then three together and let them dry, using props and weighted lean-to's. Kind of difficult to clamp two, three or six as a unit without buckling the whole lot. I tried and got stressed, and the piece-meal method worked out just fine.

Once the set was dry, gluing those together was a bit easier, but that's when the little gaps showed up. Fixable later with filler and silicone, but not perfect, for sure.

Step 15: Sanding and Waterproofing

Bees don't like to be wet, so I want to make sure this roof is waterproof.

~ I sanded all the surfaces thoroughly and filled any gaps or knot cracks with wood filler from the resulting sawdust.

~ I then applied a bead of silicone caulking along the seams.

~ I rolled 4 coats of waterproofing primer onto the roof outside and bottom, but not the inside. I don't want that painted.

~ Another 4 coats of waterproofing paint in the same color as the green canvas for the Gypsy Wagon that I'm building, which will be located in a nearby garden area of the farm. (Gotta keep things stylish and cohesive!)

Step 16: Handles

I searched for handles using oak dowels as it is what I had on hand and thought I could make something work. Guess what? I found the perfect solution here, on Instructables! Tool Box Divas did this cool handle treatment using dowels and copper bell hangers. Brilliant! I scaled it down a lot and couldn't be happier with the functionality and aesthetics.

~ First, I cut up the dowel into 6" pieces.

~ Then sanded the edges.

~ I penciled drill holes halfway down, about 7 cm.

~ Pre-drilled the holes and screwed the hangers in.

~ Fitted the dowels into the clamps and screw-closed tightly

~ They look great!

Step 17: The Hive Stand

I got the idea to make essentially a planter box for the hive stand from another beekeeper who made a similar one, though his was made using MUCH nicer wood. I just used some scrap(crap) 4 x 4 post that I found outside in the post pile.

Lots of photos in this step as I felt that splitting this up into multiple steps was unnecessary.

~ The post in all its cracked glory.

~ Divided into 4 equals lengths, just over 13".

~ Some scrap MDF to use for the horizontals.

~ Cut in half, lengthwise, then mitered the edges at 45 degrees..

~ The verticals ended up having lengths of 18.5 and 19.5. Doesn't matter of the exact dimensions, as long as it is big enough for the hive and clearance to fit in, but not so big as to look odd or bulky.

~ Drilling and screwing into the posts.

~ Paint! A subdued color to blend in with the grasses.

~ Pretty "copper" post caps to seal the tops and add a bit of fancy... and matchy-matchy with the handles. : )

~ The inside dimension to create the cross beams which the hive boxes will sit on. Screwed into the posts and painted.

Step 18: Screened Bottom

Warre, and most other hives have screened bottoms to keep out the riff-raff, provide ventilation and to also allow, if any, dead, (or alive) mites to fall through.

~ We had an old screened bottom from a Langstroth hive that I removed to use for my screened bottom.

~ I stapled it onto the bottom hex with 1/2" staples.

~ Then trimmed the excess.

Step 19: Bee Entrance and Landing Deck

This is the way all the bees enter and exit the hive. It must be large enough to accompany enough bees during rush hour, but not so big that mice and such can get in. They also have a landing deck as they fly in and for the guard bees to, well, stand guard. Guard bees stand(squat, actually) as sentries, controlling who is allowed to enter the hive, mainly keeping the wasps out.

I thought it would be nice to mimic the hex angles with the entrance and landing deck. I also thought it would be funny and cute to make the landing deck look like actual decking. I ended up taking the decking idea to its logical conclusion, of course, as I just couldn't help myself.

~ 60 degree angle penciled onto top of screened bottom box.

~ Kinda hard to cut this piece out. I used a fine-tooth pull saw and a coping saw.

~ I had to hasp and sand quite a bit.

~ My decking medium: the wrong side of solid, red oak flooring. : D Cut in half lengthwise, 2".

~ Measured against the entrance

~ Angles cut and sanded

~ Holes pre-drilled through box and deck, plus glue

Step 20: Quilt Box

A Quilt box goes on top of the hive boxes, under the roof. It provides additional ventilation but it's main purpose is for it to absorb moisture created from the bees, as it is filled with cedar shavings. Most Warre hives use canvas as it is rigid, cheap, and durable. I had some medium to heavyweight linen that I decided to use instead of cotton.

I love Linen.

