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How to Assemble the Langstroth Hive

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Whether you’re building the ten- or eight-frame version of the Langstroth hive, the assembly instructions are nearly identical. But there’s a correct sequence, of course. Understanding each element’s purpose is helpful in understanding the sequence in which the elements are built and stacked.

You start at the bottom (the ground) and work your way up (the sky).

  1. Assemble the bottom board.

    Position the plywood floor into the dado groove of the short rail. The rail should rest on your worktable with the dado side up. You can select either end of the plywood floor as the rear of the bottom board.

    Place the long rails on both sides of the plywood floor, inserting the plywood into the dados.

    Be certain that the dado faces the same way in all rails (the dado isn’t centered along the rail). Otherwise, you’ll have a seriously lopsided bottom board!

    Check the alignment and fit of all the rails with the floor, and then place one of the #6 x 1-3/8 inch galvanized deck screws halfway into the center of each of the three rails (the screws go through the rails and into the edges of the plywood) with a drill.

    Don’t screw them in all the way yet. First make sure that everything fits properly; you have no room for adjustment after all the screws are in! When the fit looks good, use four additional deck screws spaced evenly (by eye) along each long rail, and three additional screws spaced evenly (by eye) along the short rail.

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

    The entrance reducer remains loose, and you place it in the entrance of the hive to control ventilation and prevent robbing, that dreaded occurrence where aggressive invaders from another colony steal all the honey from your hive. The entrance reducer is typically not used year-round.

  2. Assemble the deep hive bodies.

    You’ll be assembling two deep hive bodies. Each goes together in the identical manner. First, assemble the two long sides and the two short sides by tapping the finger joints together with a rubber mallet. You’re essentially building a box. If the fit is too snug, use 60 grit sandpaper to remove some wood material from the offending fingers.

    Use a carpenter’s square to make sure the box stays square as you assemble the hive body because you won’t have an opportunity for correction after all the nails are in place!

    When the “dry” fit looks good and everything is squared up, begin to lock the finger joints in place by nailing a 6d x 2 inch galvanized nail into one of the center fingers on each of the hive’s four corners.

    Hammer the nail in only halfway to make sure everything remains square and fits properly, make sure everything looks okay, and then hammer the remaining nails all the way in. You use one 6d x 2 inch nail in each of the fingers and an extra one for strength in the wider top finger.

    Now use the deck screws to attach the two hand rails to the short sides of the hive body. Position the top edge of the hand rails 2 inches down from the top edge of the hive body. Use five screws per hand rail, spaced and staggered as shown in the figure (mathematical precision isn’t necessary). The staggering prevents the wood from splitting.

    In place of using wooden hand rails, you can attach flush-mounted, galvanized (or stainless steel) handles to the hive body. They provide you with a much more authoritative grip, and they look kind of cool. You can find these handles in hardware stores or marine supply stores.

    Check all sides to make certain that all the nails and screws are in place. All good? You’re done making one deep hive body. Assemble the second one in the same manner.

  3. Assemble the medium super.

    Use a 7/64 inch bit to drill a hole in the center of each finger joint.

    Assemble the two long sides and the two short sides by tapping the finger joints together with a rubber mallet. Again, you’re essentially building a box. If the fit is too snug, use 60 grit sandpaper to remove some wood material from the offending fingers.

    Use a carpenter’s square to make sure the box stays square as you assemble the hive body because you won’t have an opportunity for correction after all the screws are in place!

    When the “dry” fit looks good and everything is squared up, begin to lock the finger joints in place by nailing a 6d x 2 inch galvanized nail into one of the center fingers on each of the super’s four corners.

    Hammer the nail in only halfway to make sure everything is square and fits properly, make sure everything looks okay, and then hammer the nails all the way in. You use one 6d x 2 inch nail in each of the fingers, plus an extra one in the wide top finger.

    Now use the deck screws to attach the two hand rails to the short sides of the hive body. Position the top edge of the hand rails 2 inches down from the top edge of the hive body. Use five screws per hand rail, spaced and staggered as shown in the figure (mathematical precision isn’t necessary).

    In place of using wooden hand rails, you can attach flush-mounted, galvanized (or stainless steel) handles to the super.

