They’re finished! The first 2 “BCB Top Bar Hives” are complete and ready for some bees.

Mike has written an account of his venture making Bungay Community Bees 2 (fantastic) horizontal Top Bar Hives (hTBH’s), here it is:

I have always loved working with wood and have in the past made all sorts of things, but never a bee hive.

So when, at the October meeting, the discussion turned to this years activities and Top Bar Hives I offered to help design our own version of a TBH and then to initially make 2 for the group for the cost of the materials. Happily, although no one in the group had any previous experience of my woodworking skills my offer was enthusiastically taken up.

The first challenge was to learn enough about TBH beekeeping so I could understand what the key features of the hive needed to be. I started with Phil Chandler’s book ‘The Barefoot Beekeeper’ which provided a very good grounding along with extra information from his website formed the basis of our design. I also took inspiration from ‘’ site and several other designs found via Google image searches.

After several discussions and many emails Elinor, Gemma, Hugh and I arrived at a design that included all the features that we felt were important to give the bees the very best chance of looking after themselves with minimum intervention.

TBH’s really do make a lot of sense, they allow the bees to do their own thing when it comes to building comb as they aren’t following the spacing on an embossed foundation sheet, this in turn helps them to reduce the impact of the varroa mite and be free to produce drone cells when they feel it is necessary. The queen is also free to move around the whole hive which can help to reduce the possibility of swarming.

I was very keen that our design should be distinctive; I personally felt it was important that the joint
between the sides and ends of the hive should be interlocking in nature but relatively simple and quick to cut.

The story of building the hive is best told in pictures ………

We wanted to use as much reclaimed timber as possible in the hive, I couldn’t believe my luck when after phoning around some reclamation yards I found that 3rd Hand Recycling in Norwich had some boards just the right width and so I paid them a visit on the way to work. The boards had been fencing around a horse paddock and were very green but looked sound enough, they also had quite a quantity of roof truss and stud work framing timber so I left with a car full of timber.

After the old fencing had been machined up it became clear that over the years it had become saturated with creosote. This posed a dilemma, although some bee keepers regularly creosote the outside of their hives we wanted to provide the bees in our TBH’s with a completely untainted space. A compromise was reached, the reclaimed timber was to be used for hive parts that the bees wouldn’t come into contact with, while the timber for the main hive body was to be Scots Pine, also known in the timber trade as ‘Redwood’. It is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified as coming from a source that is managed in an environmentally sensitive way.

As well as looking good the pitched roof will shed the rain and provide a space for some natural sheep wool, the ultimate renewable insulation (what a great idea Elinor).

The FSC timber came from A.W.Cusions in Norwich and after another detour on the way to work to collect the timber I made a start gluing the 7” boards together to form the 14” wide hive sides and ends.

The most distinctive feature of our hive is how the sides and ends are joined together; the mortises and tenons were cut using a router and a template, it takes a while to make the template but once it’s done the joints are quick to cut.

This joint provides a strong and secure method of fixing the sides and ends together, it also means that the hive will provide service for many years to come.

It was really exciting to see the hive taking shape and once the tenons had been trimmed off, the ends were cut to shape and the viewing window aperture was cut in the side.

I had a measure up and got enough timber together to make the 52 top bars for both the hives; it came from a variety of sources including reclaimed roof trusses, stud work framing, an old bed frame and part of an unwanted sliding door frame. The bars were cut to length then ripped up on the circular saw to rough dimensions before finally being passed through the thicknesser to provide a smooth accurate finish. The bevelled shoulders were cut first, then the ‘V’ was machined on the underside of the bars, this encourages straight comb building and provides a greater surface area for attachment of comb.

The size and position of the entrance holes closely follow Phil Chandler’s recommendations, small enough to be easily defended but flexible in number to allow for greater activity during peak nectar gathering. There are 2 further entrance holes on the other side of the hive to allow the main body to be divided in two and used to house a split colony. A varroa mesh floor is essential for monitoring Varroa mite levels and allowing the beekeeper to be very specific about applying treatment only when the bees are struggling to stay on top of the problem.

Hugh came across this elegant feeder design built around a top bar, I have lined our feeders with Formica for a long lasting, waterproof and maintenance free life. I made this version our own by including a filler tube and dip stick to check how much feed is left and top up without disturbing the top bars or drowning any bees! There is a wooden raft with holes drilled in that goes inside the tank for the bees to stand on whilst feeding – I just hope they get their sea legs quickly!

The outside of the hive is protected with a linseed oil and bees wax mixture here seen drying out in the sun, there were a few foraging honey bees buzzing around when I was applying the coating but they went on their way after a quick inspection.

The roof is topped off with a sheet of 0.5mm galvanised steel to give a smart weather proof finish. Due to the weight of the roof it was decided to hinge it so that one person could easily open up the hive.

I was pleased to have been able to make these 2 hives for the group, the materials came to just over fifty pounds per hive and they took a combined time of 50-60 hours to make which I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Whilst making the hives I have had many ideas for improvements and ways to make them much more quickly but still keeping the key features. I will make some notes and sketches of the new improved Mk II design and bring them along to a meeting in the future. If anyone else has ideas for further improvements then please get in touch.

If you have been inspired by this blog to have a go at making a TBH (either for yourself or BCB) but feel that you don’t have the skills/tools/confidence to tackle it unaided then watch this space……I am currently in discussion with Lowestoft college looking at the possibility of offering a basic Top Bar Hive building evening class locally in the autumn


If you would like to see Mikes full set of photo’s they can be found via this link