Project: Making a Kenyan Top Bar Bee Hive (Part 1)

Preface: I was going to put the entire hive-making experience into one blog post as motivation to get them done but SPOILERS it’s going to be WAY TOO LONG so I’m breaking it up. This first post covers making the hive body. The other (probably two) parts will be coming in the future. Enjoy my incompetence!

For many years I’ve been going to get bees and make a top bar hive, but it has never come to fruition. THIS YEAR IT SHALL so I am documenting my hive-making journey.


I went to visit a friend and former coworker who has been keeping bees in top bar hives for years. He is currently making some new ones, so he invited me to come see the work-in-progress for inspiration. IT WAS EXCELLENT but also intimidating because historically I think “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE” and then later the lumber is all cut wrong, nothing matches the plan, screws are askew, thumbs have been hit with hammers, and everything is the worst.

Example: making THIS is impossible. (Pic from

Example: making THIS is impossible.
(Pic from

He assured me, repeatedly, that it was easy. I tried to convince myself to believe him.



With a very rough sense of what I would need, I went to our local hardware store and roamed the lumber yards. I always love roaming the lumber yards because the (mostly male) employees can’t catch up with me and ask me if I know what the crap I’m doing.

ANYWAY, I had called ahead of time to get prices on some of the key lumber, but I double checked, took pictures, and reviewed the sizes they had for the next step in my project…


I’ve gotten to this step every year but never past it.

My goals were these:

  • find a plan that uses 2 inch lumber (for added insulation),
  • and find one that has at LEAST 18 inches on the top bar for comb (which means it has to be longer than that).

SURPRISE, I couldn’t find one. This isn’t surprising, actually, because I haven’t been able to find plans with 2 inch lumber any of the previous years but it doesn’t make it ANY LESS FRUSTRATING. Hours of internet nonsense with nothing to show for it is the worst (oh wait no that’s just a normal day).

I HAD A DECISION: do I give up once again OR be brave and bold and stupid and make my own plans?


So, after taking a deep breath, I plunged in. Here’s the thing: two of my “top ten” weaknesses in life are geometry and carpentry. The idea of facing two of them AT ONCE is not something I cherish. BUT LOVE FINDS A WAY. (Or bees find a way. Not sure which.)

*cue montage footage of me dorking around with a trapezoid calculator for way too long*


My nemesis.

IN THE END I had developed what I thought at the time were NIGH FLAWLESS plans.

When Devin came home I proudly presented my achievement, and he asked me how they compared to the langstroth frames. This sent me into a panicked tailspin because GOODNESS I DON’T KNOW? I had some in the garage so they were pulled out, and quickly our dining room became a war room.




Langstroth deep vs. my theoretical hive shape. *Roughly* equal in surface volume?

I went to bed that night thinking all was well. I had conquered stupid lumber sizes, which, despite their EXPLICIT NAMES are not the sizes one would expect (2 inches is actually 1.5 inches, 12 inches is actually 11.25* inches); developed a trapezoid that would give me top bars with 18 inches of room for comb to be drawn; had gotten moderately close to the 120 degree angle desired for the bottom joint; and had a list of the necessary lumber.



I was feeling secure in my plans. That would last one more day.



My dad brought his truck over to grab some poles I had for my pig pen, and then we were off to the hardware store to buy preliminary materials for two Kenyan top bar hives per my developed plans.

Here is a list of what I purchased:

  • (5) 2″ x 12″ x 8′ douglas fir boards at $9.21 each
  • (4) 2″ x 4″ x 8′ douglas fir boards at $2.66 each
  • Total cost for the day: $56.69

The plan was:

  • (1) 2″ x 12″ board for the end pieces (the trapezoids)
  • (2) 2″ x 12″ boards for the sides
  • (1) 2″ x 12″ boards for the bottoms
  • (1) 2″ x 12″ board for the top bars
  • (4) 2″ x 4″ boards for framing/figuring out the roof situation
  • (4) 2″ x 6″ boards (pre-owned) for sturdy legs
  • (?) roofing TBD

We came, we saw, we were VERY PICKY about getting moderately knotless and true boards, and we got out.

FIRST HICCUP: turns out my website lied to me. 12 inch boards are ACTUALLY 11.5 inches here, not 11.25 inches. I decide this won’t throw off my plan, and everything should be fine. (Famous last words?)

MEASURE TWICE (or just repeatedly to no avail, honestly).

I then took the opportunity, once unloaded, to set up my sawhorses and start marking up the wood for the next day’s cutting.


I got all the ends measured and marked, and the sides marked, and called it a day. I didn’t mark bottoms because I wanted to assemble the hive sides and ends to double check measurements before getting crazy and cutting bottoms. (THANK GOD I DID.)



There were a few snafus because of a circular saw power struggle, but we prevailed. I tried to cut as CAREFULLY AS POSSIBLE but it turns out perfection isn’t easy.



I kept telling myself “IT’LL BE FINE” and decided to admire the beauty of wood grain instead.



After battery swaps every 2-4 cuts, I HAD ALL THE PIECES and faux assembled the hive upside down to admire my work, excited about seeing the best laid plans becoming reality.




