Bee Hive Manual

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The Ethiopian and Indonesian apicultural sectors are underdeveloped. There is limited access and knowledge on modern beekeeping practices and beekeeping equipment, like modern hive types. To improve the beekeeping situation in the two target countries and to strengthen the international cooperation with the European Union, Kibebew Wakjira from the Holeta Bee Research Center in Ethiopia developed a modern hive system, that is based on the existing and widely used Langstroth system, and has the potential to be used as a standard for Ethiopian A. mellifera bee colonies. Adaptions on the existing system also allow its use for A. cerana, the mostly managed Apis species in Indonesia.

The aim of this chapter is not only to copy the detailed measurements of the hive which is suitable for A. mellifera colonies in Ethiopia, but to have access to a manual on how to build a modern beehive. The procedure of hive construction and operation by using an adapted Langstroth hive is given in this chapter. The detailed measurements for the bee space, cell depth, comb thickness and other parameters of the hive system were assessed through a study on local honey bee colonies in traditional hives and through workshops with local beekeeping institutions. The whole manuscript is available through download with the link at the bottom of this page.

Tools and materials required for the hive construction:

Figure 1: The beehive and its most important compartments.

1. Tools

  • Thick Measure Feeler for adjusting thickness and surface smoothing
  • Circular (buzz) saw for cutting wood
  • Jointer machine for smoothing edges and creating side bar shoulders
  • Measuring tape
  • Digital caliper
  • Framing square or drywall
  • T-square
  • Table saw
  • Saber saw (sword with a slightly curved blade that is sharp on one edge)
  • Putty knife or chisel,
  • Hammer
  • Clamps
  • Power Drill - drill with bits
  • Jigsaw
  • Chop saw
  • Sanding block
  • Carpenter’s square (or a frame jig)
  • Carbide - tip blade

2. Materials

  • Waterproofed wood glue
  • 19 mm thick waterproofed plywood
  • 5 mm thick waterproofed plywood
  • 5 and 8 cm galvanized nails
  • 3 cm hardened trim nails (small nails)
  • Cigar box nails (16 mm shoe nail)
  • Timber for frames
  • Timber for entrance block/reducer
  • Lumber of thickness 20 mm after finished

Recommended wood for the beehive should not be soft woods. The boards must be dry and without cracks or rot

The most important parts of a Langstroth (and Dadant) beehive (figure 1)

  • a loose bottom board
  • a bottomless brood chamber (in front an entrance block, 10 frames per chamber)
  • queen excluder (optional; placed horizontally on top of the brood chamber
  • based on the population size of the colony, one or more honey supers (10 frames each; placed on top of the brood chamber)
  • an inner cover (~ 5 mm thick; placed on top of chambers)
  • the total hive system is covered by an outer cover made of wood which is covered with an aluminium or zinc sheet (cover should fit easily over the chambers)


A frame is a structure, which is used by the bees to build their storage combs to rear brood, store pollen, nectar and/or honey. Frames are constructed in such a way, that a series of them may be placed in a vertical position in the brood and/or honey chambers. The "bee space" in between is necessary for the bees to move freely. The top bar has to extend equally on both sides of the frame. A frame has a top bar, two sidebars and one bottom bar. The dimensions and the delineation of a frame are shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: Standard frame with its dimensions.

Step 1: Top bar

The top bar is 480 mm long, 20 mm thick and 25 mm wide. Well-dried wood should be used for the whole construction to prevent swelling and shrinking. Cut notches of 5 mm depth on the two sides and 10 mm depth on the bottom at 35 mm from the two ends to fit the top bars into the side bars (figure 2). Then the ends of the top bar shall be joined into the side bars by these notches for facilitating the hanging for the frames. It is important to use grooved top bar frames to facilitate fixing of foundation, which otherwise warp if not inserted into the 5 mm deep groove.

Step 2: Bottom bar

The bottom bar is based on the top bar’s size: 440 mm long, 20 mm wide and 10 mm thick. To fit perfectly to the side bars, cutting notch of 2.5 mm depth on the two sides at 15 mm from the two ends is important to fit the bottom bars into the side bars (figure 2). Then the ends of the bottom bars shall be joined into the side bars by these notches.

Step 3: Side bars

The side bars are important parts of the frame to determine the bee space in the hive. So the side bars should be of shoulder type. The side bar is 15 mm thick, 36 mm wide at the top and 27 mm wide at the bottom to provide the required bee space. The total length should be 230 mm having four holes for wire reinforcement every 57.5 mm. The hole is made at the center of the two side bars. This will give the holes at 37.5 mm away from the top bar and 47.5 mm away from the bottom bar while the remaining holes are made in a distance of 57.5 mm from each other. To facilitate the fitting of top and bottom bars with the side bars, cut two 10 mm deep grooves at 15 mm wide from the center and remove the cut from the center by leaving of two forks on the sides.

