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Fragility of Foundationless Comb


I’m starting to see more and more postings from participants in this forum about comb dropping from foundationless frames during inspection.

These cant all be due to carelessness.

What can be done to minimize this comb loss, especially as all we new Beekeepers in the northern hemisphere approach the warmer months with softer and softer comb.

E.g.: Should we manipulate hives only in cooler morning hours?, etc.


Seems like this is a big part of why many people use fishing line or wire for foundationless comb. When I get around to implementing my Flow foundationless frames I will be using fishing line as a precaution since it gets so hot here in the summer.


It is all about rotating on an axis.

Hard to describe but if you lift a frame you can rotate it either along one axis or the other, not both. So the frame is always perpendicular to the ground, never angled, or canted. That way the comb is supported.


I would think that the majority of foundationless comb breakages may be coming from the beekeeper. When the comb is initially built, its extremely soft and easily detached from the top bar which can occur when removing for inspection especially if there is any cross-comb. Once the comb has been attached to the sidebars of the frames and has had a couple of generations of brood, it is stable. As suggested by Adam, use either some fishing line or wire to help keep the comb in place.
I use a checkerboard approach to foundationless which works for me, half with foundation and the other half are 1 inch starter strip of foundation. The foundation helps to ensure the bees build their comb straight.


Some people use a few wooden skewers on each frame- cut to fit vertically into the frame. Just make little impressions in the top and bottom bar to hold them in place.

Like this: http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?290702-No-more-wiring-frames-for-me


Hi all,
I’m not a purist or anything like that ! Learning to handle unreenforce comb takes practice especial when the comb is extremely soft n green.

Returning to beekeeping I’ve chose to use reenfirced foundation. It’s easier for me. I’m
getting older n clumsier so I need all the help I can get. Really for me … If I’m
Going to use the plastic Flow-hive frames … Really … What’s the big deal at using plastic or reenfirced wax foundation. It works for me.

I have no issues with others using the no foundation method. You just have to adjust to its problems n those can be overcome by treating the frames with more care while it’s soft n green as well as one person mention turn it a certain way so there is much less strain on the wax/wood union. I love the beauty of natural beeswax n smell too.

That’s my 2-cents worth …



I’ve tried a few methods to support foundationless comb building. Fishing line just gets removed by the bees. I had to rubberband a brood frame that came off during inspection because the bees chewed the fishing line out and tossed it out the front door.

I’ve also tried bamboo skewers. These will warp and bend, causing bee-space problems and crazy comb. I’ve taken to wiring my foundationless frames with two lines across, one at the top side hole and one at the third side hole. These frames do very well and hold up during honey extraction.


I have a video hope it helps
Turning Unwired Frames without Breaking. … Jacey Woods Apiary

Make sure you turn the frames on the vertical and horizontal edges, don’t tilt onto comb flat edges there is no support for the comb… So it will just break off ie don’t tilt the comb towards you or away from you always centre the weight over the frame edges.

Sorry I killed my laptop screen and tablets are not very user friendly so cannot do a direct link

OK Laptop Back Super Quick here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJq2z6d23Os


Hi @Jstrano, I have a video where at the 1:55 make I briefly show how to handle a frame with comb built on starter strips. I sell bees on a byo box & frames basis, these frames belonged to a customer. He put fishing line in his frames where wire normally goes. That is REAL effective in holding the comb together. Dee does that when she uses foundationless frames & swears by it. Anyway, here’s my video, cheers


Thank you all for this input.
Please comment on input to other threads that have cited a need to use thread or rubber bands instead of wire or fishing line because we need to allow the bees to eventually chew through and remove the supports.


Hi, the thread or rubber bands is only used on comb from, for example, a cut-out. When you do a cut-out & you want to include the brood into the box you put the bees into.

The fishing line or wire used on the frames at the very start helps hold the comb together when you want to handle the frames, as you’ll see in my video.


I’ve used picture wire, which has worked well


I’ve noticed that many of the proponents of foundationless frames are using medium brood boxes- not deeps. The instruction about inspecting foundationless frames tends to be focused on maintaining them plumb as you rotate - but new beekeepers with deep equipment should also recognize that there will be a big difference in weight due to the added volume of a deep frame, compared to a medium.

The critical moment is at that first inspection, with several factors contributing to the chance of losing hunks of comb, even if you’re trying to be careful: soft, new comb filled with syrup, nearly filling a deep frame but not adhered on sides or bottom, means it could easily detach from the top bar with any movement, before it’s even lifted out.

What’s done is done with my first brood box, a deep with unreinforced, foundationless frames. I learned the above lesson & have decided to add 2 more mediums instead of a second deep box (for overwintering in my area). If I were to start over I would use all mediums.

My bees started out with nice straight combs, but after my screwup their subsequent combs were crossed. So, another thing I’d do over is go ahead & use plastic foundation. There is small-cell foundation available & I agree with @Gerald_Nickel, no point in fussing about a bit more plastic when you are using the Flow super anyway :wink:
I’d still stay away from wax foundation because of the traces of chemicals in it. And, as @Dawn_SD has said elsewhere on this forum, you can switch out over time to convert to all-foundationless if that’s important to you, and more likely be able to avoid cross combing in the process.


First, don’t open the hive on a hot day. Heat makes the wax a lot softer.
Second, don’t ever turn the comb in any way that is out of alignment with gravity.
Third, you don’t have to pull out every comb. If it’s full of nectar leave it in the hive. There is nothing to see and moving it is risky because of the weight to strength ratio of new comb.
Fourth, if you like you can put in fishing line, wire, wood supports etc. I don’t. But you can.


Will I be able to see cross combing from the top without pulling the frames?


Not if there is bridge comb in the way - they are not quite the same thing. You can have bridge/burr comb at the tops of frames, without it meaning that there is cross comb underneath, but if there is, you won’t be able to see it. You have to pull the frames.


How long is new comb considered new and when does it become more stable?


How long is comb new is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string? However more importantly, it becomes more stable when it is attached to the frame by more than one edge, and it also becomes more rigid when it has had some cocoons (detected by darkening of the comb) in it in the brood box.


The physical signs to look for are the color (older stronger comb is yellow. Cocoons make it even stronger so brown or black is reinforced with fiber). Attachments on the sides. Attachments on the bottom.

Signs it is soft are that it is white, it sometimes shimmers and jiggles like Jello when it’s soft, full of nectar and the weather is hot.


My combs are more stable when there is comb joined to the side frames. when they hang from the top bar only that is the danger time