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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Post-split Follow up

The forecast predicts rain this weekend. Today, though, is fabulously sunny -- perfect weather to top feeders and do a three-day follow up on my split. 

Three days ago, I split Peach but wasn't sure if I'd gotten the queen or not. Well, Peach is once again full of bees, comb, and eggs. On the other hand, Elsa is busy making emergency queen cells. Guess I know the answer.

Peach & Elsa

One of the emergency cells in Elsa actually had a fairly well developed larvae. They must have started with a larva rather than a stick egg because there is no way a stick egg would have hatched and grown that much in three days.

Emergency queen cell

Bubblegum

Bubblegum is fast filling up with honey. Even better, she's finally queen right. Although I didn't see Her Royal Highness, there were plenty of eggs, so I know she's in there. She's running out of space, though, so I pulled the feeder to make room.

Austeja 

She's a tricky one. Although I heard the queen piping 11 days ago, I don't think she made it back from her mating flight. There still aren't any eggs, and I found a capped queen cell all the way on the last bar in the honey area, which was kind of weird. I wonder if maybe it was a cell that the lost queen missed.

Additionally, they're making more emergency queens with the bar of eggs/larvae that I gave them three days ago. Of course, now I have no idea which line the emerging queen will be from. Three days ago, I wasn't able to give them eggs from Peach, but now I can. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm going to remove the emergency queens that were made with the package colony's eggs and put them in a new nuc with eggs from Peach and some capped brood from the other colonies.

Emergency queen cells

Hippolyte & Persephone

As soon as I opened Hippolyte to check her syrup level, I got stung on the arm. Then there was some obsessive head bumping and another sting. I decided she wasn't worth the aggravation and closed her up. Persephone was kind of nasty, too, so I didn't bother doing anything with her either other than change her syrup. They don't need inspection anyway since I just peeked in three days ago.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Making of a Hive: Part 2 of 3

Update: Added new links.

I've been wanting to build a double-walled insulated hive for a few months now. Part 1 of this series of posts outlines the reasons behind this approach and design considerations. This post chronicles how I went about making this crazy idea come to life. BTW, please, do not confuse this with a "How To." I'm not a woodworker, builder, architect, engineer, etc., and true craftsmen will doubtlessly find my approach (which is more of the "make it up as you go along" variety) cringeworthy.

How I normally make my hives
Normally, when I make my hives, I use a template to cut out the divider and end boards. Then I attach the sides (the bottom edge of the side is angled), and the bottom board goes on.


How I normally assemble the pieces.
Attach sides to ends, add bottom.

My husband, who has made a number of lovely pieces of furniture does it a little differently. He angles the bottom board instead of the sides. Probably easier that way, but the bees aren't picky.

Some Completely Inadequate Planning

While I was sketching out plans, I figured I'd build it the way I usually do, but just add lots of angled layers to the walls. My super genius DH, though, pointed out a much more obvious (and easier) way to build it. He advised me to build it like a door. He advised me to cut out a plywood panel, build a frame on it to hold the foam, then add another plywood panel on top.

My DH's idea for building the walls

After asking around and doing some online research, I opted against using plywood. The consensus seems to be that even if the wood is produced in the U.S., the glue might still have some sketchy chemicals in it. Also, plywood hives don't appear to last very long. That was the clincher. I hate redoing work. (Note: After finishing my hive, I reread sections of Lazutin's book and realized that he uses plywood for his hives, so I guess it probably would have been ok after all.)

After solving the problem of how to make the sides, I turned my attention to how to attach the bottom and ends. I figured I'd just do a rectangular end panel, but the bottom was giving me more difficulty. So I abandoned the drawing board and chose to fall back on a motto that has seen me safely through many a hairy situation -- Fake it 'til you make it.

Gathering Materials

I had some wood at home already, but I augmented my stash with 2x4s for the legs and framing the wall panels. Picked up some 1x12 pieces for the sides as well as 1 1/2" thick foam insulation.

Seriously, my next vehicle is going to be an old pickup.

I don't know much about foam insulation, but I chose this delightful purple stuff, and not just because it had an image of the Pink Panther on it.  I made this particular choice because:

  • The description showed it being the most efficient choice on the shelf at the Home Despot [sic] and was their second best product for resisting moisture, too.
  • I would've preferred 2" thick insulation, but the 1 1/2" stuff seemed easier to frame since 2" thick wood is really only 1 1/2" anyway. So I figured I'd gain some efficiency and reduce waste by getting the slightly thinner foam. However, even the 1 1/2" foam has an R-7.5 rating. With the double wood walls, that rating should get bumped up to R-9.5 to R-10.5. According to Lazutin, prior to widespread clear-cutting, wild bees preferred trees with 4"-6" walls. While various woods differ in their ability to insulate, I looked up the R-value of wood, and someone said 6" is about R-9. Therefore, the thinner foam seems safe enough.
  • According to the label, the production had zero effect on the ozone. Is that true or just a clever marketing spin? Don't know, but it was mental salve for my anxious conscience.

Ok, ok, the Pink Panther *was* a big selling point.

Step 1: Make Divider Boards

I keep a wood template on hand for making divider boards so that all I have to do is trace and cut dividers and ends. For this project, I didn't need the end pieces because I planned to make a large rectangular end piece. However, I did want two divider boards -- one was a regular board. The other would be a second wall near the entrance to provide a little additional warmth.

Template
 The divider that goes near the entrance is made a little differently from a regular divider. Instead of being centered on the bar that holds it, it is attached all the way at the edge. The little lip (3/8") provides bee space so that when it's inserted into the hive, I don't have to add another spacer.

Profile view of "divider" that will go next to the entrance.
See the lip that will provide bee space in lieu of a separate spacer?

Step 2: Make Side Panels

I try to avoid measuring as much as possible, so I used a divider to figure out the height of the side panel (about 10"). Then I cut four 44" panels to make the side walls. 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" pieces made up the frame.

One wall all framed out
 A minion helped cut the foam.

Oops, just realized he wasn't wearing shoes.
Looks like I'll be in the running for world's worst mom again.

Insulation in place

 After screwing in the top panel, another minion sealed up all the cracks.

His first time with the caulk gun.

BTW, my husband thinks half the weight of the hive comes from screws and caulk. Apparently, some glue and staples would have sufficed. I'm reminded, though, of my mom. Whenever she sends a package, it's hermetically sealed with packing tape to the point of being nearly impenetrable by knife, scissors, saw... The apple, it seems, does not fall far from the tree.



Step 3: Attach End Pieces

I use dividers to help me line up the hive walls.

Lining things up
 Clamps have also become my best friend when it comes to holding things together.

Clamping it together

 I should've measured so that I could make the screws symmetrical, but whatever. What really bothered me though was the rectangular end, and I ended up changing that to a trapezoid. In hindsight, I wish I'd taken extra time to just cut out the end all fancy-like at the beginning. It would've been helpful in having the ends pieces with their diagonal cuts when trying to line everything up.

The rectangular end was quickly edited.

 Step 4: Attach Bottom

The bottom was the most problematic part of this project for me. Because the hive walls are so thick, there is an enormous gap between where the hive bottom is (bottom of the end panel) and where it should be (e.g., where it falls in the hive).


My husband, who built my first two hives, suggested doing what he did -- angle the sides of the bottom and drop it into the hive. Gravity and tension (along with a few screws or nails) do most of the work holding the bottom in place.

My husband's suggestion
The issue with this idea is that I didn't leave enough space to do this. If I dropped the bottom in from the top (That was confusing. Still with me?),  I'd decrease the interior height by about an inch. Not cool. Instead, I decided to angle the sides of the bottom and push it up from beneath. When I did the measuring, I realized I actually had enough room to add the bottom and a 3/4" layer of insulation. Completely unplanned, but sometimes things work out. :-)

After measuring out the angle I wanted to cut, I discovered that the table saw wouldn't make it because it only angled to 45°. So my DH helped me out and cut a different angle. It still worked, but I lost 1/4" for the insulation. Now, I can only fit 1/2" insulation, but this is the bottom, so it's less of a concern for me.

Hive is upside down. The bottom has been fitted in from this side.

If I ever have to do this again, I might considering making slightly longer walls so that I can fit the bottom in from the top like my husband suggested. Even though the bottom isn't weight bearing, I think his way is sturdier and more elegant.