Step 4: Assembling and wiring the frames

Frame parts require precision to ensure proper services. It is important to make grooves of 55 mm depth centered on the bottom side of the top bar frames to facilitate fixing of the wax foundation. Use only specified frame nails (30 mm) to ensure that the frames remain square and hang properly in the chamber including the correct bee space. Wood glue shall be used prior nailing. Assemble the frame, and drive 2 cigar box nails (16 mm) into the end bar at two corners of a side bar. When building a deeper frame, the builder should use a square (or a frame jig). It is important to use a carpenter’s square to check the frames dimensions and angle. Assembling starts out by applying a dab of glue to each end of the top and bottom bars (figure 3). After complete nailing and checking the frame, it becomes important to cross nail the side bars and top bar for durability.

Figure 3: Assembling of frames: A) applying glue, B) nailing C) checking frame angle by using carpenter’s square

The frames need to be wired. For maximum strength and longevity, use four horizontal standard food grade stainless steel frame wires (figure 4). The wires should be drawn tight and secured with 16 mm cigar box nails.

Figure 4: Wiring frames using food grade stainless steel frame wire.

Entrance block

The entrance block is a block placed in front of the hive on the bottom board to limit the entrance gate of the beehive. Usually, the entrance has a suitable size depending on the bee race. It fits between the bottom board and the first chamber and protects the bees from various pests and predators.

Figure 5: Entrance block and its dimensions.

Step 1

The entrance block's dimensions: 390 mm long, 50 mm high, and 19 mm wide for the Langstroth. For the bees' entrance, a 15 mm wide and 150 mm long cut is made in the middle of the 390 mm length. The entrance block can be removed during the hot season for air circulation (figure 5).

Bottom board

The bottom board is designed as a flat, four-sided rectangular wooden box on which the hive body is placed. It has ledges on three sides of the board and one slit in the front, which is usually covered by the entrance block. The mite floor is also a four-sided rectangular board to monitor pests within the colony. It is constructed from waterproofed plywood with sticky glue on it to trap small pests like varroa mites and larvae of the small hive beetle.

Figure 6: Dimensions and different views of the bottom board.

Step 1

Cut two pieces of wood into a length of 585 mm and a height of 40 mm and one piece of wood 370 mm long and 40 mm high. Create a 5 mm wide and 5 mm deep groove 10 mm from the edge of the pieces slotting for placing the mite board. Also cut one piece of wood 370 mm long and 25 mm high but no do not put a groove here. This 25 mm wide wood piece is to create an open back silt at the bottom back of the bottom board designed primary to be covered by placing the mite board made of 5 mm thick plywood covered with a sticky glue for pest control (e.g. varroa mite and or larvae of the small hive beetle). This thin 5 mm plywood have to be fitted to a 370 mm long and 20 mm wide piece of wood with a 6 mm wide and 5 mm deep groove at its center to facilitate placing and removing the mite board.

Step 2

To start construction of the bottom board, align these four wood pieces to form a rectangle, sandwiching the shorter pieces inside the longer ones. Nail together the two sides using the 5 cm long, galvanized nails. Attach a piece of 19 mm waterproofed plywood to cover the bottom, using galvanized nails of appropriate size. To facilitate the stage for the entrance block and create a landing board for bees, form a small 80 mm x 370 mm rectangle on one side (front) and a bigger rectangle 505 mm x 370 mm on another side of the bottom board, by inserting a piece of wood with the following size: 370 mm long, 40 mm high and 20 mm wide between the 585 mm long sides.

Step 3

Cut a rectangular wire greed of 390 mm x 485 mm of mesh size between 3 x 3 mm to perfectly stretch over the bigger rectangle of 505 mm x 370 mm. This construction serves as screening method. Parasitic mites and other small pests that drop to the bottom of the hive fall through the wire mesh and are prevented from crawling back up. The smaller box created at the front serves as stage for the entrance block and landing board for bees have to be covered by a 370 mm long and 85 mm wide waterproofed plywood of 5 mm thickness.

Step 4

This assembled system shall be equipped with wooden rims on the two sides and back, the front left to be covered by the entrance block. The dimensions of the wood rims shall be of two pieces of 585 mm length, 20 mm height and 20 mm width and the other one of 370 mm length, 20 mm height and 20 mm width on top of the wire grid. Nail in place using trim nails. These wooden rims shall form a pivot on which the hive parts are placed. The rims also create a gap at the bottom of the brood chamber for the bees to freely move and allow air circulation.

Roof or top cover/lid

The key feature is that the cover is telescopic and extends down the sides of the hive body on which it is placed (figure 7). This provides maximum protection and reduces the risk of rain seeping into the top chamber. The outside lid is a four-sided wooden plate, covered by a thin metal sheet of 0.5 mm and is always placed on the topmost chamber of the hive.

Figure 7: Different views of the top hive cover with its dimensions.

Step 1

The top cover's side wall shall be from well-dried quality wood, with a wood thickness of 20 mm. The roof under the telescopic cover shall be of 19 mm thick waterproofed plywood or alternative from a well-dried wood but should not be more than two pieces joined together.

