Cleaning used frames is one of those mind-numbing chores that ranks with weeding, ironing shirts, and washing dishes. When I pull old frames from a hive, I put them somewhere—temporarily—until I can get to them. Such temporary placement evolves into years because almost anything else gets priority.
When—and if—I eventually get around to it, I scrape them free of propolis and beeswax and cut away any framing wires. Even on a cool day, it all feels gross. On a hot day . . . well, I can’t let go of anything I touch. Messy, sticky, gooey. Invariably I cut myself, stab myself with wires or splinters, and bleed on the already garish wood.
If they are still square and firm when I’m done, I rewire them with foundation or starter strips and store them in a box. The beeswax looks starkly white against the stained and battered frames, but to me it looks like progress.
Recently, I was informed that nobody refurbishes used frames—nobody in their right mind, at least. Frames are cheap and considered disposable like paper diapers or plastic spoons. Hmm. Somehow I missed that part of bee school.
Whatever happened to saving a tree? For some reason, it seems wrong to toss a frame just because it once contained icky, black, or moldy comb. Sure frames are cheap, but shipping is not, and I spend considerable time assembling them. And all my frames contain the extra magic nails that go through the end pieces and hold them together through repeated and vigorous prying.
So, I want to know. Am I the only person who reuses frames? What are the standards by which used frames are judged? I might give it up if I believed that I was the only one doing it, but somehow I think not. Tell me, tell me. Do you reuse your frames?
We boil them – or at least my wife does.
We have an old Burco Boiler – 10 UK gallons, common in the UK in the 50’s and 60’s that’s just the right size. Two minutes in there and the crud falls off.
Ten gallons? What were those boilers used for originally?
Laundry – Nappies (diapers) – before the days of washing machines; I remember these, a rinse tub and an old style roller mangle that I had to turn for my grandmother……
Here’s one the same as ours:-
So interesting . . . thank you.
Do you happen to sell any of your old frames? I am looking to use one or more as a decoration piece in my dining room. I am not sure how big they are, so I may need to group more than one.
No, I don’t sell anything. A deep frame is about 15 inches wide and 10 inches high (a little less in each direction). Someone local to you is sure to have some.
Rusty, you are not the only one!
I use a different method.
I can fit about 15 full sized frames into my wax melter. I partly fill the melter with water and let it boil for about 10 min, turn the frames (yes, gloves!!) and do another 5 min.
A bit of a shake and the frames only need minor cleaning. Often the wire is still useable. An odd extra nail maybe needed.
OK – some frames are damaged and worn and I use these as fire starters but most are perfectly OK to be used again.
As I have dates on most of my frames (I work them out of the hives at a approx 3 year rotation) I know that I use frames from at least 1978 – some are most likely older.
Of course I re-use old frames. Except for really nasty ones, which I tend to “forget” out in the bee yard until a few rains render them beyond help.
You are not the only one, I am getting ready to change mine out. I actually should be doing it now but I decided to check fb & came across your article. LOL. I would never think of throwing these out. Have fun!
I haven’t been a beekeeper long enough to have this particular problem in a big way. However I have given it some thought. And my thinking is right along with yours. From the NEW frames I’ve had to buy I know frame construction takes time. And plastic foundation is not cheap (I use plastic exclusively).
However I have been a beekeeper long enough to have issues with propolis buildup on frames, in rabbits of hive bodies, literally dripping down the sides of the hive bodies where the box above didn’t fix exactly flat all the way around and the bees “caulked” up the difference with copious amounts of propolis.
Then there’s the not knowing about wax moths and frames issue I learned about the hard way. It wasn’t 2 weeks after extracting honey that I had wax moths all in the perfectly drawn empty combs because I didn’t store them correctly.
But the experience, thus far, has led me to believe there’s an easy way to deal with frame recycling. It boils down to…embrace nature.
1. Wax moths are quite efficient at eating up comb whether it needs to be done away with or not. They’ll eat the comb right down to the foundation if you let them. So, let them if it’s comb you would’ve thrown away anyway.
2. Plastic foundation is a lot more reusable as it doesn’t get destroyed by the moth larvae.
3. Bees clean up the after-affects of wax moths quite well. Again, why fight it?
4. Propolis comes off of frames a lot easier in the winter when it’s cold. It only takes a few taps of the hive tool to bust it up the brittle propolis. It flakes right off…at least it does for me.
5. The cold makes the wax nearly as brittle and it crumbles off the foundation pretty easily. So what the wax moths don’t take care of seems to flake off the plastic…when the wax is cold and brittle.
So when I get brood comb where the cells are getting to small to reuse, I’ll do what I can to get those combs out of the hive at the end of the year and leave them out for the wax moths to enjoy. Later in the winter, I’ll knock propolis off and get whatever left-over wax is still on the foundation. Then whatever ugly is still on the foundation the bees can clean up the following year.
Of course this isn’t really an option for people that want to use wax foundation. But I’d expect naturally drawn frames would benefit from this.
BTW, the side-nails makes a big difference. The frames hold together so much better when you take the time to put nails in the sides as well as tops.
We don’t feel that frames are that cheap in the UK and recycling is encouraged across the board here so cleaning them is pretty habitual. Having said that I do also have several sealed plastic crates of grotty ones waiting for the treatment in the pending tray!
I do, and I swear I won’t, but I did come up with a good decision making rule for dealing with frames. Plastic foundation is a snap to get in and a snap to get out. At a dollar a sheet, throw it away, put a new one in. There is not that much harvestable wax in the cell walls. In fact I’ve never been able to get any out of the old black brood wax.
For wax foundation, it can be easily melted, but only in a steam melter. There you can harvest some foundation wax, even in the very dark comb. The gunk will fall off wires on its own, no need to cut yourself.
The dark frames should be saved for swarm catching. They are perfect for that. They smell just right.
You bet. I clean ’em up a little and put them right back into service!
A dust bin water and caustic soda.. Dump frames in with a weight on them to keep them submerged Keep checking with a scraper and when it slides through the mess take them out and scrub with a stiff brush and washing up liquid and white vinegar, Then hang them on a cord with pegs to keep them apart .Leave them to weather for a few weeks. They should be ready for use then. If possible the water should be hot or even better put a fire under the bin and heat the water and frames together. . The vinegar is to neutralise the caustic soda. Oh Yes rubber gloves and goggles are a MUST MUST MUST No excuses
Believe it or not, Absolutely!!!! This past winter
was out back, chiminea going and a 52 quart
kettle boiling. Rendered 80 frames deeps,
netted 14 lbs of wax. It was cold but had a nice
fire (which wasn’t the only thing lit up) 😉 And
by spring had em all re-done. 100 in all.
Nothing a hot fire to keep you warm when
you’re working till 11 pm to clean those frames
which I normally do every 3 years but kinda
fell behind. That’s the beauty of beekeeping,
gettin down n dirty!!!!!
52 quarts is one big pot!
Have you ever tried steam cleaning them?
I haven’t, but it seems to be a popular method, based on comments.
I’m with you, I keep all my old frames, clean them, reuse what ever I can…..I too hate the ‘throw out’ mentality!
I sure do use my old frames and boxes to boot…why waste good equipment?
I definitely reuse frames. And it’s definitely my least favorite chore. My beekeeping partner has to pretty much force us to do it.
We have “slime outs” with small hive beetle infestations pretty regularly in Hawaii, and frames get really nasty from this. We usually have to soak them in bleach and then scrape scrape. Digging the wax and stuff from the cracks is really hard. Often times a wax moth larvae or maggot pops out with the wax. And we can’t put our foundation strip in till its nicely cleaned and rewired. We force ourselves to reuse before going into a box of new stuff. If there’s any old stuff we’re not allowed to use the new stuff.
Yes! I just spent the weekend scraping wire, wax and propolis from perfectly good old frames. I also flame them with a butane torch and then give them a coat of propolis infused grain alcohol.
I’m with you. Those frames add up with shipping and assembly time. I have been friends who do the same, although it’s easy to let them pile up for a season or two.
I did toss frames this year from a lost hive that had heavy staining from nosema. The wood is porous and I worry that the nosema could lurk there and strike the next colony.
An additional thought, sure there will be a splinter or two, but to fix the old frames, the wonderful smell of the honey and wax besides knowing that you have restored something and made it useful again!
There’s a commercial operation locally that breaks them down, strips all the metal, and uses them as fire starters. Some of the best I’ve ever seen!
Hmmm. I apparently missed that lesson in apprentice beekeeping a couple years ago. Since clearly no one comes around to feral hives to clean the floors, and since I don’t THINK feral hives move every year, it never occurred to me to jump in and clean up behind a year of bee-ing (sorry), and the hive looked pretty good this Spring (just a few small traces of mold, pretty many energetic but not crazy bee’s), and I just left it all alone. Now I have to go back in and consider whether they’ve just closed the door to the guest bedroom. If I decide to switch out the furniture I gonna tell the ladies to blame Rusty.
I do!!!!!I Last year I lost all 7 of my colonies. Began with early swarming which continued through April & May. It was then one thing after the other until wax moths and a heavy infestation of hive beetles devastated all 7.
I took all 14 brood box frames (140 of them) out and removed all of the old wax and wire, scraped off all old wax/propolis. Rewired/new foundation 40 for 2 new hives I began this spring. Replaced wire/wax on enough frames for 4 supers (36 frames). Still have 80 brood frames and approx. 136 or so med.’s left to go. I do not toss old frames! 🙂
I’m with you, Rusty. Why throw them out, unless there is something wrong with them? I clean them, and reuse them.
I reuse my frames and they are a pain to clean.
Well, first off, I don’t like the Langstroth system. That is why I have used Warre’ hives. Last winter took one of the hardest tolls on the northeast bee colonies. Some beeks lost almost all their hives. Yes that system has been in use for years and seems to be the “Norm”. Well, under normal conditions with normal winters they have worked quite well. It has proved to produce the most honey of many designs when all things work.
However, times are changing. We have more disease and other things than years ago. As you point out, old frames breed some bad stuff. Cleaning them right is a chore. Maybe most of all it is harder for a colony to work a hive that large and maintain the proper cluster temperature through real cold long winters. No cleansing flights…
So let me run a few thoughts by you about TBHs. I make my own wooden ware and made a 4′ long “Troth” type TBH that was designed by some beek out west. Bees by nature don’t prefer to move sideways. It is not so bad for them when they fill the hive, but in winter when they are feeding on their stores, they end up with cold empty comb on one side of the cluster and having to move sideways to access more honey. That style also is not easily expandable. One has to watch for signs of swarming and remove honey or split the colony. More work, more heat lose when the whole top is open. On the plus side, they look nice in a yard or garden and will work well for someone wanting a hive or two to enjoy.
