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From my limited experience.

front to back, not so important.
side to side, if undrawn foundation i found on two occasions that the bees started to build comb coming away from the plastic base in such a manner as to make it straight up and down. Cut it out, leveled the hive side to side and all was good. I'd say if its undrawn frames i'd want to get it with in a half inch or so... but thats just me and it may not be necessary.
 

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My understanding, it's pretty limited:eek:, is that a small tilt to the front is desired so that rain water etc. will run off the hive to the ground. If you look at pictures of hives with lots of supers I could see that the amount of tilt my hives have would be an issue. Our ground freezes, heaves and turns to mud every year. Every time I get them close to level, it shifts. I want to build a sturdy stand on posts dug below the frost line but that's for another day. For now I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that they don't shift anymore.
 

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Bees live wherever they can in nature. The front to back is really pre-screened bottom board advice. If you have oil trays for SHB or feeders certainly keep it level. Beekeepers care more about hive condition and positioning than bees. I have seen bees in supers you could not pick up without them falling apart with rot. The girls had propolized the inside to keep the decay out. I also have students at my workshops that paint murals and artistic works on the hives. If it helps the beekeepers take better care of the bees that is the only benefit.
 

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I have a small pitch from back to front so that water will drain away, but with SBB, it doesn't really matter that much at least to me.

I can tell you that although I try to keep it level from side to side, it often isn't and I don't really have a problem with the bees keeping their comb straight in the frame. Maybe the issue with straightness is with the topbar hive when no foundation is used.
 

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Is it still critical to keep the hive level from side to side (when going foundationless) once the comb is drawn?
 

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Yes. The reason being, when you're setting up the hive, it is very easy to level it the way you want it. But once going, might be more difficult. Plus, if you remove old comb and replace it with a foundationless frame for them to draw out, if it isn't level side to side, you'll have a problem. At some point, you'll remove comb and replace with a frame for them to build new comb.
 

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Not very critical for the bees. BUT it may be critical when you are doing something FOR the bees. Large gallon pickle jars for feeding under an empty hive body, the syrup will leak out of jars whose covers are not horizontal. Loose cap? May be....but when the hive is put to the perfectly horizontal level without even touching the jar, all the slow leaking down the front of the hive stops. OMTCW
 
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