Hive designs and their advantages and disadvantages
There are hundreds of variations of hive designs proposed over the years. I'm going to attempt to describe these designs in terms of common design and use features. From this information, a beekeeper can make choices of hive type and management required.
Skep type hives, box hives, clay tube hives, and bee gums (chunk of hollow log with top and bottom added) all share the same basic structure and method of management. Bees are housed in a cavity with enough room for brood and surplus honey. These type hives are labor intensive for harvesting honey but relatively low maintenance otherwise. Skeps are harvested by removing the bees either by driving them from the skep or by killing them with sulfur. Box hives and bee gums can be opened from the top and honey harvested from above the cross-sticks. Clay tube hives as used in Egypt are harvested by opening the back of the hive and cutting out combs of honey. These type hives are least common denominator in terms of cost to build and operate. They are commonly used in subsistence agriculture. It is difficult to achieve significant honey production with these type hives.
Top bar hives are oriented horizontally so the bees will make moveable combs. The first truly moveable comb hive was arguably the Greek inverted cone straw hive which is a moveable frame type hive with topbars from which combs are built. This hive dates back a few thousand years and counts as the first moveable comb hive. The defining characteristic of top bar hives is that the combs can't be extracted. They have support only from the top bar and don't stand up very well to being spun for extraction. Top bar hives can be made from wood, half a 55 gallon drum, plastic containers, or other available materials. Honey is collected by cutting combs from topbars, squeezing, and straining. The primary advantage of topbar hives is that hives can be split, inspected, re-queened, etc. The disadvantages revolve around primitive methods of harvesting honey.
Box hives with frames are the next general category. These hives are usually oriented horizontally and do not have separate boxes for honey storage. Box hives are a step up from top bar hives because the frames can be extracted. These type hives are relatively labor intensive because the beekeeper has to be there to remove frames full of honey, extract, then return the frames to the hive to be re-filled. The Layens hive common in Spain and various horizontal frame hives such as are used in large parts of Russia and Ukraine are examples of this type. These hives have all the advantages of modern hives but are relatively labor intensive for honey collection and require more management by the beekeeper.
Frame hives with separate honey storage are industry standard. These hives are exemplified by Langstroth and modified Dadant designs. One or more boxes is dedicated for brood and winter stores while more boxes are used for surplus honey. Moveable frames with bee space are used throughout. The advantages include ease of splitting, re-queening, producing queens, collecting honey, etc. The disadvantages are primarily that common hive designs are inherently flawed but because they are standard and widely used, there is no incentive to change. Langstroth hives have a flaw that one box does not provide enough brood space for a prolific queen. Dadant hives have room for a prolific queen but are very heavy when full. British Nationals are even more confining than Langstroths. Frame spacing varies from 31 to 40 mm center to center with 35 being most common. The most important disadvantage is that these hives are relatively expensive compared to the others. This precludes use in many 3rd world economies.
NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest