beekeeping equipment how to

How to assemble a bee box

Unless you order your bee boxes assembled, they will arrive at your door in four pre-cut pieces with a bag of nails. They sometimes come with instructions and sometimes not, but I never follow them anyway.

Everyone does this differently, but here is my take on the subject. I’ll concede right from the beginning that there is the easy way and then there is my way. If you want the easy way, go find those directions!

Assemble a bee box for strength

This method will give you extremely strong boxes. I was once carrying a complete hive in a wheelbarrow up a steep hill (I know, dumb thing to do.) The hive was held together with a ratcheting tie-down but otherwise it was just sitting in the wheelbarrow. Sure enough, I lost control of the wheelbarrow and the entire hive went careening down the hill, bouncing off trees as it went. When I got done cussing and moaning, I scrambled down the hill to retrieve the hive. I removed the tie-down and had to carry the hive up box by box, but the whole thing was square and tight with no damage. Oh yes, the bees were fine too.

Instructions for an indestructible, strong-as-an-ox bee box

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  • Save the bag of nails for some other project.
  • Pre-paint what will become the outside of the box as well as the top and bottom edges. I like to lay all the pieces on the floor and then use a small trim roller to paint the whole business at once.
  • Next I take a countersink tool and drill a depression at each nail hole. The nail holes are usually pre-drilled in the wooden pieces. If not, drill a pilot hole yourself. At this point you can sand, if you want. (If your countersink is not really sharp, there may be some “fur” around the edges.)
  • Assemble the boxes. The box joints fit together only one way, but in case you get confused, remember that the handles need to face in the same direction—and they need to be on the outside of the box.
  • You may need to tap the sections together with a rubber mallet or a hammer wrapped in a rag, but they should go together fairly easily.
  • Once the four pieces are fit together, use a carpenter’s square to make sure the sides of the boxes are at right angles to each other. This is important. If you skip this step, your stack of boxes will not quite line up because they will be parallelograms, not rectangles.
  • Use flat-headed screws to assemble the boxes. Some think this is overkill, but this is what will make your box really strong—it will last forever—and you don’t have to glue anything. I have a large box of screws from Home Depot and I use an electric drill with a screwdriver attachment. But a regular old wear-out-your-wrist screwdriver works just as well. The sink holes you drilled keep the wood from splitting around the head of the screw.
  • After the box is assembled, I touch up any parts that need paint–which is why most people disagree with pre-painting. Still, I like doing it this way—so I do.
  • [/list]

Equipment list

So in addition to the unassembled brood box, you will need:[list icon=”check”]

  • Exterior-grade paint
  • Paint brush or small roller
  • Countersink tool that fits your drill
  • Sander (optional)
  • Drill
  • Rubber mallet (or hammer and rag)
  • Carpenter’s square*
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • [/list]

When you are done you will have a perfect, square, solid, beautiful brood box fit for your living room. Then you will give it to creatures that will coat it with propolis and wax, smear it with honey, pollen, and poop, chew on the edges, and sting you if you try to clean it. Go figure. Still, it was gorgeous for a moment.

*By the way, if you choose to assemble your box the easy way, you can skip the drill, counter sink, sander, screws, and screwdriver. But please don’t skip the carpenter’s square—you will get totally frustrated if your boxes don’t line up.

Honey Bee Suite


  • What kind of screws do you use? I have spent so many hours in the home depot screw aisle puzzling over this, and going home to use the nails they sent me with the box. I have google’d and researched and read a giant pile of books but all I ever read is “screws” (no description or size) or “you must use the nails that come from the bee supply company.”

    Maybe I’m neurotic, but I can’t figure it out, and I need to be building boxes like, two weeks ago.

  • Oh, please disregard my comment! You have a photo of the screws. I can match that up with a box at home depot no problem. That will teach me to not watch the whole slideshow before I get confused.

    • Hi Jess,

      My cat chewed the cardboard box so it’s hard (impossible) to read. They are called Grip Rite all-purpose “Gold” Screws. They are 1-5/8 inches long with a flat phillips head. There’s an inventory number 158GS5, but this box is pretty old so it might have changed. The screws go 7/8-inch into the second piece of wood which is really nice.

      I love these screws and the big box lasts forever. My husband and I spent a long time trying to find the “perfect” fastener for bee boxes and settled on these. I hope you see this before you go shopping!

