How to Assemble the British National Hive
Putting together the components of your British National hive (BNH) is pretty much just stacking one component on top of another (like a skyscraper). But there is, of course, a correct sequence. Understanding each element’s purpose is helpful in understanding the sequence in which you build and stack them. You start at the bottom and work your way up.
Throughout this project, use a weatherproof wood glue in addition to the fasteners. It helps make the hive parts as strong as possible. Apply a thin coat of glue wherever the wooden parts are joined together.
Nails will go in easier if you first drill a 7/64 inch hole in each spot you plan to place a nail. This drilling also helps prevent the wood from splitting. Use this little trick for all the hive parts you assemble.
Assemble the floor.
Place the short rail on your worktable with the dado side up. Position the plywood floor into the dado groove. You can use 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 in all rails faces the same way (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 #6d x 2 inch galvanized nails halfway into the center of each of the three rails (the nails go through the rails and into the edges of the plywood).
Don’t hammer them all the way in quite yet. First make sure everything fits properly; you have no room for adjustment when all the nails are in! When the fit looks good, hammer these nails all the way in, plus three additional nails per side rail and two additional for the rear rail.
The entrance reducer remains loose and is placed in the entrance of the hive to control ventilation and prevent robbing, that dreaded occurrence when bees from neighboring hives invade another hive to steal all the honey. The entrance reducer makes the opening of a weak hive smaller and thus easier to defend from robbing neighbors. The entrance reducer is typically not used year-round.
Assemble the brood chamber.
Insert the edges of the short sides into the dado grooves cut into the long sides. Affix them together by hammering one #6d galvanized nail into each of the brood box’s four edges. The rabbeted edges of the two short sides represent the top of the brood chamber (the frames will rest on the ledge the rabbet creates). Hammer the nails only halfway in to make sure everything is square and fits properly.
Use a carpenter’s square to make sure the box stays square as you assemble the brood chamber.
When everything looks okay, you can hammer the nails all the way in and add an additional 4 evenly spaced nails per edge. Check all sides to make certain that all 20 nails are in place.
Assemble the shallow honey supers.
You assemble two shallow honey supers. The instructions for each are identical. Assembly is similar to what you did for the brood chamber in the preceding step.
Insert the edges of the short sides into the dado grooves cut into the long sides. Affix them together by hammering one #6d galvanized nail into each of the super’s four edges. The rabbeted edges of the two short sides represent the top of the super (the frames will rest on the ledge the rabbet creates). Hammer the nails only halfway in to make sure everything is square and fits properly.
Use a carpenter’s square to make sure the box stays square as you assemble the shallow honey super.
When everything looks okay, you can hammer the nails all the way in and add an additional 2 evenly spaced nails per edge. Check all sides to make certain that all 12 nails are in place.
You’re done making one shallow honey super. Follow the same procedure to build the second super.
Assemble the deep and shallow frames.
You’ll assemble 11 deep frames and 22 shallow frames. The instructions are identical for both deep frames and shallow frames. Only the vertical height differs.
Place a top bar on your work surface with the 1/8 inch kerf cut facing up.
Insert the wider end of the two side bars (8-9/16 inch length if you’re building deep frames or 5-9/16 inch length if you’re assembling shallow frames) into the slots at either end of the top bar.
Insert the bottom bar into the slots at the narrow ends of the side bars. Make sure the frame assembly is square.
Now nail all four pieces together. Use a total of six 1-1/8 inch flat-head nails per frame (two for each end of the top bar and one at each end of the bottom bar).
Repeat these steps until you’ve assembled all your frames.
Don’t be tempted to use any shortcuts when you build frames. Frames undergo all kinds of abuse and stress, so their structural integrity is vital. Don’t skimp on the nails or settle for a bent nail that’s partially driven home. There’s no cheating when it comes to assembling frames!
Never paint your frames; that could be toxic to your bees. Always leave all interior parts of any hive unpainted, unvarnished, and all-natural.
Install and prime the frames’ starter strips.
Take a balsa wood starter strip and glue it (centered) into the 1/8 inch kerf cut groove that’s on the bottom of the top bar. Repeat this step for the remaining 32 frames. Let the glue dry completely before proceeding to the next step.
Melt the 1/2 pound of beeswax over low electric heat or in a double boiler. Use a disposable brush to coat all the starter strips with a thin coat of beeswax. This priming encourages the bees to get started making comb.
Never melt beeswax using an open flame! Beeswax is highly flammable.
