Frame building

Beautiful ...

Beautiful …

It’s 3-4 weeks until the first full hive inspections (around about when the ornamental Ribes starts flowering) … after that it’s startling how fast the season takes off. I’m never as well prepared as I should be and often run out of frames and have to build them on the day they’re needed. This doesn’t make for relaxing beekeeping and is something I hope to avoid this season.

Brood frame replacement

The recommendation from the National Bee Unit is to replace at least one third of brood comb a year (PDF). Unless brood comb is nearly unused – for example, frames that have only had stores and/or pollen in – I  usually try and replace it more frequently than this. This helps prevent the build-up of pathogens such as Nosema. In addition to fresh floors, many of my colonies will therefore also be getting either a Bailey comb change or will be ‘treated’ to a shook swarm early in the season. This ensures they are on new, fresh, disease-free comb and gives them the best possible start to the year. This means another 11 frames are required for every overwintered colony. Furthermore, because I’m concentrating on making nucs this season I’m going to need even more frames than usual.

Remember to keep a few empty old dark brood frames for your bait hives. Keep the wax moths away by freezing them, using DiPel or wrapping them up securely.

Reusing old frames

Old frames can be reused if sterilised. I use a homemade steam wax extractor to clean them up and then scrape away any remaining old propolis. After 15-30 minutes in boiling steam they should be sterilised. The frames look a bit tatty but are perfectly serviceable. Foundationless frames need re-‘wiring’ (actually fishing monofilament) as it tends to lose tension in the heat.

I’m gradually switching over to predominantly foundationless frames (as they did so well last year) so also needed to prepare more sidebars – if you drill them in pairs and then put staples/nails into each of the pair (to take the tensioned nylon) it speeds the entire process … but nothing like as much as using a nail gun for assembly. I also now use wood glue on the joints, leaving just one bottom bar unglued and held in with gimp pins. This makes disassembly after steaming easier and means the frame can be used with a full sheet of foundation if needed.

Less foundation …

I’ve not got round to making my own foundation starter strips this year. Instead, I’ve bought unwired brood foundation. A single sheet is easily sufficient for 10 frames and could probably be eked out further. At Thorne’s full price for premier quality unwired deep wax, the small strip of foundation in a foundationless frame costs costs about 1p (and much less if your association has a co-operative purchasing scheme, or you trade-in recovered wax). Cost is certainly not a reason to delay brood frame replacement.

Frame building is quite therapeutic when you have a bit of spare time. The large pile of neatly bundled, slightly fragrant pine is gradually reduced as the tottering pile of assembled frames grows. It’s far better to do this on a cold, wet winter day with the radio and copious mugs of tea for company than rushing around in late May when you’ll have much less time.

Only another 120 to go … 🙂

5 thoughts on “Frame building

  1. Emily

    Hate frame building – hammering the nails in is time consuming noisy and in our little flat the noise echoes round so I can only do it at certain hours of the day so as not to disturb our neighbours. And there’s always one or two that go in bent so that I have to pull them out and start again.

    What make of nail gun do you have? Do you remember how much it cost roughly? Thanks.

    1. David Post author

      I’ve discussed nail guns previously. The Tacwise 191EL I use appears to be about £60 currently, but I’ve seen it as low as £40 on offer. I think the model has been replaced with a 191ELS (and have no idea of the difference). Mine was a generous gift from my father so cost nothing 🙂
      You’ll read mixed views on nail guns on the forums. Many appear to prefer gas powered rather than electric. The former need a compressor. Some don’t like the Tacwise as they claim they jam. This isn’t my experience – I’ve built about 250 frames, a dozen brood boxes or supers (they can use 35mm nails as well) and a host of other things without a single problem in the last year.
      However, they’re not quieter than hammering … they make a resounding ‘chunk’ noise when they drive the nail home. A few nails get bent, usually because I’m not holding the gun firmly enough against the frame.

      Note … I meant to also add that I’ve never had this nail gun jam. On the forums you’ll read people rubbishing Tacwise because they jam all the time. Over the last couple of weekends I’ve built about 250 frames, with 6 x 20mm Tacwise branded nails in each. No problems and no jams.

  2. David

    Thanks for this, it’s been something I have considered and not got around to (like so much else), but it has now prompted me to order some fishing line and have a go this year.

    Any experience over how off level can hives be? Can I do it by eye, or do I need to get the spirit level out and be absolutely precise?

    Great website, thanks – I’m just working through some of your other posts, very interesting!


    1. David Post author

      My phone has a electronic spirit level and I try and get them so the frames hang perpendiculer … perhaps a degree or two out isn’t a problem. However, my hives usually slope front to back a bit so that water doesn’t get driven into the entrance of the floors I use. Most of my hive stands are doubles … I level these and then hope my floors are sufficiently flat to let the bees build the frames properly. Of the 100+ I used last year I only had troubles with a few – with with the bees missing the ‘wire’ or the nylon being nibbled through.

      I’ve built another 100 or so this year and used thicker nylon. It’s less pleasant to work with … we’ll know in a few month whether it was worth the effort.

      Pleased you like the site …

      1. David

        Great, 50lb line is on its way, so I should soon find out! I’m using pallets, so suspect a few lumps of wood may be needed to level them up.

        Thanks again,


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