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How to Assemble the Four-Frame Observation Hive

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If you’ve cut all the parts for your four-frame observation hive, you’re ready to put it all together. Here are a few pointers to follow throughout this beehive assembly:

  • Consider using a weatherproof wood glue in addition to screws. It helps make the observation hive as strong as possible. Apply a thin coat of glue wherever the wooden parts are joined together.

  • Screws will go in easier if you first drill a 7/64 inch hole in each spot you plan to place a screw. The pre-drilling also helps prevent the wood from splitting.

  • Use a carpenter’s square to make sure everything stays square as you put the hive together; you have no opportunity for correction after all the screws are in place!

You start at the top and work your way down:

  1. Attach the two side panels of the hive body to the top panel.

    Staple one piece of hardware cloth to cover the feeding hole (note that you place the screening on the inside of the top panel). The screening here prevents the bees from escaping when you remove the feeding jar for refilling. Use enough staples so there are no gaps for the bees to escape through.

    Staple the two other pieces of hardware cloth to the inside of both side panels to cover the two ventilation holes (note that you place the screening on the inside of the hive). The screening here prevents the bees from escaping.

    Identify the side panel that has one ventilation hole but not the entry hole. Position this panel flush with one of the short edges of the top panel. The screening over the side panel’s ventilation hole is on the inside of the hive.

    The dado cut faces upward and inward. Secure this side panel to the top panel using your power drill (with a #2 Phillips head bit) and two evenly spaced #6 x 1-3/8 inch deck screws driven through the side panel and into the edge of the top panel.

  2. Attach the hand rails to the side panels.

    Use deck screws to attach the hand rails to the side panels. Note that the top edge of the hand rails are flush with the top. The screws go through the hand rails and into the side panels. Use three evenly spaced screws per hand rail. Be certain to position the screws to avoid the screws you’ve already used to attach the side panels to the top panel.

    See the following figure for approximate placement of screws.

  3. Attach the top assembly to the bottom board.

    You center the entire top assembly between the two 1/8 inch kerf cuts on the bottom board. Position the panel that doesn’t have the entrance hole flush with one short edge of the bottom board. Use two evenly spaced deck screws per side, driven through the underside of the bottom board and into the bottom edge of the side panels.

  4. Attach the feet to the bottom board.

    Take one of the feet and position it under the bottom board, centered below one of the side panels. Secure the foot to the bottom board using three evenly spaced deck screws. The screws go through the foot and into the bottom board. Repeat this procedure to attach the second foot. Be certain to position the screws to avoid the screws you’ve already used to attach the top assembly to the bottom board.

    Optional: Stain the exposed wood of the observation hive and use a few protective coats of polyurethane or marine varnish.

  5. Attach the hinge hardware to the entry area.

    You need a door that you can open and close to let the bees fly out or to keep them inside. The door feature should be foolproof, so that when you take your observation hive to schools, curious little students can’t open it and let all the bees out. (That would make for a memorable school day!)

    A wide door hinge serves perfectly as a door (in this case, a 2-inch by 4-inch wide-throw door hinge). Secure one flap of the hinge to the bottom board using the 1/2 inch flat-head Phillips screws, and position the other flap to close the entry hole when the flap is up. When the flap is down, the entrance hole is open.

    For closing the entrance, use a screw or two to secure the hinge flap in the up position. That prevents the curious from flipping the door open.

  6. Install four deep frames with foundation.

    The frames slide into place and hang on the “ledges” of the side panels that you created with the dado cuts.

  7. Attach the glass window panels.

    Insert one of the tempered glass panels into the 1/8 inch kerf cut that runs along the length of the bottom board. After you center the glass panel on one side of the hive, secure the glass snugly in place by using six evenly spaced “L” mirror clips (two along each side and two along the top).

    Use one 1/8 inch flat-head Phillips screw per clip, or use the screws that typically come with mirror clips.

    Some mirror clips come with a patch of felt attached to the surface of the clip that comes in contact with the glass. If your clips don’t have this feature, cut a small square of felt and glue it to the facing of the clip that pairs with the glass. This holds the glass more snugly, prevents the glass from scratching, and eliminates any rattles.

    Repeat this procedure for the glass window panel on the opposite side.

  8. Top off your hive with the feeding jar.

    Use a brad to punch a dozen or so tiny holes in the metal lid of a Mason jar or empty mayonnaise jar; these holes allow the bees access to the syrup. Fill the feeding jar with sugar syrup and invert it over the hole in the top of the hive. That’s it! Your hive is ready for a colony of bees and many hours of enjoyable observation.

    To install bees, you need to remove one of the glass window panels to access the frames. The easiest way to install bees in an observation hive is to replace one or more of the new empty frames with an equal number of frames of drawn comb containing capped brood, worker bees, and a queen.

    [Credit: Illustration by Felix Freudzon, Freudzon Design]
    Credit: Illustration by Felix Freudzon, Freudzon Design

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