It’s not logical but upon seeing and realizing that I DID NOT CALCULATE THE TRAPEZOID HEIGHT CORRECTLY I almost just started crying. It’s like a math test where you feel super confident and then you get it back and your grade is NOT AN A+ AND THEREFORE UNACCEPTABLE.

I spent ten minutes talking myself off the sobbing ledge and realized WHATEVER, THIS IS FINE. We’re just gonna take the extra off the ends, slap the bottom on, and THOSE BEES WILL DEAL. (Or they’ll abscond and my spirit will be permanently crushed. No pressure.)


Pre-trapezoid cutting brainstorm to see if this fix will work. As I’m looking at this picture I realize additional problems. MMM ISN’T BLOGGING FUN?

With this crushing defeat and subsequent planned solution, I decided to sleep on the decision and call it a day.



I had realized at the end of day 3 that I should probably drill my entrance holes before screwing and gluing the body together. The plan was: pick up some corks at a local brewing company, then go out to the workshop and get back at it.

But Saturdays are laaazy! We did manage the beginning of that plan and headed out for corks.


I’m not saying this is the most hipster store I’ve been to but it’s on the top ten list.

I’d never been to a brewery store before and it was kind-of fascinating. ALSO THEY HAVE SO MANY CORK SIZES.

Me: “I’m looking for corks!”
Clerk: *asks me which very specific type of cork I need*
Me: “Uhhh that’s a great question. I need a cork for bees.”
Clerk: *impressively unfazed*

After handling and measuring corks to an uncomfortable degree (like, how does one keep corks sanitary I have so many questions), we walked out with twelve size 9 (~3/4 inch) tapered corks. I anticipate putting three entrances on each end of the sides – Devin told me to buy twice what I expected. Technically I bought exactly what I needed though I figured I’d just start with the three entrances on each hive. I should’ve gotten more.

Total cost: $5.40


This is one instagram filter away from being a hipster photo.

Why the corks? Well I realize I haven’t really explained any of my actions but the idea is, I can always close off the entrances if I need. For example, early on and/or in winter, I’ll close off probably all but one entrance. During the peak of pollen and nectar when the hive is largest and busiest, I might have them all open.

Also they look cool. I’m hoping the bees will give me hipster style points.


I ended up taking a week off of the hive building because I got hit by a dumb but powerful cold. In that time all I managed to do was drill a 3/4 inch test hole to test out the corks. It all checked out a-okay!

Day 5


It was high time to buy some more supplies. It was time to go yet again to….Jerry’s.

“One does not simply get what one needs from Jerry’s. Its sliding doors are guarded by more than just greeters. There is sexism there that does not sleep, and the male eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland riddled with stereotyping, side-eyes, and unhelpful recommendations. The very air you breathe is a judgmental fume.”

I mean, what? But seriously, Joann’s and Jerry’s are a match made in heaven when it comes to making me feel uncomfortable. Just in opposite-gendered ways.

So now that we’ve had an interlude of THAT, here’s what I bought:

  • Titebond III Wood Glue, 16 oz., $6.99
  • Bosch 3/4 in. Spade Bit, $4.69
  • Dewalt 3/4 in. Spade Bit, $4.49
  • Galvanized 3 in. Deck Screws, $6.59
  • Galvanized 2.5 in. Deck Screws, $6.59
  • Total cost for the day: $18.07

Why are some of those crossed out?  All in due time, dear reader.


Two of these things will go back to Jerry’s. One will try to start a fire.

The Titebond III and deck screws are for gluing and screwing the hive body together, which honestly, I thought I would’ve accomplished on day one. (Spoilers we’re on day 5 and I STILL won’t get to it.)

But before I get to THOSE shenanigans I had two tasks to complete.


As you saw from day 3, we had some issues WITH OUR BOTTOM. The trapezoids were too tall and also if I put the bottom board on even with those cut down, there’d still be a gap. My husband rightly told me I needed to cut the edges at an angle so it would be flush and flat.


Here’s a fun fact: my family is bad at geometry. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Well, maybe my brother managed to figure it out but when it comes to building things we stick with simplicity. Anything beyond cutting straight lines is just…not worth it. When I said I was going to cut the edge at an angle my parents didn’t QUITE say “IT CAN’T BE DONE” but the sentiment was palpable. Cutting angles is right up there with putting a man on the moon. It CAN be done, but not by us.

ENTER: the table saw. I knew I could change the angle and it would all be fine, my hangup was “HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHAT ANGLE.” Meanwhile, my parents expressed surprise when I changed the angle of the table saw’s blade because apparently they didn’t know it could be done.


A wild angle has appeared. One of the keys to not cutting angles is not acknowledging the ability to cut angles. It’s quite simple.

“So how did you figure out the angle?” you might be asking, or not because you aren’t angle challenged like me. I set all the pieces together as they would sit, used a straight edge and marked the angle to create flatness, then flailed a lot. Then I stopped flailing and measured it with a protractor. THAT’S RIGHT, FOLKS, you CAN use protractors after college!


Our final angle. Also the consumer help line number if you happen to need it.

