Building a top bar hive
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  1. #1
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    Default Building a top bar hive

    I have read a few places that claim you can make a top bar hive from marine grade plywood.

    If the top is weatherproof and the outside is painted is there any reason that this would not work long term? Do you even need to paint the outside as the roof should mostly keep the rain off the sides? Can you also make the top bars out of ply, or are they too thin to hold the weight properly?

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    YouTuber McCartney (OutOfABlueSky) has a series of TB videos. In one of them he shows a Top Bar seriously de-laminating, and concludes "don't use plywood". He was probably not using marine grade, however.

    I personally would worry about the chemicals in it... I don't know how wood becomes "marine grade" but I would worry about what is holding that wood together. If it is just plain wood plys with a fully cured glue holding them together, it would probably be ok. If anything is added to resist rot, that's likely trouble.

    Many people don't paint their hives (that's true for Langs, TBH, Warre, and others). I personally don't paint mine. I expect they will fall apart in 7 years without paint and in 10 years with paint. (I also don't use paint to avoid drawing undue attention to the hives). It is a personal choice.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    Thanks for the reply.

    Marine ply in Australia apparently uses glue that doesn't de-laminate as badly, but it still rots very quickly when wet. I will look up the youtube series but have a feeling from what you said that ply may not be the best material to use.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    You can make them out of anything. Plywood, dimensional lumber, OSB, Advantec, concrete backer board, steel, aluminium, paper mache, etc. Plywood doesn't last as long as dimensional lumber, and is heavy. Plus it is going to fail quicker were it is joined with screws so it may just fall apart when it is full of honey. I've made Lang boxes from Advantec and it holds up very well, but is very heavy. Dimensional lumber is really the way to go.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    For clarity, so I don't misrepresent McCartney, he was saying the actual top bars should not be plywood, not the boxes. he was holding up a bar which had delaminated when he tried to lift it, leaving half the bar and all the comb behind in the hive.

    What you said about the marine grade makes it sound ok to use. I do second the comment "they are heavy" from Shannonswyatt. The first bait hives I built were out of leftover 3/4 plywood, and they were very heavy for their size. I ended up replacing them with pine.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    There's another aspect to plywood which is rarely mentioned ...

    Yes, it's heavy - and the reason it's heavy is that it's a dense material. Dense materials in general are not best suited for making beehives. The principle reason why light woods (and expanded polymers) are favoured is not because of their weight per se, but because such materials contain lots of air - and it's the air within those materials which provide insulation to help buffer extremes of high and low temperature.

    Having said that, I made my first ever Long Hive, which started-off as Top Bar, was modified to Frame, has had it's height altered twice, and all-in-all has functioned as a general-purpose test-bed over the last 10-12 years - from 2 sheets of 10mm plywood laminated together using waterproof glue and screws. There are no signs of de-lamination, as it's been murdered with paint every two years or so, with the 'end-grain' well-protected ... but ... it's always been a 'cold' material, with black mould forming around the bottom despite having a partial Open Mesh Floor. This build-up of mould is not seen in any of my other Long Hives, which in most respects are the same, except they're made from pine wood.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    Just curious, is there a particular reason you want to try out this material. Do you have a lot of it laying around or something?
    Quote Originally Posted by TurtleSpider View Post
    I have read a few places that claim you can make a top bar hive from marine grade plywood.

    If the top is weatherproof and the outside is painted is there any reason that this would not work long term? Do you even need to paint the outside as the roof should mostly keep the rain off the sides? Can you also make the top bars out of ply, or are they too thin to hold the weight properly?
    My grandfather and great-uncle kept bees and my fiancée's grandfather, too. I want to pass this tradition along.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    Hi Yunzow, plywood is easier to get and cheaper than most timber I have access to. It should also be relatively simple to cut. From what people are saying, it may not be the best choice.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    Well - if you can source plywood easily enough - then maybe 'good enough' would be ... good enough for the job ? 'Perfection' can often be a cruel dictator ...

    Other materials you may wish to consider:
    New or even condemned Scaffold Boards - a perfect material for building a Long Hive or Horizontal TBH. I've used SB's many times, and they're ideal.

    Pallet wood - if you can source busted or unwanted pallets (usually free), then break 'em up carefully and use that wood.

    Old floor boards - sometimes a bit of 'bin-diving' turns up such material - anywhere there's building renovation going on. You might also find insulation off-cuts - which are always very handy.

    If you have plywood and nothing else - then try sandwiching some insulation between two sheets, and murder the exposed 'end-grain' with waterproof glue (TiteBond 3 or similar) - that would improve it considerably.