Now there are features of the Warre’ hive that I like but again it was designed overseas and has some drawbacks for us here in the USA.
First the drawings are all in metric and English but do not convert really well to the lumber we buy locally. So one is better off just using inches and picking a size that works well with our lumber. In my case, I like to buy 1×12″ pine. So I changed the inside box size to 12″x12″ and the height to 11″. That allows a little trimming as most boards are coming through about 11-1/4″ now. If you want a shallower box use 1×10″ lumber.
The smaller inside size creates a smaller cluster which stays warm easier and uses less honey. In the spring the queen expands the cluster and fills additional boxes as needed. One thing I agree with is adding more space ALWAYS at the bottom. In their natural state bees like to build downward. Simply think of how bees like hollow trees. They start building comb at the top and keep adding more as the brood nest moves downward. When winter comes, they simply move upward eating their honey stores. Usually there is plenty to get them through till spring. Then they start the process over again, filling the empty comb first with brood and as it moves downward, more honey is stored above. Bees do not like to pass by honey to find new storage space above. So adding supers at the top is contrary to their nature.
The Warre’ hive uses a “quilt” top venting design that sounded OK at first glance. It’s like an inside cover that is really a box filled with straw or wood shavings that allows access moisture to pass upward and out of the vented roof. Not bad but again a tree doesn’t usually come with a “Quilt” 🙂 One drawback is that the smaller size does in some way control the colony size so they probably won’t produce as much honey as the larger Langstroth. One good point that YOU will love is that there are NO frames to clean and reuse. You simply cut the comb off the top bars, crush and press out the honey. Clean and melt down the nice new yellow comb and sell it for added profit. The little wax left on the top bars are a magnet to the bees starting building new comb. Yes, some effort and time is used in building new comb each season but this is what bees do. It cuts down on disease as well as opening a market for comb honey.
Another man, Roger Delon who had some 600 hive in France and Switzerland tried to improve on the Warre’ design. He called his design the Stable-Climate Hive. – “Nature’s Method”.
Again he used metric measurements close to what Abbe’ used. So again I just ignored all that and stuck with my aforementioned ones.
His main bone of contention was that the bees desire to create and maintain a very stable climate within the hive. To do this, as I mentioned, a tree doesn’t have a “quilt top”. So he advocates sealing the top so the bees can control the humidity and temperature. He believes that all the stall air and access moisture will exit the bottom if designed and built right. The bottom should slope towards the entrance so moisture can run out. I have read other beeks ideas on this and they agree that in a perfect ecosystem moisture condenses on the walls and elsewhere as tiny droplets of pure water. The bees take this to use in all their processes within the hive. He also agrees that adding boxes at the bottom allows the brood to move downward. When enough stores are built up the top box can be removed, full of honey.
There are a couple of things he says that I differ on. One is the use of five quarter lumber which is expensive, although I agree thicker walls are good, He is patterning it after the tree which usually have thick walls.
My main contention is that he treats all the wood with creosote! Inside as well as outside. After this dries he coats the inside with linseed oil and beeswax. Maybe that seals it but hardly seems worth all the effort. I have taken down many bee trees years ago and never found the inside coated with wax or propolis. So his main contribution is the idea of No top entrance and a vapor impermeable crown board.
He did design a frame system that I like. he bent a heavy gauge wire in a sort of U that attaches to the top bar. In the center of the top bar is a slot through which the top edge of a sheet of foundation can be slid and bent over at the top. It just hangs down inside the wire frame. In his design the bees encase all this in comb and fill it with honey. To harvest, simply cut out the comb honey, remove the wire frame and all is easily cleaned up. The wire reinserted and new foundation. As with the Warre’ hives. an extractor could be designed and built to extract the comb if so desired. Otherwise simply crush and press as mentioned before. I plan to try this system. Stay tuned.
Good to hear! I too reuse old wooden frames. Painfully scraping away the excess wax and yes, spilt blood is part of the process, usually through contact with a chisel. I sand the splintered wood and feel better, knowing that I am recycling and reusing these frames. I then freeze them for at least 5 days (to kill bacteria) and then they are stored in a polysterene old vegetable box and the lid is taped down over winter. In spring they are brought out and rewired if needed, with a new wax foundation securely in place before being reintroduced into the hives.
Yes! Of course I reuse old frames. It never occurred to me not to. How wasteful to toss them. Some of mine are so old, covered in history, and come from my beekeeping mentor – how could I toss out such a legacy? Plus the goop they’re covered with is the honey bee’s miracle. I find it strangely satsifying and restorative, even though I procrastinate like crazy. I love your Honey Bee Suite, Rusty, and learn so much. Thank you!!! (PS I looked in Mann Lake catalogue today for Swarm Commander but couldn’t find it.)
Yes Rusty. I have to admit it, I reuse frames and enjoy the savings.
I wasn’t informed about tossing old frames so I re-use them. And depending on the condition I let the bees clean them up. That was in one of the books I have on beekeeping. My wife says throw them out because they are ‘dirty’ but I disagree.
Yes, we reuse our old frames, why not? They are still functional and we are not ‘disposable folks’. Yes, the new frames are not that expensive but why not take the time to bring your old frames up to functional use?
I reuse my old frames also. I even salvaged some end pieces and the odd top bar that survived a bear attack a few years back. Some of these pieces sport teeth marks to serve as a occasional reminder for me to never place colonies outside the electric fence. 🙂 Keep up the good work!