Step 2

Cut the lumber (550 mm X 400 mm X 65 mm; L X W X H) and form a rectangle, sandwiching the shorter pieces inside the longer ones. Nail together the two sides using 8 cm galvanized nails. Attach the telescoping top cover to plywood and use appropriate nails.

Step 3

The telescopic roof shall be suitably covered with a plain sheet of metal to protect the hive from rain. The sheet shall extend down below the edges of the top cover (figure 7).

Inner cover/lid

The Inner cover is a four-sided, rectangular wooden box without a top and bottom. A waterproofed plywood separator screen with a passage hole is placed in the middle. Bees can visit the upper part of the inner cover through that hole. The inner cover serves as a "feeding station" for the provided supplemental food (e.g. sugar syrup or pollen patties) during dearth periods. The dimension of the inner cover consists of plywood to perfectly fit with wooden rims dimensions, similar to the hive chambers (figure 8).

Figure 8: Dimensions and views of the inner cover equipped with wooden rims on the bottom and top parts.

Step 1

The wooden rims consist of two pieces with dimensions of 505 mm length, 40 mm height and 20 mm width and two pieces with dimensions of 365 mm X 40 mm X 20 mm (L X H X W). By using a table saw, make a 10 mm deep by 5 mm wide groove at 10 mm distance from the edge of the 40 mm high wood pieces. Slide the 5 mm thick plywood into that groove.

Step 2

At the center of the inner cover, a rectangular space of about 50 mm x 80 mm is cut and a tight ledge of 15 mm height and 30 mm width have to be erected to facilitate provision of feeds.

Brood and honey chamber

The constructed hive bodies will protect the colony from external environmental factors (cold, wind, rain etc.) and must be long-living. The dimensions were chosen based on the four workshops. Brood and honey chambers are four-sided wooden boxes of rectangular cross-section without a top or a bottom, in which the (brood) frames are placed. The chamberers constructed in this manual hold 10 frames.

Figure 9: Dimensions and different views of a hive chamber.

Step 1

From a straight, well smoothed surface and edge lumber/timber, cut two pieces 505 mm long and two pieces 365 mm long for the sides of the hive chambers. Split them to match the height of the frames plus bee space.

Step 2

Rip each piece to a height of 240 mm. Use the table saw to cut a 15 mm deep by 10 mm wide notch out of the short side of each of the wood pieces. Complete the rabbet by making repeated cuts, moving the board away from the fence for each cut and crack away the slivers of wood. Then smooth the rabbet using a sander.

Step 3

Ten hive frames will rest on top of these notches inside each super when the hive is assembled. Use the power drill fitted with the 3 mm bit, drill holes along the edges of the specified longer pieces. Drilling pilot holes first helps to avoid splitting the wood. Fasten a clamp at the bottom of the vertical sides to support them as you work.

Step 4

Apply glue to the joints and then hammer a galvanized nail into each pre-drilled hole to fasten its sides to create a box by sandwiching the shorter pieces inside the longer pieces. Insert a frame to confirm that it slips easily into the super. It should hang from the rabbet and have a little play at each end. The super should accommodate 10 frames with 10 mm “bee space” in between. Make the handle pieces using the power drill fitted with the 4 mm bit, drill 3 holes along the length of each handle piece, and attach them to the supers using 40 mm long screws on each side. Repeat these steps with the remaining specified wood pieces to make more chambers/supers.

Figure 10: Building a hive chamber.

Step 5

By using table saw, cut a notch, called rabbet, 15 mm deep and 10 mm wide into the shorter side to hold the frames so that the fence of 15 mm of 10 mm thick will remain to cover the hanging frames in each chamber. There shall be fixed hand holders with the following dimensions: 25 mm thick, 40 mm wide and 150 mm long on all the four sides of the outer faces of the chambers for lifting up the hive parts during hive operations.

Finishing the beehive

The different parts of the beehives should have a smooth finish by sanding and all edges should be trimmed square and smooth. All joints shall be sound and shall withstand normal use. For all types of beehive walls of chambers and roofs shall be joined by box corner joints, or tongue joints, properly nailed. When specified nails used for joints, there shall be one nail at each point. The distance between two consecutive nails shall be not more than 75 mm.

Painting the hive

Parts of the beehive exposed directly to weather should be painted with a suitable protective paint (leave the inside natural). The paint shall be nontoxic and shall not have any odor disagreeable to the bees and products of the hive. The color of the paint is not important, but white or yellow can be prefered over dark colors. Before painting the hive, it is important to coat the hive in an exterior primer before putting on the final coat of paint. Oil based exterior primer for better weather protection is recommended, but any type of exterior primer will work (figure 11).

Figure 11: Painting of the bottom board and inner cover.

For Hive operation and bee management, download the full version of the document [1]


  1. Kibebew Wakjira (2018). Manual on Beehive construction and Operation. A deliverable within the European Union's 2020 Horizon project SAMS -"Smart Apiculture Management Services". File:Deliverable WP3 1 BeehiveManual.pdf