Vital Stats and Materials List for the British National Hive - dummies

Vital Stats and Materials List for the British National Hive

By Howland Blackiston

Because of its size and expandability, the British National bee hive does well in climates similar to that of the United Kingdom (namely, where summers are hot and winters can be cold, the average annual temperature is between 45 and 65 degrees F, and minimum temperatures fall between 15 and 35 degrees F).

The British National roof has four ventilation holes, and good ventilation plays a critical role in keeping colonies healthier and more productive.

[Credit: Illustration by Felix Freudzon, Freudzon Design]

Credit: Illustration by Felix Freudzon, Freudzon Design

Because the BNH is mostly unique to the U.K., you may have a devil of a time finding accessories, frames, and foundation outside of the U.K. You can always order from U.K.-based suppliers, but if that means overseas shipping for you, you may want to keep that in mind as you decide whether this is the right hive for you.

Vital stats for the British National hive

Have a look at some statistics and tips for building a British National hive:

  • Overall size: 20-3/8 inches x 20-3/8 inches x 24-5/8 inches.

  • Capacity: This design consists of modular, interchangeable hive parts, so you can add more shallow honey supers as the colony grows and honey production increases. The capacity for bees and honey is unlimited.

  • Type of frame: Because frames and foundation for this hive are typically only available from U.K.-based suppliers, the design is a hybrid frame that you can make yourself. It’s part top bar and part conventional BNH frame.

    These frames have a wooden top and the support of a bottom rail and sides, but they don’t use wired beeswax foundation (which is traditionally used in the BNH design but isn’t readily available in the United States). Instead, a thin starter strip of balsa wood allows the bees to build their own comb freestyle and without restrictions on cell size.

    That’s a great all-natural option for the bees, but the frames of capped honey are more delicate than frames made with conventional wired foundation. Therefore, you have to be very careful when using an extractor. On the other hand, you can readily harvest cut-comb honey or crush the combs to extract the honey.

    For extra strength, you can zig-zag some support wiring through the holes in the frames of the side bars to provide extra support as the bees build their comb.

    If you decide to order ready-made BNH frames and foundation, contact E. H. Thorne (Beehives) Ltd. The frames and foundation it sells should work fine with this design.

  • Universality: Given this design’s wide popularity in the U.K., the beekeeper using the BNH has all kinds of options for purchasing extras (such as replacement parts and accessories). But you’ll likely have to use a supplier in the U.K. to get these parts.

    For this version of the BNH, the bee space is designated at the top of the hive, which is more typical for American beekeepers. Having the correct bee space means the bees won’t glue parts together with propolis or burr comb.

    Bottom bee space is preferred in the U.K., however. Because this design uses top bee space, not all commercially available parts and accessories from the U.K. will be compatible. So if you order commercially available items for this hive, be sure to ask the vendor if what you order is compatible with top bee space hives.

    (Note: If you elect to order BNH frames and foundation from the U.K., they will work fine with hives using either top or bottom bee space.)

  • Degree of difficulty: This is a pretty straightforward design. However, the tin work involved with the aluminum flashing material used on the roof can be tricky. Bending the corners, like folding the corners of sheets on a bed, takes a little patience and practice.

  • Cost: Using scrap wood (if you can find some) would keep material costs of this design minimal, but even if you purchase the recommended wood, hardware, and fasteners, you can likely build this hive (frames and all) for less than $175 (and even less if you use pine lumber in place of the cedar).

Materials list for the British National hive

The following table lists what you’ll use to build your BNH and the frames within it. Feel free to change out some materials to suit your needs or take advantage of materials you have on hand.

Lumber Hardware Fasteners
3, 8′ lengths of 1″ x 6″ clear pine lumber Weatherproof wood glue 200, #6d x 2″ galvanized nails
1, 8′ length of 1″ x 8″ cedar 1/2 pound pure beeswax for melting 320, 5/32″ x 1-1/8″ flat-head, diamond-point wire nails
1, 10′ length of 1″ x 8″ cedar 1, roll of 24″ wide aluminum flashing (usually comes in a 10’ length). You can use the extra material to build additional hives. 20, #6 x 1-3/8″ deck screws, galvanized, #2 Phillips drive, flat-head with coarse thread and sharp point
1, 10′ length of 1″ x 10″ cedar Small piece of 1/8″ (#8) hardware cloth (5″ x 5″ will do the trick) 25, #8 x 1/2″ lath screws, galvanized, #2 Phillips drive, flat-head with sharp point
1, 8′ length of 2″ x 6″ stud spruce or fir Optional: 2 quarts latex or oil exterior paint (white or any light color), exterior polyurethane, or marine varnish  
1, 12″ x 36″ x 3/32″ balsa wood sheet (available from hobby supply stores)    
1, 8′ length of 5/4″ x 6″ cedar decking    
1, 2′ x 4′ sheet of 3/4″ thick exterior plywood    
1, 2′ x 4′ sheet of 1/4″ thick lauan plywood    

Here are a couple of notes about the materials for your British National hive:

  • In the U.K., British National hives are traditionally made from cedar. You can always swap out the cedar for the more economical knotty pine option.

  • Pure beeswax for melting is available at arts and crafts stores and from beekeeping supply vendors; you can find many vendors online. Here are some to consider, in no particular order:

  • A few more fasteners than you’ll actually use are included, just in case you lose or bend a few along the way.