Frames Revisisted

In beekeeping catching swarms is the most exciting thing I do. It’s pretty much all I want to think and talk about because it’s interesting.  It has been a LONG time since I have discussed tasks I don’t like as much. I will say it….  The repetitive “boring” task of building bee-ware is my least favorite beekeeping activity. I have been spending a lot of time building frames lately and after hours and hours (and hours and hours……) it hit me!  I hadn’t ever discussed time savers I use to make the process run more smoothly.

Tools: There are some tools that increase the efficiency of frame building. Only one of these tools is specific to beekeeping so be a do-it your-selfer and invest in some basics to keep around the house. Every home SHOULD have most of these tools. Think about investing in them just as a basic preparedness measure.  They will save you time and you can use them on other projects.

  1. Hammer – whether you use a nail gun or not you need a hammer, maybe 2 of them.
    1. a nice 16 oz. or so hammer &
    2. a tack hammer – when driving VERY small nails having a hammer with a small head will save you time and your fingers pain.
  2. Nails – most frames will come with nails. Since I’m using a brad nailer I save them. If using a brads 1-1/8 to 1-3/16 inch 18Ga brad nails.
  3. Glue –any good woodworking glue will work.
  4. Optional – Pneumatic or Electric Brad nailer – both are gonna probably cost at least $50 in a store. I bought mine (18Ga Pneumatic) for $20 at a flea market. If you make more than 100 frames at any one time you will be GLAD you have one.
  5. Rubber mallet – for lightly tapping tight top and bottom bars into proper position.
  6. Popsicle sticks – to spread around glue.
  7. Frame JIG – I have spoken to many people who think these slow them down.  In beekeeping opinions are what they are. Decide for yourself if you need one. It isn’t essential, but I honestly do not understand how one could slow you down. They’re $30 at Mann Lake and there are plans on that you can download and build yourself. To me they are a time saver and regardless of whether you use a jig or not these tips will help you out.

I typically build 2 different types of frames, Foundationless deep and medium wedge-top frames with a groove in the bottom board. I got all of mine from Walter Kelley company this year. I’m not going to go through the step by step frame assembly here in the interest of time. That’s out there so search for a video on Google or see my previous post.  See also (Getting Framed)


Note - no glue in the last end bar.

Note – no glue in the last end bar.

Tip 1: TOO LITTLE glue is better to start out with than TOO MUCH. If glue is squishing out between the pieces YA GOT TOO MUCH! Beekeeping is about efficiency. Glue isn’t that expensive, but cleanup time IS.  When applying glue to your top and bottom bars leave 1 or 2 without any glue initially.  IF you are spreading it out with your pop-sickle stick and you realize you have excess glue you have a place to go with it instead of it getting wasted.  If you need more when you get to the end of the process you can always add just a little dab.


Bottom boards first

Tip 2: If you’re using a mallet to seat the top and bottom bars DO THE BOTTOM BARS ON FIRST! The tabs that stick up on the BOTTOM of the side-bars to accept the bottom bars are MUCH MORE FRAGILE than the tabs on the TOP. If you tap around on the TOP bars first you can damage the tabs on the bottom of the side-bars. You’re TAPPING here.. don’t get carried away. It seems like more force is needed to seat the top bars than the bottom bars. Sometimes tapping is needed other times NOT.

spacer-board on right

spacer-board on right

Tip 3: When nailing your top and bottom bars on with a brad nailer your speed can be GREATLY increased by using a spacer board.  The spacer is placed on top of the bottom and top boards.  When the base of the brad nailer rests on the spacer the nails are placed perpendicular to the top and bottom bars and go STRAIGHT down into the END BARS.  When you make 10 frames the amount of time spent lining up the nailer for perfect nail placement is immaterial, but after several hundred you’ll see that those fractions of a second add up.

