beekeeping equipment

An unpainted hive makes for poor and expensive bee habitat

Unpainted beehives often do not last as long as painted ones.

Inside: A new wooden beehive is so beautiful you might not want to paint it. But a coat of paint or an oil finish can be both economical and good for the bees.

Does untreated wood wick moisture from the hive?

There’s a growing movement afoot that advocates leaving wooden hives unpainted. The reason given for this is that the wood can breathe better without a coat of paint and, because it can breathe better, it will wick condensation from the hive and provide a drier environment for the bees.

I do not support this idea and here are my reasons:

  • Although wood can absorb water, it does so very slowly—much more slowly than a healthy colony of bees can produce it. You will need to supply adequate ventilation whether your hives are painted or not.

  • Unpainted wood will absorb moisture not only from the inside but the outside. So if you live in a very wet environment, it would be nearly impossible for the wood to conduct moisture from the inside of the hive to the outside. In fact, it could move the other way.

  • Although the life of milled lumber will vary depending on the species, the grade, and the climate, you may be able to double—or even triple—the life of a hive if you keepi it painted.

Preventing rot is good for the environment

Wood may be a renewable resource, but in order to get that hive to you, fossil fuels were used to grow the timber (if fertilizer and/or pesticides were used), cut the timber, haul the timber to the mill, mill the lumber, haul the lumber to the manufacturer, manufacture the hive, and ship the hive to you. In other words, the carbon released to the atmosphere to get a manufactured hive from forest to you is huge, so why buy them more often than necessary?

Yes, there are carbon costs to paint as well, but even the bare-wood advocates are painting the joints and the end pieces to prevent rot. The extra amount of paint necessary to cover the entire thing is minimal.

So do the planet a favor and paint your hives on the outside. The insides of hives should never be painted and here’s why.

Honey Bee Suite


    • I’ve never used linseed oil, but it’s supposed to be good. It repels the water and that is what’s important.

      • I used linseed oil mixed with mineral spirits to water-proof my wooden compost. I didn’t know I could use just pure (not boiled) linseed oil. That would have smelled much better.

  • I lined the inside of my top hive feeders with linseed oil. It initially made the sealant soft but has hardened up enough to prevent leaking. I figured it was good to suppress leaking and seal the wood a little better.

  • Traditional boxes need to be painted or they will warp, nails or screws will rust and pop, lumber will expand and dry out creating cracking. All these will happen anyway, but with painting this slows the process.

    The Eco Bee Box does not require paint. Can be pre-painted if desired. Can’t warp, or crack. Can be pre-treated with a wood preservative. Our choice is to be completely dipped in bees wax and pine resin.

  • I have seen wax dipped hives. Have you had any experience with this? As a woodworker, I enjoy the look and figure of finished wood. I would like to know more on this.

    • Waxing boxes are a great idea. Eco Bee Box now distributes Beck Hive Cream, a 100% natural beeswax finish made for woodenware. Waterproof & looks great and easy to apply. Dipping is good, but I don’t believe in unnatural waxes, such as paraffin. Paraffin is obtained from crude oil through a distillation process and then purified with solvents.

  • So this beeswax application that you rub on will last eight to ten years like they say paraffin wax dipping will? I don’t care to re-wax my hives every year. At that point, I can just paint them a lot faster.

  • So what timber do you use in the US? In the UK, most of the beekeepers I know use western red cedar, which is long-lasting. I use safe wood preservative of different colours so I (and the bees) can tell hives apart.

  • I mentioned in my first comment for this post that I painted my hives with linseed oil. That didn’t last long. The linseed oil began to wear off by the second summer. I’ve since painted all my hives with, well, paint. I still prefer the look of natural, but what are ya gonna do?

    I do not recommend linseed oil (for climates with long, damp winters, that is).

  • I treated a few of mine with ECO wood treatment. Very easy to use. It comes as a powder that you mix with water. Apply it however you wish, brush, roll, spray, dip. It is supposed to make the wood last forever. In my opinion, it is not as nice looking as paint. It looks like water stained wood. I’ll let you know in 15-20 years if it works.

    • In the off chance that you see this:

      David, how has the eco wood treatment held up for you? Have your boxes warped at all?

  • I do like the Eco Wood Treatment found at Home Depot in powder form. Attractive aged look and lasts. Paint is my last option in my list to preserve a box.
    1) Eco Wood Treatment (easy, lasts, looks great)
    2) Beck’s Bees Wax ( easy, natural, bees like it, reapply bi-yearly with bees in them)
    3) Wax dipping (lasts, petro based, fire and oil risks)
    4) Linseed Oil (looks good, needs yearly application)
    5) Natural
    6) Paint Enamel
    7) Paint Latex (peels and flakes especially on corners where it is needed, sanding requires on recoats no bees inside)

  • I use good old fashioned, now hard to obtain in the UK, creosote. I creosote my hives in dry periods during the winter whilst the bees are still at home and I have never noticed them suffer any ill effects. It doesn’t smell all that great, and a bit does get on your hands when you handle the boxes, but I haven’t grown any lumps yet after nearly 40 years at it.

    I think the most important things in beekeeping are keeping the bees about 1 foot to 18 inches off the ground, wiring your own frames, and using the largest size smoker you can get. All the rest is for the amateurs to worry about.

  • On the subject of “wood allowing moisture to pass through”, boats have been made of wood for centuries to keep water out… As you mentioned, the amount of moisture that could even get through wood would be quite minimal. Thank you for the info!!!

  • The one complaint I have with paint that was not mentioned here is that when (not if) it peels back even before you notice it, moisture gets between the paint and the wood and starts a mildew and then a rotting process. Anything you do will require repeated applications after a year or two. Houses do as well. Unless you build a hive of brick. That seems to look good and lasts. 🙂

  • I used linseed oil in and out on my bee hive. For how long should I let it dry before I move the bees in? I am not worried how long does it last the hive.

    • Joe,

      I’ve read it takes about three days to dry if it is raw, one or two days if it has drying agents added to it. However, I don’t know if the bees like the smell. I would let it air out maybe a couple of weeks.

  • I’ve always painted my hives with primer and then top-coated with enamel. Lately I’ve gone for two coats of exterior grade acrylic red paint. Mostly good results, though a few are beginning to look a bit dodgy after a couple of years.

    As an experiment, my top-bar hive has been done in raw linseed oil on the landing board just to see how it holds up. After a few very wet months followed by some very hot and dry weather, it’s holding up well, but it’s early days. I must say, I like the look of it.

    • Paul,

      I like the look as well. I think the durability will have a lot to do with local climate, though. I can’t imagine it working here, but I think it should work in most places.

  • I use only canola oil. I apply it about 5-6 times a year and have never had any issues. My oldest hive is 13 years old and it looks as it did 13 years ago. For me, its the best option but then I only have 8 hives.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.