The secret to reusing frames is a good solar wax melter deep enough to hold the frames vertically.
I put down a layer of paper towel under the frames, the wax gets filtered and the propolis sticks to the paper.The pupal cases just crumble off.
I have switched back to wax and tossed the plastic. I will never scrape plastic foundation again. The only way to get plastic clean is to let the wax moths have it for a year after scraping. And frames are not cheap when you factor in assembly.
We have always used old frames, even handed down from my dad. Not a problem with the bees either
Yes , Rusty I reuse them. I cannot throw away a reusable piece of equipment !! SAVE A TREE !!! The Dirty mess can be soaked in a 5 gal. bucket of water and 2 cups of bleach. ( THANKS TO THE FAT BEEMAN )
It will remove most of the crud and kill any larva, like wax moth or SHB.
Enjoy your site. Keep up the great work.
Oh yes, it is a job, cleaning them as you stated.
Yes! I reuse them. They certainly don’t seem cheap to me! Last fall I took a week of afternoons to sit on my porch and clean all the old frames I had thrown ( or should I say placed) under my big pine tree two years before. I scraped, cleaned and sometimes nailed about 160 frames. I kind of liked it. It was sort of like meditating. And then this spring I put new foundation in them and they are now sitting on my brood boxes getting filled with comb, honey, pollen and brood.
Of course I do! Why throw away something that is perfectly good? Even if they are cheap, you still have to pay shipping or use gas to get to the store to get them. And what do you do with the old ones? Put them in the landfill? Burn them? I think not. I do use all medium foundationless, so cleaning them is mostly scraping off the old comb, letting the girls tidy them up and slotting them into a holding box. Once I figured out the logistics (work on a newspaper covered table, scrape wax into an old roasting pan…) I can clean 20 combs in less than an hour start to finish. Gah! I hate the throw-it-away mindset. There is no ‘away,’ it always goes somewhere.
“There is no ‘away.'” Good point!
I have only been doing this for four years and haven’t seen the need to toss one yet. In the spring when I am reassessing the situation (getting ready for the next season) I will remove whatever supers aren’t necessary and scrape those frames clean, separating the usable wax from the not so usable wax. Usable wax goes in one bucket, other wax goes on the ground. I toss the frames on something that keeps them off the ground (pallet) and let them get washed off for a while (whenever I get around to it, sometimes a couple of months). The rain and sun do a nice job of cleaning them. Then I toss them back into some empty supers and they are ready for the next go around. I go foundationless so I don’t have that hassle. The frames were also air-staple together when I put them together so they seem to still be pretty sturdy.
Is it worth it? It’s probably a question that comes down to stewardship. That question has to be decided on an individual basis. The balance between money, time and material has to considered. I have to admit I am a tightwad, hence I don’t like to spend. I can at some point always make the time and I hate to throw away anything that is still usable. So, in the end I will keep reusing my frames. One final point, the bees don’t seem to mind the pre-used living quarters. If they are ok with it so am I.
I always reuse old frames after good cleaning
Hi Rusty, Reusing old frames, why not?
I took your tip & use a heat gun to get rid of the wax, and then dip the frame into a flat steel tray of boiling water for a minute or two, this not only gets rid of the sticky honey, but kills off any possible wax moth eggs or larva. Works a treat.
As for changing the wire, why ??
I love your website, and all the info you pass on. I remove bees for a living and like you don’t want to waste all the special nailing although now i use a compressor and a nail gun. Saves a lot of time. I do go through, cut off all comb, and then torch the frames. I think it’s worth the trouble…
Yes, I reuse old frames. I just hate to waste anything. I think they look kind of neat too.
I reuse any old frame that seems reusable, so to speak. It does seem like complete waste to throw them away when there is nothing wrong with them. And yes, cleaning them is a chore I don’t enjoy, but I’m okay with that.
Perhaps if I had like 15 hives I’d rethink that position but I’m not there yet.
Yes, I not only make my own frames from lumber but I also clean and re-use them. I only dispose of a frame if it is broken, when I’m making frames I glue and side nail the joints, use eyelets and stainless wire and I tie the wire ends (not nail them). I have a steamer to clean the comb from the dirty frames (does a great job) and then it is a simple task to adjust the tension in/on the wires and re-tie the end, then new foundation and back in a hive. Just this season I have started to make my own foundation as I have seen the rubbish quality wax that gets cleaned up to become new commercial supplied foundation.
You’re not the only one. Your prep sounds strangely familiar to me, but I finally get around to it (usually in winter). Some of it comes from my Depression Era parents, and the rest comes from my frugal side. I know, for a commercial guy or gal, this doesn’t make sense, but it works for a guy that still sees some use in the sound ones.
I really love your blog, and I recommend reading it also to my students!
Of course, I reuse all my old frames several times. A very easy description of what can be done to clean them easily, can be found here (unfortunately in German only): http://www.imkerhandel-schulze.de/downloads/08_11_raehmchen_sauber.pdf – They recommend using a dishwasher, in combination with sodium hydroxide, which sounds pretty easy and I know several beekeepers doing it that way.
I think is would be a pure waste of money and resources to just throw them away, and I wouldn’t like that at all – still, I have to admit that even ironing is more fun than cleaning old frames 🙂
All the best from Berlin
A dishwasher! I would never have thought of it.
