Make a Bee Vacuum That Really Sucks




About: My projects combine my background in biology plus the rigor of art practice, to produce works that surprise, elucidate what is hidden in plain sight, and sometimes even invite nature to join in the experienc...

When I tell people I'm working on designing a bee vacuum the response typically varies from blank stares to shock. Everyone wants to know what the heck a bee vac is, and why would I want to suck those cute fuzzy stinging beasts into a shop vac in the first place.

As a beekeeper, I am occasionally hired to extract hives from places where they aren't wanted. The goal is to get as many bees out of the walls without causing great harm to myself, passersby, or the bees so that I can then relocate the bees and their comb to a Langstroth hive box where they can be managed for better health and honey production.

This next set of Instructions will follow me as I go through the steps of designing and building a Bee Vacuum that Really Sucks (in a good way).

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Step 1: The Basics of a Bee Vac

There are many different types of designs you could find if you were to conduct a websearch for bee vac. The basic components are a shop vac, hose attachment, and a place to put the bees where they cannot escape without permission. Key features are an ability to easily get the bees into a desired hive after the procedure and to ensure their health and safety while the process is underway. For this I decided to make a vacuum that uses a standard Langstroth hive super (see illustration) to be the container for the vacuum, so that the bees are sucked directly into it. This way after the procedure is finished the vac doesn't need to be opened right away, but the bees can stay there for a few days until they are no longer furious at being sucked up in a vacuum. You'll understand this better as you read the rest.

After building and testing my first bee vac, I discovered that another crucial element is the dB level on the shop vac. If the vac motor is too loud it interferes with communication to other people and doesn't allow you to hear the tone of bees buzzing, in important factor in judging how likely you are to receive severe stings through your protective gear.

My vacuum has four basic components:

Low dB shop vac, (in this case I used the Fein Turbo I shop vac without attachments)

Langstroth hive medium super with undrawn plastic foundation frames

Second Langstroth medium super without frames

Vacuum base where hose is attached

Vacuum top where motor is attached

cinch strap to hold it all together

I used the following tools and consumables to build the top and base:

1/2 inch thick plywood and 1/8 inch thick plexiglas to fit

poly screen

Sawzall, Japanese dovetail hand saw

box cutter or rotary cutter, cutting mat

Table saw and Drill press

forstner drill bit

battery hand drill with drill bits and driver bits

Clamps of various sizes but limited to only 1 letter in the alphabet

Latex gloves and masking tape

Gorilla glue, Tacky glue, epoxy and wood glue

Epilog laser cutter

Wheels are optional, but if you use them make sure that at least two of them lock

1/2 inch screws, lots of 'em

nuts and bolts for wheels times 16 each

Step 2: Modify the Empty Langstroth Medium Super

First, use a table saw to cut your empty medium super to make the top and bottom of your bee vac. Measure the hose connector and the tallest internal part on the shop vac to determine the depths of these two pieces. Make sure to cut the super so that the joints are cleanly divided between boxes, and be careful to note where any nails or other fasteners can be found, since hitting those it bad news for you and the table saw.

Note: In the photos I have different colors for these two pieces, but that's only because I cut down two different mediums to make two complete sets of parts. I had a friend who runs a cabinet shop do this for me with all my deep supers a long time ago when I switched from deep boxes to mediums to save my back from the heavy lifting. I traded him the work for a big jar of fresh honey.

Step 3: Modify the Shop Vac

Next let's get the shop vac to sit on top of a hive with no gaps for maximum suckage.

The Fein is a beautifully engineered tool. I chose it because it has low dB level of 66. This model lacks the hepa filter, all accessories except the hose, and has a small 'bucket' where sucked up debris and solids are housed, all of which are not needed on a bee vac.

Now to modify.

I first opened the vac and discarded the 'bucket', being sure to save the attachment point where the hose clicks into the bucket. Then I removed the air filter and discarded that too. Open the motor by unscrewing all the fasteners (save for later) to disconnect the water level sensors and remove the two towers where the sensors are suspended in the bucket. Then I pulled off the buckles that clamp to top motor to the bucket. I was careful to make note of what fasteners went where and not to miss any, and this made it easy to reassemble.

Step 4: No Turning Back, Fun With the Swazall

Now for the crazy part. You're going to cut off all the support material on the underside of the vac so you can get enough flat surface to make a good connection with your wooden vacuum top.

This beautiful shop vac has many support ribs that we don't need, and they will keep the 'vacuum' from happening if there are any air gaps between them and the rest of your assembly.

