Introduction: The $hive

Super economical, fully functional, plywood beehives can be made at a fraction of the cost of the traditional cedar designs and, by simplifying the way they are fabricated, can be made by anybody with basic skills and tools. I've named this one the $hive, which would be pronounced 'shive' and the main photo shows the $hive configured with one 'brood' box and four 'supers' ready to help the bees collect loads of honey!

I did make a couple of bee hives based on the 'national' design a while back, which can be found at: National bee hive instructable and now I have learnt a lot more about the different designs and how to get the best bee hive for one's bucks. I must thank my friend Dave, who is a seasoned beekeeper with many years experience, for pointing me in the right direction.

I originally chose the 'national' design as it was the one that is commonly used in my area, but, with hindsight, now consider it to be a rather strange and inefficient design. The $hive is based on 'commercial' type frames.

All dimensions are in mm.


Step 1: Advantages of the $hive Design

The first thing to note is that the commercial frames used inside the $hive are quite a bit bigger (1.4x area) than the nationals and the outside dimensions of the boxes are the same (460 x 460 mm). Some simple maths shows that we'd be getting 1.4 times the bees in the same sized box and so the plywood cost efficiency is also 1.4 x better. The next thing is the lug size on the commercial frames - the longer the lug, the more wasted space inside the hive and the more complicated the construction of the hive. The only possible reason for having a longer lug is to make it easier to lever the frames out if they are stuck with propalis.

Some of the big advantages of this particular design are listed here:

  1. Very simple and easy to make entrances.
  2. Very simple to make the floor.
  3. Much more cost effective hive
  4. Easy to build in general - no specialised tools - hand tools only.
  5. Strong due to modern materials and glue.

Step 2: Cutting and Parts List (mm)

Brood boxes:

  • 460 x 262 x 9 x 2 of .............. Plywood
  • 436 x 246 x 12 x 2 of .............. Plywood
  • 442 x 262 x 12 x 2 of .............. Plywood
  • 460 x 460 x 5 x 2 of .............. Plywood
  • 460 x 460 x 1 x 1 of ............. Mesh
  • Frame runners x 2
  • Entrance disc x 1
  • Floor runners: 25 x 25 x 460 x 2 of .......... hardwood

Super boxes:

  • 460 x 160 x 9 x 2 of .............. Plywood
  • 436 x 144 x 12 x 2 of .............. Plywood
  • 442 x 160 x 12 x 2 of .............. Plywood


  • Galvanised steel sheet 610 x 610 x 1.5 x 1 of
  • House bricks x 4 of

NB. Plywood thickness can vary considerably in the shop so a sheet advertised as 6mm my only actually be 5mm thick.

Step 3: Tools Required

  • Jigsaw
  • Circular saw
  • Hammer
  • Cordless drill
  • Set square
  • Drill bits, various sizes
  • Tape measure
  • Marker pen
  • Hide hammer
  • 40mm hole saw

Step 4: Construction

There's no need for a step by step construction guide as following the expanded drawing should suffice. Just a few notes:

  1. The entrance hole is diameter 40mm and the entrance disc is made to suit - it just needs to be able to close off, or reduce, the entrance when necessary.
  2. The mesh used here is 2mm garden insect mesh and is used to increase the hygiene within the hive, especially with regards to varroa mites. 4mm mesh might be better.
  3. The frame runners are a standard size available from most bee hive parts stockists.
  4. There are 2 of 460 x 460 x 5 plywood sheets shown in the expanded drawing and the top one is fastened to the main box whilst the bottom one simply rests under the mesh, creating a sandwich.
  5. Use waterproof wood glue for all the joints and pin together with thin vaneer nails or similar.
  6. Make sure the box remains totally square during assembly as it is easy to get it twisted. Have a nice flat, level area to work on.
  7. Paint the bee hive on the outside only and use exterior grade oil based gloss paint. No need to use water based paint. Leave the paint to dry until there is no odour detectable (about 3 weeks).
  8. The side cut out slots are for your fingers to help lift the boxes. They could also be made just by drilling three 40mm holes with a holesaw cutter.
  9. The 25mm floor runners are fastened under the square sheet with four holes in it. They are not shown in any of the photos.
  10. Place the finished $hive on a suitable platform eg four concrete blocks and a paving slab.

Step 5: Roof Construction

The roof is probably the hardest part to make as it is from 1.5mm galvanised steel sheet. The roof is quite a bit bigger than the hive for 2 reasons:

  1. One 8' x 4' sheet gives exactly 8 roofs of size: 610 x 610 x 1.5 mm.
  2. It needs to be big enough to go over the Insulation box instructable , if that is going to be used in the Winter.

The roof can be fabricated by cutting out 20 x 20 mm corner squares with a jigsaw and then knocking over the edges with a hide hammer on an old bit of heavy RSJ from a scrap yard. The lip is quite important as it stops water from seeping back under the roof through capillary action when it rains. The lip should ideally be about 20mm deep. Use house bricks to keep the lid from blowing off, or large rocks if you have them.

Get the steel sheets cut to size in your local steel stock yard on their guillotine if you can. Otherwise it's a long haul with a jigsaw.

Step 6: Catch Some Bees

When the spring comes around again, put up a catch hive such as this one: Catch hive instructable , catch some bees for free and put them into your new super economical $hive. Or buy some bees from a local supplier such as Welsh Black Bees. Lastly, make friends with a local beekeeper for some help and enjoy your beekeeping!

Step 7: Laser Cutter

Could these plywood items be cut with a laser cutter? I have no idea! No doubt it would be useful to have one. I did look at CNC plywood with joints but this was a no - go as the machine would radius the inside of the joints and so they would have to be individually filed out by hand. If a laser cutter cuts 12mm plywood, then really neat and accurate joints could be created.

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