Introduction: Make a Honey Bee Hive From Old Wooden Skids
I've used a few different joint methods in this instructable, so choose the one you want to use based on your skill level. All of them will work, though the more complex joints are stronger and your hive structure will last longer.
To make this instructable all you will need both 3/4" and 3/8" wooden slats from old skids. Make sure there are no nails in the slats. Also check the skids for stains and chemical smells. Bees don't ingest wood and they do ventilate their hives but better safe then sorry. Skids are generally between 34" and 40" wide so you will need 2 slats for each outer box, commonly called a brood box or a honey super depending on it's position in the final completed hive. The width of each of my 3/4" slats is 3.5" to 4.5" and they are 38" long. The same with the thinner 3/8" slats.
There are plenty of variations on hives out there. I've looked at a lot of information and settled on this version of a Langstroth hive. The Langstroth hive is the most common type of hive used in North America and has very specific dimensions. I'm not so fussy on the exact dimensions and wanted to create my hive with the wood I had on hand. If you enjoy this intractable please vote. Thx :)
Step 1: Creating the Bottom Piece
You can use several pieces of 3/4" wood slats from skids or you can substitute a piece of 3/4" plywood for the top and bottom (Pic 1). Safety note - whenever cutting with a table saw set the blade height so that you just cut through the wood and no more. (Pic 2) The 1st order of business is to rip the skids in half. (Pic 3) Since my 3/4" skid slats are 38" long I've made the outside frame using 2 pieces, 17 3/8" and 20 1/2". 1/8" is eaten up by the saw cut. This is enough wood to make both the top and bottom frames around the 2 plywood bases.
At this point you have a choice to make. Very simple and easy or a bit more complicated. The easy step is to assemble a simple box frame by placing the short pieces on the end of the long pieces creating a basic box using butt joints. You can use 1 1/2" construction screws, spiral nails or staples if you happen to have a good staple gun to make the joints. I used both glue and staples for most of my construction. In pic 4 I've laid the 2 long pieces down beside the plywood and have used this to mark my cut for the cross pieces. The 5 pieces prior to final assembly. (Pic 5)
Join the 4 frame pieces and place the plywood inside the frame at an angle from back to front. The idea here is that the bottom hive floor slopes down to where the bees enter the hive. So the plywood is higher at the rear end of the hive and lower at the front. Cut away 4" from the frame at the centre flush with the plywood. This is your bee entry to the hive. The last part id to add a landing ramp to the front of the entry. 2 pieces of skid attached to the bottom of the base act as support for the landing area. Any piece of scrap wood or a piece of skid slat will do.
Step 2: Creating the Top Piece
The 2nd method is to create a rabbet joint by removing some of the wood along the edge where the corners come together.
I've created the bottom using the straight box method and the top I used rabbet joints and created a channel to hold the ply wood. Use a scrap piece of your skid wood to measure the size of the wood to be removed. (Pic 1) Set your blade height to remove 3/8" of material. (Pic 2) Two pieces after running through the table saw a few times. (Pic 3) Removing the rest of the material with a wood chisel. (Pic 4)
Now that the ends are done you need to remove material along the centre to fit the plywood board. Again use the table saw and remove 3/8" deep material in a 3/4" wide channel. Set your fence and run all board through then flip them and cut the 2nd outside grove. (Pic 5) Continue to adjust the fence and remove more material. (Pic 6) The board are now ready to assemble after being cleaned up with a chisel. (Pic 7)
Assemble together using screws, nails or staples. Again I used glue and staples.
Step 3: Creating the Honey Frames (supers)
In a typical Langstroth hive the height of a full honey super is around 10". I am going to use two smaller frames joined together to create my honey frame boxes. Again you can create the box structure using either a straight butt joint, method 1. You can use the rabbet joint, method 2, of use a more complex joint if you so choose. These frames will be handled the most so make them well.
Trim wood so all 4 sides are the same width. (Pic 1) The longer sides need a rabbet cut along the edge. This will be where your honey comb frames will be placed. (Pic 2) The honey comb frames hang from this ledge. (Pic 3) Make sure these are squared and flat when you nail, screw or glue & staple them together.