    Check all sides to make certain that all the nails are in place. Congratulations! You’re done making the medium super!

  4. Assemble the inner cover.

    Position the plywood cover insert into the dado of the long rails and into the dado of the short rails. This is kind of like putting a picture frame together.

    Be certain that all rails have the thick or thin lip of the groove facing the same way. Otherwise, you’ll have a seriously lopsided inner cover!

    Check the alignment and fit, and insert a deck screw halfway into each of the four corners. Don’t put the screws all the way in yet. First make sure everything is square and fits properly. When all looks good, you can screw them in all the way. Keep in mind that if you cut the plywood insert square, it will essentially square up the frame.

    Don’t paint the inner cover. Leave it natural and unfinished, as with all the internal parts of any beehive.

    Note: You should position the inner cover on the hive body with the flat side down and with the cutout notch (bee ventilation/entrance) facing up and at the front of the hive.

  5. Assemble the outer cover.

    Start with one long rail. Insert the plywood into the rabbeted groove. Repeat this step on the opposite side with the second long rail.

    Fit both of the two short rails onto the plywood board. The rails form a frame surrounding the plywood board. If the plywood was cut square, it helps square up the entire assembly.

    When assembling the outer cover, have a “stop” on your worktable that you can push against while inserting screws. A short 2x4 of lumber clamped to the table serves as a good stop to work against.

    Place one end of the outer cover flat on the worktable against the stop. Using deck screws, insert two screws into each corner of the short rails. Reverse the entire cover end to end, and screw the other corners of the short rails in a similar manner. Make certain the entire assembly remains snug and tight as you do this.

    Now use the deck screws to secure the plywood insert to the assembly. Drive the screws through the rails and into the edges of the plywood board. Five evenly spaced screws along each long rail and four along the short rails should do the trick.

    Center the aluminum flashing evenly on the top of the outer cover, and bend the flashing over the edges of the rail/frame. This creates a 7/8 inch lip all around the top edge. Do this to all four sides. Bend and fold the corners (like you’re making the corners of a bed). The flashing is thin and fairly easy to work with. Use a rubber mallet to coax the corners flush and flat.

    The edges of aluminum flashing are very sharp. Use caution when handling flashing to avoid cutting yourself, and consider using work gloves.

    Affix the folded edges of the flashing to the outer cover using the #8 x 1/2 inch lath screws.

  6. Stack all the pieces together to create the hive.

    Place the bottom board on level ground. The bottom board is the floor of the hive. It keeps the colony off the damp ground and provides for the entrance of the hive (where the bees fly in and out).

    Consider using an elevated hive stand to raise the hive farther off the ground, to make it more accessible to you, and to improve ventilation.

    The two deep hive bodies go on top of the bottom board. The bees raise baby bees and store food in these boxes. The bees tend to use the lower deep for raising brood and the upper deep for storing food. A nursery and a pantry!

    Place deep frames with foundation into each deep hive body (either ten or eight frames, depending on which version of the hive you’re building).

    Stack the medium super on top of the deep hive bodies. This is where the bees store extra honey. That’s the honey you harvest for yourself. One medium super holds about 35 pounds of honey. Place medium frames with foundation into the medium honey super (either ten or eight frames, depending on which version of the hive you’re building).

    Some beekeepers use a queen excluder placed between the top deep and the medium honey super above. As the name implies, this gizmo prevents the queen from entering the honey super, where she might start laying eggs. A queen laying eggs in the super encourages the other bees to bring pollen into the super, spoiling the clarity of the honey.

    When your medium honey super is about half-filled with capped honey, it’s time to build another medium super and more medium frames with foundation. If you’re lucky and the honey flow is heavy, you may ultimately stack three, four, or more medium supers on your hive. That’s a honey bonanza!

    You place the inner cover on top of the medium super. The deeper ledge faces up. If you choose to cut a ventilation notch in the inner cover, it faces toward the front (entrance) of the hive.

    The outer cover is the roof of your hive, providing protection from the elements. The Langstroth hive uses a telescoping cover design, meaning the cover fits on and over the hive (like a hat). Simply stack the outer cover on top of your inner cover, and that’s it. Your Langstroth hive is ready for the bees to settle in!

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

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