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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Just to inquire about box construction in general. Has anybody tried basswood for bee boxes? I would think that if they were wax dipped they should hold up well. The reason I am asking is that I am considering opening a custom furniture construction business down the road. I have a 2 sons that are interested. I think if I underwrite the shop they would move back home from Minneapolis. So it occurs to me that if there is an issue with quality bee equipment at a reasonable cost then it might be something to consider. I am certain I could source basswood from our area. Pine is available. The rot resistant local wood types are generally heavier, so I am wondering about how to solve that issue and keep the boxes on the lighter side. While we have white cedar in state it is on the expensive side. So another question would be; would some beekeepers want to specify what wood they want for equipment?

One thing I am certain of in regard to business; Meet the customers needs, politely, as soon as you can, at a good value. Back up your product, the advertising of this is worth it. Do more than is expected. Always look for innovation and improvement. Learn to listen.

In the last few months during the covid mess, where our business losses will probably top $200,000, we have received calls from clients concerned for our well being and communicating that the loss of our service would be a huge blow to them. It is nice to be appreciated. You can't replace the value of the cultivation of honest reliable service. So we are riding out the set back and looking to the future.
 

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Sounds like a great idea! Hopefully people would appreciate the quality of such a service and be willing to pay what it is worth. I would like to have custom made deeps made out of hemlock, ruf cut in 6 and 10 frame sizes. Wouldn't paint them and I want to see if the bees would be better off this way. No options around here for my idea, so it's a winter project.
 

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I don't know that I'd use basswood for boxes...it's normally a lot more expensive than typical materials. I use it for guitar bodies. Carvers love it because it's relatively soft and fine-grained.

As to your business idea...do your homework. You need a market you can address that will be willing to pay for custom work. I can tell you that while I still take commissions from individuals for custom work like that when there is a good opportunity, over the past two years since starting my official business post-retirement, I've moved mostly to subcontract work for other makers. End customers want a lot for not a lot...the "Walmartization of expectations" hasn't been good for makers. And even the subcontract work I do has been hit hard by the current health crisis. I have plenty of time for personal projects at the moment, quite frankly, but fortunately, I don't depend upon the business for my livelihood. It's paying the overhead at least. The rates you need to garner from your work to not only support "you" after business costs, but also support your sons are significant with today's cost of living. I'm not trying to discourage you; rather, I'm just saying you have a huge amount of business planning to do before you invest dollar one. Find a niche that you can actually compete in and be ready and willing to work long hours including extensive sales and marketing.
 

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One of the reasons pine is used is the weight of the wooden ware. Keep the hardwoods for custom projects.
 

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I can only speak as a DIY beekeeper who HAS bought flat-pack boxes and frames in the past, not as someone who MUST buy ready-made, nor indeed as someone who knows that much about different types of wood.

Has anybody tried basswood for bee boxes? I would think that if they were wax dipped they should hold up well.
Q. If a wood really NEEDS to be wax-dipped - who will be doing this wax-dipping, and at what cost ?

It seems to me that certain woods have been chosen for bee-boxes because of their characteristics: Cedar and WRC (Thuja) because of their oil content which renders the bare wood weatherproof; and pine because of it's low cost. If other woods have not been chosen, maybe there's a sound reason for that ?

would some beekeepers want to specify what wood they want for equipment?
Perhaps the more experienced might - but I'd say beginners would simply trust a manufacturer to provide equipment which is 'fit for purpose'.

Always look for innovation and improvement. Learn to listen.
With this in mind - regardless of what you or I, or anyone else on this forum may think about specific alternative hive designs, there IS a growing trend towards the use of such beehives - and this could well present as a niche market suitable for someone who makes woodenware to furniture standards. (Even though my own personal view is that building bee-hives to such a high standard is completely unnecessary)
The Kenyan Top Bar Hive and Warre Hive readily come to mind, also the classic British WBC Hive, the looks of which would grace any suburban garden.

Whether there's a market there, and a living to be made - couldn't say - but it might be worth investing an hour or two considering custom-made alternatives, rather than attempting to compete with those outfits geared-up for mass-production ...
LJ
 

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White pine works very well for bee boxes.
Light weight,easily worked and decay resistant if kept dry.(ie: covered and off the ground)
In my area(CT),we have 100 yr old tobacco barns with untreated white pine siding.

