beekeeping equipment

More on painting bee hives

When I first wrote about painting bee hives, I filed it under “infrequently asked questions,” but it has turned out to be one of my most popular posts. Because of that, I decided to add several details that I didn’t mention before.

New beekeepers want to know if they should paint the ends (or edges)—the part of the hive that is stacked on another part. The first time I painted hives I did not paint that part, I just painted the outside surfaces. However, after painting them a dark green and stacking them in the field, I noticed a rim of unpainted wood where each piece of equipment met (or didn’t quite meet) the next. I suppose it depends how picky you are, but this made me crazy. I have painted those surfaces ever since.

The downsides of this practice are many. First of all it’s a lot of extra work. Secondly, latex paint loves to stick to itself, especially if you happen to strap the hive together with a ratcheting tie-down. Combined with the propolis the bees stick in there, these become extremely difficult to separate. And once you ding the edges with the hive tool, you’ve knocked the paint off again.

So, if you’re not picky consider yourself lucky and don’t bother painting them. If you don’t like the unpainted ring, try just painting over the edge about one-quarter inch. If your boxes are pretty square, a quarter-inch should do it. It’s hard to line all the boxes up perfectly, however, so don’t expect your perfectly-squared boxes to eliminate the problem by itself.

Another frequent question concerns the type of paint. I use low-VOC latex paint because it’s better for the environment than oil-based paints. I’ve tried to get it without added fungicide, but I’ve been told that virtually all paint sold today comes with factory-supplied fungicide. So just make sure you don’t paint inside the hive, and make sure the paint is dry before installing bees.

A third issue is priming. I started out by priming and gave up on it. I find that the primer shows through once the wood becomes scratched, chipped, or weathered which (see above) irritates me. If you don’t prime, the knots eventually bleed through, but for some reason this does not bother me. Like I say, these aesthetic decisions are important for the beekeeper—not the bees—so do what makes you happy.

One last thing: keep some paint on hand. As a beekeeper, you are never done painting. There is always a new piece of equipment,  a repair, or just general maintenance that includes paint. Whenever I take a piece of woodenware to the shop for mending, cleaning, or modifying I make a habit of re-painting it as well.


University of Connecticut Apiary. New York Times photo. 2008.


    • Did you ever find a brand you liked, Sarah? I see it’s been more than a decade but after calling around (even to the fancy pants paint stores) it just seems like a bunch of punk kids and no one who can really offer any help. I’m looking for a low/no VOC clear coat!

  • We have decided to utilize latex paint on the hive exteriors. Hive keepers – thru your experience, please share with us your preference for gloss, semi-gloss, satin, flat, etc. Thank you!

  • Gloss was my preference… Not “high gloss” but just normal “gloss”… Exterior Latex Paint from Sherwin Williams… We primed with Zinser 123 for exterior use (Lowes) ….

  • Oops, I painted the inside of 2 out of 5 bee boxes:( What is the reasoning of not painting the inside?

  • Lexington should support the urban farming movement by allowing chickens and honey bees within city limits. It would be reasonable to restrict urban chicken ownership to only hens, no roosters. Individual homeowners associations can place further restrictions about number of birds, size or location of coop, etc. so there is no need for Lexington to mess with that. Urban chickens make great pets, provide eggs and keep tick and other bug populations down. They are also a great source of natural manure for the urban farmer. There is no reason not to allow chickens in the city!

    • Nick,

      As long as it’s thoroughly dry, there is no minimum, especially if you don’t paint the inside. I usually paint on one day and install the next.

  • Hello Rusty,

    Great article. I recently painted mine and came to this site to confirm the outter edges issue. I figure that I’ll do more damage with the hive tool if they are good and stuck together as well. I purchased valspar flat exterior, ultra paint and primer mixed in and the dry time is 100% faster doing this. I’ll be able to post photos on my blog here in about a day. Oh, and the Valspar paint was <50 VOC levels. Thanks for your advice!

  • Oh man, we painted primer all over the outside AND inside of our hives. We were not planning to paint the inside but thought a coat of primer would be a good idea to help protect it. Is this terrible? Are bees don’t arrive for another 3 weeks. What should we do?

    • Sarah,

      I wouldn’t worry about it this time around. As long as it is good and dry it shouldn’t hurt the bees, but don’t do it in the future. Not only should fungicides be avoided, but wood inside the hive helps to absorb hive moisture, something painted wood can’t do. There’s a give-and-take between the life of the wood and the life of the colony, so you can’t do it all perfectly.

      • Thank you so much for the explanation and reassurance. Wish I had not been so anxious to get them painted before I researched further. Lesson learned.

  • Hi, we can’t decide if we should wax dip our boxes or just paint them. If we just paint them how often does this need doing. Can you please advise us on which method would be better.
    Thankyou regards

    • Kim,

      I think it’s up to the individual. In my opinion, painting is less work. I have boxes that I painted ten years ago that still look pretty good. On the other hand, most of my hives are covered so they don’t get hit with lots of rain.

