Building vs. Buying
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
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    Santa Cruz, CA
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    349

    Default Building vs. Buying

    I'm curious if anyone has done the math on cost/time of building your own boxes, bottoms, tops vs just buying them. Wood is rather expensive where I live and the only things I've found to be most cost effective to build is my own nucs - since we know you can build 4 with a single sheet of plywood.

    For example, Mann Lake sells a 5 pack of commercial grade 8 frame deeps for just under $80. A decent 4x8 sheet of plywood is going to run me around $36 - $50 (depending on the quality of plywood) but I doubt I could get 5 boxes out of that sheet. If I used the cheaper stuff (measuring .7 inches in thickness) then I could get two sheets for the price of 5 hive bodies and definitely make more than 5 boxes. However, this is of plywood and not solid wood so there is likely a quality difference. Not to mention all the jigs I'd need to cut joints (or stick to butt joints) and a dado bit to make things move along.

    Is there a cheaper way I'm missing? Better to use 1x12 boards cut down (1x12x6 is about $15 locally)? If I'm making hundreds vs dozens does it become more cost effective? Buy the boxes and build the more expensive lids?

    Simply curious on others economics as there seems to be articles, videos and a lot of talk around building your own stuff, without it seeming to make a lot of sense?

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Seattle WA
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    1,241

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I try and be cheap but my time and out of pocket cost make building the boxes myself way more expensive. Plus, you will need to be sure you have all the equipment to do the job. If you don't, add those costs in too. I do make my own hive bottoms and nucs but it is done for the sole reason of boredom in the winter. I currently have all the equipment I need and am not buying or building very much these days.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Williamsport, PA
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    517

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I build my items in the winter when there is nothing else going on. I only use my spare time so the actual value of my time is watching sportsball vs playing in the woodshop. Economically from a strict $ point of view I don't think making boxes is worth it.

    I've worked on making frames and frame jigs over the past 3 winters using just my table saw. I can now turn 2x4's into fully built frames with minimal effort. When I make them I normally make a few dozen of each part at a time, factory style. Then in a single day I can easily assemble them by the dozen or hundred.

    Another thing I found that works good by doing frames like that is by having bulk parts, only the sidebars are different so whatever depth I need (deep/medium) is readily available.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Campbell River, BC, CA
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    1,800

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    Quote Originally Posted by mtnmyke View Post
    Simply curious on others economics as there seems to be articles
    I dont have a shop full of woodworking equipment. I dont want a shop full of woodworking equipment. If I want to buy boxes, I can buy pre-cut box pieces from bee supply places cheaper than i can buy lumber to cut it up.

    But I go multiple steps beyond that. We buy Lewis & Sons commercial grade boxes thru a local supplier. They are assembled and dipped. Assembled and dipped costs about 5 bucks more than buying pieces. For 5 dollars I cannot buy the screws, spend the time assembling, then set up for dipping. Heck, even if I was just painting two coats, it just doesn't make sense to do it myself. At most I'm going to save a couple bucks a box, and my time is worth FAR more than that, so just buy stuff ready to go.

    I feel the same way about frames. We used to buy Mann Lake PF-5xx series frames when I lived farther south on the island. After moving north those have become difficult to get because local supplier doesn't deal in Mann Lake stuff, but they do have Acorn frames, so we buy those now. Same rationale, I could spend endless hours assembling fiddly little bits to make frames, but why ?

    Personally, I think that a lot of folks are fooling themselves when they think building equipment is saving money.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    Location
    Winston-Salem, NC
    Posts
    443

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    There's no way to compete when the lumber at Lowes is so high unless you have cheap wood from a sawmill, or use plywood, I just made ten 2 framers out of CDX plywood for about $10 each, check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Zk0CaqMtuM&t=61s
    NCSBA Certified Beekeeper - my Youtube Vlog
    https://www.youtube.com/c/BackyardBeesNC

  7. #6

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    Boxes and frames I buy from the Amish unassembled. Lids and bottom and so on I make. A down and dirty nuc box I make. But as a painting contractor/ tool hoarder I have most tools that one would want.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Location
    England, UK
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    1,817

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I mainly use equipment that can't be bought from any beekeeping supplier, so in practice there's no other choice than to make it myself.