Tip 4: Put your nails in the top bars SO THEY DON’T INTERFERE WITH the final nails in your frames. Planning ahead and paying attention to nail placement will keep things moving. Tip5 is going to discuss the MOST IMPORTANT NAILs in this entire process. Depending on the type of frame you are assembling a different nailing pattern may be BEST for your TOP BARs. Look at and END VIEW of your top bars and determine the MEATIEST section (where the most wood is). That meaty-section is the target for the nails in Tip5 so AVOID that area when nailing your top bars on.  As shown in the CENTER PICTURE above the frames on the LEFT have room in the center for the TIP5 nails to go between the nails in the top bar, and the frames to the RIGHT have the nails closer together so the Tip5 nails can be placed into the cleat opposite the wedge.  I have tried to re-write this about 50 times and used the word “nail” way too much here so look at the picture and ask questions if this is not clear.

Tip 5: THE MOST IMPORTANT NAILS – You MUST always REMEMBER to drive a nail into the top bar through the side bar to prevent pulling the top bar OFF when lifting it out of a box. If you skip this step you will hate your life! Bees get very angry when you rip frames apart in this way. I KNOW! I have inherited used equipment in the past where this step was skipped.  As a result I ALWAYS INSPECT EVERY FRAME TO MAKE SURE THIS is done before it goes into an active hive. There is no excuse for NOT doing this NOW! This is a time when an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure.


evidence of wasted time

If you heed Tips 4 and 5 you WILL NOT need an extra tool. Due to the fact that I was not mindful of my nail placement in the top bars during the first batch of frames I hit them when placing those IMPORTANT NAILS in the sidebar. You don’t want to do this as it makes your frames prone to being loose after completion. For removing bent nails a pair of side cutters works best, but I had a pair of channel locks already on my workbench.  The bent brad nails are in the glass bowl.

I hope these tips will help you to be more efficient this year with your boring prep work. If you have been putting this off GET CRACKIN! It’s cold right now, but Spring is coming quick.

Did I forget any tips that you use?
Any other questions?

You read this far want to get an e-mail about future posts?
e-Mail Updates –

This entry was posted in HowTo, Methods, Posts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Frames Revisisted

  1. J. Morgan says:

    Ha… thank you for saying “drive a nail into the top bar through the side bar to prevent pulling the top bar off.” In our community workshops, it’s gospel. It’s something that new beeks don’t think of… and still, I’ve seen seasoned beeks forget too. If forgotten, it’s not if, but when that top bar will eventually pull off. If you glue and nail, it rarely happens.

    I see you can drive your nails through the center of the side bar on foundationless frames… but in top bars with grooves, you can nail one in on either side of the center so your nail doesn’t interfere with the foundation. As long as it gets one! We also like gorilla glue a whole lot (or a urethane based glue). It’ has never given out yet… where I have seen regular wood glue crack away from seasons of freezing and thawing. Gorilla glue, donated a case of glue for our workshops (they’re a Cincinnati-based company). So, we’ve been providing the glue when people come. I’m also a believer in the frame jig. If you have to make hundreds, it’s the way to get them done. Our record was 230 frames in 8 hours… and that is also wiring the old style frames and embedding the wax foundation. I’ve since moved to plasticell and a few foundationless hives each season. Take care!

    • Jason says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I will have to look into gorilla glue the next time I get ready to make a bunch of stuff. I had a tube of that stuff years ago before I got into beekeeping. I used about half of it, but the rest turned solid in the tube after a while. I was pleased with the way it worked. I have been told that nailing and gluing is overkill, but I continue to do both. When a frame fails in an active hive it creates too big a problem….. I will do a little extra to prevent it.

      The foundation I used this year was some very old wax that was given to me by a beekeeping friend as well as some duragilt that I’ve had laying around for several years. I used to like that duragilt, but have had some mixed results with it. The worst part is I haven’t been able to figure out for sure what made the bees do wacky stuff on it when it happens.

      I’m open to experimenting with some different options on foundation, but that will probably come in 2017. Good luck this Spring. I’m thinking (and hoping) we are experiencing the LAST of our deep freeze cold snaps here in Indiana. I’m ready to see some flowers again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *