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Top Bar Hive Photos
3 Frame Obs. Hive

Our Beekeeping Hive Component Designs

We have built several items thus far:

1. Top Bar Hive (TBH)

2. Observation Hive (OH)

3. One Miller-type Feeder

4. One Deep Brood box

Click on the links above (or just scroll down) to read a discussion of our design goals

TBH Design Goals

This is a discussion of our design for a customized observation top bar hive (TBH).

These were our design goals:

  1. Ease of use as a ~30 bar TBH.
  2. Viewing area for educational purposes.
  3. Adjustable ventilation for temperature control.
  4. Ability to use industry standard components (frames, inline feeders, entrance feeders, brood boxes, supers), if desired.
  5. Ruggedness of construction with inexpensive materials of construction.
  6. Craftsmanship.

1. Ease of use as a ~30 bar TBH.

We liked the idea of a top bar hive (TBH) for several reasons. Firstly, we are amateur (read newbie, beginner) beekeepers. It seemed to us that a TBH would particularly suit our needs and environment. Our hive is in our backyard in a suburban neighborhood. Therefore, it is small in scale and not meant for serious honey production or queen rearing. It's only for education and enjoyment. We didn't want to (rather my wife wouldn't let me) spend a lot of money in "extraneous" equipment (electric capping knives, extractors, etc.). We like the fact that we can just lift a bar, cut the comb and just press out the honey, then replace the bar. (No special extracting equipment required.) We also like the fact that there is minimal disturbance to the bees. We really don't like biting/stinging insects. We live in Texas and have been bitten or stung countless times by wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, fire ants (you can have mine), spiders, mosquitoes (our state bird) and only a few bees. I hope beekeeping will help me get over my aversion to stinging insects. We believe the top bar design will keep the number of bees flying around us as we work (and others observe) to a minimum. The lifting of just a single bar at a time as opposed to an entire heavy super is also more attractive. We also just like to be different some times. ;-)

2. Viewing area for educational purposes.

We don't know how well our bees will go over with the neighbors (or my wife). We therefore plan to give away as much honey as possible (to avoid visits from the Homeowners Association Secret Police). ;-) We also want to be able to show my kids, their friends and all other curious parties how fascinating a beehive really is. It is just so much easier to appreciate when one can see the inner workings of the hive (instead of some boring white rectangular box --- yawn). We had been "pack-ratting" a 1/4" tempered glass shelf for years. The wife said it must go so ... beehive windows! We hope being able to see inside the hive will help us learn.

3. Adjustable ventilation for temperature control.

As we stated above, We live in Texas (Houston). We have one day of winter and 364 days of summer! (Spring, Fall ... what is that?) We wanted to have plenty of ventilation ports available to be able to cool the hive in our Texas heat so the bees didn't have to work so hard to keep the hive cool. We made it so that the ports could be closed in case we ever do have a cold day again. (We barely remember those now. Needless to say, sauna sales are pretty low here in Houston when they are free outside most days!)

4. Ability to use industry standard components.

We made the external width of the box (19.875") so it would be the same width as standard Langstroth supers. If we want, we can remove one or more bars and place a "queen excluder bar" in its place. Then we can add one or more supers right on top of our TBH. These would be used in case we were going to be away for a week or so to give the hive room to grow. Or, in case the bees make so much honey they need more production area (in our dreams). We also rabbeted the inside edge of the sides and constructed them of such a height that standard Dadant type brood frames for Langstroth hives can be used. Maybe one day we will want to move away from top bars and move to "the frames the pros use". We think this design will easily allow us to do so. We could also install division board feeders.

5. Ruggedness with inexpensive materials.

We made the design to incorporate as much "One by" (3/4" thick) material as possible. This size pine is inexpensive and readily available in our area. I've worked in the oil field service industry and there ruggedness is measured in terms like; heavy duty, extra heavy duty and "worm-proof". The box is not made of steel and can burn, so we'll just call it extra heavy duty.