    If I ran a beekeeping operation along business lines, and/or had a well paid occupation - than I'd buy standard boxes and frames, ready made and ready to use. But I'm retired and so don't cost my time any more. The wood I use is free, and I rather enjoy making stuff - but more than that, I actually get a helluva buzz from recycling unwanted pallets into useful and productive equipment - and what price can ever be placed on enjoyment and personal satisfaction ?
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  9. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2019
    Location
    Wakefield, Rhode Island, USA
    Posts
    289

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I build hive boxes and just about everything else I need from recycled wood - my old fence boards, scavenge, etc. - cost is zero to me. If I buy wood it is local rough sawn and a lot cheaper than the lumber stores. My boxes are dove tailed so I just glue them - cost of glue. I give them a lick of paint from a 5 gallon container -good stuff, cost affective. Most tools I have are 50 years old, dove tail kit is about 15, table saw 70 and new bearings twice. I don't have to work anymore - being frugal and scavenging accumulates $$ over time - I do what I want to do eveyday. I do buy frame components and plastic foundation by the case and assemble myself as manufactureres setup, buy and cut stock better than I can. I assemble about a 100 frames in about 4-5 hours with coffee - I do a better job than store bought, assembled frames. Let's see, yeah, I get all the kindling I need to start my wood stove for free too. I can do the math and I get it made my way, cheaper.

  10. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Location
    Aylett, Virginia
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    4,600

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I found that building my own bottom boards, inner covers, and telescoping tops, as well as all my different shims, to be more cost effective. But, with Lowe's as my lumber store, there is no way that I can build the 10 frame boxes I use and actually save money. Same with frames, at $.85 each from ML on sale, just not worth the time to make my own. I am not yet retired, so time is not something of which I have an abundance.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  11. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Location
    Santa Cruz, CA
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    349

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    Good info everyone. It's good to hear others are on the same page as me.

    I spent some time in the shop today building some queen castles. I have some hives on the verge of swarming I need to split out and get queen cells into. (Poor us in Coastal California?) It gave me some time to thing about what is really worth building vs buying. I think I've come to the same conclusion as many - if I can buy it, I probably will. If I can't, then I should probably build it. However, I may agree with making bottom boards and telescoping covers. I'll have to price that out and see where that gets me vs buying.

    I did build the castles out of old 10 frame boxes that weren't going to be used for anything else. I went to 8 frame several years ago and never looked back. Scrap wood and a 5mm sheet of ply and I built 4 for about $10. Can't beat that!

  12. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2017
    Location
    Maysel,WV
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    89

    Default

    My dad and I own a small band mill. If I can get the tree for free and have the lumber cut far enough ahead of time to be dry, building my own is cheaper. If I have the time. This year I don’t have the wood cut and dried down so I bought some from Dadant for less than the lumber would cost from a box store. Tops and bottom boards are made from rough lumber. The bees don’t care how smooth it is. I actually got a large white pine gave to me a few weeks ago. I cut out several hundred dollars worth of boxes today soon as the lumber dries. This time I even cut the boards to 3/4” thickness to save planing them down from 1” as this is a huge time and money pit for me.
    You don’t need a dado set to cut rabbets for boxes, just set the fence over and make two cuts to complete. I don’t used box joints like the commercial made boxes. I cut rabbets around 3 sides of the end pieces and use glue and staples. This makes the sides simple as to cut as they are just cut to length.

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
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    Campbell River, BC, CA
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    1,800

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    Quote Originally Posted by mtnmyke View Post
    Good info everyone. It's good to hear others are on the same page as me.
    On this subject there will always be lots of different folks, on different pages, for different sets of reasons.

    Some folks have more time than money, so the objective for them is to save some money, irregardless of how much time it takes.
    Some folks have more money than time, and for those folks, an hour saved is an hour that can be used for other things.

    Like all things beekeeping, there is no 'right' answer that fits everybody. The right answer is the one that fits your circumstances best.

  14. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Location
    Santa Cruz, CA
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    349

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    Naturally, grozzie2.

