Vital Stats and Materials List for Kenya Top-Bar Hive - dummies

Vital Stats and Materials List for Kenya Top-Bar Hive

By Howland Blackiston

The Kenya top-bar beehive has many design variations, but they all consist of a long, horizontal hive body with sloped sides, top bars (instead of frames), and a roof. The hive’s sloped sides tend to result in stronger combs and discourage the bees from attaching the comb to the bottom of the hive.

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

Vital stats for the Kenya top-bar hive

  • Size: 38 inches x 24 inches x 31-1/4 inches.

  • Capacity: You can’t add supers or additional hive bodies. The space is fixed and thus limited.

  • Type of frame: This design uses a top bar, not a frame. It doesn’t have side bars, a bottom bar, or full sheets of beeswax foundation to deal with (nor the costs associated with these elements). The bees build their comb naturally and without restriction onto each of the top bars placed in the hive (28 in all).

  • Universality: All the gadgets and add-ons that you might use with a conventional Langstroth hive (feeders, queen excluders, frames, foundation, and honey-extracting equipment) are irrelevant to the Kenya top-bar hive. Its design is virtually all-inclusive and requires no extras. And with no standardization of design, commercial replacement parts for top-bar hives aren’t available.

  • Degree of difficulty: This is likely one of the easiest hives to build. It has no complex joinery and requires no complicated frame building or foundation insertion. That’s why this design has remained so popular in Africa and other developing countries.

  • Cost: Using scrap wood (if you can find some) would keep material costs of this design very minimal, but even if you purchase the recommended knotty pine, hardware, and fasteners, you can likely build this hive (including the top bars and the stand) for around $120.

Materials list for the Kenya top-bar hive

The following table lists what you’ll use to build your Kenya hive and the top bars used with it. In most cases, you can make substitutions as needed or desired.

Lumber Hardware Fasteners
2, 8′ lengths of 1″ x 6″ clear pine lumber Weatherproof wood glue 20, #6 x 2-1/2″ deck screws, galvanized, #2 Phillips drive,
flat-head with coarse thread and sharp point
1, 8′ length of 1″ x 12″ knotty pine lumber 1/8″ hardware cloth (you’ll need a piece that measures
36-1/2″ x 7-3/4″). #8 hardware cloth typically comes in a 3′ x 10′
roll, but some commercial beekeeping supply vendors sell it by the
80, #6 x 1-3/8″ galvanized deck screws with coarse thread and
sharp point
1, 8′ length of 4″ x 4″ cedar posts 1/2 pound beeswax (to melt and brush on the frames’
starter strips)
25, 3/8″ staples for use in a heavy-duty staple gun
2, 12″ x 36″ x 3/32″ balsa wood sheets Optional: 2 quarts latex or oil exterior paint (white or any
light color), exterior polyurethane, or marine varnish

Here are a few notes about the materials for your Kenya top-bar hive:

  • Because of its simple butt-joinery, knotty pine is perfectly okay for this hive, and it’s about the least expensive board lumber out there. But pine isn’t the most durable wood; it benefits from a protective coating of paint, varnish, or polyurethane.

    Alternatively, consider keeping your hive as all-natural as possible by using cedar or cypress. Although these woods are more expensive than knotty pine, they stand up well to weather without paint or protective chemicals.

  • You can purchase 3/32-inch thick sheets of balsa wood online or from a hobby store. Use a utility knife to cut the balsa wood sheets into the 13-5/8 inch x 3/4 inch starter strips.