    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    FYI I did make a hive out of birch plywood last year. I decided against using it because I somehow got the dimensions wrong, but then I also noticed that the plywood covers I was using for my hives was starting to separate at the edges.
    Quote Originally Posted by TurtleSpider View Post
    Hi Yunzow, plywood is easier to get and cheaper than most timber I have access to. It should also be relatively simple to cut. From what people are saying, it may not be the best choice.
    My grandfather and great-uncle kept bees and my fiancée's grandfather, too. I want to pass this tradition along.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    "Dumpster hiving" could become a sport. We should form a club or have a contest or something.

    On the pallets, some people say "they are sprayed for bugs" and other people say "that's an old fairy tale". I don't know the truth. Be careful. Certainly a nail in one could destroy your planer or jointer blades. (This last I know the truth of).

    I don't know if you have "big box" style home centers or lumber yards near your home (L*we's and H*me Dep*t being the main two in my area), but I've had great luck getting "culled" lumber from them. Although I use pine mostly, you could do oak, cedar or poplar as well. Look for the section with interior shelving. Find the nastiest cracked boards (avoid cupped or warped boards unless you can cut around the warps), or boards which have been damaged during shipping and have big holes in them, and ask them "what do you sell damaged wood like this for?". Don't ever pay over 50%, and you might get lucky and pay 10%. At home, cut around the flaws or glue them up. I've gotten 1x10x10 pine boards (retail about $18) for about $2 before... a real deal. Two of those makes a really cheap 4-foot hive.

    If you know a dude with a sawmill, even better. Ask him for whatever he cannot sell retail... Win-win. He gets rid of firewood, and you end up with a beehive.

    Mike

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    you want heat treated pallets, not methyl bromide treated
    The internet is instant, and the internet is often wrong-Kim Flottum

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    Quote Originally Posted by msl View Post
    you want heat treated pallets, not methyl bromide treated
    Methyl bromide is a highly volatile gas and as such, MB-treated pallets are only toxic to insects for a few days - by the time they become available for beekeeping use, they're perfectly safe.

    I conducted an experiment last year after discussing this issue with Randy Oliver. Thick timbers of MB-treated pallets a few months old were cleaved with an axe to expose fresh surfaces, and this wood was then placed in intimate contact with test colonies. Nothing abnormal was observed.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    Interesting
    All the up cycle sites paint it as very bad.
    The internet is instant, and the internet is often wrong-Kim Flottum

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    With all respect, life is short, honey is a food product, and there are a billion pallets in the world. I cannot imagine being so desperate for wood I would take the chance.

    I found this primer useful. It explains stamps, country of origin, single use pallets, colored pallets, heat treating and methyl bromide. They are unequivocal: do not use MB pallets.

    https://www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/

    This site has reassured me about one thing: before I would never consider pallet wood for any project. It sounds like the heat-treated and single use pallets would be fine, however. TurtleSpider: there is a warning at the bottom of the page about Australia and New Zealand customs using Methyl Bromide on many imports and how the stamps are not reliable for any imported pallet there.

    [Not a pallet expert; just risk averse. Don't take any chances you don't have to....]

    Mike.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    It's precisely because of these false claims on the Internet (and my holding a first in Organic Chemistry) - that I approached Randy Oliver to discuss this nonsense. His view was the same as mine, but suggested that I conduct an experiment to confirm our mutual scepticism, and advise him of the results accordingly. So I did.

    His reply was "I'm not surprised". Needless to say, I wasn't surprised either. But - this won't stop people from posting false and unproven information on the Internet - and once a scare story has become established, it then develops a self-reinforcing life of it's own.

    I say: "if you're claiming that MB-treated pallets are harmful, a month after their treatment - where's the proof ?" There won't be any of course - but that's the nature of a 'scare-story'.

    Not everything you read on the Internet is the truth.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  18. #17
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    Default

    You also have to remember that here in Australia most the food sold in shops has been imported from overseas. They fumigate the containers to kill insects so the insects don’t eat the produce, but us end users still eat this food after it’s been sprayed with fumigants.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Building a top bar hive

    for realz? Wow!
    Quote Originally Posted by Miikeboyle View Post
    You also have to remember that here in Australia most the food sold in shops has been imported from overseas. They fumigate the containers to kill insects so the insects don’t eat the produce, but us end users still eat this food after it’s been sprayed with fumigants.
    My grandfather and great-uncle kept bees and my fiancée's grandfather, too. I want to pass this tradition along.

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