Make Your Own Honey Cow (Top Bar Bee Hive)




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Beekeeping is an ancient DIY art, performed by amateurs and makers for centuries. Anyone can produce natural honey at home. People keep bees in many different kinds of hives, but we will focus on a cheap and simple design, called the Honey Cow.

The Honey Cow is designed to mimic nature as much as possible. Unlike commercial hives, it does not have frames, foundation or excluders. Instead, it just has top bars, allowing the bees to do what they would in a fallen log: build beautiful, natural combs. Because it is less intrusive to the bees, it's easier to make and manage, which makes it a perfect beginners backyard hive.

Once you have a hive, you will want to gather a few extra bits of equipment, like a veil, a smoker, and a bee feeder. With your equipment at hand, you can explore ways to get your bees, from capturing a swarm to buying a package or nucleus from a fellow beekeeper. After your bees have had a full summer to build up honey, you can start reaping the rewards of tending bees: wonderful, home-grown honey.

I encourage everyone interested in beekeeping to join a local bee club. These clubs are filled with wonderful people who love to help get beginners started. Don't be discouraged if folks in your bee club don't have the same type of hive as you. There are as many ways to keep bees as there are beekeepers.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

55 gallon plastic barrel, preferably food grade (makes two hives)
22 feet of 1”x2” nominal lumber
46 feet of 1½”x1” lumber
2 X 8 foot of 2”x4” nominal lumber
A 3 feet by 4 feet piece of tin
20 - 1½” wood screws
10 - 2” wood screws
8 - ½ “ screws
Bungee Cord or tie wire
45 feet thin moulding OR natural fiber string and beeswax

circular or jig saw
tin snips
tape measure and marker

Step 2: The Barrel

Cut the barrel in half lengthwise, making sure that there is a bung hole in each half.

Clean it well. You never know what was in it.  Choose a food-grade container to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals.

Lay the barrel down like a canoe, so that it would catch water. This is the position it will be in from now on.

On one end of the barrel (which used to be the top when it was whole) there is a rim of plastic that protrudes. Cut this away.

Rub the interior with beeswax. This will remove any foreign smell that remains and make it more attractive to a hive. A drop or two of lemongrass oil is good as well.

Step 3: The Frame

Measure the length and width of your barrel and cut the 1”x2” lumber to make a frame. For example, if your barrel is 36” by 24”, cut 2 lengths of 25” and 2 lengths of 37” (the extra inch allows you to screw one piece into the next).

Glue and screw the frame together.

Screw the barrel inside the frame.

Cut the 2"X4" boards into 40" pieces.  These boards are now the legs.

Screw the legs into each side of the barrel. Make sure you screw the frame to the leg and put several screws from the barrel into the leg for a good, sturdy fix.

Step 4: Top Bars

Cut 23 X 24” lengths out of the 1 ½”x1” lumber.

These are the bars to which the bees will attach their honeycomb. However, you need to provide a guide so that they make straight combs. There are several ways to do this, for example:

a) Screw a thin piece of moulding, 20” in length, centered on each top bar, with at least an inch on the ends of the top bar. This moulding will face down, into the barrel, when the bar sits on the frame. Rub some bee's wax on the molding.
b) Attach a piece of twine, coated in wax, also centered on the top bar, at least an inch from the ends of the top bar.
c) Carve a narrow groove into the top bar and fill it with molten bee's wax.  The groove should be about 1/4 of an inch wide, and you need to leave at least an inch on either end of the top bar.

Step 5: The Roof

Using the 1”x2” lumber, make a frame that fits around the barrel frame, with a ¼” gap on all sides.

If you cut 2 lengths of 25” and 2 lengths of 37” for the barrel frame, cut 2 lengths of 27 ½” and 2 lengths of 39 ½” for the roof frame.

Take the piece of tin and screw it to the frame, leaving equal space on all sides.  

Bend the extra bits of tin down and screw to the sides of the frame.

Using the tin snips, cut any extra bits hanging below the frame.

Put the roof on top of the barrel frame.

Wrap the bungee cord around the roof and barrel, attaching it to itself. This will prevent the roof from blowing off. Alternatively, you can use a few bits of tie wire to tie the roof securely to the hive.

Step 6: Ready for Bees

You are now ready for the bees. You can buy a “package”, a queen and bees, however the most satisfying way to get into bee keeping is to capture a swarm.

Get a package here:

When dealing with bees, you cannot think of them as individuals. It is the hive, as a whole, that is the animal. And in this sense, each year, if conditions are right, the hive will reproduce, sometimes several times over. If they have filled the space they inhabit and food is abundant, they will create another queen and the hive will split, creating a swarm. This swarm, laden with honey, will leave the hive in search of a new home.

The swarm is heavy with food and preoccupied, and consequently very docile. Be sure to wear protection when handling swarms, because bees can always sting, even when they are docile. If you come across a swarm on, for example, a branch, you can put a box beneath them, shake the branch, and the bees will fall into the box. Take that box to your hive and empty it into your barrel. They will do the rest.

Step 7: Resources

Gold Star Honeybees is an excellent resource for top bar hive  beekeepers.  They offer kits, information, tools, and accessories for top bar hive beekeeping. They feature three levels of DIY hive kits for both novice and experienced beekeepers.  You can find them on the web at

Gold Star Honeybees
PO Box 1061, Bath, ME  04530
207-449-1121 - author's website – natural beekeeping forum – the people's hive and natural beekeeping theory



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    96 Discussions


    Any questions related to management of a top bar hive, please make sure you visit this forum:

    Most of your questions can be answered there by lots of folks that have more experience than me.


    Question 4 months ago

    Hei,i wanted to stert keeping bees but I need afinancial help what should I do?


    7 months ago

    pour le fond ce serait bien je pense d en grillager une partie avec une grille fine pour aerer retirer l humidité et evacuer les varroas et pourqoi pas mettre une fenetre en plexiglass je vais essayer ce projet quand j aurais finis ma bi ruche en refrigerateur


    2 years ago


    I live in France and I am making this hive. What is the hole at the bottom for? Do you cover it with a screen ? Other question : you recommend 1,5 " for the bar (38 mm). In my country they say 35mm most of the time. What is your experience with this width ? It's not too much, especially in winter ? Do you have cold temperatures sometime ? Thank's for your explanations.



    2 years ago

    cnt tpye triyd wthut gaer


    3 years ago

    With this type hive, won't the bees freeze in winter?


    3 years ago

    I'm almost finished with mine but does the roof need any insulation to keep it from getting too hot?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    It depends on the material, give it some space between the roof and the top bars, you can always lay a sheet in there if you are worried about it


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Was SO excited to see this in the last MAKE, thanks so much for the ible!
    The detailed pictures are great!

    We just finished our first year with bees, and unfortunately, we're moving out of the country, so we won't get the big harvests off the established hive. I can't wait to get one of these set up when we get settled, but easier to come by than traditional hive boxes!

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    I'm thinking about making a honey one , any info I can get on how to put it together not enought picd lol?


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks to the creator, I have made this (without the legs as it is on top of a hen house). Thankfully a local bee keeper found a swarm and a week in they are building comb on bars 4-9 already.

    You can make a simple syrup feeder with a water bottle and a small hole in the lid. Fill with syrup and hang at the entrance. If you want to feed inside the hive, just set a feeder right inside, or just a tub of fondant or sugar.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Don't use metal. You will cook the bees in Summer!!!
    The wax will melt and the bees will die or move out.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Noooooooo!! U can't use metal. You're bees eill cook in the simmer. Sll the beeswax will melt and if they don't die they will go and live somewhere else.