55 Gallon Top Bar Barrel Bee Hive




FPS combines my passion for hunting and wildlife conservation with the overall need for self sufficiency.

Step 1: This 55 Gallon Drum Will Be the Foundation of the Bee Hive.

Step 2: Using Standard Landscape Timbers, Measure and Cut the Four Legs. the Legs Should Be Somewhere Around Waist High to Make It Easier to Work the Hive.

Step 3: Once the Legs Are Cut to Length, Mark Notches on One End of Each Leg. These Notches Will Be Used to Support the Hive Frame and Roof.

Step 4: Closeup View of Markings.

Step 5: After Measuring for the Correct Depth, on a Radial Miter Saw, Proceed to Make a Series of Thin Cuts. It Will Then Be Easy to Chisel Out the Notch.

Step 6: Chisel and Hammer, Cleaning Out the Notch.

Step 7: This Is How the 2x4 Should Fit Once Completed.

Step 8: Continue to Notch All Four Legs.

Step 9: Using the Seam of the Barrel, Find Top Dead Center (tdc). the Seam Runs Thru the Center of Each Bung Hole and Is a Mold Mark From the Manufacturing Process of the Barrel.

Step 10: Once the Top of the Barrel Is Located Use Masking Tape to Mark the Saw Line All the Way Around the Barrel.

Step 11: Barrel Is Marked and Ready to Be Cut in Two.

Step 12: Yes, Trying to Cut a Round Plastic Barrel Is Awkward. an Extra Set of Hands Will Help.

Step 13: A Jig Saw May Work for Cutting the Barrel But the Easiest Way Is to Use a Reciprocating Saw.

Step 14: After Making Sure I Still Had 10 Fingers and 10 Toes, I Admired My Work.

Step 15: There Is a Barrel Lip on the Front Edge That Must Be Removed for the Frame to Sit Properly. Remove the Lip Down to the Yellow Mark.

Step 16: Measuring for the Hive Foundation Frame. Notice Why the Barrel Lip Had to Be Removed.

Step 17: This Frame Is Just Large Enough for the Barrel to Nest Into.

Step 18: With the Barrel Installed a Series of Screws Holds the Hive Foundation to the Frame.

Step 19: Now the Notched Legs Can Be Fastened to the Hive Frame.

Step 20: My Helper Is Making Sure Everything Is Level and Plumb, Lol.

Step 21: Measuring for a Cross Support.

Step 22: The Support Will Later Be Drilled for Vent Holes at the Top of the Hive and Will Aid in Controlling Moisture.

Step 23: This Cross Support Will Also Give a Little Clearance at the Entrance of the Hive Before the First Comb Is Started.

Step 24: The Woods Gnome Says Its Time to Start on the Top Bars...

Step 25: To Keep Everything Square, Rip the First Edge Off. These Edges Can Be Used Later for Spacers.

Step 26: The Top Boards Are Ripped.... 1 Inch Thick, 1 1/4" Wide.

Step 27: The Spacers Are Saved to Be Used Later When the Bees Start to Build Comb.

Step 28: Cove Moulding Is Attached to the Top Bars. It Gives the Bees More Surface Area to Attach the Comb to in Addition to Helping Them Keep the Comb Straight.

Step 29: Roughing Up the Cove Moulding, Gives the Bees a Better Surface to Grip.

Step 30: The Cove Moulding Is Attached to the Top Bars With Ring Shank Nails.

Step 31: The Top Bars Just Lay on Top of the Hive Foundation Frame.

Step 32: Bee View of the Front Entrance of the Hive.

Step 33: Honey, I'm Home!! (see What I Did There? Lol)

Step 34: One More Picture of the Top Bars Installed in the Hive.

Step 35: The Back Wall of the Hive Is Moveable So the Hive Can Expand As the Colony Grows. a Cardboard Template Is Used to Trace the Outline of the Barrel.

Step 36: The Back Wall Is Cut Out of a Piece of Hardboard.

Step 37: The Hardboard Is Attached to a Couple Extra Top Bars and Lays on Top of the Foundation Frame Just the Same.

Step 38: Backwall Installed With Plenty of Room to Expand As the Colony Grows.

Step 39: Another View of the Backwall With Top Bars Installed.

Step 40: Here Is the Backwall With More Top Bars in Place.

Step 41: Starting on the Roof Frame.

Step 42: The Roof Frame Is Wider Than the Cross Supports and Rest on the Tops of the Legs.

Step 43: Good View of the Roof Frame at Rest on the Legs.

Step 44: Tin Is Then Installed for the Roofing Material.

Step 45: Drill a 1 Inch Hole Below the Bung Hole, This Serves a Few Purposes...

With the small entrance hole being level with the floor of the hive it will be easier for the bees to remove other dead bees etc. This hole will also serve as the entrance reducer until the colony gains strength and finally it will help the hive stay warmer in winter because of the reduced size.

Step 46: A Standard Cork Is Used to Plug the Larger Hole When It Is Not Needed.

Yes, the cap for the barrel could be used but this barrel did not come with a cap and I already had the corks. As the colony grows the cork can be removed to give them a larger entrance hole.

Step 47: Drill Two 1" Holes in the Cross Support Bar and Cover With Screen. the Bees Can Then Plug the Holes With Propolis to Regulate the Air Flow Themselves.

Step 48: Also Drill Two Holes in the Bottom of the Hive to Help Drain Any Water Collected Inside Due to Condensation.

Step 49: Holes Drilled and Ready for Screen.

Step 50: Vent Holes Covered.... Ready to Cover Bottom Holes.

Step 51: Completed!! I Really Enjoyed This Project And....

Step 52: I Had So Much Fun I Decided to Build 3 More!!

Step 53: We Are Ready for Bees Next Spring

Step 54: Roof Off, Showing the Top Bars.

Step 55: These Hives Will Last a Lifetime and My Kids Will Be Harvesting Honey From Them Once They're Adults...

Step 56: Hope You've Enjoyed This Instructable!!

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91 Discussions


Question 5 months ago on Step 9

Was the black barrel your choice? If so, why black?


4 years ago on Introduction

So how did the bee's get on in the hive's, just wondering with them being plastic


4 years ago on Introduction

That will overheat and cook your bees inside the hour on a hot summer day! The basic idea is fine, but please add at least 2 inches of insulation between the bars and the roof. Foil-backed foam is fine - the thicker the better. For the same reason, I suggest keeping them in the shade - at least during the afternoon - iIf you don't do this, you will get a meltdown and a big mess! Vent holes in the floor would also be a good idea - covered with #8 hardware cloth/mesh.


You can use the threaded barrel plug for the entrance. That's the way we do it in our design:



6 years ago on Introduction

Very very interesting - but I have to ask - if I build it, how do I know they will come..."????

Sort of like the old question about a Thermos - how does it know to keep the liquid hot or cold???

Seriously though - I live about 30 miles from Canada in northern NY - I see a few hives (old style stacked box hives) here and there out in the rural area where I live - how do they find this "home" or what do I need to do to attract them?

Again - a wonderful project!!!

2 replies

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Waiting for bees to come can take a long time and not happen at all. Mostly, bees are purchased. You can probably find a apiarist's store and get a "Box O Bees" in the spring. If, like you mentioned, you know other people that have bees, you may be able to ask one of them to split his/her hive and buy the artificial swarm. If you are determined to catch a natural swarm, you can purchase pheromone to attempt to lure the swarm in. However, as I mentioned above, this may take a long time and may not happen at all.


6 years ago on Step 56

In what climate do you live? I am concerned about the bees keeping warm enough through the winter in this hive.
This is a simple, durable, and elegant design, however.

1 reply

Top bars are not practical for the winter. Bees move up during the winter. The orientation of the frames means they must brake there cluster to travel from frame to frame. Cold bees= dead bees


6 years ago on Introduction

The bees that swarmed in the wall of my home started hanging their hive from the top cap of an inside wall i had to cut out a wall and suck them into a bee box and then they were transfered to a hive a couple miles down the road .

It was neat being that close to a swarm of bees and they didn't even act like tey were mad i had them all over me just walking around and as soon as the queen was in the box they all settled down for the short ride to their new hive .

I tell you i have a new respect for hives and bees they are amazing creatures this Ible will make for a great project on my little place i have enough room for a couple of these .

Great job keep up the great work ...

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Get a langstroth it's better for beginners and in areas where there is a cold winter it is hard to maintain top bar hives do to the need to store 70+ pounds of honey. Also take a class


6 years ago on Step 34

what about keeping the queen from making brood in the honey cells?? No bee keeper - just want them.

1 reply

In a "natural" beehive the honey is separated by hight and in beekeeping queen excluders are rarely if ever used in everyday. In a horizontal hive it is needed only because it is not a "natural" shape for the bees.


5 years ago

I love this. I want to start bee keeping, and I have a cheap source of plastic barrels. Thanks!!


5 years ago on Step 21

Very excited to find this. Thank you so much for documenting the process and sharing your work with us! We are helping to save our planet one recycled plastic barrel at a time... filled with bees!


6 years ago on Step 34

If you drop a wooden dowel vertically down from the centre of the top bars it encourages the bees to build straight and it makes the combs easier to lift should you have to inspect them. Makes the combs less floppy.
Otherwise great project I love it. A plastic drum might give better temperature stability to the hive. At least make sure that one is in the shade.

2 replies

Reply 6 years ago on Step 34

Yes, drill a hole in the top bar and insert the dowel vertically downwards. I have seen a successful queen excluder built in wood. It is basically like a vertical hanging frame with wooden slats like a venitian blind. The bees propolysed up most of it bu continued to work through it to store honey leaving the brood in the first half of the hive.