Now place 11 frames into the brood box and 11 frames into each of the two shallow honey supers (33 frames in all). The frames rest on the rabbeted ledge. Distribute the frames evenly within the brood box and supers.
Assemble the crown board.
Position the 1/4 inch plywood cover insert into the dado of the long rails and the short rails. It’s 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 crown board!
Check the alignment and fit and insert a #6 x 1-3/8 inch galvanized deck screw halfway into each of the four corners on the long rails. When everything is square and fits properly, screw them in all the way. Keep in mind that if you cut the plywood insert square it squares up the frame nicely.
Don’t paint the crown board. Leave it natural and unfinished, as with all the internal parts of any beehive.
Assemble the panels of the roof.
Loosely assemble all four side panels of the roof together as a “test fit” (you’re building a box). The short sides fit into the rabbeted edges of the long sides.
When assembling the roof, having a stop on your worktable that you can push against while inserting screws is helpful. A short piece of 2 x 4 lumber clamped to the table serves as a good stop.
Place one of the long panels of the loosely assembled roof against the stop. Using the galvanized deck screws, insert three screws into each corner of the long panel at the opposite end of the assembly. Reverse the entire cover end to end and screw the corners of the other long panel in a similar manner. Make certain that the entire assembly remains snug, tight, and square as you do this.
Now use the deck screws to secure the plywood to the top of the assembly. Drive the screws through the plywood top and into the top edges of the four side panels. Use five evenly spaced screws along each side.
Optional: Paint the exposed exterior wood of the roof with a good quality outdoor paint (latex or oil). Doing so greatly extends the life of your woodenware. You can use any color you want, but white or a light pastel is best. Do not paint the inside of the top or the aluminum flashing you add in the next step. Alternatively, you can stain and polyurethane the exterior wood.
Add the aluminum flashing and the inner ridge frame to the roof.
Center the 24-inch-x-24-inch aluminum flashing evenly on the top and bend the flashing over the edges of the box. This creates a 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. I use four evenly spaced screws per side, plus an extra screw to secure each folded corner.
If you don’t feel up to the task of fitting the aluminum flashing on the roof, you have another option. Use #15 pound felt tar paper roofing material instead. You can staple it in place (rather than using screws). It’s a lot easier to work with, and some would argue that it results in a quieter roof when it rains and therefore is less stressful to the bees.
Assemble the inner ridge frame using one deck screw in each corner. These are simple butt joints. Make certain the assembly is square.
Place the roof assembly upside down on a flat work surface with the metal roof resting on the work surface. Insert the inner ridge frame into the roof assembly and secure it to the walls of the roof using four deck screws per rail. Screw through the ridge frame’s rails and into the roof’s side walls.
The ridge frame fits snugly against the underside of the roof’s top. The inner ridge frame provides a ventilated air space.
Now use a 1/2 inch bit and drill ventilation holes all the way through the aluminum flashing, through the roof’s walls, and through the inner ridge frame. Drill one hole per side. Center each hole left to right and position each 1/4 inch down from the top edge of the roof.
Now staple a 3/4 inch square of #8 hardware cloth over each of the holes from the inside of the roof. That keeps the air flowing and the bees inside.
Stack all the pieces together to create the hive.
Now it’s time to put all the elements together. Place the floor on level ground. The floor keeps the colony off the damp ground and provides for the hive’s entrance (where the bees fly in and out).
Consider using an elevated hive stand to raise the hive farther off the ground and make it more accessible to you.
Next, the brood box goes on top of the floor. The bees raise baby bees and store food for their use in these boxes.
Stack the two shallow honey supers on top of the deep brood box. This is where the bees store honey — the honey you’ll be harvesting for yourself. Each shallow super holds 25 to 30 pounds of honey.
When your top honey super is about half-full with capped honey, it’s time to build another super and 11 more frames. If you’re lucky and the honey flow is heavy, you may ultimately stack three, four, or more supers on your hive. A royal event for your British hive!
Place the crown board on top of the uppermost super. Position it with the flat side down and with the cutout ovals closest to the hive’s entrance.
The roof sits on top of it all. It provides ventilation and protection from the elements. The BNH uses a telescoping cover design, meaning the cover fits on and over the hive (like a hat). Simply stack the roof on top of your inner cover and that’s it — your British National hive is ready for her royal majesty and her subjects!Credit: Illustration by Felix Freudzon, Freudzon Design