How To Assemble A Hive Body (Assembling A Langstroth Beehive)
Updated on September 11th, 2022
When you start beekeeping, it’s often a good idea to buy fully assembled Langstroth hive boxes complete with frames and foundation. This is especially true if you do not have the time, space, tools, or skills to build things yourself.
As your apiary grows, you will need more hive boxes. Save money buying unassembled components. Assembly is easy and accomplished with basic tools and hardware. If you assemble many boxes, you may wish to use specific tools to expedite the process.
To assemble a hive body, join the sides at 90° angles, checking corners with a square. Tighten joints with a mallet. Secure the connections with nails, staples, or screws. Exterior wood glue and clamps are optional but strengthen joints. An assembly jig can speed the process.
This article provides step-by-step instructions on how to assemble a Langstroth hive body. It explains your options about the types of fastener, the tools you will need, and more. Whether you assemble deep boxes, honey supers, or shallows, the process is identical. This guide will help beekeepers that are less experienced in woodworking.
Note: We only address assembling the body of the hive in this article. A complete hive box ready for installation includes Langstroth beehive frames and foundation. We cover frame assembly in this article.
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It’s the holiday season! Check out our gift ideas for a beekeeper you know…or for yourself. In addition to standard beekeeping supplies, we’ve highlighted some unique beekeeping-related items.
Unassembled Hive Bodies
Assembled hive kits are great for the true beekeeping newbie. Most beekeepers expand their apiaries by building brood and super boxes themselves.
An unassembled Langstroth hive body consists of 4 pre-cut sides with box joints on each end. Pre-drilled pilot holes on the box joints help center fasteners and limit splitting.
What is a box joint?
“A box joint is a woodworking joint made by cutting a set of complementary, interlocking profiles in two pieces of wood, which are then joined (usually) at right angles, usually glued. The glued box joint has a high glued surface area resulting in a strong bond... Box joints are used for corners of boxes or box-like constructions, hence the name. The joint does not have the same interlocking properties as a dovetail joint, but is much simpler to make, and can be mass-produced fairly easily.“Wikipedia
All sides have recessed hand grips while the ends are rabbet cut at the top to provide a frame rest.
How To Assemble A Langstroth Beehive Deep Or Honey Super
Assembling a Langstroth hive body is simple if you keep these two points in mind:
- Make sure all your sides have the handles facing outward. The box joints prevent misalignment. But, they will not prevent you from facing sides in the wrong direction. (I know because I’ve done it.)
- Make sure your hive boxes are “square.” Being square means that all corners are at 90° angles. (Yes, that geometry class in high school may have been more important than you realized).
There is a vast difference of opinion on the best way to assemble a hive body. First, we will go over the primary options and then discuss some of these differences.
Step 1. Choose your fastening method.
The type of tools you need depends on whether you plan to nail, screw, or staple your hive body together. Nails are the least expensive. The extra cost of screws or staples escalates if you need to buy tools to go along.
Pros & Cons Of Different Wood Fasteners For Hive Boxes
Note: If you already own the tools, some of the cons listed above are irrelevant to you.
Assembling a honey super is the same as assembling a deep box or a shallow. The only difference is the number of fasteners you need.
I Recommend Nails Or Staples
All the hive boxes I’ve assembled are nailed and glued. We have our share of extreme weather but our boxes hold up well. Nailing is easy and requires no expensive equipment.
Our first boxes came fully assembled with staples. They are still in service. If you are assembling a lot of boxes or have already have the necessary tool, staples are extremely efficient.
Screws may create a stronger joint but I don’t think it’s worth the risk of splitting joints or spending time on countersinks.
Step 2. Gather your equipment.
Gather your box parts, fasteners, tools, and supplies at a convenient workstation.
We have seen YouTubers assemble a hive on the floor. Don’t do that. Use a workbench or other stable, flat surface where you can stand.
The following table shows the suggested equipment based on the type of fastener you select:
|Fasteners||7D - 2/1/4" exterior (galvanized) nails||#6 - 2" exterior (coated or galvanized) screws||1/4" or 1/2" crown - 2" galvanized staples 16 or 18 guage|
|Tool||Hammer (or nail gun)||Screw gun or drill||Electric or pneumatic staple gun|
|Air compressor||Only if needed for nail gun||N/A||Needed for pneumatic staple gun|
|Glue - optional (or not? - see below)||Exterior wood glue - Titebond III recommended||Exterior wood glue - Titebond III recommended||Exterior wood glue - Titebond III recommended|
|Square tool||Carpenter square, speed square, or tri-square||Carpenter square, speed square, or tri-square||Carpenter square, speed square, or tri-square|
|Clamps - optional but helpful||2 to hold the box in place while fastening||2 to hold the box in place while fastening||2 to hold the box in place while fastening|
|Optional||Rubber mallet or dead blow hammer to tap sides together||Rubber mallet or dead blow hammer to tap sides together||Rubber mallet or dead blow hammer to tap sides together|
|Damp rag to clean up excess glue||Damp rag to clean up excess glue||Damp rag to clean up excess glue|
See our tips and info about tools below.
