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What size hardware cloth is best for bee hives?

If you are building or repairing your own bee “furniture” you will find there are many sizes of hardware cloth available. Usually, the ones you need are the hardest to find.

Here in the States, hardware cloth is numbered according to how many squares fit in a linear inch. So #5 has five squares to the inch and #8 has eight squares to the inch. In other words, a bigger number means a smaller hole.

Here are some examples of how the different sizes are used:

  • #2 can be used for the bottom of a hard candy feeder
  • #4 won’t restrict honey bees but it is often used for mouse guards.
  • #5 allows workers to pass freely, but prevents both drones and queens from passing through. Some people use #5 for queen excluders. However, whatever restricts queen movement also restricts drone movement, so you have to analyze what you are trying to do and what the collateral damage might be. #5 is often used at the entrance of pollen traps because it allows worker passage but knocks off many of the pollen loads.
  • #6 allows some workers to pass, but they lose most of their pollen loads. This is less desirable for pollen trap entrances because you want the bees to retain some of their pollen.
  • #7 is often used for the collecting surface of pollen traps. Pollen pellets will fall through #7 and become inaccessible to the workers.
  • #8 is not good for the collecting surface of pollen traps because many of the pollen pellets are too big to fit through, so the hardware cloth becomes clogged and ineffective. However, #8 is ideal for screened bottom boards, screened inner covers, double-screened boards, moving screens, and screened ventilation ports. It keeps out bees, wasps, hornets, and other small animals, but it allows Varroa mites to fall through. #8 is the most all-around useful size in the apiary.

Some of the bee supply companies sell hardware cloth by the foot or the roll, and it is also available online from a number of sources. I buy it from Amazon.com. The #8 size is listed as 1/8” x 36” x 10’, which may look confusing, but they just list the mesh size as the first dimension followed by the width and length.

It is difficult to make hard and fast rules about the right size of hardware cloth to use because some bees—depending on genetics and cell size—are larger than others. Also, the thickness of the wire varies from one manufacturer to the next, and a thicker wire means a smaller hole.

The above guidelines work pretty well. If you have problems you can experiment with the sizes until you find the combination that works best with your bees.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

*This post contains an affiliate link.

28 Comments

  • Great topic Rusty. Phil and I were discussing this the other day so we could devise a plan to reduce the number of drones in his colony.

    My suggestion was to add some hardware cloth sized so the worker bees can fit through but the drones cannot. Install the cloth around 2 PM while the majority for the drones are out flying so they cannot enter the hive again. Then after dark on a cool night remove the cloth with the drones. Bam, over supply of drones disappears and his hive can get to business storing honey rather than feeding drones. Do the excluder for several days in a row and that will greatly reduce the number of drones around the hives.

    I think it should work. Better than condensing the hives.

  • Jeff, I tried to exclude the drones. It doesn’t work. The drones clumped up in such high number around the excluder that foragers couldn’t get back in the hive.

    I will gradually move all the foundationless frames from both hives into a single hive, and that single hive will be my one and only foundationless hive. Done. Other than that, I’m letting the bees be.

    Simplicity is everything.

    • I am just getting back into beekeeping after a 20 year break. I remember hearing that “if you could kill all of the drones” the queen would notice the lack of males and start laying more male eggs to replace them.

      She will lay male eggs until a certain percentage of males is reached. Though your plan/idea sounds good and like it might make your hive more productive, it will make the queen just lay a higher ratio of male eggs until she corrects the imbalance.

  • I have looked at several sites and am not finding the statement, “Here in the States, hardware cloth is numbered according to how many squares fit in a linear inch.” to be completely accurate.
    In fact all of the sites that I have visited that sell a variety of sizes and gauges do not mention a # at all. Can you suggest some sites or how the numbers relate to the imperial or metric system?

    • Brian,

      The # system, tells you how many squares to the inch. Just look up something like “how many squares to the inch” in any size of hardware cloth. You will gets dozens of references. So, for example, #4 has four squares to the inch.

      However, the size of the hole will vary with the gauge of the wire. So a thicker wire (lower number) will result in holes that are smaller than thinner wire (higher number). See, for example, this chart.

      History of hole sizes from Wikipedia: “Many mesh sizes were historically given in the number of holes per inch; due to the width of the wires in the mesh, mesh numbers did not correspond directly to fractional inch sizes, and several different systems standardized with slightly different mesh sizes for the same mesh numbers.”

      So the thing to remember is that there are two variables that determine the actual size of the hole. But any standard, easily available hardware cloth will work for the applications I mentioned because they are close enough. Remember, bees aren’t all the same size either. About right, in these applications, works fine.

  • Just a bystander jumping in, I came to this page with the same question as Darrell: For a hive top feeder (diy), what size mesh is best for the screen through which the bees take the syrup?

    Thanks, Rusty.

    • Frank,

      I can’t imagine any size hardware cloth holding back syrup, unless it was really tiny and tight. I usually use a mason jar lid and punch in a couple tiny holes with a small nail. I think I’ve seen the stuff you are talking about, but I don’t think it’s referred to as hardware cloth. Not sure.

      • Rusty,

        I suspect Darrell and Frank above were talking about those full-dimension hive-top feeders that hold a few gallons of syrup in two plastic basins and have an elevated central area where the bees come up from below and through some holes at the top. They then get to the syrup by crawling down the central sides of the basins. There’s a piece of screen that covers the elevated center area loosely so the bees can crawl beneath it but not go out and drown in the basins (supposedly). I don’t like this sort of feeder due to all the grunge that grows in the tanks and all the bees that drown. A variation on this idea is the more limited access hive-top feeder that The Fat Bee Man has developed.

        • Cal,

          I agree about those feeders. I had a bunch of them and gave them all away. Too many drowning bees and, yes, they grew scuz.

          • Rusty, regarding the jar feeder with holes punched in it…i use a shim with a hole in the middle to insert the jar. I wanted to install a screen over the bottom of this hole to restrict bees flying out when I remove the jar feeder to refill. So what number hardware cloth could I use that would be large enough to allow the bees to reach the jar top for feeding, yet small enough so they can’t craw through?

  • I believe the system they are referring to uses the mason jar with the punched lid which is inverted in a holder on a solid inner cover inside an empty top box. 5/8 inch plywood is the correct depth to hold the jar lid easily and #8 hardware cloth work great in covering the hole. This system allows you to change jars easily without the bees rushing out to see what is going on.

    • Jim,

      Thank you! That makes so much sense. I couldn’t understand what he meant, but I’m sure you’re right.

  • I’m glad that you mentioned that the #5 size prevents queens from passing through, but not workers. I’m new to beekeeping and was worried about keeping queens in one place. I’ll have too keep these sizes in mind when buying supplies. thanks for the information!

  • If no. 5 has 5 square in linear inch and inch is 25.4 mm, if we use it as queen excluder, queens too will pass through it because 25.4mm /5=5.08mm .when the size of queen excluder is 4.1mm .correct me if i am wrong.

  • Okay. If I will take their thickness 3mm for 6 wires,then result will come 4.48mm per square when queen excluder size 4.1mm and i think queen will pass through it. Will she?

    • Junaid,

      I don’t know where you are getting your numbers, but a quick check on the Internet shows everything from about 4.1 to 4.8 inches for queen excluders. Will your queen get through? I don’t know. How big is she? There is a huge range in queen sizes so some will get through, most will not. There are no absolutes in beekeeping.

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