Beekeeping - Open Source CNC Top Bar Hive design

Hold everything!

I discovered this yesterday:

Why is this a problem? I guess I figured I could make frames and add foundation?

A TBH is NOT designed to use frames. It has tapered sides which approximate the natural slant of drawn comb. The TBH usually uses wooden blocks on the top which have a slot into which a small strip of foundation is added. The bees (hopefully) use that as a starting point for drawing out the comb. If they don’t follow the strip, they can end up drawing the comb ACROSS the bars rather than ALONG the bar.

The advantage of the TBH is its relatively simple construction, the lack of specialized tool needed to make them. This LACK of needing special tooling precludes using frames which would require “real” woodworking equipment like a table saw and router and many setups/cutting steps to cut properly. Instead, a block of wood with a groove is all that is needed.

The Horizontal Hive that @Jerry_Kassebaum linked to is more like a stretched Langstroth hive: it uses traditional frames, but rather than a “super” holding 8-10 frames and stacking atop another super as need, this approach uses one very long box to hold the hive - both brood and honey frames.

There are other takes:

  • hobby hives which use smaller boxes which only hold 8 frames for lighter, easier to move full honey supers
  • Medium or shallow supers which are full width but use shorter frames and also weigh less.
  • Some beekeepers use “deep” boxes for brood chambers and mediums for honey. Others use all deeps or all mediums. Some use shallows for comb honey, but others for extracted honey.
  • There are (very expensive) hives with special, two part frames with pre-drawn plastic cells which can be cracked open externally via a crank and the honey extracted. IMHO, equipment which discourages getting into the hive and observing is bad for the hive’s long-term health. If you want to be a beekeeper (not a bee-haver), you have to be willing to get up close and personal with the bees.

The Langstroth hive design is specially made to respect “bee space” everywhere in the hive. The spacing between drawn frames, the spacing between the end bar of the frames and the box, the spacing between the bottom of one frame and the top of the one below it, etc. are ALL designed to be 3/8".

This “bee space” will in turn be respected by the bees and not filled with propolis (if smaller) or burr comb (if larger). This spacing is difficult to get right on homemade equipment, and making homemade equipment compatible with commercial equipment even more so.

AI Root (though no longer in the equipment manufacturing game) and Dadant had differing opinions on box design WRT to where the top/bottom spacing should be, so even between manufacturers you can have compatibility problems.

I guess i meant the little bit of foundation plus top bar as a frame? I guess I dont know what that would be called.

Also I still dont see an issue with using the TBH. I guess my purpose was more of hobby.

The TBH still seems like a reasonable entry point.

I called around to 5 places on the list. I got quotes from 2 places on non-formaldehyde plywood.

Brazos Forest Products
D3 maple $62 per sheet

Central Hardwoods
Birch $125 per sheet

So that still leaves this home depot plywood as the cheapest but brazos isnt too much more expensive. If anyone else is still interested in possibly getting some we can talk about picking some up. I am personally not too worried about the bees sticking the layers together, I am more interested in learning at this point. This seems less tedious to me to build. I was looking at some fully assembled Langstroth, that I would have to drive a ways to get that were $225 each completely assembled with all the fixings 10 frames designs, 2 deeps, 2 supers. I havent really found anything cheaper YET. This seem worth the experiment to me.

Are they all rated “Exterior Grade”? I would think this is must.

And as a non woodworker… that is something that slipped my mind. I did mention bee box. I will have to call back. has an office/warehouse in Paris, TX. You can order from them, pay ground shipping, and still receive things in 1-2 days. Buy them flat-pack and assemble them yourself: two boxes, inner cover, bottom board, etc. and 20 frames would take < 2 hours start to finish.

Putting the boxes together is easy: box joints reinforced with pre-drilled nail holes on each side. I think a deep uses ~40 nails. I recommend gluing with TiteBond 3 before nailing them up.

The frames are a little more work: glue and nails in each corner. Leaving off the nails is a good way to have a frame self-destruct when prying them out of a honey super - messy, messy.

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My Langstroth bee boxes were all plain pine - not plywood, pressure treated lumber, exterior grade, etc. I think well-painted plain pine plywood would last several years, esp. if the TBH was installed under a tin roof which prevented rain directly on the hive. An outer cover would keep rain off of the upward-facing plywood edges.

FWIW, some beekeepers use cypress or cedar boxes and put no finish on them. Others use a clear varnish on the outsides and copper roofs, which can look very nice in a garden setting.

Direct Texas sun is hard on bees, so some sort of cover above the hive is helpful: I had my hives next to a few trees which provided protection from north wind in winter and western sun in the afternoon. Morning sun is good to get the girls up and moving in the morning.

My Hive Woodware Prep

The ends of each board fore the brood box/supers were treated (soaked) with copper napthenate for rot prevention and allowed to air for a few weeks before being assembled with nails and glue and painted (outside only). If I had to do it over, I would probably ditch the nails and use similar-lengthed deck screws instead - they would work better with changing humidity (the insides of the hive can get quite humid).

Use care: Copper Napthenate is the only recommended wood rot preventative for woodware: some others are toxic to bees.

The inside of the boxes is not painted.

Frames are pine and not painted or treated.

The inner cover (typically a rim of pine and thin plywood or MDF for the flat part) were not painted.

Queen excluders were pine and metal grating and were not painted.

The hive base was pine and wire mesh (for better mite prevention) and painted. I started with solid bottom boards and converted them to mesh as that became a recommended practice for handling varroa mites.

The outer cover was treated pine with an aluminum outer sheathing. The wood was painted (outside only) but the aluminum was not.

Over time, the unpainted inner surfaces will all get varnished with propolis by the bees.

I put many of these boxes together in 1996-97. These hive boxes lasted 20+ years before I gifted them to friend who started keeping bees. Some of them subsequently got stomped by some cattle (he keeps bees in a pasture with cows and horses), but others are still in use.


BTW, “Oops” paint from Home Depot is a great source of paint for the exterior if you’re not too picky about the exact color. Light colors are better for heat abatement in the Texas summers.


That was what the instructor told me - we’d have to make sure that it is the right type of pine that allowed to be used with DMS wood working machines.

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Here are a few pics of one of my top bar hives it’s made out of regular pine from home depo. I used a strip of composite roof decking with a pice of metal shingle for the top. I don’t recommend using cedar as bees don’t like it. I have used plywood for years and bees don’t seem to mind for my inner covers and tops in my langstroth hives. Whatever wood you use just paint it and you will be fine. For the legs I used. Plain old wall studs ripped in half. I basically made this out of scraps I had in the garage. I would recommend the same bees don’t care. I use this top bar to actually requeen captured hives and swarms. The biggest thing with a top bar is to get the “bars” cut correctly and waxed. A 1/4 inch grove with wax in a 1x2 or 1x3 works great. I actually made these to fit perfectly into a langstroth hive


I think Adair is suggesting that we label the outside of the hive with a DMS logo when we put it at the park or whatever that the city will allow.


also if anyone wants I have about three hundred deep boxes I need to put together by end of March. 41A28282-076B-44C5-8BEC-7380B59A072B

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