  • Rusty, I am considering building my own hives; one because I have the wood and two I have all the carpentry equipment I used to build my house sitting in the attic. My question is, I had to cut a couple large black walnut trees off my property and had them saw milled and have 1000 board feet in a rick. Can Black walnut be used to build beehives or do you know of some poison they may give off that would hurt bees. I’ve been told they give off chemicals that stunt the growth of other plant material around them. I know this is kind of out there, but if you know anything on the subject I would appreciate it.

    • Tim,

      Since growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I have adored black walnut trees. And maybe my memory is failing me, but I’m fairly sure I’ve seen feral hives in them. The toxin they produce, juglone, doesn’t dissuade all plants, but it certainly harms some. Most of the poison is found in the roots, but a lesser amount occurs in the leaves, bark, and wood. I’ve heard that black walnut wood shavings are bad for horses.

      Still, if it were me, I’d try it. I would make sure the wood has time to air dry so most of the volatiles evaporate. Then, after you build a hive, I’d let it dry some more because as you work the wood you will release more volatiles from nails or sanding or whatever. Then I would try a hive. My guess is that it will be no problem. There’s a big difference between a horse and a bee and like I said, I’m sure I’ve seen bees nest in them on their own.

  • I made my own supers and used a wobble type dado, as they are cheaper than a stack and allegedly infinitely variable over their working range. The issue with this type dado is the arch it leaves in the top of the finger joints. Should I fill the gap with anything like silicone or will the bees just fill it up eventually?

    • Robert,

      I can’t picture the gap, so I don’t have an answer. If the gaps are small the bees will fill them with propolis.

  • Your idea sounds good but failed to mention whether or not the “boxes” are flat, that is sit down evenly on all four sides.
    I assembled my first box using a square. Worked great. Only problem was it was wobbly when set on a flat surface. Not anymore.

    I now assemble boxes on top of my tablesaw. Pound together, glue then clamp both ends of assembled box to table saw top to insure they are flat. Then using square and clamp diagonally, squarebox. Once these steps are done, let’er dry and finish up with nails/screws in the middle.

    Otherwise, box just might not set flat on the next box.

    Just my two cents.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Hope you don’t mind a stupid question. I have a mix of equipment, some with frame spacers only on the top rails, others with frame spacers there and at the bottom of the frames. Are both necessary? If I pick up the box without spacers at the bottom of the frames you can hear them rattle against each other. Won’t that crush bees? I don’t intend to move the hive, but suppose its easier to install a bottom spacer now while empty then afterwards. Any idea what they are called in English (I’m learning beekeeping in French 🙂 ? If nothing else I can use finish nails at the correct spacing?


    • Rob,

      First, frame spacers in English are called frame spacers. Second, I hate them: They are always in the way. They prevent you from thoroughly cleaning and scraping and you can no longer slide frames while doing inspections. The bees don’t get killed by rattling frames because as soon as bees get in there they glue everything together into one impenetrable, unmovable mass. Whenever I see a frame spacer, I rip it out. Then again, I’m not French.

  • Hi – great resource this site!

    I’m writing from Belgium, Europe where I just got 3 ‘starter’ hives (bigger than a nuc, since 8 to 9 frames filled with brood, pollen and honey) from a Dutch beekeeper. I was supposed to get nucs from a friend, but over 60% of the colonies were lost over the winter here in my region (Flanders). Everyone has a theory, but I guess time will tell..

    Anyway, the problem is the plastic temporary hives arrived at a local beekeeper for everyone to pick up, but he uses a slightly different frame size. In fact we just need to saw off a tiny bit of the ‘ears’ of the frame to make them fit the standard Belgian Simplex hives I have ready for my girls.

    The experienced beekeepers said to just move the frames into my hives and then saw the ears off with an electrical saw with the bees on the frames. I would think that would traumatise the bees and really make them very defensive? I thought to just take one frame out of the nuc, shake and brush all the bees off in my hive and then saw the ears off. That would obviously take a lot more time and leave the hives open a lot longer, but I wouldn’t have to saw a frame filled with bees.

