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Build a Top Bar Beehive from Scrap Wood

By Edited Jun 22, 2015 0 1

How To Build A Top Bar Hive

Many new beekeepers decide to build a top bar beehive as they are interested in getting involved in beekeeping but the relatively high cost of commercial beekeeping equipment puts them off. The hobby of beekeeping is a very interesting and rewarding, not least because you are able to produce your own honey, pollen and even propolis and royal jelly if you desire.  Don't let the high cost of commerical beekeeping equipment stop you, learn to build your own top bar beehive with the plans below.

Build Your Own Bee Hives

Even if you’re an experienced beekeeper, perhaps you would like to try something a little different. Building a top bar bee hive, also known as a warre bee hive, may be for you. A top bar hive is a very economical alternative to the standard Langstroth hives the majority of commercial beekeepers use today. You can quickly and easily build your own top bar hive for next to nothing using scrap wood.  The information presented here should be sufficient to build your own top bar beehive but if you would feel more comfortable having complete beehive plans and a video guide you can purchase a complete top bar beehive construction guide for a small fee.

Another excellent resource is the Barefoot Beekeeper.  In addition to giving information on bee hive plans it also covers low impact, low cost, chemical free beekeeping for the beekeeping hobbyist or those interested in a self sufficient lifestyle.  You find more information on the Barefoot Beekeeper here.

Open Top Bar Bee Hive
The top bar beehive, or warre beehive, is nothing new. Hives of this type have been used for thousands of years. Top bar hives are made up of only three components: the hive body, top bars and a cover. The hive body itself is simply a trough type box with enough room for the colony. A simple hole cut in the hive body provides the entrance. A fourth component, though not strictly necessary is the addition of legs or a base for the hive to rest on. This will allow the beehive to be placed at a convenient working
Top Bar Bee Hive Plan
height for the beekeeper and also provide some protection against rodents and other pests which may try to disturb the hive if it were placed close to the ground.

Benefits of a Top Bar Hive

Besides the significant cost savings compared to a typical Langstroth hive, there are other benefits to a top bar hive as well. These benefits include:

• Easier access to the colony
• Eliminates repetitive, heavy lifting
• Extracting equipment is unnecessary
• Greatly simplifies comb rotation
• Simple construction
Weather tight
• Has a low center of gravity and won’t easily tip over
• Can be custom made and built to suit available building materials and local conditions

To build your own top bar hive using our top bar bee hive plan you need just a few materials:

Top Bar Hive Materials List:

Scrap wood (of course you can use other lumber if you have it on hand)

Exterior coated screws

Small amount of beeswax

Top Bar Beehive Plan

When selecting your scrap or pallet wood use only wood which is sound with no signs of weakness or rot. Many pallets are made using cedar or cypress wood. If you are able to find this it will be ideal as cedar is naturally resistant to rot.

Your end boards may be of any size, it depends on how large you wish the hive to be. Boards that are about 2’X 2’ are a good size. Take the boards you will use for the two ends and mark a roughly 30 degree angled line on the side of each. Once you have the lines marked, double check your measurements and then cut. You can now cut the sides, depending on the size of the end pieces you used you may need to use two or more boards per side. This is fine; just remember to fit them tightly once you join the sides and ends. The width of the side boards needed will be determined by the length of your angled cut on your side boards.

Once both the end and side boards have been cut, join them loosely together, pre-drill holes for the screws and screw them firmly together. The number of holes and screws needed will be determined by how many boards you needed to use for each side. You should use a minimum of two screws per side board at each end.

Now that you have the basic frame of the top bar hive you can turn it upside down and get measure the dimensions of the board you will need to cut to use as the bottom board. Once this is cut, fit together as before, pre-drill holes for your screws and screw it on.

Now you are ready to add the top bars. The length of these is determined by the length of the bee hive body you have just built. Make each exactly 1 3/8 in width and the correct length for the hive. They will later be set on top of the hive body and spaced 3/16” apart. These are the only two measurements which matter – 1 3/8” top bars and maintaining a space of 3/16” between each top bar and between the top bars and the side walls. This spacing is a natural ‘bee space’ that bees will leave between combs on their own to facilitate their movement around the combs. The bees will attach their comb the top bars and maintain this space between the combs as they work them out towards the sides and bottom of the hive.
You will achieve the best results if you can provide the bees with a straight comb building guide of some kind. The best way to do this is cutting a shallow groove down the center of each top bar using a circular saw. The grooves should be about 1/8” to ¼” deep. After you have cut all your top bars and grooved them, fill the grooves with melted beeswax and allow it to cool. This will provide the bees with a clear indication of where they should begin to build their comb.

For the roof, cut a piece of plywood large enough to extend over the top opening by ¾” or more. This will help to keep excess moisture away from the hive body. This can be secured to the top of the beehive either using hinges or constructing runner boards just large enough to snugly fit over the hive body itself.

Finally, select one side of your top bar hive to serve as the front and cut an entrance hole for the bees. The hole should be ¼” in height and approximately 6” long.

Your top bar hive is now essentially finished. However, unless you are using cedar wood or don’t intend to use the hive for more than a season or two, you should give some thought to painting the exterior of the beehive body with an exterior paint. You can use any spare exterior house paint or waterproof paint you may have around, although a lighter color is generally best. You can also attach legs to your hive at this point if you wish as well. Now, all that’s left is to decide where best to place your top bar hive and introduce the bees to their new home.  Once you built your first beehive with these top bar plans it'll be much easier the second time around.

Top Bar Bee Hive Plans

The Barefoot Beekeeper
Amazon Price: $21.61 $19.13 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 22, 2015)


Dec 30, 2011 11:33pm
I thought a top bar beehive and warre beehive were different? I've been looking into both and hope to build one or both to get in to some beekeeping. Thanks for article.
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