Beehive Plans – Choosing the Wood

Tree hives

Beehive plans – choosing the wood

“My name is Sarah and I’m a woodworkphobe”. I can’t put up shelves and thought of making my own beehive fills me with dread. You might ask how did I come to be ordering wood to make a beehive when I am so clearly unqualified!

Making Top-Bar Hives

I’m lucky enough to be initiating a project to make top bar beehives at the woodwork shop where I work. The plan is to sell them on eBay. All I had to do was give the beehive plans that I downloaded free from Phil Chandler’s website to the carpenter and order that wood to the specification in the plans. Chandler tells you exact measurements and what wood to buy.

Douglas fir and red cedar

There are two types of wood recommended: Douglas fir and Western red Cedar. Red Cedar is usually the first choice for beehives as, although it is a softwood, it has good preservative qualities and therefore lasts longer. It doesn’t need to be painted, in fact you can’t paint it even if you wanted to until it has weathered for at least a year. This is the wood that National hives, the most common hive in the UK, are made of.

Douglas fir is another softwood, a pine, that does need some protection if it is to last any length of time. Natural beekeepers have to be careful about preservatives but that too is another subject [see Painting hives]

Red Cedar is more expensive and also, in the UK, more difficult to get hold of. I felt myself very clever to have a found source on the Internet that was also very local. More importantly it was cheap. The same place offered Douglas fir to so I smugly ordered enough for five top bar hives — three Douglas fir and two red Cedar. We’d make a Douglas fir hive first and paint it with the lovely (if pricey) IKEO paints, take its picture and plonk it on eBay.

To-ing and fro-ing e-mails finally got costs, payment method and collection sorted and I waited for the nod to come and collect it. And waited. And waited a bit more. Chased once or twice and then bingo — collection morning dawned. I was quite excited to finally be getting the project off the ground and turned up on a sunny morning in a beautiful spot, a huge yard full of trees in various states of undress. As I drove away with my load the car was filled with the most beautiful smell of pine. Unloaded, stacked, counted and checked — it was all present and correct (although it was difficult to distinguish between the Cedar and Fir for the small top bar pieces).

Wet wood?

It dawned on me slowly the next day that something was wrong. That gorgeous smelling wood had been damp. Not damp from the rain but from within. The term ‘green sawn’ floated to the front of my mind and I realised the awful mistake I’ve made.

Greenwood. Fresh cut. Unseasoned. I desperately tried to find confirmation that it would be okay to build the hives with unseasoned wood but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t. Naturally bees make their homes in a hollow tree trunks. The tree is dead and the wood is dry. They don’t like the damp.

So wood purchase number two. I had to start the whole process again and now it was urgent as bee season was fast approaching.

7 Responses to “Beehive Plans – Choosing the Wood”

  1. admin on

    We bought seasoned Douglas fir but it was too late to make and sell them in spring 2011. They are ready to go for 2012 and now the green wood is ready to use. All’s well that… hope they sell!

  2. admin on

    It’s a while since I bought it and costs have changed a lot plus it’s difficult to give a price per metre as the pieces are so variable. It worked out at approx £65 for each top bar hive, 2 years ago. The green sawn cedar was about the same price as the Douglas fir but seasoned red cedar is more expensive.
    To be frank I wouldn’t make top bar hives again but Warre – much easier to make and more flexible to use.

  3. Burt Crapo on

    I am looking to build hives from red wood as I can get it readily. Is there a reason I shouldn’t? Also, I plan to use a preservative to seal the wood. Is linseed oil workable or do I need to use something else? I have access to bees wax and I was planning to use that over the top of the stain to preserve the coloration of the wood as I do not plan to paint it.


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