Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 2

Part 2 - Constructing the hive body

(Click here for Part 1 - Getting Started)

Please note that the parts of this page in cyan are still under construction. 

On this page:
  • The choice of materials
  • Pre-cutting the parts
  • Assembling the body
1. The choice of materials
Let's bet back to basics. Sustainable beekeeping is primarily about giving the bees what they would naturally choose for themselves. A great principle we must try to keep to but given their first choice would probably be a tree trunk with a cavity inside which are not readily available let alone portable, we are going to have to make some compromises. Your hive should be made of wood to help replicate that tree but what wood to choose from all the varieties available can seem quite daunting.

Your first choice may be between new timber and old. If it is available old timber will probably have weathered and have given off any gases or poisons it was treated with in the manufacturing process. Yes, most timber is treated before sale especially to protect it against wood boring insects and fungus attack; after all you wouldn't want your new window sill to get dry rot or woodworm when you have just replaced it. In all probability the majority of these 'treatments' will not directly harm the bees but you never know so you may choose to avoid them.

If you can't find a source of old wood then reclaimed timber has certain 'sustainability' advantages; it's certainly good for the planet. I successfully make hives from old pallet wood which gives me a feeling of pride and is certainly cheap. However, old pallets do come with certain disadvantages. It can be hard to get pallets of the required thickness (at least 3/4 inch), there is certainly more work in using pallets as you have to disassemble them which is no easy task and then you have more pieces to work with making construction more challenging. You also need to be aware that pallets that carry international goods have to be treated with pesticides by law - again countries don't want foreign wood boring beasts and fungi to hitch a ride on an imported pallet. If you choose pallets it is best to try and choose older weathered pallets from 'one off' sales i.e. the manufacturer does not expect it to be returned. Of course your choice will be limited so again you may have to make compromises.

If you choose new timber it will mostly be treated. Bear in mind there is generally 2 choices between indoor and outdoor use timber. Outdoor timber will be tanalised (pressure treated with chemical preservative) to protect it from the wet, insects and rot. This is good in that tanalised timber does not need constant treating and will take years to rot. On the other hand it will be wet from the tanalising process and retain some of the 'nasty' chemicals that the bees may reject and abscond or worse (!) for quite some time. If you choose outdoor timber make your hive in plenty of time before the season starts so that it can weather for a few months to give off its damp and chemical cocktail. Also newly tanalised wood will be wet and heavy.

Indoor timber will still be treated and may not last outside without repeated treatments so is possibly the worst choice of all, then again if it available and cheap it may prove to be your personal best choice.

Arguably the best is untreated timber. You can get it from timber merchants but you have to order it specially and it consequently tends to be more expensive. I've never quite worked out why natural untreated wood is more pricey than treated! Ideally use seasoned untreated timber but this is very difficult to find. If you use new untreated timber it does warp and can arrive slightly warped and split so can be a challenge to work with. Be sure to do your construction as soon after delivery as possible or the warping will continue. Once glued in place it is less likely to warp. One trick you can employ with new timber is to 'toast' the hive by brushing it with a blow-lamp before using it - see this YouTube video (Fast Forward to 2:35 mins). Apparently this process reduces the volatile compounds in odoriferous woods such as pine.

Finally, conventional beehives are traditionally made from expensive harder woods. This is because they needed to be machine made to tight tolerances with expensive jointing so are very expensive. If you buy an expensive hive then you don't want it to rot quickly because it is made from a cheap material. Of course, if it is available to you these better timbers like red cedar are suitable to use.

In the top bar hive world we don't need these expensive timbers as the hives are uncomplicated and made with simple butt joints. They are easy to paint and will last for years if kept off the ground away from rising damp. Cheaper timbers like spruce or pine are sufficient for our needs and if you are really unlucky you don't mind replacing a cheap hive with a new one after a few years if it only cost you a few pounds and was easy to make in the first place.

As to costs I have made recycled pallet hives for just the cost of some glue, some screws and my time and what satisfaction these hive gave me. Alternatively I have made them using new timber from my local merchants for around £30 to £40 each. Compare that to a Thornes National at over £260 plus internals or an Omlet Beehause at £465!

You need to base your decision on the above and what is easily and cheaply available to you - as I said it's a matter of making compromises.

2. Pre-cutting the parts
Follow the guidance in the Biobees plan you downloaded in part 1 of this section.

3. Assembling the body
Follow the guidance in the Biobees plan you downloaded in part 1 of this section.

© Robin Morris - YABeeP 

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