Interior view of the bottom

Step 5: Drill Entrances

I don't have a photo showing it, but I attached the divider that I made for the front to the entrance wall. I had wanted to attach a layer of insulation between the divider and wall, but I started worrying about losing too much interior space during a strong flow. (After getting it all together, I realize I would have lost only about 2 bars, but I wasn't thinking clearly at the time.)

My entrances are near the bottom, about 2" above the hive floor.

Measuring for entrances

Step 6: Finish Up (For now)

There are a couple things I need to do before I can call this project finished. For example, I plan to attach some insulation the divider board to create extra warmth at the end of the nest in the winter. I also need to make an insulated roof. However, it's close enough to being finished that it's usable.

I like to rub a mixture of propolis dissolve in 80% isopropyl alcohol to the interior of my hives. Spivak has found that it increases hive hygiene. 

You can definitely tell which areas have had propolis applied to them.

Like a dork, I only cut two legs for the hive stand instead of four. My DH came through brilliantly for me and cut them so that I could finish painting. My daughter gave me a hand, too, but I forgot that the legs were going on that end, so most of her work got covered up. :-( However, I've included a photo here so that her handiwork can be remembered.

Anna, Elsa, and Olaf, and lots of snowballs

Even more awesome, my DH put the legs on for me, too.


I decided to go with a wintry theme because as I was building, my Frozen-obsessed 5-year old queried, "Mom, are you making a big hive or a little hive?"

"Big."

"So that means you're going to name it after a queen, right? Queen Elsa is a queen, you know. Can we call it Elsa?"

"Ok, that's a great name."

"Hey, Mom. Since Frozen is for kids, and I like Queen Elsa so much, can this be my hive?"

"Of course, darling."

"Yay! I have more bees!!!" (Note: She's already claimed the nucs as hers, but I'm doing all the work.)



How could I resist such an adorably voiced (if not so subtle) request. Besides, the name appealed to my sense of the apropos. Like its Disney-namesake, I hope that come February the colony in this hive will be singing, "Here I stand, and here I'll stay / Let the cold winds blow / The cold never bothered me anyway!"

You can really see how thick the walls are in this photo.

Once I build the insulated roof, I'll share my notes on that in Part 3.

Update: I retrofitted an existing hive with insulation, and in many ways, that was a much easier build. Going forward, that's probably what I'll do -- build a regular TBH, and then build insulation around it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Making of a Hive: Part 1 of 3

Updated: Added link to Part 2

When David Liedlich gave a talk on double-walled, insulated Russian hives this past spring, he was speaking straight to me. I was devastated by the loss of three colonies due to condensation, and I had to know more about this approach. Then I read Fedor Lazutin's book Keeping Bees with a Smile which discusses Russian horizontal hives, and it was a total eye-opener. I learned so much about bees and why they do what they do. Plus, it answered a bunch of questions I had regarding overwintering. If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend it. It's about $35 on Amazon, and it's worth every penny. "Part IV, How Bee Colonies Winter, and How to Make Wintering as Successful as Possible" is pure gold.



For awhile I considered building a Russian hive, but after a few email exchanges with Lazutin's editor, Dr. Leo Sharashkin, I opted not to. The thing about the Russian hive is that it uses double height frames (about 18"-23" high, I believe). Because they're so big, Sharashkin recommended using wire and foundation, both of which are items I want to avoid. Additionally, I'm not so sure how well crush and strain harvesting would work with a wired frame. Also, I don't have enough hives to justify purchasing an extractor large enough to accommodate these huge frames. Instead, I decided to continue with my TBHs, but I wanted to build one that incorporated some of Lazutin's ideas.

Fedor Leonidovich Lazutin

The Cluster

Before diving into Lazutin's ideas on hive building, I think it's important to skim over a few (though not all) of his notes on the bee cluster because he discusses it at length and it informs the design he uses to a great extent. 

Young bees that are least able to handle huge temperature fluctuations remain in the center of the cluster and form a loose "core." Older bees create a tight exterior "crust" 1"-3" thick, depending on colony strength. The purpose of the colony is to generate enough heat to keep the outer bees between 43°-48°F. If the temperature drops below that, the outer bees will fall into a torpor and die unless the ambient temperature is raised.