I clean and reuse frames as I can’t bring myself to throw them away. After cleaning all the wax off by scraping I dunk them in 20% washing soda ( sodium carbonate ) in hot water for a couple of minutes then scrub with a stiff bristled brush, finally wash this off with clean cold water. They come out really clean although a bit yellow stained. If you wish I think you could then bleach them but I don’t bother.
I have a pile of frames which looks just like yours! They tend only to be used when I’ve run out of new ones and am too lazy to go to the bee shop!
I’m glad to hear that. I almost didn’t post the photo because they look so bad!
I must say I toss them but only because I assume any disease that may or may not have been on the comb may or may not leave traces on the frame. I haven’t the science but it seems a prudent precaution. They make great fire starters!
I too reuse frames, I even get frames from friends that just throw them away because they do not want to mess with them. I guess I have more time than money and I like the idea of saving a tree.
We must be made from the same cloth…I reuse and fix what’s broken. The majority of our frames are now foundationless and the system I use makes it very easy to cull partial combs and not the entire frame of comb. Salvaging everything I can keeps the apiary highly productive…I think there needs to be more who have a high regard for not generating tons of waste…the bees rarely waste anything so why would a beekeeper be any different?
Why throw away something that’s still good? I love assembling hive components, but value what I’ve put together.
Because I extract honey via crush and strain method, I often have used frames. Provided that the frames didn’t come from a hive with problems I didn’t think there was anything wrong with reusing it. I don’t think the bees mind so why should I?
I reuse frames. If the wood is good, I certainly don’t toss them. I even reuse good empty comb, after three days in my old freezer. Helps nucs get going quicker. And recently, when I wasn’t sure about some honey (was it bad, or just wet capped), I propped the two frames on the top of a fence about forty feet from my hives. The bees decided the honey was good and cleaned the frames nicely. Three days in a freezer and two more good frames with comb. Right or wrong, I reuse whatever seems to have useful life left.
I definitely agree that it is a waste not to recycle old frames. I remove any
old foundation and put in a starter strip, but I also am sure to freeze the frame for at least 3 days to kill any wax moth or hive beetle eggs that may be hiding in cracks and crevices. They are persistent little buggers!
Rusty, your old frames are beautiful! Like a GOOD antique – not a “new in box” collectible but one that’s been both cared for and used.
And didn’t any of the “frames are cheap” wisemouths mention that bees PREFER old wood? That packages have been known to abscond from all-new woodenware?
A caution: you’ve heard beekeepers tout plastic foundation as “You never have to change it,” and using both medium brood boxes and supers as, “You only have one size to fool with.”
Well, those are both HUMAN considerations, not BEE considerations. And so is using all new frames because cleaning is “too much trouble.”
I not only use old frames, but loan spares to new beekeepers so that their packages settle in better. They swap me an afternoon cleaning and putting in foundation, if they like, and then a tedious task becomes a few hours of fellowship. That’s kind of like a BEE consideration, don’t you think?
Yup. And until you mentioned it I just assumed everyone else did, too. More accurately, until you asked it never occurred to me that there was a question. Seems there are things I do unquestioningly just because to me they need doing. Your arguments in favor of reclaiming make good sense to me and without a one of them I’d likely still reclaim. So, if you take some fine grit sandpaper to those…
I used to have access to an old Burco laundry boiler and a steam hive wax extractor. I would steam off all the wax, then wash the woodwork in a solution of boiling laundry soda. The results were spectacular and well worth the effort. I no longer have access to the boiler and now I no longer re wax the frames. My reason is that there is potentially a risk of disease being passed on and I prefer to put the bees on completely new frames and foundation. Yes, I do have guilt pangs but offset that by knowing the bees are safe.
Yep, I reuse mine whenever I can.
We were just given four boxes of used frames, some wax, some mold, and some work. After reading your comments I think I will save them for this winter when cleaning and re-waxing frames in the basement with a cup of coffee is fun. At least until it is light out and above zero.
Of course! What a waste not to. I came back in from cleaning my frames and my son said “Mmmm, mommy you smell like a beehive.”
That’s enough to keep me cleaning….
Unless they were infected with foulbrood, I would think you can always scrub em down and re-use them. I am in the process of freezing and bleach cleaning numerous frames that were infested with wax moth. No way could I afford to replace them.
I haven’t made it to the point of reusing frames as of yet. I did have a hive die suddenly just a month ago and have 10 frames from it that are still just sitting in the hive. For right now I almost feel that it will be easier just purchasing new frames. I will most likely change my mind in the near future and just clean them. What I do wonder though is this; what do I do with what’s left on the old frames? Some of the wax has a decent looking color but there are a couple frames of wax that are absolutely black. Is this wax no good? Can it be melted and used for anything at all? Another question I have (which may aid my decision on to clean the frames, or not to clean the frames; why aren’t frames made of sturdy plastic or stainless steel? I would think that frames of this type would last practically forever. (Maybe there are already some out there)
The black comes from the build up of larval cocoons and that is what your new bees will really love. As long as your bees didn’t die of a disease such as Nosema or foulbrood, you are good to go. Plastic frames are available. Personally, I’ve never seen much of a benefit, but some folks like them. Stainless seems kind of expensive.