I did a few test cuts, adjusted it a bit more, and we ended up with a winner. I then straightened out the blade again, cut the trapezoids down, and TA-DA! MAGIC!


I’m not saying this was equivalent to discovering fire for the first time but IT SURE FELT LIKE IT.

After THAT victory I was VERY tempted to go home. Alas, I did not end on that high.

The drill bit I purchased was for the entrance holes which I wanted to drill BEFORE putting the hive body together. The idea is that if I drill them while the board is flat the outer hole will be at a slight down angle and any water/condensation will be able to ooze out instead of into the hive.

I popped that Bosch drill bit in, and decided to go to town. Now, a note on this bit. There were options at Jerry’s. This one was a little bit more than the run-of-the-mill spade bit: it had a threaded end and said “10x faster.” It was not wrong. It’s just that the 10x faster wasn’t about how quickly you would be drilling holes but actually how quickly you would be getting into trouble.

I marked out where I wanted my holes to be, my parents went on a walk, and I decided to get these things slammed out with my super-high-tech-magic-bit.


I did not gain the ability to telekinesis the drill out of the wood. But I tried.

As you can see, DIFFICULTIES WERE ENCOUNTERED. What is NOT pictured is the beautiful white smoke that plumed out of the drill’s electronic jiggly bits, filling the air with a lovely poison that I sucked in like a four-year-old with a glass of chocolate milk and a silly straw. I then wasn’t sure how to get it out, so I stared at the tool bench for a good long while.

It's like when you open the refrigerator waiting for something to manifest that will fulfill your every need. I mean, what?

It’s like when you open the refrigerator waiting for something to manifest that will fulfill your every need. I mean, what?

Eventually my parents returned to my failure and it turns out it was the drill bit, not me. (TAKE THAT!) I called it a day and returned to Jerry’s on my way home, getting served another condescending cookie when the clerk told me those drill bits were “tricky.”


Probably the super attractive face I gave him in exchange for his patronization.

I ended up getting a less WILEY drill bit, and screws that were a bit shorter (the previous were too long).

Day 6



But first, finish the hive entrance hole drilling. Now, one might think where to put entrances and how many would be straightforward, right? Like, this is science, surely there isn’t debate about this. (I’m not sure why I ever thought that concept made sense.)

I’m not saying I spent hours reading the argument about how large entrance holes should be, where they should be, how many there should be but YES, YES I DID. Summary: WHO THE CRAP KNOWS. So I just YOLO’D it.


“Hopefully it all works out.” -my motto for this project

I was going to have them closer to the bottom because SO MANY REASONS mostly I’m concerned about their comb blocking it but also my parents were like “hey don’t do that nonsense it’ll weaken your board” and bees live in hollow trees and crap so THEY’LL JUST HAVE TO DEAL.

Also more smoke came out of the drill so that wasn’t unnerving at all.

NEXT: drilling pilot holes for my screws and GETTING THIS PUPPY SLAPPED TOGETHER. Oh, right, puppies. I brought one of mine today. Within five minutes he had lifted his leg on my hive building lumber so I guess I now know what HE thinks of my workmanship. THANKS, BUDDY.


The world’s cutest jerk.

Anyway, I got that sorted and I was now ready to actually complete this first baby step of the process.

This is the face of fear.

This is the face of fear.

With some extra hands lent by my parents I got it glued and screwed with a relative amount of success. Then I did the pilot holes for the bottom and got that attached as well.

Here's a super attractive picture that I'm sure all would appreciate me sharing with the world.

Here’s a super attractive picture that I’m sure my parents will appreciate me sharing with the world.

I let my dad do some of the work because CARPENTRY IS EXHAUSTING.

In all, I’m pretty happy with the results. The top inside width is 18 inches, fulfilling my goal, and the bottom inside is 9 inches which is actually wider than I was expecting. I definitely didn’t achieve a 120 degree angle at the bottom but I think I’m within 10 degrees which is pretty good for someone who doesn’t believe in angles.

Hopefully you’ll join me for the next step: making the top bars!


The final, blurry product so far.


5 thoughts on “Project: Making a Kenyan Top Bar Bee Hive (Part 1)

  1. Best blog post ever. Things like drill bits getting stuck happen to everyone. I didn’t realize how big it was until the photo with your Mom and Dad. I never get offered cookies when I go to hardware store.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’ve had drill bits get stuck but this thing was a NIGHTMARE. I don’t know how one was supposed to use it! The hive is pretty big – I was going to make it shorter but then got the recommendation to make it longer. Essentially unlike langstroth (the typical bee hives you see) or warre, with a top bar hive you can’t add boxes on so it has to be the “max” size to start with. But yeah, the thing is kinda HUGE, and will probably hold up to 200 lbs of honey/brood/pollen in addition to its own weight. It will be…FUN when I put the legs on. XD

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Project: Making a Kenyan Top Bar Bee Hive (Part 2) | VanBow

  3. Pingback: Project: Making a Kenyan Top Bar Bee Hive (Part 3) | VanBow

  4. Pingback: Project: Making a Kenyan Top Bar Bee Hive (Part 3) | VanBow – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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