I have been using increasing numbers of foundationless frames for the last couple of years. Rather than using a full sheet of embossed, wired foundation I let the bees draw the comb they need. I simply provide them with a frame containing some built-in support to provide lateral stability, together with a small strip (~1cm) of foundation to give them a clue where to start. They work very well. The newly drawn comb is beautiful and the bees draw drone and worker cells as needed. It can also save quite a bit of money.
Mono, wire … wood?
It is possible to use foundationless frames without any additional comb support. However, before it’s completely drawn and securely attached to the side bars it can be a little delicate. I therefore always provide some cross-bracing that can be incorporated into the newly drawn comb to give lateral support.
For the supports I’ve previously been using monofilament fishing line with a breaking strain of 30-50lb threaded through three pairs of holes drilled through the side bars. Although monofilament is inexpensive and easy to obtain, it’s a bit awkward and slow to ‘wire’ the frames and it doesn’t resist the heat of the steam wax extractor. Bees can also sometime nibble through the 30lb stuff whereas the 50lb – although thick enough to withstand the bee nibbling – is less easy to work with. Furthermore, for my day job we regularly harvest 2-3″ square sections of larvae- or pupae-containing brood comb (see the image above†). We do this with a sharp serrated knife. This often severs the monofilament and can leave the frame poorly supported. For these reasons I wanted to prepare foundationless frames with more robust supports for the season(s) ahead.
One option would be to use stainless steel wire. This would certainly be heat resistant. It’s widely available and relatively inexpensive. However, to get sufficient tension it might necessitate fixing eyelets to the side bars to stop the wire cutting into them. Whilst I was considering this there was a post on the SBAi forum suggesting the use of bamboo BBQ skewers. This may well have been suggested elsewhere‡ – there are few original ideas in beekeeping – but it was a new idea to me.
BBQ skewers are available from an eBay in just about any length and amount you could want. One thousand 25cm skewers (the size needed for a standard National brood frame) cost less than a tenner delivered. You can buy 50 or 100 at a time to see if this method works for you (at a higher price per skewer, inevitably).
When preparing the frames I remove the ‘wedge’ and drill two equally-spaced holes through the middle of the top bar. Use a drill bit thinner than the bamboo skewer; I used one of 2.5mm. Assemble the entire frame including both bottom bars. If you’ve not experienced the epiphany of using a nail gun before I recommend borrowing one and discovering how easy it makes putting frames together. Put a small dab of woodworking adhesive (on the inside with regard to the frame) in each of the two holes in the top bar, slip the pointed end of the skewer through the gap in the bottom bars and push it firmly into the glued hole.
Straight and square
If there’s any curve to the bamboo skewer make sure its along the plane of the frame, not bowing out to one side or the other, by rotating the skewer in the hole. Or use a different skewer … they cost less than a penny each. Make sure the skewers are approximately square to the top bar and add another dab of glue either side of where they protrudes through the bottom bars.
Allow the glue to set and then cut off the unwanted pieces of bamboo. I used a Stanley knife for the top bar to get it nice and flush (so I could easily scrape it with a frame tool) and a pair of side cutting pliers for the bottom of the frame.
The resulting frame is then ready for the foundation. I’ll cover this in a separate post as I’ve been making my own starter strips.
† As an aside, the frame in the photograph titled ‘Harvesting brood’ is foundationless. It’s a perfect example of why lateral support is required to make these frames robust enough to handle easily. The bees have drawn the frame out completely but have only secured it to the side bars in a few spots. The comb isn’t attached to the bottom bars at all.
‡ A quick interwebs search turned up a post by Matt Davey on Beesource that lead me to his brief description of using bamboo skewers for foundationless frames. In addition, Kitta – the original poster on the SBAi forum – also kindly directed me to the Heretics Guide to Beekeeping, which is also worth a look. As I said before, if something is a good idea in beekeeping (or a bad idea), someone will have had it before 😉
Interesting idea, looks like it would work well.
We’ll know by late May/early June … though many others have used them like this before, so I expect them to work just fine.
