The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langstroth
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  1. #1
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    Default The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langstroth

    I'm going to post most of what I have learned about frames over the course of 46 years. Some of this might be useful to someone sometime in the future.

    Frames revolve around the concept of bee space. Get it wrong and the bees will glue the frames in place so that you can't possibly pull them out. Get them too wide and bridge and brace comb will drive you nuts. What exactly is bee space? It is a gap from 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch that bees will not normally propolize over or build comb in. Langstroth recognized this space and applied it first by leaving a gap above his primitive frames to keep the bees from gluing the cover down. When he thought about this a bit, he realized that a frame could be made with a bee space on each end, at the top and below the bottom. He then designed and patented a hive that incorporated the principle of bee space. This hive is the basis of most U.S. beekeeping today. Takeaway: Beespace is 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch!

    Lets start with discussing frame rests. These are normally called Rabbetts in the U.S. or Rebates on the other side of the pond. Frame rests can be made various sizes depending on manufacturer. Standard is supposed to be 3/8 inch wide and 5/8 inch depth. Some manufacturers also offer 7/8 inch depth which is intended to be used with metal frame supports nailed onto the frame rest. I've seen homemade boxes with 1/2 and 3/8 inch frame rests. These are entirely inadequate to maintain proper bee space. Takeaway: Verify that your frame rests are 5/8 inch deep!

    The frames we use today were not designed by Langstroth. They were designed by a guy named Hoffman. The major difference was that Hoffman used a thick top bar where Langstroth used a thinner strip of wood. The advantage of the Hoffman top bar was such that most frames made today are based on the Hoffman design. The problem is that dimensions of frame parts are NOT standard among the various manufacturers. You can't buy a frame from Betterbee and expect to interchange parts with a frame from Kelley. Takeaway: buy frames from one supplier to make your days simpler!

    Frames can be assembled with nails, staples, glue, made from plastic, combinations of plastic and wood, etc. I prefer wood frames for a lot of reasons most of which involve durability and easy acceptance by the bees. Plastic frames can cause various problems with severe cross combing being the worst. For this discussion, I will only address wooden frames. Takeaway: I don't like plastic frames!

    So what are the most common errors in frame manufacture? The first is a design flaw. 9 5/8 inch depth Langstroth deep hives are fitted with 9 1/8 inch deep frames. This leaves 1/2 inch gap when two boxes are stacked. So this is a big gotcha and causes problems with comb built in the too-wide gap. Takeaway: 9 1/8 inch frames in a 9 5/8 inch box do not provide a bee space!

    Another common problem is getting the lugs/ears of the frames wrong, either too thick or too thin. A frame full of honey can be dropped and break off the ear which requires repair or replacement. Too thick and it messes up spacing in other areas of the hive. This is one area where mixing frames from different suppliers is a distinctive problem. Lets say you get frames from Mann Lake with 7/16 inch thick lugs and then you buy some frames from Kelley that are cut on a slant so the frame sits on the rest where the wood is 1/4 inch thick. Now we have a problem because putting the Mann Lake frames in a box on top of Kelley frames gives a gap 3/16" thicker while putting Kelley frames on top of Mann Lake frames will be less than a bee space! Takeaway: Know the + and - of the frame lugs from the manufacturer!

    Groove top bars are a real pita when they are cut wrong - as most of them are. Foundation sheets are cut to exact sizes that allows for exactly 1/4 inch of foundation to be in the wedge area. Most top bars are cut between 5/16 and 7/16 of an inch deep. This leaves the foundation barely sticking down into the bottom bars or in some cases not even touching them. I've used other styles of top bars such as grooved, slotted, etc, but my preference is the wedge because of the way wired foundation with hooks fits and stays secured. Takeaway: the wedge area should be exactly 1/4 inch deep, no more!

    End bars are a real issue for me. Have you noticed that they get thinner year by year? I saw some Kelley end bars a few weeks ago that were not even 5/16 of an inch thick! The wood is so thin that you can't wire the frame and expect it to stay straight. The correct thickness of an end bar is 3/8 of an inch. This is not maybe, not possibly, and I'll prove it. The interior dimension of a Langstroth hive is 18 5/16 inches. Foundation is precisely 16.75 inches wide. Add the width of the foundation plus the width of two end bars at 3/8 each plus the bee space at the end of the frame plus 1/16 of an inch expansion space inside the frame and you should get exactly 18 5/16 inches! 16 3/4 plus 3/4 plus 3/4 plus exactly 1/16 and you get voila 18 5/16! Why is it important to have an extra 1/16 inch inside the frame? Because it is difficult to get a frame exactly square so when the foundation is inserted, there has to be a bit of room for it to adjust to the frame size. Takeaway: a properly made frame should have a 3/8 inch thick end bar, yet none of the commercial manufacturers currently cut 3/8 end bars!

    How many holes should be in an end bar? Well, that depends. If you are using foundation strips, who cares. If you are using plain wax foundation, then at least 4 and preferably 5 in a 9 1/8 inch Langstroth frame. For vertically wired wax, only 3 are needed. How many am I making? I'm building Dadant depth 11 1/4 inch frames with 3 holes in each end bar spaced 2.5 inches apart from the bottom of the end bar going up. This leaves a bit over 3 inches between the wedge at the top and the hole below it. This spacing works just about perfect with wired wax foundation with hooks. Takeaway: end bars need 4 or 5 holes to wire plain wax or 3 or 4 holes for wired foundation!

    What is the right width for an end bar? This question caused no end of controversy in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Dadant and several early beekeepers said 1 1/2 inches. Beekeepers using Italian stock said 1 1/4 inches. Mixed mutts could build worker size combs anywhere in between! This was really important when bees built some drone cells on a frame because they are deeper than worker cells. A frame could be difficult to remove and/or crush bees if there was a lot of drone brood around the edges. There are some advantages to a 1 1/4 end bar but only if fitted with perfectly straight sheets of foundation. In other words, wire them and keep them straight or suffer serious consequences. The controversy ended in a compromise with 1 3/8 end bars which is what all major manufacturers build for Langstroth equipment today. Takeaway: 1 3/8 is a good compromise, 1 1/2 works, 1 1/4 works but requires expertise!

    What kind of wood should a frame be made of? If you had asked me 6 months ago, I would have given you an answer of White Pine. I now know that this is not the best answer. White pine is relatively soft and flexible. It is the best material for top bars and bottom bars, but spruce is a better choice for end bars. Spruce is a bit stiffer and more brittle than white pine. This is a distinct advantage with 1 1/4 inch wide end bars when the frames will be wired. There are other wood species that make perfectly acceptable frames. The key traits are that the wood must be soft enough not to split when nailed or stapled and it must be stiff enough to stand up to years of use in a high moisture environment. Takeaway: White pine is a good choice for all frame parts, but I prefer spruce for end bars!

    Now I am going to describe the perfect frame with 1 1/4 inch end bars in terms of cuts and I will add pictures in another post. All measurements are in inches

    The top bar blank should be 19 X 7/8 X 3/4 and cut from straight grain white pine. The wedge should be cut precisely 1/4 inch deep and such that the foundation will be exactly centered in the mid-line of the top bar. The lugs should be cut so they are tapered to 5/16 inch thick at the end and 1/2 inch thick where the end bar attaches, a 17 degree angle is just about right. The end bar notches should be cut to leave exactly 16 13/16 inches for the foundation and the notches should be exactly 3/8 inch wide so the end bars fit properly. I cut top bars from white pine planed to 3/4 of an inch thick.

    The bottom bars should be cut 3/8 X 3/8 X 17 17/32 inches for divided bottom bars, 3/4 X 3/8 X 17 17/32 for a grooved bottom bar. A small slice should be cut on each end of the divided bottom bars so they fit properly into the end bars. I cut bottom bars from scrap pieces of white pine left over from cutting top bars.

    The end bars should be cut to the exact vertical size of the finished frame, 11 1/4 for Dadant, 9 1/8 for standard Langstroth, 7 1/4 for Illinois, 6 1/4 for Mediums, and 5 3/8 for shallows. I'm going to waffle on one item here by saying that the finished end bar should be exactly 1 1/4 inches wide, but in the process of cutting, you may want the blank to be wider so a propolis cutter can be made on one side of the end bar. The notch for the top bar should be cut 1/2 inch deep by 3/4 inch wide. the notch(es) for the bottom bar(s) should be cut 3/4 of an inch wide by 3/8 of an inch deep. If using divided end bars, two notches should be cut 5/16 wide with 1/16 of an inch between the notches. This is best done with a double stacked dado so both notches are cut at the same time.
    Last edited by Fusion_power; 05-26-2016 at 01:16 AM.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    That took a lot of experience and thought to compile that data! This definitely belongs as a sticky. I have seen a lot of self made frames that barely had any of the critical relationships correct. It is thought that the bees will fix it: they will, but you will pay the bill!