Bees in the cluster core, emanate heat while the bees who are tightly packed into the crust, trap that heat inside the cluster. In order to maintain the correct temperature, bees need to consume honey. However, there are a couple of challenges for them because 1) the honey has to last until the spring flow begins and 2) Excess honey consumption leads to excess intestinal content (diarrhea, etc.)
Heat Loss

Large clusters are better able to maintain a stable temperature. They also tend to consume less honey overall than smaller clusters because they don't need as much fuel to stay warm. By reducing heat loss in the hive, beekeepers can also help bees retain that heat. Heat escapes from the hive in two ways:

  • Direct thermal transfer. The hive's walls, top, and bottom account for the majority of the heat lost.  Therefore, walls and particularly the top of the hive need careful insulation.
  • Through vents. The amount of heat lost this way depends on the location and sizes of the open hive entrances. However, Lazutin says that if vents are properly placed (i.e., allowing only enough air exchange for breathing), then vents will account for less than 10% of the total heat loss.

Respiration

I will freely admit that I didn't read this section carefully because there were too many numbers, and I'm a words and pictures kind of person. However, this is what I took away from this section:

  • A single small entrance provides sufficient fresh air. 
  • Excessive air exchange with the outdoors allows heat and carbon dioxide to escape. Carbon dioxide actually helps bees overwinter as long as CO2 levels do not exceed 4%.
  • When the hive has a single entrance, diffusion (rather than ventilation) is what creates an exchange of interior and exterior air. "In other words, if... the concentration of oxygen in the hive is lower than in the outside air, then oxygen molecules will pass from the outside into the hive even without an actual air flow." 
  • There is no point in insulating a hive as long as there is steady cross-ventilation from upper and lower entrances.

Moisture

We all know that moisture is a killer. I discovered this first-hand last spring. Warm air condenses on cold surfaces. If the moisture collects on the bees, it makes it hard for them to heat the hive.

Again, there was lots more math in the book, but the salient points were that consuming honey causes the colony to produce moisture. In order to get rid of water, they need to bring in outside air. Bees actually need more air to get rid of the water than they need to breathe. While a single small entrance is fine for respiration, it won't cut it when it comes to getting rid of moisture. 

Lazutin asserts that proper insulation above the colony is paramount. Without it, hot air does not condensate on the walls. Instead, it rises above the winter cluster, condenses, and drips onto the bees. As it does so, the cluster's crust dies off. Sufficient insulation causes moist air to condense on the hive walls away from the cluster.

However, in addition to insulation, we need to deal with the moisture itself, and there are two possible approaches.
  • Remove moisture using ventilation. Cross-ventilation is probably the method that I hear of most beeks using. Provide an upper and lower entrance. Cold air comes in at the bottom. Warm air exits at the top.

    Bottom ventilation is another possibility. In this case, a slit is opened across the entire length of the hive or a large hole is cut into the bottom of the hive.

    Lazutin argues against ventilation because he says that in addition to removing moisture, it removes too much heat. It also causes bees to consume more honey -- which means they could clog up their digestive tracts, or run out of stores too soon.
  • Leave moisture in the hive. Water-absorbent materials can be placed in a hive -- either above the colony, under the colony, or to the sides of it. (Note: This is the principle behind the Warre quilt.) This practice decreases the exchange with outside air and minimizes heat loss from ventilation.

    Lazutin also recommends leaving a minimum 2"-3" of space under the bottom of the frames, below the entrance. The dead space means that the bottom of the hive will be warmer due to the still air below the entrance. It also promotes better air exchange in the nest.

    Even better, Lazutin recommends leaving 5" below the entrance. He asserts that this will help control varroa. If the space can be filled with hygroscopic materials, it will create an even warmer bottom while absorbing excess moisture. (Note: Kind of reminds me of Phil Chandler's eco-floor. Hmmm... Maybe that will be my next project.)


The Hive

In pages 300-301 of his book, Lazutin describes the characteristics of an ideal hive. Last week, I built my own double-walled, insulated hive. I couldn't necessarily create all of his conditions in my own hive (especially leaving 5" below the entrance and 18" tall combs), but I tried to incorporate his thoughts as well as I could:


  • Warm walls. He says tree hollows in old-growth forests have walls 4"-6" thick. I looked up the R-value for 6" thick wood. While the number varies by type of wood, it's about R-9. I estimate my side walls are R-9.5 to R-10.5.
  • I was concerned about using insulation in the end walls because I didn't want to take up too much interior space during peak flow times. My workaround is a double thickness entrance. In the winter, I'll add some insulation to it. In the fall, I plan to use a second divider board behind the regular divider that is made of foam insulation. A rather innovative friend suggested this to me, and he calls it "The Polar Jacket." 
  • The entrance is 2" from the bottom of the hive. Not exactly beneath the bottom of the cluster, but there's not much wiggle room in a TBH.
  • In the winter, I plan to add a container of silica gel for moisture control.
  • I'm thinking about adding a layer of insulation to the bottom of the hive as well.
  • Although I haven't done it yet, I plan to build an insulated roof before winter strikes.