The brood boxes are the same construction as the honey boxes. I had some left over 2x10 boards so I cheated and used them for my 2 lower brood boxes. I used 3 1/2" construction screws for these bottom boxes. In a hive the bees use honey combs to store honey as well as raise their young. The queen will fill the bottom two chambers with eggs and some honey will also be stored here. The bees will fill the upper chambers with honey.
Step 4: Making Frames to Hold the Wax Comb - Option 1
There are several options for these frames. You can buy them or make them. There are several varieties out there and several different plans. I decided to try two different methods. The 1st is a top bar style hive. In this version the frame is just a bar across the top that the bees attach their comb to. It is not an enclosed frame. There are 2 advantages to this method. 1st it's very easy to make and 2nd you don't need access to an expensive centrifugal honey extractor to get your honey. You remove the entire comb and melt it. The wax floats on the honey. Let it cool, remove the wax and strain the honey.
To create a top bar style hive just rip your thinner 3/8" skid boards into 1 1/8" to 1 1/4" strips. (Pics 1 & 2) You will want a total of 12 or 13 boards to line the top of the box. You just drop them into the ledge you just made. The next frame on top holds them in place. You can put spacers or nails into the ledge to ensure they sit exactly evenly across the top. You don't want them too close together or too far apart. Too close and the bees can't get through. Too far apart and the bees will make comb in the gap. The perfect spacing is around 3/8". (Pics 3 & 4) This is called "bee space", that zone where bees won't build comb or try and close it up.
To get the optimum width for your top bars measure the inside of the box along the length or width. In my example the inside diameter is 20 1/2" as I am making short easier to handle frames as opposed to the longer frames that are typical in a Langstroth hive. I drop it to 20" so I can accommodate the bee space on the end. Divide the 20 by 1 1/8 (frame) + 3/8 (bee space) or 20 divided by 1.5 and you get 13.3. Rounding to 13, you would get 13 top bars spaced 3/8" apart that are each 1 1/8" wide. If you use 1 1/4" wide frames then you would have 12 frames. Do not make your top bars any wider then this.
Step 5: Honey Frame - Option 2
To create a closed frame you will need to cut another 12 or 13 more strips for each box that are about 1 1/4" shorter then the top bars. (Pic 2) They are also narrower then the top bar by 1/4". The frame side pieces are cut from the same width stock as the top bars. The height of the frame is 3/8" less then the distance from the top bar to bottom of the honey super. This leaves that bee space around all sides of the frame.
For the final frame style you have several choices. Some advocate putting wire across your frames. Something like 16 gauge wire to help hold your frames rigid. Some also advocate a piece of foundation. This can be wax or plastic, about 1/8" thick that sits in a channel in the centre of the frame. Bees will build very uniform comb on both sides of the foundation out to the edge of the frame. This is the typical frame used by honey producers. There is also a version that has no wire or foundation, just the basic frame and nothing else.
I'm going to create basic boxed frames for the brood chamber and use the top bars from the previous step for the honey chambers.
As we've been basically constructing boxes, I will skip the instruction on making yet another bunch of boxes. Just remember the top bar of the frame is wider then the frame sides so it can hang on the ledge. The 3rd pic shows the side walls of the brood box made from a piece of 2 x 10. Pic 4 shows a typical Langstroth style frame to hold the comb in either the brood box or honey supers.
Step 6: Finishing the Top
The final step to the hive is to finish off the top box you made in step 1. The top box can have a tin/metal cover and sides that extend over the honey chamber to make it waterproof. In my version I skipped the metal top and went with a sloped roof. 1st I added the extra pieces to the sides and rear of the top cover and added an additional 3/4 inch piece at the front. This creates an overhang around the entire hive body and also allows you to slide the top back to assist in removing and replacing. (Pic 1) I then flipped it over and added a 3/4" truss down the centre of the cover and stapled 1/2" plywood pieces to the top ensuring they are large enough to overhang on all sides.
All I need to do now is add some pieces of 1x2 along the sides of each frame to act as handles. These assist in lifting the honey supers once they are full. Paint the outside with good quality outdoor latex paint and you are finished.
You are now ready to introduce a hive to your hive. :)
There is a lot of info out there on bee keeping. If you want honey on tap there is an outfit in Australia that has a pre-made honey frame that you crack in place and honey flows out a tap along the bottom of the frame. Expensive but a very cool idea. A great reference book that is free from Gutenberg.org is "Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee: A Bee Keeper's Manual". Several hundred pages of info all about bee keeping.