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An update on my top bar hive made completely of pallet wood and hand tools


Over the (Australian) winter, I have been building a top bar hive, made completely out of pallet wood, and using hand tools only.

Pallet wood. I’ll spare you the process of breaking pallets down to wood. Suffice to say it took equal measures of hammering, levering and swearing.

The Crescent nail puller - this tool is a beast! This thing can rip 4 inch spiral nails out of wood, tail first if necessary.

The nails from a single pallet.

The boards are still horrible. I used only HT (heat-treated) wood that came from a brick/tile manufacturer, so I am sure there is no methyl bromide or other chemicals. Important, since we will be eating the honey produced from this hive.

The board edges have to be dead straight to glue together. I use a Veritas jack plane to joint them.

Once the boards have perfectly straight edges, they can be glued up into panels.

Molly with our Australian bush in background.

Marking out the ends. These were hand-sawn and trimmed on a shooting board.

A day later, glue dry, I hand planed them with he same jack plane to get down to nice smooth wood. Starting to look OK.

Using a hand router to cut a recessed window on one side.

Once the panels are cut to size, they are glued and screwed together. Even the screw holes were hand drilled using these French gimlets.

Here is how the body of the hive looks, with a single top bar across the top.

Using a 100 year-old Preston spokeshave to neaten up a curved edge for the stand.

Body and stand. Window can be seen at the back panel. Top holes are for extra ventilation in summer. Bottom holes are entrances for the bees.

I had to cut 48 top bars (some for this hive, and some for a swarm trap), also using pallet wood. This is my bowsaw, tensioned by twisting the string at the top. The first few bars were fun, the other 45 were tedious. Rough cut, then jointed using plane.

This is how the top bars fit across the body. The top bars have to be dead-straight so they fit together without gaps for the bees to get through.

Each top bar has a strip of wood glued on to guide the bees to build straight honeycomb along each bar.

Internal view: looking through the window into the hive from below to see the top bars.

Added a roof over the whole lot to protect the top bars from the elements. Primer coat of paint.

Added a traditional Hungarian design. I’m no artist - I printed out on paper and cut out a template.

The back of the hive with a fold-down flap that covers a clear acrylic window, to see how the bees are progressing.

The whole shebang put out onto the farm. Next step - adding bees.

And they have moved in!

Oh my!!! Are you sure that you are an anesthetist? I would have thought plastic surgeon from this kind of crafting, and a very expensive one too.

Hope all is going well with you and your bees. I am impressed with your craftsmanship. :blush:


Pleased you were aware of this and hope others are too when using or burning these.

Great work.


Plastic surgeon?? Please, don’t insult me. :rofl: When it comes to obsessionality and attention to detail, nothing beats an anaesthetist!:wink:


Wowee Rob! That’s amazing. And what a purist! (except the pallet timber!!).

Nice job. Hope your swarm trap captures you some guests for the mansion.


Abolutely stunning!! :heart_eyes: Alot of work and love put into your project -
Congratulations! - I’m sure your bees will love their new home.


Thanks. I’m not sure if I’m doing it for the bees, or just an excuse to use vintage hand tools.


looks super!

how did you treat/stain the legs? They look very attractive with that dark stain.

while you are waiting to add bees- put some lemongrass oil in the hive and who knows: the bees may just let themselves in. It’s certainly just what they’ll be looking for this time of year.

with yous skills- maybe you could consider adding side and bottom timber to your top bars to make them frames? I know it’s not the spirit of the top bar hive- but to me it would make management so much easier and the bees won’t mind (in fact I think they’d probably thank you)- plus it will be a good excuse for you to get out those vintage tools again! A challenge!

sort of the reverse of this:


One imagines you enjoyed the manufacturing, as an aside I noticed an auction of antique tools ( assuming wood working) in Adelaide at small and Whitfield next week. Not sure if you are interested but thought I would pass on details to you. PS these tools are regarded as state of the art in Adelaide, as electricity is still a bit hit and miss


I think I’ll leave the top-bars classic for now - I can always experiment and add some customised frames later.

But how 'bout that Cathedral hive you linked to! That’s seriously awesome - might become my next winter’s project.


Hi Jeffm - we lived in Adelaide for 3 years, a long time ago, and used to frequent the antique auctions. You could get stuff there that you couldn’t get anywhere else, it was great.

re state of the art - :rofl:



Thought you might like this @ymcg :slight_smile:


I think you are spot on Jack, I installed bees into a tbh for a lady. What a nightmare trying to handle frames with no sides. Her husband built the tbh. I tried to talk them into putting sides & bottoms on the frames. They finished up selling the tbh & getting into langstroth hives.

I think that if even the middle 2or3 frames were enclosed & fitted with wax foundation, that would make the job so much easier when installing the bees.


Absolutely stunning :heart_eyes:


Love it’s design.Just think of all the backbreaking saved, Love it!