Build a Bee Hive: An Illustrated, Step-By-Step Guide

It's time to build a beehive for my soon-to-arrive package bees. If you'll soon be starting beekeeping, you can build your hive right along with me, step by step.

You’ll see that building a honeybee hive from a beehive kit is really easy. If I can do it, anyone can!

And I can do it.

Here's my hive all set-up and with bees just installed; the very same hive shown built on this page:

'Course, I've had lots of practice through the years. But I still remember: building that very first kit certainly involved some head-scratching.

So for your first kit, just follow the instructions below. Eliminate the head-scratching.

Before We Get Started...

Do you have your hive kit yet? If you do, then you're ready to follow along step-by-step as we build it.

And if not? Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Ten-Frame Starter Kit:

This kit is almost exactly what I'm building in the tutorial below: 2 medium-depth, 10-frame supers with plastic-based foundation.

The only difference is that this kit comes with a telescoping top cover, while my kit just has a cheap commercial cover. (Telescoping covers are generally considered to be better. But commercial covers are cheaper.)

And if you're brand-new to beekeeping, you'll also need the beekeeping supplies that come with this kit (smoker, veil, gloves, etc.).

Click here for more details or to buy the 10-frame starter kit

2. Eight-Frame Starter Kit:

This kit is identical to the kit above, except each super holds only 8 frames instead of 10.

While once almost unheard of, 8-frame hives have exploded in popularity in recent years. That's because they are considerably lighter and easier to handle.

Should you go with 10-frame or 8-frame?

I prefer 10 - probably just because that's what I've used all my life. But as I get older, I may wish I were using 8-frame equipment.

A 10-frame medium-depth super crammed full of honey (and that's the goal, right?) can push 60 pounds. Certainly something to consider if you have a bad back (or want to avoid having one!)

It won't matter to the bees whether you're using 8- or 10-frame equipment. It just comes down to your preference.

But take the time now to think carefully about whether you want to use 8- or 10-frame equipment. Because if you decide later that you want to switch from one to the other, it will be a colossal, expensive headache.

And if you just can't decide, I'll tell you this (FWIW): If I were starting from scratch now, I'd probably go with 8-frame equipment.

Click here for more details or to buy the 8-frame starter kit

Don’t Procrastinate!

Don’t procrastinate like I did! It’s March 28, my bees are due in a couple of weeks, and I’m just now getting around to building a bee hive.

It would be best to start a bit earlier, just to be sure that everything is ready on time.

It doesn’t take two weeks to build a bee hive, of course. In fact, I did everything except paint the hive in one afternoon.

But if it turns out that you’re missing something, or accidentally ruin a piece and have to reorder, you don’t want to cut it too close.

You Don't Want Bees Arriving Before You're Ready!

You do not want to get a call from the Post Office letting you know that your bees have arrived when you don’t yet have a hive ready for them.

And as it turns out, I almost put myself in that very situation!

I thought that I had everything on hand needed to build a bee hive. Turns out, though, that I was 3 sheets short of having enough foundation. I’ll have to order some.

I expect it will arrive in time, but I’m cutting it plenty close.

So if you’re a chronic procrastinator like me, try not to be – at least when it comes to your beekeeping!

Got Your Kit? OK, Let's Get to Building...

When you buy a bee hive kit, all you have to do to is just put the parts together and nail them.

It’s really easy, but the first time through can be a little confusing.

And it's a common complaint that hive kits generally come with instructions that aren't terribly helpful (a few reviewers made that complaint about the kits I recommended above).

But the tips and photos below will help to make building your first hive easy. I bet you'll even have fun doing it!

Note: This page consists of photos illustrating the process of building a standard Langstroth bee hive - by far, the most popular type of hive. So if you haven’t already, you might want to take a quick look at this page: the parts of a beehive, for a part-by-part description of a Langstroth hive.

By the way, I’ll let you know at each step what size nails to use - a common point of confusion for newbies. But if you build a bee hive from a kit, it’s unlikely you’ll have to buy any nails since they usually are included.

So let's get started.

Let's just begin at the bottom of the hive, and work our way up.