While we are on the subject of basswood,
I have been searching for a source of basswood pole saw poles.
Octagonal,maybe 1 3/4 diameter and 12 and 14 ft long.Clear,straight grain,no knots.
We used to buy them from an Arborist supply house in Ohio that is now defunct.They were locally sourced.
 

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As noted below, there are some definable requirements and reasons - weight issues is an obvious customer requirement. Ask your self what do the bee's need? Is there supporting data, preferably with numbers? Numbers talk just like money.

My perception of a good hive design is changing radically, especially for backyard beekeeping. Unfortunately I am still trying to acquire numbers to support the ideas.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks for the input. To clarify a few things; I considered basswood a potential good wood because of it's light weight. I have access to sawmills and could log it out of a lot of landowners woodlots, So getting 1000's of bd/ft. is not an issue. Some of these trees are huge. I once felled a 48" for a friend who wanted it out of his woods because it dominated other more valuable trees. We did saw some big billets off the main trunk of about 30 ft length.

I could get Hemlock. It would require trucking or a trip to get it. It does have an issue with shakes so there is always some loss. White pine is around and could be found. Red pine is more likely. I might also check out cottonwood. It is a bit squirrely, but is water resistant.

I did have a long conversation with one of my sons recently. He is interested in making custom furniture. His last 2 trips home have been spent making river tables. 2020-03-19_00-03-35.jpg (this one for his sister) 5 of my 7 sons have spent time in the wood shop building furniture. One is already building and selling furniture on a small scale. There is a lot of work to get a viable business running so I am in the research phase. That being said I have 3 local friends who own wood shops. One builds very custom high end furniture and metal work, the other specializes in custom trim. The third builds drawers and doors for cabinets, All are swamped. The first one and I already have a business relationship. I supply him with hard to find lumber, and generally find myself working on his projects when ever I visit. While I do have ideas for products that are not currently available, It is important to have a diversified line of products. So the bee box/wooden ware question is just a question about availability of quality products. I have some of the mass produced hive parts that some friends purchased. I'm not impressed with the quality.

The only real way to find out is start small and see where it goes. However if I build a new wood shop, I want to scale it up and add plenty of room for expansion. I have been thinking about this for years. Because I already have a business building specialized machines and equipment I am looking to build a much larger shop in the next few years. It makes sense to simply consolidate metal and wood machinery at the same location.

I haven't been in beekeeping all that long. Questions I do consider; Do BK do things a certain way because everyone else has been doing it that way for years? What do the bees want? I look at the tasks that we hate and ponder on potential better ways. Learning form other folks is well worth the time. I like to hear complaints. There is so much to be learned and potentially discovered.

Beekeeping equipment has seen some movement into new materials and technology. While I like the old school feel of traditional beekeeping. Has new technology been carefully thought out , or are current new products being promoted because someone wants to sell something? The more we learn about bees and the issues they face should be the guiding philosophy for changes to equipment. It's a complex topic.
 

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Hi Trina. I would stay away from cottonwood for lumber. I use it for fire wood and it's water retention is unrivaled. It takes the longest time to dry, needs to be stacked north to south, single rows and kept covered. Don't cover it and it rots. Good luck and form your own opinions before depending on others advice 😉.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I was thinking about cutting a few cottonwood boards to test out. It is t a preferred wood for heavy equipment trailer decking because it dries pretty hard and doesn't splinter. If it doesn't stay wet it supposedly lasts a long time. Also used for horse corral planking. I will also check the property changes with kiln dried. Sometimes this makes a big difference. Heat will set the resins in the wood making them hard and therefor won't suck as much moisture as the capillaries are blocked.

Don't think I've ever burned it. Some trees are almost worthless for firewood, simply not enough BTU's for the effort. Boxelder is a type of maple that is called a weed tree around here. I have burned it when I was short of good wood. Burns fast and leaves a lot of ash. I have been under the impression that cottonwood is similar. We have a lot of them around.

A lot of woods will last if they can dry out after a rain. I think most of the rot starts where water gets trapped for a length of time. Like between boxes and bases etc. It makes sense to maybe soak some wax into the end grain. I either do this or wipe some waterproof caulk on exposed end grain.
 

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Maybe there are different sub species that would be better. I like to cut down a few every spring as a treat for the pigs and meat rabbits. The rabbits will just devour it and pellets are full of fiber. It makes wonderful compost for the garden!
 