In Part 2 of this series, I'll show the actual building process.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Egg Hunt

Peach

Last week, my nuc Peach was bursting at the seams, and I had to donate three bars from her to Austeja and Bubblegum. Today, she did not disappoint. Every empty bar I gave her had drawn comb and eggs. However, her honey reserves were getting close to being depleted -- from raising all that brood I imagine.

Yellow clover

Elsa

Yesterday, I installed a new hive. My Frozen-obsessed daughter christened it Queen Elsa. I had wanted to move Peach, in its entirety, over to the new hive. However, the bars in Peach were too short (long story). I was only able to take 4 bars of stores and capped brood. Being total rubbish at spotting queens, I'm not sure if Peach or Elsa has the queen now.

95% finished. Still need to build the roof, but Peach really needed more space.

Just in case, I had hoped to get a bar of eggs for Elsa from Bubblegum or Austeja, but no luck. (Peach has plenty of stick eggs.) Instead, I had to pinch some stick eggs from Hippolyte. I didn't really want to do that since Hippolyte has the southern package queen, but it's better than nothing. And if Elsa makes a new queen, fingers crossed that Her Majesty will have some local suitors.


Bubblegum

I'm not worried yet about this colony, but I'm getting antsy. Today should be day 10 from the queen's emergence. There is very little nectar left in the hive. No eggs. I haven't heard the queen piping at all. Just in case, I gave her a new bar of eggs.

Catalpa
Austeja

Austeja's newly appointed monarch was piping last week, so I was hopeful to see some progress today when I opened the hive. Nope, not a bit. I searched every bar, and not an egg was to be found. There was one capped queen cell, but it looked weird to me -- there was a dark patchy area on it. As some added insurance, she got a bar of eggs, too.

Is it just me, or does that queen cell look weird?

The one upside to being queenless is that this colony has really been socking honey away. Right now, the catalpa, basswood, and sumac are all blooming, Roadside ditches are full of things like hairy vetch, chicory, evening primrose, yarrow, milkweed, and common mullein.  Gardens are boasting yellow loosestrife, tiger lilies. and Asiatic lilies. Clover (white, red, yellow...) is having its heyday, too, providing abundant forage for lots of critters.

Hippolyte

A jar of syrup last week really seemed to give this colony the boost that it needed. It had 15 drawn bars of comb with lots of eggs and brood. With all my troubles trying to get queens started in previously mentioned hives, I'm not going to bother trying to raise a new queen for the package colonies. Time is starting to run short again now that the summer solstice has passed. I'll probably just take my chances. If I change my mind, I'll buy a queen.

Basswood -- There are several parking lots full of these near my house. Score!

Persephone

Persephone has not built out as much as I'd like. Although she has comb on 18 bars, only about half of them are fully drawn. Of all the hives, she gets the most shade. I wonder if that has something to do with it.

However, I can see that she's made a lot of progress building after getting a quart of syrup last week, so I'm going to continue feeding.

Common mullein
Next Steps

Except for Austeja, every colony got a quart of syrup today. I felt the splits could use some coddling, and I wanted the package colonies to continue building out.

I'm not freaking out about the lack of eggs in Austeja and Bubblegum yet, but I might be by the end of the week. We'll see. On Thursday, I'll inspect Peach and Elsa to see which one has the queen. At the same time, I'll do a quick check on Austeja and Bubblegum. If I see queen cells, I'll know something has happened. If I don't, then they have until the 30th to lay eggs. If eggs are still noticeably absent then, I'll probably be in the market for some new queens.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Mid-Season Shift for Hives with Side Entrances

If you have a TBH with side entrances (BTW, I don't -- mine are on the end), you'll want to do something called a mid-season shift around the time of the summer solstice. Note: The mid-season shift applies only to hives with side entrances.