    I was more referring to us folks who don't have access to a mill and have to buy our lumber from the box stores. If I had endless scraps laying around, access to scraps, or even had time to mill lumber off my own property things could change. I don't think beekeeping equipment is terribly expensive to begin with.

    I do agree with above though. If you have the time then making them could be very rewarding, if not, you're not spending much more (if at all) to just purchase them. Unfortunately we don't really get "winter" in my location. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Winter is when my bees do the best!

  15. #14
    Join Date
    May 2017
    Location
    Spokane, Washington, USA
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    294

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I don't find it worthwhile to build, but I assemble precut stuff in the winter, for my use or to sell on CL.
    Last edited by bushpilot; 02-10-2020 at 10:13 PM.
    So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

  16. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Location
    Rome, GA
    Posts
    374

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I've built complete hives in the past (with the exception of frames). But without a cheap source of lumber, I find it easier and not much more expensive to buy precut equipment and assemble it. After I retire and have more time, I'll reconsider.
    Let's Eat Grandmaw ........... Let's Eat, Grandmaw.......Grammar Saves Lives

  17. #16
    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Location
    Salt Lake City, UT
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    1,234

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    If I use Advantech I can build a box for about six bucks each. I can get 5 deeps and one medium from a sheet, or I can get 8 mediums. Since Advantech stays flat even over long periods of time I cut out serveral boxes at a time but don't assemble them. They store flat and don't take up a lot of space. I cut out a couple dozen boxes in 2018. Half of them are still unassembled, waiting until I need them without taking up much space. If I used pine the pieces would have warped by now. The sole disadvantage to Advantech is weight. A pine box weighs about seven pounds, an Advantech box is twelve pounds.
    Zone 6B

  18. #17
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    washington, vermont, USA
    Posts
    389

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I buy unassembled hive bodies and build them in the winter. I have tried buying unassembled frames and assembling them but the time spent plus the staples and glue makes it not worth it. As a result I now buy assembled wooden frames with plastic foundation. As for bottoms and tops I build them. Bottoms I use rough cut pine (I have a family member with a small mill) and tops I use Advantec plywood along with some little pieces to give them a small rim similar to what Ian does (a Canadian beekeepers blog I can't remember his handle on this site but want to give credit where it's due). But I think everyone's situation is a bit different so figure out what makes the most sense for you. Best of luck bud

  19. #18
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    Bucks County PA
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    376

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I have a professional level shop and buy materials with trade discounts. I've built a few boxes just to say I've done it, but it's less expensive for us to buy Mann Lake knocked down boxes and put them together...I cannot buy acceptable pine locally for a price that beats the knocked down boxes, even when they are not on sale, and not even accounting for my time to mill said lumber. I do build a lot of the other things because I can use scrap from other projects which absolutely reduces cost.

    I have cut some NUCs from Advantec on my CNC machine, largely for the exercise of doing it, but I wouldn't use that material for medium 10 frame boxes due to weight.
    Humble assistant to beek Alison as well as family purveyor of luxury Bee condominiums and Paparazzi activities...

  20. #19
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Hamilton, Alabama
    Posts
    3,064

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I can source rough cut cypress from Moze Zook for less than $1 per board foot. I plane it smooth and build special pieces of bee equipment such as Killion bottom boards. I can also purchase equipment ready to assemble from Albert Zook at a fairly good price. Cypress usually is more expensive than typical white pine but is also more durable. I'm willing to do some extra work to get cypress.
    NW Alabama, 50 years, 20 colonies and growing, sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 14 frame square Dadant broodnest

  21. #20
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    Minden LA, (NW Louisiana)
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    297

    Default Re: Building vs. Buying

    I have to balance frugality with reasonable time management. Boxes and frames are very time consuming to cut and shape. I pool funds with others and make large buys from Mann Lake when they have sales. These components are very inexpensive when buying a couple hundred frames or more than 36 boxes. (10 frame medium equipment).

    Tops and bottoms however, are expensive from any supplier, but are relatively easy and cheap to build from scratch. I build migratory covers and basic bottoms from scraps and scrounged lumber.

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