English for beekeepers

Bee box terminology: what to call all the sizes


I don’t think there’s anything more confusing to a beginning beekeeper than the names of all the boxes used in a Langstroth hive. Not only do different people use different names, but they use the boxes for different purposes. You can get tangled up in a hurry. Here’s a summary that may clear things up . . . or make it worse. The measurements I give are for the height of the boxes and they are approximate—different manufacturers vary them slightly.

First, a note about supers: The word “super” is short for “superstructure” and it refers to a box that goes on top of the regular colony. It usually refers to the boxes in which honey is stored. However, lots of people use the word “super” for any of the boxes. Although this is technically incorrect, you have to be ready to hear it.

  • 9 5/8 inches: These are called hive bodies, deeps, or brood boxes. They make up the “living quarters” of the hive. This is the place where the eggs are laid and the brood is raised. It is common to see 1, 2, or 3 of these permanent boxes making up a hive. However, the living quarters doesn’t have to be made of deeps—it can also be made of mediums, or deeps and mediums combined. If you say “deep,” people will know exactly what you mean.
  • 6 5/8 inches: These are called mediums, Illinois supers, or western supers. I’ve read that they originated in Illinois. I suppose if you live in the east, then Illinois is west, but if you live in the west, Illinois is east. Whatever. Call them mediums and save yourself the mental exercise. Mediums are often used as honey supers, but they may also be used as brood boxes. You can call them “medium supers” or “medium brood boxes,” depending on how you use them.
  • 5¾ inches: These are called shallows and they are almost always used as honey supers. But don’t be confused! A shallow is deeper than either a section honey super or a Ross Round super.
  • 4¾ inches: These are called section supers. They are not so common any more, but you can still buy them. They are used for making comb honey in wooden section boxes. A section super is deeper than a Ross Round super but shallower than a shallow. There will be a quiz.
  • 4½ inches: These are called Ross Round supers and they are used for making comb honey in round plastic boxes. They are the shallowest of any of the boxes.

As I said, the manufacturers vary the size of these boxes about a sixteenth of an inch in height, but also sometimes in length and width as well. It is easiest to buy all your equipment from one place but, if you don’t, you can still make them work together—especially if you have some patience and a few tools. And knowing all the terminology for these parts will make communicating with other beekeepers a lot easier.

Honey Bee Suite

Here's a short list of bee box terminology.

A beehive is made of several boxes with odd names. Pixabay photo.


  • I’m a second year beekeeper (TBH), and I’ve never seen a Langstroth hive being worked. How do the boxes stack on top of each other without sliding around? I’m assuming they aren’t rebated and have to be carefully aligned. Is that correct?

    • Yes, you just align them on top of each other. There are no rabbet joints or anything. The boxes are pretty heavy and easily stay in place. After just a few hours the bees start stuffing propolis in the cracks where the boxes meet. By the time you go to move them, they are well cemented in place. I’ve never had any slide around.

  • Hello Rusty,

    Do you have any data on the efficacy of different size brood boxes on colony health? I ran a deep-medium brood chamber and was hindered in manipulations, so I switched to all mediums which cut down on inventory. However, our state inspector has talked about the extra gap in the brood area causing cluster problems in winter.

    After seeing your posts of the Taranov split, I’m impressed with the number of bees y’all have and am considering changing to 3 deeps.


    • Bruce,

      According to Mann Lake Ltd, a full deep weighs 80-90 pounds and a full medium weighs 60-70 pounds. I can’t lift either of those, so I see no point in going to medium boxes and adding the extra space. Since I do all beekeeping alone, I always use an empty to box to put half the frames in before I move the rest of the box.

      I haven’t read anything about the extra space, but I’ve always wondered about it. Nearly all the natural combs I’ve seen hanging from trees or attics or basements are deeper than a medium, so I suspect that is what bees like.

  • Thanks. I had read that Michael Bush thought all mediums was a good idea; no stated reason. I just went to mediums this year, but I’m going to go back to deeps. Had used a deep and a medium for brood chamber, but couldn’t do any vertical manipulations.
    We had our association meeting this past weekend and I told many of your great site.

  • A western super is 7 5/8 and not the same as a medium or Illinois super. Western Bee Supply out of Montana is the only maker of the western super today. They have both frames and foundation available.
    JMO, if going to all one size box the western makes more sense to me than the medium. Many, including myself use a deep and a medium or 9 5/8 + 6 5/8 = 16 1/4
    The direct replacement for a deep and a medium is two westerns or 7 5/8 + 7 5/8 = 15 1/4. Three mediums are just shy of twenty inches and would replace double deeps.
    The downside is the western is an oddball size only available from one source.
    I also think mention should have been made of the jumbo 11 5/8 box as there are still a few in service though no longer offered by most supply houses. However, Rossman in Georgia will do a run of jumbos including frames by special order. I understand one of the two foundation makers will do a run of wax if a large enough order is made.
    Many of these sizes are regional as well. Here in the south double deeps and shallows were the rule until fairly recently when the medium started making inroads. Thirty years ago a medium box couldn’t be found in Alabama where I started. Now I would guesstimate half use mediums.

  • David,

    Thanks much, I’d been looking for the dimensions of the Western super. I was always told that the Western was larger than the Illinois, I got real confused reading Rusty’s post, till I scrolled down to your post. I have some Westerns, got them from Mann Lake. I like them, wanted to get some from Dadant, but they don’t have them, guess I’ll have to order more from Mann Lake.

  • I appreciate the time you took to put this together, but you often use undefined terms to describe an undefined term. For example you say “A shallow is deeper than either a section honey super or a Ross Round super.” What’s a Ross Round Super?

  • I am a “newbie” and have just made my first catch box. I am looking for some cheap waxed frames and ran across these mini hives. They are styrofoam a little bigger than 9′ by 5′. It has 3 screens and a small open spot. My question is if I was to get more then 1 queen before I could get set up with a big hive could they live for a short time in 1 of these boxes?

    • Edward,

      Maybe. Queens can live for a while in isolation as long as they are fed and kept warm. Also, you would want to keep them separate. You might be better just keeping them in a queen cage indoors for a few days until you get set up.

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