I sure do reuse them. I kind of enjoy cleaning them and thinking all the time, how many little feet has walked on this spot I am scraping ? How many bees in total worked on this section? How warm was it in here when they were so busy building? What was their exact age? The questions go on and on. I do enjoy taking care of my bees. Phil
The throwaway approach to life impinges on everything. The practice of always using new frames is doubtless keeping equipment suppliers nicely profitable through these bleak economic times. As mass produced items, frames must make a huge margin but are still relatively cheap, and can be delivered to you in a matter of hours. I suspect many actually go to the further extent of buying pre-built frames so have no idea of the work involved. Like many far more worthy than myself, I hate to let something go to waste in this way, unless it heats me up on a cold winter’s night.
I reuse old frames. Depending on the condition of the comb, I sometimes put them in the shade and let the bees finish off any honey that is left. Or I put them in containers until a cool day when I am willing to deal with the mess. I do the initial cleanup and, during the winter, my husband takes them to the basement workroom and scrapes them clean with a paint scraper. I only throw out frames that aren’t sound, and, since I discard foundation that is between 3-5 years old, the amount of frames and money adds up quickly.
Absolutely we reuse old frames. My husband (bless him!) does the cleaning and scraping. We spend way more on our bees than we make from selling a little honey–sugar for sugar syrup and sugar boards, replacing truly worn out hardware, or the odd worn out jacket. For us it’s not postage though, it’s the cost of driving an hour up into Amish country to Zook’s beekeeping wood shop and supply store. We don’t really save much: the Amish are astute businessmen and Isaac’s prices, by the time you add gas, our time, and PA sales tax, provide little savings over mail order and we do still have to mail order some things. However, by driving the 50 mile round trip, we can get what we need right away and have a lovely drive through rural PA. I’ve also discovered there’s a wonderful country store about midway that has a huge selection of quilt fabrics–always a mix of cars and buggies in the parking lot.
And, if for no other reason, we’ve got to stop being such a “throw away” society. We need to reuse, repurpose, and recycle as much as possible. When some of our frames are truly beyond repair, they become kindling for starting a fire in the operating 1870s steam engine set up showing visitors to the museum where I work “advanced” Industrial Revolution technology. Useful to the end.
I thought all beekeepers were cheap. At least all of my bee buddies scrape and gripe. But they scrape as fast as they scrape.
I always reuse them if possible. Scrape clean and flame with a butane torch (love that smell!). If they are broken they make great kindling for the woodstove. Why would I ever throw them away?
Our state apiary inspector (Virginia) advises keeping old frames no longer than 5 years before burning them to prevent the build-up of spores and disease that can’t be eliminated through the boiling process. I know beekeepers here who do and don’t do that, but many of us have picked up the habit of writing the year on the frames when they go into the rotation so they can be burned at year 5 in keeping with the inspector’s rule of thumb.
Of course I reuse frames! I’m the Ultimate Queen of Recycling. I go by the old adage “wear it out, use it up, make it do.” Ben Franklin said, “waste not, want not.” and I’m a believer.
Frames are NOT cheap any more. Brushy Mountain’s price is $2 each now. That’s a big $20 bill for every super, and that doesn’t count the foundation.
I scrape (and save the wax and propolis) and dip in boiling water if I need to clear out wax. I spray them with 1:1 bleach solution and leave them in the sun to dry. If the wood is sound and the frame is sturdy, there’s no reason that I know of not to use them. I don’t seem to mind the job of cleaning nearly as much as you, but I also leave it for months because I just have so many other choices. This amazing honey flow that we’re having right now, though, has me scraping as fast as I can go!
Also, I don’t use old wax to start fires. Even the dirtiest wax will clean up much better than I ever expected, and it’s fine for my dipped candles. I don’t care if they’re tan; they still burn just fine. I do save my slum gum for fires, though. Never throw anything away if it can have some other use. That’s what I think.
Definitely yes, me too.
Scrape, scrub, freeze, reuse.
All propolis is collected and sold.
I’m probably the only one here who doesn’t reuse them, and I aim to change annually (though in practice end up with some frames 2-3 years old). In the past most of my old ones have been burnt following a shook swarm. I live in a small flat with very overcrowded kitchen cupboards. I just don’t have space for a big boiler to clean the frames properly and hate the idea of my bees being on old combs which could harbour all sorts of diseases. Frames cost about £1 each – I would rather spend that then spend the time cleaning them and have to store bulky cleaning equipment.
I also reuse. If they are too badly damaged I don’t bother, but as long as they are sound I scrape them off and reuse. Waste not want not.
Well, great. For some reason my browser kept loading this with no comments. After I posted a response it suddenly showed up. Assume you’ll delete my message if you can, or ignore it otherwise. Thanks.
I was just going to write and tell you there were more than 80 responses. Maybe you were reading a cached copy?
Like you Rusty, I have a pile, I am meaning to get to it. Oftentimes by the time I get to them they are no longer usable; falling apart, rotting, etc. I DO reuse my frames though. I have my 30ish hives on a two year foundation rotation.
Every year I replace two frames with new foundation to ensure I do not have a build up of pesticides in my hives. I’m my ten frame boxes I have all new comb every five years. That leaves a lot of surplus frames, which I clean off the old fashioned way, with my hive tool in hand. It’s a pain. I then put another nail in if needed. The ones that are just too crummy I use as kindling.
Thanks for asking,
Reading this has me thinking… Instead of scraping and scrubbing, maybe a turkey deep fryer would be a good way to boil off the yuck. Not a lot of vintage clothes boilers around, but used turkey deep fryers? I see them regularly.