  • In my jubilation of finally getting bees I made a newbie move and didn’t paint my hives last year. They are currently untreated and beginning to show wear. The bees are overwintering now and I wonder if it would be ok to paint the outside IF they will remain inside (low temps). Will fumes get inside and harm them or should I just give up on trying to salvage the supers?

    • Miel,

      A coat of paint on the outside should not harm the clustering bees on the inside. However, most paint must be applied in warmer conditions or it will not set and adhere properly. Read the directions carefully before you paint in cold weather and make sure the hive boxes are clean and dry. If you end up with a sticky or tacky mess, that could very well affect the bees later.

  • White is the best color, can be sloppier and faster and just prime the lips between boxes and the obvious lines will not show because the primer is more or less colored with the paint. The primer will not fuse together as much as latex paint. And if you are really into design language, nothing better than a white background. Wonder if any of the CT apiary paint jobs freak out the bees ?!

    • Annette,

      It depends on what you want it to look like. Some people paint everything, some paint nothing, and some paint some parts and not others. The bees don’t care.

  • Hey, Rusty. I just found your site and am super excited. I inherited a hive a couple years ago, but have never set it up. We are in south Texas, and the previous owner painted the exterior surfaces dark like you do up north. I would like to repaint them white, and really wanted to use brush-on enamel. I will not be adding bees until spring. Do you have any feedback? It’s pretty “fumiferous” when fresh, but seems to dissipate quickly on other projects.

  • Rusty,

    Can you speak at all to the linseed oil + beeswax method of protecting woode-ware? It seems laborious and I like the look but feel it may not protect them as I need. What is your opinion?

    • Cole,

      I have never used that method, so I don’t know. I suspect the results would vary with the type of climate you have: amount of rainfall, freezing and thawing, direct sun, etc.

  • I have appreciated so much you have shared for us new beekeepers. Before I get going this year or next, not sure about timing, I have a question regarding our hive which was purchased from a former beekeeper who is done beekeeping. We have sanded down and removed what paint he had on the boxes and now want to coat with a varnish or other type of clear wood preservative. Is this ok? Does varnish emit fumes that don’t go away? What brand if any would you recommend?

    • Aunt Bee,

      Varnish and wood preservative are fine as long as they are completely dry and allowed to air out before use. I don’t know the brand names, but those advertising “low VOC” are good, non-toxic brands.

  • My personal preference is latex primer then a good latex house paint. these can breathe and not peel. I have done some of mine in “cow” splotches——neat looking. Lasts a long time.

  • Thank you for this article. I’m a professional artist and muralist. A client just hired me to paint a scene on one of his hives. This is my first time working with a beehive. I already specialize in using both organic paints and low to zero VOC products. I’m looking for any suggestions for a protective sealant for my artwork that will hold up to the elements that is also extremely safe for the bees?

  • Two quick questions. I did a double coat of primer. Do I still need to paint? Also, a little bit of the primer got on the inside of the hive. Should I sand that off? Will it be ok for the bees? Will it hurt them or drive them away?

    • Brent,

      I suppose primer is enough. I never prime them, so I don’t really know. Don’t worry about a little on the inside. No problem.

  • Thank you! I am going ahead and putting a coat of paint as well. I think these hives will survive the next 100 years with two coats of primer and paint haha.

  • I wish I could post photos, but the beehive that I was hired to paint turned out awesome. I used a low VOC exterior paint/primer and tinted the colors myself. I then sealed it with a zero VOC acrylic polyurethane in a semi-gloss. You’re welcome to check it out on my FB Page or IG account under Michele Levani Art.

  • Thanks Rusty! I just sent it.

    Thank you for the compliment, Brent! Yes, Charleston is a really cool place to live and visit.
    I guess shipping bee hives could get pretty costly.

  • I love to see the knots and grain of the wood however if you wish for them to not show through there are only 2 things that work well. Slowly torch them to a nice char and this turns the bleeding sap to carbon or easier is to hit it with a coat or 2 of shellac. Shellac is a great sealer. The torching is great for grease on a garage floor you want to paint.

  • Hi, Rusty (and HoneyBeeSuite followers). My winter woodworking project is to build a horizontal long Langstroth hive. My plan is to prime and paint the wood a neutral color, then paint decorations (think Celtic spirals, a silhouette of Norte Dame, … whatever). What kind of a primer and paint, then a clear coat to protect the decoration, do you suggest? The finish needs to seal to meet the warm, cold, wet, humid conditions here in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Thanks.

    • Teresa,

      I have never heard that wasps dislike blue, but I doubt that the color blue would deter them. Your bee hotels likely attract wasps because of the way they smell. Personally, I don’t mind having solitary wasps in my bee hotels. Most are good pollinators and they are interesting to watch.

  • I didn’t know they are also pollinators but I do see many of them among the flowers. That would be interesting to watch.

    I was mostly worried about the kinds of wasps that build bests on your porch and carport and whatnot.

    • Teresa,

      The kinds of wasps that build paper nests that hang from the porch are not interested in holes and tubes because they do not provide the right kind of housing for them.

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