The Bottom Board

honey bee hive bottom board parts before assembly

I use wood glue when assembling all hive components. Here you see a bead of glue laid in the groove of the bottom board’s tongue-and-groove construction.

honey bee hive bottom board glueing parts

Tap all the pieces firmly together, apply glue to the side rails, and fit board assembly into the side rails.

honey bee hive bottom board - fitting parts together
honey bee hive bottom board - glueing side rail
honey bee hive bottom board - adding second side rail

Making sure that the boards are flush with the end of the rail, place 1 nail (2 ¼” galvanized) toward the end of the side rail.

Now make sure that the boards are nested together tightly, with no gaps in between the pieces, and place 1 nail toward the other end of the side rail.

(CAUTION: Note that the groove cut in the side rails is not centered. When adding the side rails, be sure that they are not mismatched, with the deep side up on one side, and the shallow side up on the other side.

This type of bottom board is called a ‘reversible bottom board.’ The purpose of the reversible bottom board is to have a deeper entrance in the summertime, with the ability to flip the board and have a shallower entrance in winter without having to change bottom boards.

I always use the deep side all year round, and never bother to reverse it for winter. But I still add the shallow end cleat for extra structural rigidity.)

honey bee hive bottom board - nailing side rail

Repeat these steps with the other side rail. You’ll then have a nail in each corner, holding the entire assembly tightly together. You can then add a few more nails in between the corner nails on each side rail.

honey bee hive bottom board - side rails nailed on

Now nail and glue on the top and bottom cleats. They go on opposite ends.

It will be obvious which side each goes on because they match the height of the side rails. (Top cleat uses 1 ½” nails, and 1” on the bottom.)

Sometimes parts won’t fit exactly right, and you’ll have to do a bit of trimming. As you can see, that was the case for the bottom cleat, which I had to trim to fit.

honey bee hive bottom board - cleat needs trimming
honey bee hive bottom board - nailing on cleat
honey bee hive bottom board - assembly complete

The Hive Body

I use medium depth supers exclusively (except for comb honey supers). I like having all pieces of equipment being interchangeable.

And the older I get, the less interested I am in having to lift a deep hive body full of honey!

honey bee hive body - unassembled parts

So I’ll be starting my hive with 2 medium hive bodies rather than 1 deep.

First, I apply glue to all of the box joints.

honey bee hive body assembly - applying glue

Assemble the pieces, and drive 1 nail (2 ¼” galvanized) in each bottom corner, front and back.

honey bee hive body assembly - driving one nail in each corner
honey bee hive body assembly

Making sure that the assembly stays square, drive another nail in each corner front and back. These nails should go one hole down from the top (the top uses a smaller nail).

honey bee hive body assembly - making sure it's square
honey bee hive body assembly - driving large nails

I then drive nails in all the remaining pre-drilled holes. The top front/back nails are 1 ½” galvanized.

honey bee hive body assembly - driving smaller nails
honey bee hive body assembly - completed medium depth super

Frames

I use grooved top bar frames because they work great with my favorite foundation, Plasticell.

honey bee hive frame - unassembled parts

I start out by applying a dab of glue to each end of the top and bottom bars.

honey bee hive frame assembly - adding glue to top and bottom bars

Then assemble the frame, and drive 2 nails (1 ¼”) into the end bar at each corner.

It will certainly do no harm to use a carpenter’s square to check that the frame is true, but I usually just eyeball it.

If you’re building a deep frame, though, you’ll probably want to use a square (or a frame jig). With medium and shallow depth frames, it’s pretty unlikely that the frame will end up badly out of square.

honey bee hive frame assembly - making sure frame is square
honey bee hive frame assembly - nailing bottom bar
honey bee hive frame assembly - nailing top bar

Now comes the only part that’s a bit tricky – cross nailing. It’s worth the extra time and trouble, though.

And if you don’t do it, you may really wish you had one day when the top bar pulls off the frame as you're trying to pry it up from the hive.

To cross nail, you’ll just drive a nail through the end bar into the top bar, one on each end.

honey bee hive frame assembly - cross nailing

It’ll take a bit of trial and error to get the angle just right.

If the angle is too slight, the nail will end up in the foundation groove. Too great an angle, and the nail will protrude from the top bar.

The approximate angle is shown in the photo.

honey bee hive frame assembly - all frames completed and loaded into super

Adding Foundation

I use Plasticell foundation, which makes inserting foundation a snap – literally.