I measured an inch in from the edges of the vac, paying close attention to the black gasket that runs along the edge and using that as a basic guide, since this is where the seal will be made. I marked all the supports that were within that 1 inch margin from the edge.

I taped the intake for the motor to keep out any chips. Then I clamped the motor securely to my work bench using the help of my hive section and took a sawzall to it. What crazy fun that was! I'd had an illusion up to this point that I'd someday use this $300+ vac for its intended purpose, but this quashed all that for me. A swazall is a seriously destructive tool, so make sure you before you turn that thing on to use the proper safety goggles and safe workshop practices here. I made the rough cuts with the sawzall and then followed up with finer close cuts with a japanese hand saw.

Step 5: Cheap Fun With Expensive Technology

I'm about to reveal the truth about my access to a workshop and cool tools and generous budget. I have a residency at Autodesk. It was simple to apply, and all I had to do in the interview was to prove to Vanessa and Noah that I'm good at making things, show a portfolio to back it up, and exhibit minimal social skills buffeted by extra enthusiasm. Oops, did I say that out loud? There I go again.

For this next step I used the super-cool, better-grab-an-ebook-on -my-iPad, boredom-inducing, stand-over-watching tool, the Epilog laser cutter.

I practiced many times on the laser cutter before I was able to create a file for the top of the vac, and I recommend you do the same. Cutting paper is quicker and wastes less, and running the programs with the laser off will show you how long it takes and where the paths run before you commit to ruining your plywood.

What I cut was a 1/2" plywood plate where the vac sits on top. I measured in from the edge of the vac to make an opening in the top where the vac sits. I added cool features to the plate such as a Plexiglas window so I could see into the vac. It needs a baffle to adjust the suck power so it grabs the bees without pulverizing them. I used Illustrator to make the files, and they act kinda like print files. If you're using a fein vac then you can just use my PDF files I've linked on this page.

Note: If you use my files then be sure to repeat the raster etch on the plywood several times to make your grooves deep enough to make the baffle slider work. The files are near perfect in execution, but run a sample with paper first just be sure of your machine's settings.

Running the epilog is worse than watching paint dry because its noisy. You must stay witin a foot of the machine to make sure there are no fires. I highly recommend listing to the audiobook I did, China Mielville's The City & the City

or reading the ebook by David Gissen called Subnature: Architecture's Other Environments.

Step 6: Plate Assembly With Baffle

Once my plate was cut and ready to go, I returned to the workshop to glue, assemble and seal my top plate.

First step is to put a little handle on the baffle slider so it's ready to be placed in the slider and window assembly while you're gluing it all together. If you forget to put the baffle in when you glue it all together, you'll have to repeat step 5, no fun!

Then its time to glue the Plexiglas window into the top plate. I used blue masking tape to shield the Plexigas to keep the glue off my window. To glue in the window I used an epoxy glue of which I did not record in my notebook. But when I googled it I learned that I should have given the Plexiglas a little tooth by rouging it up with sandpaper. Next time!

The important part here is to make sure your Plexiglas fits so that you can mount this entire plate onto your box later, so make sure its oriented so that it matches the jpg diagram I've created. Be sure not to get glue anywhere near your slider track and baffle.

Let this sit until the epoxy has set.

Step 7: Design and Cut the Screen Plate for the Top

You'll need a screen between your vacuum and the hive box so you don't suck the bees up inside the motor. While your epoxy is setting on the window you can concentrate on designing and cutting the next plate for this assembly.

I've included the PDF file here for a cheat, and since this plate will fit all 10 frame Langstroth hives, it will be useful no matter which shop vacuum you decide to use.

Of note is that if this file is cut and etched all as one, it will take FOREVER! To get around this, I recommend that when sending this file to the Epilog you first hide the raster files that are on the vertical plane opposite one another. In my file I've named these V right and V left, and you'll find them in the Raster layer of the file. Otherwise the Epilog will send the laser head so that it goes, "Zip, t r a v e l, zip, t r a v e l, zip, t r a v e l, zip. Etching one vertical section at a time will reduce the amount of travel for the laser head and thus reduce the time spent standing next to the machine by 75%.

Step 8: Assemble Your Screen in the Top

Next step is to assemble the screen plate and attach it to the box section you cut in step 2 . Once again, this is to put a screen between the bees and the vacuum motor. It's important to get a good seal between the screen plate and the screen and the box you attach them to, so I use first tacky glue then once set I go in with expanding Gorilla glue.