Before the shift, you're hive should look something like this. The brood nest will be in the center of the hive, and honey bars will be on the outside of the nest at both ends. When you do the mid-season shift, you are going to move all of the honey bars to one side of the nest.

Before the mid-season shift, your hive will look something
like this if you have side entrances


Why do this shift?
In the winter, bees have to eat honey, and they move in a cluster from one comb to another. They also travel in one direction only. If you do not shift all the honey to one side of the nest, you risk the cluster moving to one end of the hive and getting stuck with no way back to the rest of the honey.

How do I perform this shift? 
Basically, you remove all the empty bars and honey comb from one side of the hive. Push the divider and the brood comb down to the end of the hive. Put honey combs that were removed behind the honey combs at the other end. Place empty bars behind the divider at the other end. It should look something like this now:

After a mid-season shift, the hive should look something like this.

In case I didn't explain it well, here is a video of Christy Hemenway doing a mid-season shift.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Making Solid One-piece Wedged Bars

Update: This post has gotten a lot of interest, but making making bars this way can be a little dangerous. So I wanted to update it with some safety tips just in case someone tried to follow this process. Some of these tips have been shared with me by a wonderful friend who is an expert woodworker. If you have any other safety advice, please, feel free to share it in the comments below because beekeeping would be infinitely less fun if one were missing some digits. 

Awhile ago, I wrote about some options for making bars for a TBH, but I'm currently in the process of building a new hive, so I figured I'd show how I make my bars.

This season, I made some new bars (long story) that were just plain old flat bars (i.e., no comb guide) inserted between wedged bars with drawn comb, and I just haven't been happy with them. So for the new hive, I'm going back to making solid bars with wedges. I find that wedges make a big difference keeping the comb straight, and having them made of one-piece of wood means that the comb guide never falls off. I've heard that this is a real issue with comb guides that are attached to the bar via glue or staples.

Disclaimer: I would like to preface my notes by saying that this is NOT a tutorial. God forbid someone tries to copy me, loses a body part or something, and says that I gave bum instructions. I'm just showing how I do it. That's all.

Safety Tip: When I'm woodworking, I always wear glasses, hearing protection, and a dust mask or respirator. The glasses/goggles are particularly important, I think, because chunks of wood/dust seem to constantly be thrown at my face.

Step 1: Select the Lumber

I've made wedged bars with 1" thick pieces of lumber, but the wedge is not very pronounced. I've also been fearful of losing my fingers during the sawing, so I prefer getting 2" thick lumber (which is really only 1 1/2" thick.)

Before you pick a board, I recommend that you do a bit of quick math to determine how many bars you can get out of it. Sometimes, getting a bigger board will save money because you have less waste.

Here is the size board that I use. It's 8' long, and I can't remember how many inches wide. They run about $8-$10 a piece. My bars are 20" long and 1 3/8" long. Using that measurement, I can get about 24 bars out of this board. I'll need more than one board since my hives contain about 32 bars, but I don't mind cutting extra because I seem to be building new hives every year.

Here's the board that I start with. Just look at the board and not the mess in the garage. :-)

Step 2: Cut Boards to Length

First I cut the board crosswise into sections that are 20" long, which is the length of my top bars (sorry no photo). I don't like messing around with rulers, so I just use an old top bar to measure the cut.
Measuring the crosscut with an old bar.
Next, I cut the boards lengthwise into 1 3/8" strips, which is the width of my top bars. When I'm all done, I'll have 24 of these pieces, a few pieces that I'll make into spacers, and a few "practice pieces" (more on that in a minute.)

Cutting lengthwise. Again, I just use my old top bar to measure width of cut.

Step 3: Cut Angles for Wedge

Safety Tip: I usually cut the angles for the wedges on the bars first, so that's how I've written them up here. However it's really better (i.e., safer) to shape the ends first while you still have flat 90 degree surfaces. So if you try this at home, I'd recommend reordering Steps 3 and 4.

Now, I have bars that are 1 3/8" x 1 1/2". At this point, it's important to remember which side is which. It's helpful to have an organization system for this. I usually stack them so that all the bars are ready for me to saw when I pick them up. However, I still inspect each piece before it goes through. I've even thought that using a Sharpie to mark the side that gets cut would be a good idea.

Anyway, my wedges get cut along the side that is 1 3/8".