Linen is a very durable, strong fabric, and one of the few that are stronger wet than dry. It is a natural fabric, from the flax (linseed) plant; it has a well-earned reputation for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather.

Linen is the oldest fabric known; the flax plant from which it comes is easy to cultivate and was used to make the oldest fabrics ever found. It is the fabric that put the “lin” in “lingerie” and “lining”.

Linen is very versatile and is much stronger than cotton. It has natural antibacterial properties.

Linen is above all a natural fiber, even the growing of flax is less environmentally damaging than cotton.

: )

~ I sprayed the linen damp to allow its greatest stretch for stapling, ensuring no sag later if and when it does get damp.

~ Method of stapling is similar to upholstery; work from opposing sides to get the most even stretching. Don't stretch/pull too much, just what feels natural, pushing the staple gun onto the wood as hard as possible, to ensure full and flush entry.

~ All stapled down. Staples should be fairly close together. Hammer down any that are not flush with box surface.

~ Trim excess fabric, careful not to trim too closely to the staples.

~ Fray-check/seal the edges with wood glue.

~ A hexagonal screen of the same shape is cut. Fiberglass is good, easy to cut with little distortion. The purpose for this is that it goes between the quilt box and the box below it, protecting the linen(or cotton) from being eaten by the bees. You don't want your shavings falling down below on them!

~ The box filled with cedar shavings, about 8 cups worth.

Step 21: Art

I like to be Silly. And Sweet. And Thankful.

I thought I'd express some of that onto the Bees' Home.

~ I found a cute image of a guard bee and drew that on, coloring it in with markers, then a light spray of fixative.

~ On the other side of the landing deck I wrote out a verbal warning to the local riff-raff.

~ Woodburning kit! Why not? Stupid thing broke after a few nib changes(somehow the threads were stripped) but I managed to force one in and burn a loving message for the bees.

~ Love and Gratitude. : )

~ It's a deck, it gets hot in the summer, why not?

Okay, I'll stop now...

: D

Little update:

I did change the roof design, and also wanted to add a gable roof above the Bees' landing deck, so the pic or two showing these changes is included within the others.

Step 22: The Wax Strip

Most top bar, foundation less frames do at least start with a skinny wax strip painted onto its surface. I guess just to get the bees started...

Painting multiple strips sounded tedious and messy, so I came up with the idea of creating a trough to dip the wedges into.

~ An electric griddle with the back legs propped up about 1/2", set on very low.

~ Organic beeswax pellets and doTerra Lemongrass oil(very good for bees)

~ Once the wax was melted I drizzled a few drops of the oil into it and stirred with a bamboo skewer.

~ Dip for a second, pull up level, and let dry enough to set, just takes a second or two.

~ Set to cool onto a wire rack

~ The dips look great! And very easy.

~ The permanent(glued) outer ones will have to be painted by hand with a (crappy) paintbrush. Ugh, so tedious, and messy. ; )

Step 23: The Components of the Hive, and a Beautiful Bee Quenching Her Thirst

The Final Product!

Super stylish, especially in front of the Cat Adventure and Escape Wall. : )

The photos are ordered as you build the hive, from the bottom.

Hive Stand, Screen bottom with fancy entrance way, and even fancier Deck, 2 hive boxes stacked on top of that, the mesh screen to protect the linen, followed by the Quilt box, and finally The Hexagonal Roof.

For now, it stays in the living room until the weather warms up. Spring was here, but then Mother Nature decided to "bless" us with snow, yesterday and today.

To prove that Spring was here, just last week I set out this lovely watering station for the bees to quench their thirst if they felt parched. Lots of black rocks to absorb the heat of the sun, filled with lemongrass water(just a few drops of oil added to a half gallon is plenty).

Look at her drinking... so cute!! (I'm sure she'll be the first to relax her tired wings onto the Pretty Pink beach towel, under the shade of the Umbrella.)

: D

Well, this was a very long Instructable, but totally worth it. Like I stated before, there exist no plans online for building this type of hive, and I hope my detailed photos and texts help anyone who is willing to take on such a labor of love.

Bee Sweet(and vote, please!),

~ Cynthia

Step 24: The Video of Installing a Colony of Bees Into the Hive

It was spectacularly successful. It was fairly quick, non-stressful, and by 7:00 pm all of the bees made it into their new home!

Step 25: Busy Bees Happy in Their New Home

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