    I know it’s not an ideal situation, and there’s probably no ideal solution, but it seems weird that local beekeepers just don’t seem to make a problem out of sawing off the ears (both sides) of 9 frames while they are hanging in the hive and filled with brood, pollen and honey. And bees obviously,

    Sorry for the long explanation… Just trying to make myself clear 😉

    Thanks for any help or tips you might have!!
    Can’t wait to get the girls into their own home I prepared for them (the Dutch ‘nuc’ hives are now set up in the exact spot where my hives will be).


    • Born,

      The problem is deciding which is more traumatic to the bees: brushing and shaking or sawing. Brushing can destroy wings and injure legs, shaking can dislodge and kill larvae. No question, I’d go with sawing the frames full of brood, pollen, and honey. I’d think it would be far safer for the bees.

  • Just love this site.

    But having just made up my first ever box with screws on the top and bottom extremes and tack nails on the others I was moderately pleased to see this….until the square. I didn’t. And I can’t decide whether I should retro check it….or just….not.


    I’ll do it on the others though and hope this one doesn’t need redoing.

    • Richard,

      Funny. I have a couple from before I started using a square. Why is it I keep running into them? I keep thinking, “Some idiot (me) put this together.”

  • I am a newbee and have noticed on several outube videos that some bee keepers drill a 1.0″ hole just below the hand holds in the hive box.

    Is this a good practice? Can the bees protect this entrance? Do you use this entrance & the one at the bottom board?

    • Richard,

      1. Upper entrances aid ventilation and also ease congestion at the entrance.

      2. A strong hive can protect the upper entrance. If the hive becomes weak or you notice robbing, I would close it.

      3. I am using a full-width lower entrance and one-inch upper entrances in each honey super. I do not have upper entrances in my brood boxes. That is not to say you can’t or shouldn’t, it’s just the way I do it.

  • I put together 4 hive bodies & 4 medium supers, using nails & glue. They are square, but they don’t sit flat. They have anywhere from 1/32 to 1/16 gaps.
    How much of a gap is OK? Should I try to plane them flat?

    • You can plane them if it makes you happier, but the bees will soon fill all those gaps with propolis so water leakage won’t be a problem. It’s more a matter of personal taste than of bee management.

  • Thanks for the quick reply.
    I was a machinist by trade and gaps bug me.
    I will try to live with these gaps

  • Rusty,

    About to assemble 10 deeps and was wondering if screws would be better than nails, and ran across your blog. So I have seen others using 3-inch screws which seem like major overkill, considering you have connections in two planes. I even thought that maybe your 1-5/8″ were more than a 7d nail would provide, so I got to looking around, and found equations for both:


    It turns out that your screw yields 3x the holding power of a 7d nail.

    I am interested in screws because I live in south Louisiana, and it is often so wet here that I have had wall begin to rot. I tried repairing one but destroyed it because of the cross nails at the joints. I will screw these with no glue, and this will allow me to back out screws in the future if I try to salvage a box.

    Hope you find this interesting!

    • Mark,

      I do find it interesting. My husband is a mechanical engineer who specifies these things for me. It helps.

  • Long story short, my question is this: How worried do I need to be about gaps between boxes? I’m talking about 1/16″ x several inches long.

    Background info:

    I recently added a queen excluder and honey super on one of my hives. Although both the brood boxes and super are 10 frame, the super is a different brand and the sizes are a little off. So now my outer cover, which is a peaked roof from Beethinking, doesn’t fit over the inner cover and the very top of the super, it just sits on top. And the super isn’t sitting flush on the bottom against the queen excluded, so there is a gap all along two sides of the box.

    Do I need to do something to seal it up better?

  • Hi Rusty, I am new to this wonderful site and beekeeping. I have a question about the 1″ vent holes. In the long end or on the side and only one per super? Do you use a queen excluder under the honey supers with the vent holes? Would your wintering 3″ super with canvas and wood chips work to aid in ventilation? thank you.

    • David,

      Where you put ventilation holes, how big they are, and how many you need is going to depend on both your purpose, the size of your colony, and your climate. There are no “cookbook” rules for ventilation. Once you determine that ventilation is needed, then you can decide on the particulars. As far as a quilt box, the ventilation holes are designed to allow the wood chips to dry out, a least somewhat.

  • Thanks Rusty for the advice. I’m going to use screws to assemble mine as well. I would recommend exterior-grade screws (sometimes called deck screws) as they are designed not to rust, even in the weather. The ones you used are interior-grade screws for construction inside a home. They may be okay since you painted over them, but if they get moist, they will rust.

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