Vital Stats and Materials List for Four-Frame Observation Hive

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Having an observation hive is great, even when you have conventional hives in your garden. The pleasure and added insight it gives you about honeybee behavior is immeasurable.

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

Vital stats for the four-frame observation hive

  • Overall size: 22 inches x 7-1/4 inches x 12-3/8 inches.

  • Capacity: Because this design consists of only four frames and allows no room for expansion as the colony grows in population, the capacity for bees is limited. So prepare yourself for the inevitable — bees kept in an observation hive will swarm at some point.

  • Type of frame: This hive uses a Langstroth-style, self-centering frame with beeswax foundation inserts. The hive uses a total of four deep frames.

  • Universality: Because this hive uses Langstroth-style deep frames, you can easily purchase ready-made deep frames and deep foundation from any beekeeping supplier.

  • Degree of difficulty: This is a simple design that doesn’t have too many parts and is easy to build.

  • Cost: Using scrap wood (if you can find some) would keep material costs of this design minimal, but even if you purchase the recommended lumber, hardware, glass, and fasteners, you can likely build this observation hive for less than $40. The most expensive items are the two panes of tempered window glass. If you choose Plexiglas, be prepared to spend more (it’s pricey).

Materials list for the four-frame observation hive

The following table lists what you’ll use to build your observation hive. In most cases, you can make substitutions in lumber as needed or desired.

Lumber Hardware Fasteners
1, 8' length of 1" x 8" knotty pine lumber 10" x 10" piece of 1/8" hardware cloth (#8 hardware cloth is usually sold in 3' x 10' rolls, but some beekeeping suppliers offer it by the foot) 20, 3/8" staples for use in a heavy-duty staple gun
2" x 4" wide throw door hinge 14, #6 x 1-3/8" deck screws, galvanized, #2 Phillips drive, flat-head with coarse thread and sharp point
4, Deep Langstroth-style frames and deep foundation (available from any beekeeping supply source) 20, 1/8" flat-head Phillips screws
2, 1/8" panes tempered window glass cut to 19-3/4" x 11" (have glazer round off all sharp edges) 6, 1/2" flat-head Phillips screws
Mason jar or empty mayonnaise jar with metal screw-on lid that measures slightly less than 3" in diameter 12, 5/8" x 3/8" bendable “L” mirror clips and screws (clips typically come with matching screws)
Optional: weatherproof wood glue
Optional: wood stain and polyurethane finish

Here are a few notes about the materials for your four-frame observation hive:

  • Knotty pine because is about the least expensive wood on the market. However, because this hive will be on display in your home or at educational events, you may want to invest in some fancy lumber to dress it up for show! Consider a stunning cherry wood hive or even a jaw-dropping veneer hive.

  • Using tempered (safety) glass (versus normal glass) greatly reduces the chance of breakage and injury. Alternatively, you can use Plexiglas PMMA resin, which results in a virtually unbreakable window. However, over time, Plexiglas scratches and gets cloudy, and it’s much more difficult to clean than glass.

  • There are a few more screws and nails than you’ll actually use because, you’ll lose or bend a few along the way. It’s better to have a few extras on hand and save yourself another trip to the hardware store.


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