6. Craftsmanship.

We like woodworking. We also like power and hand tools. We'll tackle just about any "honey-do" around the house as long as we get to buy a new tool with which to perform the work (Hey, why use a single adjustable wrench when a complete set of every metric and US standard box and open end wrenches known to man will work just as well.) Luckily, materials for the "honey-do's" (lumber, pipe, dirt, etc.) are sold in the same store as all of those fine tools. (So remember, when the wife asks for a new set of shelves, you say "Sure, I'll just run out and buy some wood right quick" - but don't forget your new dado blade, digital tape measure and electronic level while you are there. Let's just keep this our little secret, ok?) Back to the craftsmanship. we used a lot of rabbets, box joints, slots, etc. in the making of this hive. Most were totally unnecessary. However, we think they do make the finished product much more attractive. (Besides, I had to justify to the wife, the use of my new router table and 10" table saw  --- both made by Sears --- hence our CRAFTSMANship.)

Uncertainties

  • We didn't want our bees to get too hot so we cut several (6) 2 inch diameter vent holes. But we saved the wooden plugs just in case we want to reinstall them later. We installed window screen on the inside covering the vent holes. We don't know if the bees will block the vents with propolis.
  • Our window is more complicated than necessary, but we made it work with the tempered glass we had. We installed window screen on the inside covering the window opening. We don't know if the bees will block the window with propolis.
  • We made slots in the interior of the hive into which we can install boards. Solid boards will effectively divide the hive into three equal areas. We are guessing that the bees will actually begin brood combs in the middle third of the hive. After they are well established we could install boards with queen excluders to separate the outer two sections, effectively turning these sections into "supers". We'll see if the bees agree.

OH Design Goals

Our inspiration for the 3-frame observation hive came from the plans available at BeeSource.com. We did, however, change up these plans to suit our tastes. These were our design goals:
  1. Ease of service and maintenance
  2. Viewing area for educational purposes.
  3. Ability to use industry standard components (frames, inline feeders, entrance feeders).
  4. Ruggedness of construction with inexpensive materials of construction.
  5. Craftsmanship.

1. Ease of service and maintenance

We decided to mount our entrance feeder at the top of the hive rather than the bottom rear. This allowed us to mount pivot brackets on the top and bottom of the hive. The hive can be rotated 180 degrees to allow us to easily view either side of the hive.

We decided to make the glass on one side as part of an actual door. This makes it easy to get into the hive to work with the frames. This glass door has three cam locks which binds the door tightly to the hive and prevents unauthorized entry.

We made the top of the hive hinged so that bees could be added easily from a package by just pouring them into the top.

We made the feeder top hinged to allow easy servicing of the jar and to secure it tightly in place.

2. Viewing area for educational purposes

We have three doors on our hive. The two outer doors protect the hive from the sun and, in winter, the cold. On the left side, the outer door opens to a full glass window. On the right side, the outer door opens to a full glass door. Since the hive is mounted on pivots, it can easily be swung to view either side. The entrance and the feeder entrance are also viewable from either side. Since the hive is only one frame thick, the queen can be observed at all times.

3. Ability to use industry standard components.

The hive uses 3 standard deep frames and a standard entrance feeder jar.

4. Ruggedness of construction with inexpensive materials of construction.

The entire hive is made of inexpensive white and yellow pine that has been stained (exterior surfaces only) with a water resistant stain. The hinges and clasps are brass and the fasteners are galvanized or stainless steel. The only area where we skimped was the glass. We used standard window pane glass. However, we recommend that safety glass be used, especially if your OH will be indoors or will be visited by little children (or clumsy adults).

5. Craftsmanship

See No. 6 above.

Uncertainties

  • We added 3/4" vent holes as per the plans on BeeSource. However, they sure do look small to me and I wonder if they will allow enough heat to escape the hive.
  • We placed our feeder on top of the hive. We realize that this is not a normal ways to feed. They usually don't bring food down from the top of the hive but instead usually bring it in form the lower entrance and store it in the top of the hive. We'll see how they like it.

Miller-type Feeder

We built a Miller-type feeder from the plans available at BeeSource. We did modify these plans just a little. We decided to use clear 1/8" Plexiglas as our bottom board. This only required us to make a dado as wide as our saw blade (instead of the 1/4" dado required for the plan's 1/4" luan plywood.  This allows us to be able to see down into the hive (the top of the uppermost super). We can now safely show the bees to others by just lifting of the outer and inner cover and looking through the feeder. The screen over the feeder's entrance keeps the bees from being able to fly out.