The first thing that I do is take a "practice piece." This is a piece that I can't use in the hive because, even though it has the same width and height as my bars, it isn't as long. I find the center points and mark a cross on the end of the bar. (See black lines in photo below.) Then, I mark where the wedge will be. (See green lines in photo below.) (By the way, I edited in all these lines after the fact, so if they're not marking the exact halfway point, overlook it. Just know that I used an actual ruler for this part.)

Marking cut lines on the end of the bar

Next, I adjust the angle of my blade to 60 degrees. An angle finder is very helpful for this.

Adjusting blade with angle finder

Ready to make the first cut. I don't always get it quite right the first time, so I like to fine-tune on my practice piece.



Next, I flip the bar over to make the second angled cut. In other words, the side that was farthest from me the first time, is now closest to me when I make this second cut. The sides that form a 90 degree angle are next to the fence.


Ready to make the other side of the wedge

Note: At this point, it's a good idea to make a couple of practice pieces to use in the next step.

Safety Tips: 

  • I'm extremely conscious of where my fingers are at all times and keep them well away from the blade. I always use a push stick to guide the wood through instead of my fingers.
  • Use a featherboard to help guide the bar through and keep your fingers safer. My dear friend recommends the Grip-Tite Magnetic Featherboard. He let me try it, and I love it, too.
  • You can also attach a splitter with palls (sp?) to grasp the bar at the other end of the blade. This helps prevent kick-back. 

Push sticks are a cheap investment (usually around $5),
but these simple tools can be a hand saver.
The notch in the tip allows you to really grip the wood
and push it through without getting too close to the saw blade.


This is my friend's Grip Tite Featherboard.
I love the super strong magnets that lock it into place,
but any other featherboard could work, too.
Splitter with palls (sp?) on the other side of blade
(I'm where you would stand if you were cutting)

Step 4: Shape the Ends of the Bar

The final step is shaping the ends of the bar where it will rest on the hive. I used to use a stacked dado head cutter for this because that's what my DH told me to do. It was a safe way to shape the ends, but it didn't always leave them as clean as I would like them to be. As a result, I came up with this new approach. I think the end result is cleaner, and as another bonus, I don't have to change blades.

To shape the ends, I start by deciding how much bar I want on either side of the wedge. I think usually 1 1/2"- 2" is what I normally do. Then I adjust the height of the blade so that the highest part of the blade sticks up by that amount.

I also adjust the fence so that I can make this cut along the mid-point of the bar. Hard to explain, but you'll see what I mean in the photo below. Again this is where a practice piece comes in handy. I like to make sure I've got it right before I start cutting into my bars.

Note: At this point, it's a good idea to make the same cut on a couple of spacers. Since I have an end entrance, I need a 3/8" spacer bar right at the entrance to maintain bee space.

Cut bar along it's midpoint.
The height of the blade determines how much space will be on the end of each bar.
Next, I adjust the blade height so that it cuts off just that bit that just got sliced (without making too much of a groove in the bar itself). Again, those practice pieces are really handy at this step.  In order to avoid using too many practice pieces, I usually start my slices at the very end of the bar and gradually move toward the center. This lets me use the same practice piece over and over until I have the right height and cut length.

Note: If you want the ends of your wedge to be angle instead of straight, just angle the blade to the angle you want.

Cutting off the sliced piece.
Note: Remember to make the same cut for any spacers you want.

Safety Tips: When making the cut that runs parallel to the bar (i.e., you're holding the bar straight up and down), you can get a little close to the blade. Again, I'm always very careful to keep my fingers way clear. However, I like these ideas from my friend, too.

  • One thing you could do is use a tenoning jig like the one below to grab your wood and push it through. Actually, you can do the perpendicular cut this way, too. Your hands would be nowhere near the blade this way.
  • Another option would be to use a higher fence. You can make a higher fence by simply placing a board along the existing fence. The board adds more stability and raises your hand at the same time.

Tenoning jig


Making a higher fence with a board.
Note: This saw was turned off.
DO NOT EVER hold a piece of wood like this if the fence is on.
Just trying to show how to make a higher fence here. 


Step 5: Popsicle Time!

Tada! The bars are done! Time for a shower and a popsicle (though not necessarily in that order).




If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy seeing how to make bars using a bandsaw instead of a table saw.