    Thanks,
    Frank

  4. #3
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    (tongue in cheek)...
    I go to a lumber yard and have for years because I'm a carpenter. If I pick up some lumber I can get SPF (spruce, pine, or fir) 2x's and then there's yellow pine. 1x's...I can get pine or cedar...oak.
    Yellow pine rots so fast that I'd never attempt to use it on a bee hive. So I'm left with SPF or ordering special wood which is costly I bet. Never asked for spruce lumber before. Maybe in Alabama they have mills that produce spruce lumber but Illinois? I don't think so.

    Lately have been building hives and found out real quick that (believe it or not) Home Depot has very high quality lumber marked as "common".

    GREAT THREAD! Keep up the posts like this. 46 years experience...I'm all ears buddy.
    Internet credibility is an oxymoron

  5. #4
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Would you talk more about bottom bars? I'm running foundationless, so the concerns may be different....


    I've basically been cutting my bottom bars to 1/2 x 1/2 x 17 7/32 (And cutting a notch in the endbar to match) rather than rabbet/notching the ends of each bar (so the bar is totally straight, no narrower section where it slides into the frame)- the bees don't seem to mind. They build a little more comb around the bottom bar, but I kind of think that increases attachment strength. Its a little more work to put them together (but saves an equivalent amount of time cutting) - am I gonna cause myself some sort of problem here?

  6. #5
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Interesting read Dar. Whatever happened to the pointed side of end bars? Seems like there was less frame sticking with that design.
    ...We don't see things as they are, we see things as WE are...

  7. #6
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Great and interesting read! Thanks for the information.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Very well written. It is hard to explain dimensions and math in a written forum post. You did an excellent job of that.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    I go to a lumber yard and have for years because I'm a carpenter.
    You go to the forest to find bears and to the seashore to find salt water surf, so the natural habitat of carpenters is lumber yards and places where you hear a lot of hammers striking nails.

    Maybe in Alabama they have mills that produce spruce lumber
    2 X 6 x 8 is most commonly available here in spruce. I can cut perfectly good end bars from a 2 X 6 given that the grain and growth rings are tight. I cull any center cuts, excessive knots, or with high rosin content.

    Would you talk more about bottom bars?
    Bottom bars are the least demanding part of a frame, you can make them just about any way and the bees will work with them. I have one complaint about commercial frames which is that most of them have 5/16 by 5/16 strips for divided bottom bars. This is too thin! The only key measurement with bottom bars is making sure they are a bee space above the next frame down. In other words, make sure the end bars are cut right!

    Whatever happened to the pointed side of end bars?
    This is called a propolis cutter and it does indeed reduce the amount of sticking together as compared to flat cuts. I am building 11 1/4 frames with a propolis cutter on one side. It is also convenient because the cuts to make the propolis cutter happen to be perfect for flattening out the profile of slightly bowed end bar blanks. The reason many manufacturers today do not make propolis cutters on the end bars is because the cuts are very time consuming and require highly precise settings on the cutting equipment. I'm picky enough about my cuts that an end bar must be + or - 1/64th of an inch of exactly 1 1/4 inches wide. The wood will shrink and expand with the seasons and the weather so I want them to be as close as possible to the right size.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  10. #9
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    OP: Thank you, Fusion - that was a fair amount of effort!

    I've taken to "re-purposed" lumber. My QE's and such are are former Cherry, Hickory & 0ak etc. furniture. It can be had for a fraction of the cost when you open your eyes.

    Today's pine is almost a disgrace.

    "Re-purposed" wood is the way to go!
    After 40 years of beekeeping, I've come to realize that the bees can fix most of my mistakes.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Repurposed wood is about all I have used recently. Here are some frames whipped up from old fencing that was replaced.

    image.jpg

  12. #11
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Fusion - what a great write up - No joke -WELL DONE

  13. #12
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    The reason for using pine (or similar softwood) for frames is that most other woods will split when nailed in those sizes, and it's usually a lot cheaper. Hardwoods work fine so long as they don't split, but are also heavier.