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Maybe there are different sub species that would be better. I like to cut down a few every spring as a treat for the pigs and meat rabbits. The rabbits will just devour it and pellets are full of fiber. It makes wonderful compost for the garden!
Junk; I dont think there is another tree with as high a percentage weight change from green to dry. Very difficult to dry unless finely split and shedded. Very low BTU.

The only thing with less heat value is the heart wood from a hollow balsam!

There is a lot of confusion with another tree that is called poplar or popple in the US. Not actually in the poplar family at all. Just from memory might be a magnolia

Tulip poplar? It does make decent lumber and will last a long time if kept dry.
 

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My worry with getting into custom beekeeping woodenware is that the current boom in interest will bust. Lots of people want bees right now but in a year or two will they?
I have a friend who does custom woodwork and he started slow and gradually built up a business as he continued his regular job. Now he is full time and crazy busy since people around here know he will do excellent work. I'd say ease into it and get a reputation. Sounds like you already have the background.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Yah, I am aware of market emotions. I try to stay flexible. Marketing has never been an issue for me. My background is in manufacturing/automation. It isn't much of an issue to design a work flow and I always look for high efficiency.
My last invention saved us 2-3 hours of labor per technician per day. None of my workers want to go back to the old way of service. Our company motto is; Safer, faster, easier, and environmentally responsible.

I can see a machine that would cut all of the box joints per side at a time. Or maybe enough for a shallow with a hard stop and adjustment for mediums and deeps. Or other styles for that matter. Should eliminate joints not matching up.
Another option might be to get a good CNC router and gang machine parts. As long as your registers are accurate, the parts should be well fitting. I know some shops that simply have several CNC machines that do 80-90% of the work. Once the jigging is set up you can crank out a lot of parts in a day.

I have started out small before and gradually added bigger and better machines as the business progressed. Having a diversified product line is huge. You should be able to respond to market demands. When we lost the lions share of our current business we switched over to making hand sanitizer. I expect this will remain as a side line indefinitely. It seems that more folks are moving toward local made products, but this could be a fad. The good thing is that our regular business is picking back up. I will help my kids with different ventures if it makes sense. For myself I just want to go back to being retired and fiddling with bees. This might just develop into an apiary business. So I have one son helping me do inspections. :scratch::D.

I appreciate the comment about Tulip Poplar. The other "poplar" is the aspen varieties. Aspen does work in outdoor stoves when burned green and mixed with hardwoods. Burned dry and it is fluff.
We don't have a lot of Tulip Poplar in Michigan, but just to the South, it is more common. These trees can grow big and tall. A lot of board ft. there. So yes, It might be worth sourcing some logs to saw if the economics are reasonable.
 

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The skeptic in me says that if there is cheaper wood and it is not being used, there is a reason why not. It seems to me that production hive bodies are almost a loss leader and the ones in the business expect to pay the bills with profits on other items. No fun in winning a race for who can exist on the least profit margin.
 

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I appreciate the comment about Tulip Poplar. The other "poplar" is the aspen varieties. Aspen does work in outdoor stoves when burned green and mixed with hardwoods. Burned dry and it is fluff.
We don't have a lot of Tulip Poplar in Michigan, but just to the South, it is more common. These trees can grow big and tall. A lot of board ft. there. So yes, It might be worth sourcing some logs to saw if the economics are reasonable.
Tulip Poplar/Yellow Poplar/Liriodendron tulipifera is one of the biggest sources for furniture lumber in the US. I've used a few thousand board feet off my own property for projects over the years. It's not a particularly good timber for outdoor use, but not really worse than pine if properly finished and kept out of standing moisture and off the ground. I'm building four replacement windows for residential use "as we speak" from it.

That said, it's heavy for beekeeping purposes. I've used it for accessories, leveraging scraps on-hand, but I'd not build boxes from it primarily due to weight.
 

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I have some supers made of hemlock that are really nice. They have held up well and are rock hard. Most old barns here are untreated hemlock.