Note: There is nothing hard and fast about some of the suggestions in the table above. If you can’t find the specific size fasteners above, or already have lots of other fasteners around, feel free to substitute. I recommend that whatever you choose, pick a fastener at least 2″ long for holding power. More than 2-1/2″ long is not necessary.
Step 3. Apply glue to box joints (or don’t) and push sides together.
Align the box sides. Make sure the handles face outward. (Trust me, wrong facing is easier than you think.)
Apply glue to the box joints of two adjoining sides and push them together. Use a mallet for a tight fit.
Continue around the box to join all sides.
Titebond III Glue
We use this glue. It is waterproof and designed for exterior use.
Neiko Dead Blow Hammer
This hammer will drive pieces together with minimal damage to the wood.
Can Do Clamp
The Can Do Clamp makes it easier to square corners while you assemble a hive.
Step 4. Clamp opposites sides together (or don’t?).
Clamp the box together to assure a tight fit and keep corners square while you begin to drive fasteners. If you have a stable, flat surface to work on
Assembly tip: I am not an experienced woodworker. I always look for little things that make jobs easier. I use this Can Do Clamp available here on Amazon to square up box corners quickly. If you don’t have a lot of space for tools or are without regular clamps, give this device a try.
Step 5. Drive fasteners. Remove clamps and periodically check for square corners.
Working around the box, drive your a nail, screw, or staple into every box joint. Once you have a joint or two fastened on each corner, you can remove the clamps to get them out of your way.
Check the corner angles as you go. If corners are not square, force it back into place.
Step 6. Clean up excess glue and set the box aside for the glue to dry. Then, move to your next box.
Glue may squeeze out of joints when you press them together. Using a damp rag, wipe up the excess.
These steps will assemble honey supers, deep hive bodies, and shallows.
After the glue dries, it’s time to paint your boxes before installing them in your apiary.
See our article on why recommend the Langstroth hive as the best hive for beginning beekeepers.
When To Assemble Hive Boxes
Put your hive boxes together as soon as possible after you receive them. Otherwise, the wood may warp, shrink, or expand due to changes in its moisture content. If you leave the pieces unassembled for a long time, they may not fit together properly.
Also, build your boxes before you need them. If you discover your colonies in need of space, you will want to have extra woodenware ready to go.
General Tips & Info For Assembling Hive Bodies
Consider Making A Hive Assembly Jig
A jig expedites any assembly process. It simplifies the repetitive cycle of aligning and clamping pieces together. I expect such jigs in commercial beekeeping operations.. I expect such jigs in commercial beekeeping operations.
There are quite a few frame assembly jigs on the market. However, I did not find any hive box jigs for sale. Instead, the jigs I’ve seen are DIY productions, as shown in the accompanying videos.
If you plan to assemble many boxes, you may want to build one of these jigs first.
Don’t Be A Perfectionist
While it’s important to get your hive bodies squared with solid joints, you are not creating stylish furniture for your home. Your hive boxes will be out in all the elements nature serves up. While you want them to last as long as possible, they will not last forever.
Your bees would gladly live in a tree hollow. A solid hive box that’s good enough will work fine for them.
Should I Glue My Bee Boxes?
Most beekeepers recommend gluing a hive body. Glue strengthens the joint, and some say it seals tiny gaps between the sides.
Other beekeepers feel that their method of fastening, particularly screws, precludes the need for glue. Also, if a box is damaged and you want to replace one side, a box is easier to separate for repair if not glued.
If one side of an older hive box is badly damaged, I suspect that a new side will not fit well with the old parts. I’d be more likely to salvage a damaged box for use as a swarm trap or a nuc box.
If you are new beekeeper and unsure of your assembly skills, use glue. If you are an experienced woodworker, I think glue is an option.
If you opt not to use glue, get your sides as tight as possible for fastening.
What Are 7D Nails?
7D nails are flathead nails with a shank diameter that reduces the risk of splitting the wood. If they’re not at your local hardware store, they are available here on Amazon or online at Ace Hardware.
What Is A Dead Blow Hammer?
A dead blow hammer is similar to a rubber mallet in that it will not damage soft material as a steelhead does. But unlike a rubber mallet, a dead blow hammer absorbs the force of the blow, reducing the amount of bounce back.
What Are The Different Types Of Squares?
A carpenter’s square is an L-shaped tool commonly used in framing. It works as a straight edge, a ruler, or to check 90° angles.
A speed square is a triangular, multipurpose carpentry tool. Our speed square is a handy size making it our go-to choice for checking 90° corners.
Swanson Speed Square
This is my go-to square for checking box corners and marking wood for cuts
IRWIN Carpenter Square
You can use this tool to check for square either inside or outside a box.
POWERTEC Try Square
The try square is a simple L-shape to check for 90° angles quickly.
A try square has no markings for measurements. Its sole purpose is to check and mark 90° angles.
You can check for square with a measuring tape. First, measure from one corner to another diagonally across the box. Then measure the other diagonal. If the measurements are the same, the corners are square.
It is expensive to expand your apiary by constantly purchasing fully assembled hive boxes. Instead, most beekeepers, especially those running a commercial operation, can save money by building hive components themselves.
Assembling hive boxes is simple, requires few tools, and can be accomplished by novices. Follow the steps above, and you will have solid bodies that can last for years.