I do! Not only do I reuse the frames, I reuse the foundation also. I use Dadant’s Plasticell foundation which has a plastic core with a stamped pattern of the cells. If the frames/foundation ever gets old, grimy or (heaven forbid) infested with wax moths, I scrape off the old wax (melt and recycle it) and put the frame/foundation back in the hive and they will redraw it. Here’s a quick (old) tutorial I did a few years ago.
I still use old frames. A heat gun soon gets rid of the old wax. Or the old copper from the laundry with boiling water and a fire under it holds heaps of frames and kills any nasty eggs from bugs.
I let them in the sun to melt the wax then clean (scrape them). After that I put them in a freezer for at least 3 days to kill any pests. After that just rewire and they are good to go.
I put old frames in a solar wax extractor, brings them up very clean, the wax soaks in and preserves the wood and hopefully helps to sterilise them. Steve.
I certainly am saving all old wood frames for re-use. Recently I agreed to ‘cleaning up’ a friend’s frames that still have comb in them, both black, moldy, wax moth infested, and little tiny black fast moving beetles or mites that fell out like pepper when I knocked the comb on its side. I stuck the whole pile with comb still on in the freezer quickly! Will this kill mites/beetles and wax moth larvae and can I then just put comb and frames back in use? Or should I remove that infested comb and foundation and clean up the frames and give those back to him for new foundation? I am somewhat new in this and would appreciate anyone’s feedback. Thanks Rusty for this site. I am learning a lot!
Freezing will kill all stages (eggs, larvae, pupae, nymphs, adults) of the creatures you mentioned. I would just freeze and re-use unless the combs are very black and more than four or five years old. In those old ones, I would put in new foundation or starter strips.
I have a hive that is just recovering from nosema…. should I save any of this equipment, frames, boxes??? How would I clean it if I save it? Thank you.
See How to clean up from Nosema apis.
This is my second year of beekeeping. I was hoping to get some honey. But, small hive beetles ruined that. My question is to reuse the frames (one year old) do I need to sterilize the frames? I’ve already disposed the comb. Cleaned the wax and propolis off the frames the best I could.
If the frames are clean with no beetles currently living there, you don’t need to do anything more. If you are ever in doubt, just freeze them overnight and that will kill all life stages of both beetles and wax moths.
I have some plastic molded frames and a lot of “waxed plastic” foundation in my hives. Stripping old, black wax is very easy using the following procedure: Put the frame in a freezer for a couple of hours. It needs to be cold when scraping the comb. A Milwaukee “Hackzall” with a 2-inch scraper blade will strip the old comb in a jiffy with no elbow grease required. The cell pattern remains, generally with some wax on it, but if necessary, I use an old crockpot (125/200 watts) to melt recovered wax, a paintbrush to recoat the foundation, and a hot air gun to help distribute any puddles of wax. It’s really easy, and the bees love it when they get the frames back! If you have the luxury of scraping in the winter, you don’t need the freezer.
I scrape the frames and remove the foundation, then I fill a large trash can or 5 gallon bucket with hot water and a 1 to 9 part bleach to water. I soak the foundation for 2 to 3 minutes then rinse and leave outside for a couple of weeks in the sun. As far as the actual frame I soak it for 30 seconds to a minute rinse and leave outside for a month or so in the sun. The bleach is just enough to pop everything off but such a little amount that it does no harm especially when left outside in the elements for a little.
I scrape frames down with hive tool. Mann lake makes a special hand tool to clean out wax and propolis out of grooves. Then I freeze for 2 days at 0 degrees to kill eggs. Bees will clean up rest of frame when you put back in hive. If your plastic wax cell are really messed up with wax moths. Just pop frames out put into a black double yard trash bag. Tie up top. The wax moths will clean up your frames in a couple of months. Take out pressure wash and then brush down with stiff steel brush. Freeze 2 days @ 0 degrees. Pop back in frame bees will reuse with no problem. I lightly mist essential oil sugar water on wax cell when putting back in hive.
That’s really cool, making the wax moths work for you.
Just thought I would add what I do with old dark frames.
Remove the old comb.
Cut the wire on the outside of the frame. With a sharp knife cut the wax from the frame.
Pull the wax out of the frame. Lay it flat on the bench, and pull the wire through the wax, and discard the wire.
Put the wax into an old pillow case. When the pillow case is full, I suspend it in my home made steamer.
The clean wax runs out into a waiting cake tin. When the steamer cools, I discard the pillow case, and contents.
Take out the tacks that used to keep the tension on the wire.
Then scrape the frames with my old fishing knife, maybe taking just a mm of the wood with the wax.
Put the top bar on the bench, pointed away from you (North South), to expose the slot where the foundation fits.
Put a screwdriver (the same width of the slot in the wood), into the slot end furtherest away from you (North), and pull it towards you (South) to remove the wax
Be sure to nail or screw a temporary piece of wood on to the bench, that the frame end (South) closest to you can rest against. A friend of mine puts the top bar in a vice (slot side up) then pulls the screwdriver through the slot to remove the wax.
I use a tall square plastic kitchen rubbish bin, that is a little deeper (long side vertical) than the frames.
Fill with water. Add at least two cups of bleach & stir.
My bin holds eight frames.
Stand the frames on their ends, and alternate them so they fit together.
Put a weight (I use a piece of angle iron) on the inside of the ‘bottom side” of the frames.