    Making frames can be rather fiddly, but if you spend the time to make adequate fixtures isn't all that much work and real 3/8" end bars and bottom bars make very much stronger frames. I made about 500 this winter, will probably be doing that much more next year as I have some buddies who are expanding their apiaries and I have the room, equipment, and heat.

    Peter

  14. #13
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Thought I would toss this old thread back to the top to see if anyone can get some use out of it this spring.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  15. #14
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    My life is full of these kind of coincidences - for as some you already know, I'm currently trawling through the archives of 'Gleanings in Bee Culture', and just last night I came across an early discussion regarding frame design - in particular issues regarding the bottom bar. The guys had found that too small a cross section caused the bees to draw comb onto that bar - which is perfect - but then proceeded past it, attaching their comb onto the top bar below - which ain't exactly ideal.

    Conversely, a wide bottom bar produced two problems: firstly the bees would only draw comb to within a 'bee-space' of it, or cut away foundation (if that had been used), thus leaving a gap between bottom bar and comb. Secondly, any dead bees falling off the comb during winter would tend to lodge at the bottom of the comb, whereas with the thinner bottom bar they had always fallen free, and could then easily be cleared from the bottom board by means of a scraper. A compromise width was thus chosen.

    One feature which was popular back in the 1870-1880's was to extend the bottom bar such that it jutted out by (say) an eighth of an inch on both sides, in an attempt to provide some resemblance of a bee-space towards the bottom of the frame, even with those who's shape had become distorted over time. A quarter of an inch, although more ideal, would most likely have caused jamming. Such bottom bar extensions are, of course, not something we see today.

    One solution being offered to solve the 'comb to bottom-bar gap' problem was to have reversible frames. One design featured side-bars with a long central slot. This slot housed a half-height bar connected to a pin hinge at the centre of the slot, with double-sided frame lugs fixed to it's distal end, such that the bar could be swung outwards and upwards, presenting a lug at either end of the frame as required.

    It never caught on.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  16. #15
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Very informative post! I'm looking to build my boxes, migratory lids, and screened bottom boards this year but may have to look harder at making frames too now. Would the OP or anyone else be able to further the discussion and post their exact measurements for their home built Langstroth boxes, lids, bottoms etc? Otherwise I'll be mimicking kelleysbees and hope the beespace adds up!

  17. #16
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    It is covered fairly well in the "build it yourself" area. Frames can be made quite a few ways. Betterbee comes very close to the form and fit of the frames I cut.

    https://beesource.com/build-it-yourself/

    https://beesource.com/product-review...ngstroth-hive/
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  18. #17

    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Thank you for this information. I have 2 home made hives. I made 20 6 1/8" wood honey super frames with grooved bottom bars and wedge tops. I used wired beeswax foundation and support pins in the frames. I extracted my first honey crop and blew out the first four frames I spun. Then I slowed down and got through the rest of the frames until the last set, when I got impatient and blew out another one. The frames blew out from the bottom. I decided on the following changes for 2019. First, there were 4 frames that the bees hadn't drawn a significant amount of foundation on. I wired those - 2 holes on each side and 2 horizontal wires. Then I decided to leave 11 frames alone, they have comb drawn out and are intact. I know I can extract from them if I take my time. My question is about the five I have to play around with, since they are now empty. It seems like the split bottom frame is less subject to blowouts than the grooved bottom. Do you agree with this? If yes, can I change to a split bottom without changing the end bars? From the pictures I looked at, it looks like a split bottom frame has about 1/8" gap between the bottom sections. In other words, a split bottom functions like a deep groove. Is there more to it than that? If it is only a deep groove, can I create a split bottom frame by cutting through the groove I already have, leaving 3/8" on each side uncut (the part inserted in the end bar?) My objective is to extract with more speed with minimum work retrofitting the frames.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: The making of a frame, with side discussion of frame rests, bee space, and Langst

    Excellent summary - thanks.
    I have been in bees for nearly as long as you and agree with your frustration of various manufacturers .
    I'm in Australia. The best wood is Hoop Pine - soft but strong enough and holds a nail well.
    One thing you have not mentioned are EYELETS. I use 3 mm - better for me to get the wire through.
    Some people use staples - I hate them, I'm a nail bloke for all parts.
    from the Bee House -http://ecologicalsolutions.com.au/bees/?page_id=8
    40 years - +/- 20 H - TF - Subtropical

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