I’ll stick to buying my frames assembled and wired (with eyelets, or good hardwood frame sides can handle without).
At less than a pound a finished frame, delivered, I’d have to be making at least 60 an hour for it to be worthwhile…
Life is far too short to skrimp on every penny.
They’re only that price here if you buy in very serious numbers. Since I only need a maximum of a couple of hundred a year this simply isn’t economic (and I don’t have the storage space to make it economic). Thorne’s has recently started selling assembled foundationless frames but these are over £3 each when purchased in small batches … and probably less good than the design I already use, or the ones shown here. I’m also happy enough to invest a few hours every winter in frame making and it allows me to dabble with different designs.
I can’t make 60 per hour but, if properly prepared, it’s possible to make 30-40 unwired frames ready for sheet foundation in that sort of time.
But that doesn’t factor in the time drinking tea 😉
Wow that’s expensive!
Here frames assembled will range from 0,95-1,05€ delivered usually the minimum order is 50-80 frames – whatever they pack in their standard box for DHL..
I pay 1,05€ this year as they were in stock, and deliver on the date of your choice- which suits me with all my travel.
What frame size do you have – I’ll get u a quote 😉
I use British Standard Nationals, as do many/most people here. I should add that the prices I quote are the list prices from one of the major suppliers. I’ve made no attempt to negotiate or look for bulk suppliers. I’ve seen a commercial operation with frames purchased by the lorry-load, stacked floor to ceiling in a warehouse … unaffordable at the prices I quoted!
changing to Langstroth would probably pay for itsself fairly quickly then!
They also quote special sizes with a minimum of 5000 order – but you could pool together as a club to get that volume fairly easily I think.
Even if it was only 50% discounted after delivery you’d be quids in!
You’re probably right … but almost everyone around here uses Nationals or Smiths (which is the same foundation size, but has short lugs) so I’d never sell a nuc again.
my bad, 500 is the minimum order.
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Have you tried using any of these in an extractor and do you think they’d spin out ok, or break?
Very tempted to try it for supers as well as brood,
This is the first time I’ve used bamboo splints as supports in foundationless frames, so I won’t know until later this season. I have used foundationless frames in my extractor with few problems. However, they were supported with horizontal monofilament. These bamboo ones have larger unsupported areas of comb. In my radial extractor I don’t think this will be an issue. They have the additional advantage that I should be able to prepare cut comb from between the supports relatively easily if I want to.
Thanks David, that’s helpful, I’ve bought my skewers, and I’ll be trying it out in the brood box and supers too. Hopefully compare notes at the end of the season.
I have used monofilament in brood frames, but found it a bit of a faff to wire up and keep tight, hoping this is easier.
Good luck for the season ahead, it’s getting noticeably warmer (famous last words!)
I’ll be interested to hear how you get on. Feels a lot colder to me … but I’m just back from a fortnight in Chile where it was above 30 Centigrade much of the time. The Fife spring feels really raw!
I have copied your idea. I hope that it works!
I used a blob of wood glue in the gully to stick the thin strip of foundation into the frame, that speeds up the process no end.
Just left the frames upside down for a few hours to set.
Just need to get the frames drawn out with the oil seed rape and hopefully set fair for the rest of the season.
Not my idea (see the end of the post) so I’m not claiming credit for it. I’ve seen others use wood glue for attaching foundation strips but have yet to try it myself. I’ve always wondered how clear the channel would be after melting out the frames in my steam wax extractor for recycling.
I hope they’re a great success for you … expect to see lots more drones in the colony.
I have found the bees have made ‘dumbbell” comb, really fat at each end and thin in the middle, alternating these with thin central comb on the next frame and then back to dumbbells.
I presume that when I extract I can cut the comb off so that I level up the comb for next year.
Still lots to learn!
It’s exciting to see a bit of honey though!
On ragged and misshapen comb I run a sharp breadknife along the edge of the topbar, levelling it off. You can then start with nice parallel comb in your supers. The bees tidy it up afterwards.
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