First use your screen plate to pilot the holes you drill in the box. Later you will use those holes to screw the assembled screen plate and screen to your box. You should be wearing your safety glasses for this.

Next, cut your screen to fit the etched section on the screen plate. I did this using a cutting mat and a roller cutter, but you can use cardboard and a box cutter for this step. I've given you lots of wiggle room to glue the screen to the plate, so it should be close but don't spend too much time on this step. The expanding gorilla glue will solve all sloppiness with a thick layer of its own goo to make a good seal.

Next you will get the screen to stay in place on the screen plate with tacky glue. Its a good idea to use latex gloves for this step, and have a box of them handy so you can peel off any that have glue on them and pop on a new set.

I dab a few drops of tacky here and there and hold the screen in place with clamps until the glue is set.

Once the tacky glue holds fast you will glue the screen and plate to the box section cut in step 2 with your expanding Gorilla glue. I did this section by section, and you want to take your time with this part. The better the gluing the more airtight the seal will be between the plates, so make sure to get an even coat of gorilla glue, adding clamps to hold the screen plate to the box section as you work your way around the plate.

While still clamped, I used screws to fasten the plate to the box using the pilot holes cut by the laser cutter and the pilot holes I drilled earlier.

Now put this all aside and take a break. Overnight is best if you have the patience.

Step 9: Final Assemble and Seal on Your Vacuum Top

You've let the glue dry overnight. Now its time to put all these parts together.

Its easiest to tape the screen side with foam first. For this I used 3/4 inch wide door foam with an adhesive backing. This creates a seal that will keep a vacuum when you set this top on the medium super you'll use for the vacuum 'bucket'.

Your screen plate is glued to the bottom on the vacuum top, if that makes sense. On the other side you will attach your vacuum plate, which is the top of the vacuum top. This part is easy- just make sure to drill those pilot holes in the box, gorilla glue and clamp, and set aside until its dry

Once set, its time to make a seal between the vacuum motor and that vacuum plate. I did this by setting the vac on the plate and tracing the edges. Then I simply filled the edges with the foam tape. There is no need to permanently attach the vacuum motor, since the vacuum will stick it all together, and there is definitely a reason not to glue it on, and I'll explain that later.

Step 10: Now for the Base of the Hive Vacuum, Starting With the Hose Port

In this step you'll make another modification to the Fein vac, this time cutting the hose port where the hose clicks into the vacuum assembly. Cut away the scoop, and remove all tabs so it can slide easily into a round hole you cut in your box section from step 2. You want to make this port as low in profile as you can without destroying it, so use the Japanese hand saw and clamp that in place tight so it doesn't slip.

Then you'll make a round hole in your box section that fits this port. I used the drill press and a forstner bit that fit the port closely but not too tight that it doesn't fit the hole. My box section had a handle cutout, therefore I didn't center the hole, but this does not effect the vacuum at all whether the hose is in the center or not.

Then push the hose port into the box section and see how snuggly it fits. You want this seal to be airtight, so use the expanding gorilla glue to glue it in. For this project I did not use gorilla glue, since I want to make several vacuum assemblies. I built two at a time with the idea that I can switch out and do more than one hive in a day or back to back. You simply pull the hose and vacuum motor off the first vacuum assembly and put them on the next. I used a putty to make a seal until I can 3D cad a new hose port and print it on a 3D printer. More to come!

Step 11: Cut and Attach the Bottom Panel

As with the top of the vac, you'll want to laser cut the bottom plate for the vacuum. This is quick and easy, and you can even copy this file onto another and have the laser cutter do more than one plate together. If you'd prefer, you can always cut this section with a table saw, but I wanted to also cut pilot holes for the screws so did it with the laser cutter.

I've attached the PDF cutting file for you to use, and it will work regardless of whether you used a Fein shop vac or some other model.

Use this base plate to pilot the holes in your box section.

Next I put wheels on the base. You can do this either before or after the bottom plate had been attached to the bottom box section. For this I purchased two locking wheels and two without locks. This is an optional step that is more for laughs than it is necessary. Later when you put the assembly in the field to relocate the bees, you may wish you hadn't put wheels on it, since they will want to roll away.

Lastly, you want to glue again with gorilla glue and use screws to hold everything in place. Flip the box over and put a laer of foam in the edge of the box so there is an airtight seal between the base and the medium super.

Step 12: And Now for the Final Assembly...

Once you've glued screens and plates, attached plates and rolled out seams, its time to assemble the hole thing and see what it all looks like!

In this image I'm field testing the beast, so I have not painted it. Instead, I sealed the edges with a 10mil plastic tape. But you'll want to give everything a good coat of paint on the face and especially at the edges, since that will help seal the whole thing and make it super airtight. Maybe even do it before you put the foam seals on.

Plug in the hose, put the vac on top, and strap the whole thing down with a cinch strap. I found that while you may have the urge to loop the cinch strap through the vacuum motor, it isn't necessary, since the vacuum suction will hold that in place. An interesting feature to the Fein is that it has a flat top. I found I was using the flat Fein as a platform, like a pedestal for a table.

Step 13: Bees Are Cute, Fuzzy, Stinging Insects (the Disclaimer)

As should be obvious, sucking 20,000 to 50,000 bees in a vacuum is not a smart or safe thing to do, even with a bomber bee vac like the one I've designed here. You will get stung, and anyone in the area for the next couple of days has a risk of being stung. I have a rule of no more than 20 stings per day, and I try and stick with it. Know your limits, and always carry an Epinephren pen for every person in your team. Take precautions, wear a full suit and gloves to prevent as many stings as you can.

That being said, this bee vac has a few features I want to design into it that will minimize the sting factor.

The first one is that the bees are no longer sealed in once the hose has been pulled out. This makes it impossible to smoothly transition from one bee vac to another. The instant you pop that hose out, thousands of angry bees are at you trying to sting you to death, which is lots of no fun. My goal is to design a stopper, valve, gate, or whatever to close the minute the suction stops. That way bees can't get out and I can unplug my hose at will.

The whole idea behind a bee vac like this is that you can pull the vacuum motor off and set the entire assembly in the field and walk away without disturbing the bees any further. This being said, once you've sucked up all the bees, you're only halfway through the job. The next step is to cut the comb gently, piece by piece, from the walls and place that comb into frames in another Langtroth hive. This is crucial to the survival of the hive, since the bees need to be reunited with their larvae, eggs, pollen and honey stores. It's easy to get the comb in place in a new hive box, but then you must immediately reunite the bees. How to do it without opening the box?

I've determined the best way to do this is to make a screen that I can slide out from between the vac motor and the Langstroth hive box that is the vac bucket. Then the bees can move up from their empty comb to their own comb, where they can begin to clean house and get things all back together again.

So stay tuned as I document the 3D cad modelling of the hose port with flapper and the screen. Suggestions are welcome!

Step 14: Thanks and for More Information

Thank you for sticking through this long, tedious and boring set of Instructions!

Thanks to GIllian Bostock for taking three stings to produce lovely photos of the extraction procedure as I field tested my bee vac. Gillian is quite talented, and has also produced beautiful photgrams of wild comb from my previous extractions, so check out her website for more.

The hive extraction took place over two days, two hives, and many stings in a beautiful barn on Bloomfield Farms in Petaluma, CA. Thank you to Caley Morrison for his patience and trust through this process.

Thanks to Autodesk for my artist Residency. Stay tuned for more projects!

For the parts and pieces I used to assemble my Bee Vac (see links in text)

McMaster Carr (I won't tell you what we at Autodesk call it, not PG-rated. McMaster Carr to get lucky.)

Beekeeping Suppliers
Mann Lake : Free shipping Nation-wide on all orders over $100, full selection

Dadant: If they offered free shipping they'd be as good as Mann Lake, Nation-wide

Kelley Bees: fellow beekeeper Robert MacKimmie recommended them and their catalogue is enticing

Country Rubes: for hive beetle bottom board solutions and robbing screens

Beekind in Northern California: Expensive for most supplies, but they sell follower boards and robbing screens

Beekeepers who know more than me:

Oliver has published extensively on the hows and whys of beekeeping.

Beesource has excellent PDF's on how to build your own, a forum, and latest news.

Extras: This was my fourth Instructables project. Additional projects I've written: How to Make a Nucleus Honeybee Colony, Hiving a Package of Bees and Sugar-Coated Honey Bees.

My websites:



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    35 Discussions


    Question 5 months ago on Step 14

    I am relatively new to beekeeping and would love to build myself a beevac like this. My question is, would it be okay for the bees if I build a beevac out of MDF? I know hives are out in the field and MDF would not last, but for a vac it ccould work...or not?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    For a valve all I would do is attach a length of extra hose to the hive box, then add a blast gate in between (a sheet of metal or ply with a hole cut a little larger than the tube that when pulled out opens the tube and when pushed in closes it). They sell them for ventilation ducting in workshops but it would be relatively easy to knock one up with basic shop tools. like these:

    You can put some brush draft proofing to seal it or just make it nice and precise!