I just insert one end of the foundation into the bottom bar groove, and lay the frame on a flat, firm surface. The top of the foundation will be resting on the side of the top bar.

Then just press firmly in the middle of the foundation (using both hands when one’s not occupied with a camera!), until the foundation bows enough for the top to snap into place in the top bar groove.

preparing to insert foundation into frame
applying pressure to foundation to insert into frame
foundation inserted into frame

Couldn't be easier!

foundation added to all frames

Inner Cover

Apply glue, and insert the 2 side rails into one end cleat.

bee hive inner cover assembly - unassembled parts
honey bee hive inner cover assembly - adding glue to corner joints
honey bee hive inner cover assembly - preparing to insert masonite board

Slide the Masonite piece into the side rails and fit the other end cleat in place.

honey bee hive inner cover assembly - masonite board inserted with final side of frame

Drive 2 nails (3/4”) in each corner, then flip the cover over, and drive one additional nail in each corner.

honey bee hive inner cover assembly - driving two nails in one side of each corner
honey bee hive inner cover assembly - driving one nails in other side of each corner
honey bee hive inner cover assembly completed

Outer Cover

Building the outer cover is very similar to building the bottom board. Begin with applying a bead of glue in the groove of each piece.

honey bee hive outer cover assembly - applying glue to side rail grooves
honey bee hive outer cover assembly - applying glue to tongue grooves
honey bee hive outer cover assembly - applying glue to end rail grooves

Fit the tongue-and-groove pieces together, use a hammer to tap them snug, and then slip on the end rails.

honey bee hive outer cover assembly - fitting tongue-and-groove pieces together
honey bee hive outer cover assembly - adding side rails

Making sure that the boards are flush with the end of the rail, place 1 nail (1 3/8” galvanized) toward the end of the side rail.

Now make sure that the boards are nested together tightly, with no gaps in between the pieces, and place 1 nail toward the other end of the side rail.

honey bee hive outer cover assembly - driving nail in each corner

Repeat these steps with the other side rail. You’ll then have a nail in each corner, holding the entire assembly tightly together.

You can then add a few more nails in between the corner nails on each side rail.

honey bee hive outer cover assembly - side rails nailed on

Now just glue and nail the top cleats in place.

honey bee hive outer cover assembly - applying glue to top cleats
honey bee hive outer cover assembly complete

A Little Paint, and the Hive Will be Ready

All that’s left to do now is paint. And that’s an important step.

I wouldn’t build a bee hive and put it into service without painting it first. It just won’t last nearly as long unpainted.

I’ll pick a nice day when I can take the hive components outside, and I’ll apply 2 coats of an exterior grade latex paint. Any color will work, but I prefer white for the Texas heat – and for the traditional look.

I’ll paint all surfaces of the bottom board and outer cover. I’ll paint only the exterior surface of the hive bodies. I won’t paint the inner cover at all.

And of course the frames won’t be painted, either.

You’ll Find it’s Easy to Build a Bee Hive...

Whew – it was almost more work to describe building the hive than it was to actually build it!

And it might seem to you that it takes a lot of work to build a bee hive, but it’s really not too bad.

Except for painting, I did all of the above in less than 4 hours – including the time spent taking photos for documenting the process.

I think you’ll find that it’s not only easy to build a bee hive, but also kind of fun. And there’s a nice sense of accomplishment in having your hive finished and ready, just waiting for your bees to arrive.


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What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Questions About Inner Cover Not rated yet
You don't explain how the Masonite should be assembled in the rails. The groove in the rails is not centered; there is a deep side and a shallow side. …

Pre-Drilled Holes Not rated yet
Thank you for the easy step-by-step instructions. They are wonderful. I prefer to pre-drill all holes with a bit that is slightly smaller than the …

Color me motivated! Not rated yet
Getting ready to stop procrastinating and assemble my first hive equipment - nucs. Being female with minimal hammer experience, I stumbled upon your site …

Beehive Dimensions Not rated yet
Any chance of some dimensions? --- Hi Jerry, Go to my page about how to build a beehive (which presents an overview rather than the step-by-step …

Complete Greenie - Questions About Foundation & Hive Body Size Not rated yet
Why do you prefer a plastic foundation? I have read that the bees don't take to it easily. Also, you said you use only medium boxes. Is that enough …

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