I got the boards cheap because that is what is at the local sawmill. I had to plane down to 3/4. I only made a few because I didn't like the planer and no longer have it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
The skeptic in me says that if there is cheaper wood and it is not being used, there is a reason why not. It seems to me that production hive bodies are almost a loss leader and the ones in the business expect to pay the bills with profits on other items. No fun in winning a race for who can exist on the least profit margin.
Supply and demand is often the determining factor in choices for wood types. Marketing departments funnel potential purchasers into following a created path of least resistance. This doesn't answer my fundamental question. What is the best wood for hive bodies? I do know that BK of old often used basswood. Probably because of it's weight. Businesses go belly up all the time, mostly because of mismanagement or lack of flexibility. Sure, bee equipment isn't likely a high profit arena, but it could provide filler product for slow times and keep employees busy instead of laying them off. So if I am making it for myself on a larger scale, then why not consider selling it. New woodworking employees are often relegated to repetitive production jobs. I happen to believe this develops them into much better employees in the long run. You also get to see who has potential, discipline, and stamina. Not to go into the physiology of brain function, but it is known that repetitive work helps develop the ability of logical thinking. Think of it as training for hands.

I suspect that wood types are picked because of wide availability and price. Some wood types don't grow across the country. I can get hemlock for instance and the price is on the low side. Same with basswood. Both are more regionally available.

Asking questions, observing, and listening is the first step of innovation. Paradigm shifts in industry happen when someone "sees' something from a different perspective, and makes a change. This is something I do. Not expecting to make much of an impact on hive body construction materials, but the questions are worth asking. The "reason why not" could very well be that no one has asked "why"? I just kind of rebel against our "vanilla products" dominated world. I don't like our "throw away" society. Heirloom tools and equipment is where I invest $.
 

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[...] it is known that repetitive work helps develop the ability of logical thinking. Think of it as training for hands.
Not on your life - it's the complete opposite. Military recruits undergoing square-bashing undergo repetition in order that they respond to commands immediately - without thinking.
Drummers learning their rudiments (like paradiddles) repeat and repeat them for hours on end, until that 'muscle memory' is ingrained, and can be drawn upon - without conscious thought.

Sorry to rain on your parade, but with one or two notable exceptions (like A-Z Hives) there is absolutely zero need for high-quality beekeeping wooden-ware.
Bees are insects who are perfectly at home in rotted-out tree-trunks, old rusty gasoline tanks, old car tyres, utility boxes and cavity walls. Would you seriously consider making furniture-quaiity chicken sheds, pig-sties or cattle barns ?
If there really was a demand for high-quality beekeeping wooden-ware (other than from beginners with deep pockets and zero experience), don't you think that some enterprising person would have addressed this need long before now ?

If you've ever looked into a beehive with a few years mileage behind it, you'll see the state that bees live in. Beehives (with the exception of A-Z Hives which are housed indoors) need to be build in the same way as sheds are built - to withstand the weather. Furniture-quality wooden-ware belongs inside buildings, not outside braving the elements. (imo, of course)
LJ
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
"Not on your life - it's the complete opposite. Military recruits undergoing square-bashing undergo repetition in order that they respond to commands immediately - without thinking.
Drummers learning their rudiments (like paradiddles) repeat and repeat them for hours on end, until that 'muscle memory' is ingrained, and can be drawn upon - without conscious thought."

I did state that I didn't want to get into it.....I have had this conversation with a behavior scientist. The way logic is developed has to do with a lot of types of inputs. Physical touching and interactions with objects affect both sides of the brain. One is subconscious but it isn't separate from the other hemisphere. Yes muscle memory is part of it, but it also developes the ability to follow an ordered reasoning. Listening to some kinds of music affects reasoning in a positive way, because music has a logical cadence. Language types are typically stored in one Hemisphere or the other. Some people have a visual based logic. Studies have found that young children who sit in front of a T.V. for hours per day, and don't spend a lot of time playing with toys often suffer from long term memorization skills and have other deficits. To think that repetition is only good for muscle memory is a simplistic understanding.

I never said I planed on making furniture quality bee hardware. I am asking the question in response to complaints about poorly made hardware. There are several reputable companies making good products.

Aside from the issue of cumulative contamination of hive equipment with all the exposure to chemicals, I am simply curious about longevity and other attributes like wood type. People buy what they can get at the price they choose. I just don't choose to deal with cheap crappy equipment. I obviously know the bees don't care. All the same there is a difference in how people keep their cows for instance and if everything was done right all the time we wouldn't need government inspectors.
 
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