Lower the frames into the water/bleach mix.
Put a weight on the top of the immersed vertical frames if needed.
Leave them in there over night or longer, if needeed..
Next day take them out & rinse them in a similar bin filled with clean waterr. Hang them in the sun to dry.
The bleach/water can be used again & again. It may need to be topped up depending on how many frames you are doing. You will know when it is time to make a new mixture.
I usually can do thirty or forty, before I have to change the bleach/water mix.
Inspect the frames.
Check that they are strong, and if they need to be nailed, just hammer punch the existing nails further into the wood. If there are gaps between the top and bottom bars where they fit into the end pieces, squirt some Gorilla Glue into them then punch the old nails a little deeper.
Sometimes, depending on how they were first nailed together, you can put new nails in places where there are none, to give the frame greater strength. Look at the frame you will know what I mean.
Before the glue sets, lay the frame “East /West” and sight across the top and bottom bars to check that they are parallel.
If they are not parallel you can gently twist them until they are just right.
Then treat the frame as you would a new frame. IE. Add eyelet’s, wire, etc.
I hope this helps.
Wow Dennis, that’s a lot of work. Just writing it was a lot of work.
I’m a lazy beekeeper, use plastic frames complete with foundation, all you need to do is get a paint scraper, and get rid of the old comb. easy & very little mess.
I did it
Like you say
Boil the water
Place nasty frames in and I cleaned the groves with metal chop stick
Then pull frame out and put wax foundation in immediately. It was finished three or less minutes.
So easy, so fast no pain in the ….
Thanks for sharing ?
I am a first year beek. I am having a blast working with a 10 year beek who was losing a lot of winter bees…so his wife (my buddy) got involved and we have been learning together all summer.
We just checked his hives, looking for winter stores etc. and found what I am confident is a SHB. We are VERY rural, eastern Snohomish foothills, we don’t know anyone except the two of us in a 5 mile radius who has bees.
He has been keeping bees for years, like 10, but never treated for mites till me and his wife did an alcohol wash in late July and showed him over 60 mites…
What do we do with SHB? At our last bee club meeting our VP, who has a lot of hives, told us he had seen SHB in one of his hives, which is not common in W Wa.
I’m sorta shocked to find it at my neighbors. Is there any beetle I could be confusing it with? And what do we do?
Hmm. Bad news if it’s actually a small hive beetle. We haven’t had many in western Washington, but it’s inevitable they arrive at some point.
All of the beetles people have shown me so far have not been SHB. Lots of beetles can be found in and around hives, so the best bet is to send it (or take it) to the extension service and see if someone can identify it.
They are excellent flyers, so I have no doubt one could fly in from some other place.
I wouldn’t do anything until you get a positive i.d., then I would buy one of the commercial beetle traps that are available and start with that. How well they might do in your area has a lot to do with the soil type, as they need to pupate in the ground.
I have year old frames. Someframes have left over honey the bees didn’t use. What is the difference between the look of mold and the film old wax gets? Is there a set of questions that I can ask myself to determine if I should scrape off, reuse as it, or throw away?
The best test is odor, I think, but bees easily handle mold. Throwing it away would be a huge waste. Just put it in your hive and don’t worry about it. Even if the bees don’t eat it, it provides insulation and heat capacity.
After spinning honey out of my frames, I am left with frames where the foundation wax is still in good condition. Can one re-use these wax foundation frames without removing/cleaning the frames?
Why would you throw out perfectly good frames? I have been converting to foundationless and find that the bees have no problem drawing out comb even on the old frames. Granted, it isn’t much fun to clean them up, Just sit on the porch and scrape away on a cool evening….
Umm, not only do I not throw away old frames, recently I have been cutting down my old deeps to mediums because I am switching over to all 8 frame medium beekeeping. I give away hived swarms, with the requirement that you give me empty frames. Sometimes I get frames that no one in their right mind would work on but I never claimed to be in my right mind. Since I do all foundationless, if I have to glue a patch in a corner, it doesn’t bother anything. I also agree that side nailing makes a much stronger joint, and automatically drill a 16th-inch pilot hole and put in a nail on any top stapled frame that comes into my possession. I find frame processing to be meditative as well.
I noticed that some of your frames on the picture have some sooty black stains on the wood. What is it? Mold or just dirt left by bees? Some of my frames in the honey supers have this sooty blackish stains on top of them (on the wooden part). I noticed it only in one have. It has a screen bottom board and upper ventilation. And the colony is strong. I thought if it was mold the bees would take care of it quickly. However they seem not to be bothered by these black sooty stains on the wood. They almost look like somebody burnt the frames. And there is no bad order on the hive. The propolis around these frames also has this blackish sooty color.
Moisture in the hive that comes from the bees’ respiration condenses on the frames and mold grows on it in the fibers of the wood. It occurs in nearly all hives to some extent. The bees can’t remove the stain because it is embedded in the wood. It is normal and nothing to worry about.
Thank you Rusty. Do you think it is safe to put such honey frames with sooty black stains in the honey extractor? The stains are on the top wooden part of the frames close to their edges. The rest of the wood on the frame is clean.
Yes, it’s fine. People do it all the time.
We absolutely re-use old frames if they are not broken. My husband dips them in hot water to “clean” them, after removing the old comb and wires. If they are built out, he doesn’t even do that. The bees clean them up and don’t seem to care that the wax is dark or the frames have mold on them.