    Seems like the simplest cheapest and kindest(add a pin to prevent it closing during use). option in my opinion, and you can attach it right to the body of the hive and use it as a door after wards :D


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Also, a question: Is there a reason to build a dedicated vacuum like this out of a shop vac, instead of just modifying a hive box so that you can plug a shop vac into it, similar to how one adds a cyclone separator (read: fancy bucket) between the hose and the vac in a shop? I would guess that you would get a bit less suction (although the Fein is sealed pretty well), but you wouldn't have to cut up an expensive shop vac.

    4 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Suction is the main reason to have them all as one unit. Plus, shopvac motors are small compared to the "buckets" and its easier to get into tight places with less equipment.

    I felt a little sad when I curt up that perfectly good and new Fein, but it works well, so it was worth the waste.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction


    the reason I went big with the Fein is the low dB level. I used a free shop var for my first bee vacuum, but it was so loud that I needed ear protection to use it long term. That gets int eh way of communication between you and anyone helping, and blocks your ability to hear what the bees are saying, too.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I don't think I was clear in my previous question. I wasn't wondering why you selected the Fein (which I agree is a nice machine), I was trying to ask why you decided to cut up the vacuum, versus building a capture box that you could just plug the Fein's hose into to provide the suction.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    That's what I did... just run a hose from your 'bee collector' to the vacuum, with another hose to collect bees... the photo below is just the collector... I used a minivac that was hanging down below.

    Me vac'ing bees from a tree.jpg

    5 years ago

    Jennifer you're the best in the business & I don't know why are you find the time to keep on giving thanks for taking the time it falls along the same lines of one that I've done

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, that's sweet of you! Looks like you're a beekeeper too. I'd love to see any cool ideas you post on Instructables for beekeeping.


    Reply 5 years ago

    I teach beekeeping here in Southwest Virginia at least to the best of my ability or until I find somebody better and are willing to replace me I don't get the easy extractions I get the calls that nobody else knows how to do. I do a little Queen rearing and just generally love my bugs but as you know there ain't no money in it everybody wants to save the bees but nobody wants to pay to save them and as far as sucking up honey you need just enough vacuum to suck up a bee and no more


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I miss my bees :( I have to make do with reading fun, clever articles like this :D


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Question: Do you have some sort of variable port to allow you to adjust the amount of suction?

    The reason I ask is the bee vac I built will kill all the bees coming into the collection chamber if I run it at regular power. So, I cut a small round hole in the to of my collection chamber and attached some #8 hardware cloth to keep the bees in and a plastic "flap" just bigger than the whole that is attached with one wood screw so that I can open it up like a peephole... I can adjust how much the hole is exposed in order to lessen the amount of suction so that I can adjust enough to pull bees off the surface without body-slamming them to the inside of the collection chamber. I did kill a few bees until I figured this out. I also had a big foam cushion "plug" that was the opening I used to remove my bees but also doubled as a "soft landing pad" so the don't get too banged around.

    2 replies


    Maybe I didn't make that part clear enough. The window has a hole cut in it, and the slider is my baffle. Though for this the suction was just right, no need to open it up to reduce the suction. As you see in this image, the slider to adjust suction is on the lower right corner

    Glue window.jpg

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I was thinking the same thing as jmwells about keeping the vacuum running while you plug the hose port. Before going to the effort of fabricating a custom gate, you should look at "blast gates", which are sliding panels designed to close suction intakes in a wood shop's built-in vacuum system. I'm not sure if they would be "bee-tight" when they're not under suction, but they're definitely worth looking at.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    a blastgate is exactly what I was thinking. Another reader posted a link. I had no idea they came in such small sizes. perfect. Thanks!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Have you thought about just a simple butter-fly valve in the middle of a long-ish tube at the vacuum input? Close it first, then shut down the vacuum...

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    that was an early idea, but I scrapped it because I fear it may squish too many bees as it swings close.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Make a cage over a light hard plastic ball that will go inside the box on the end of the hose. The cage should have openings large enough to pass the bees through, but not large enough that the ball can fall out. When the vacuum is running, the air flow will hold the ball up and the bees can get it. Shut off the air flow and the ball drops down, so the bees can't get back out.