Let’s Build some Wooden Frames

from top: Gorilla glue, hammer, nails, sides, grooved bottom boards,wedged top bars. Not shown are foundation, pliers, and split pins

Wooden Frames consist of a top bar, bottom bar, 2 ends or sides, and foundation. There are a couple of differrent types of top and bottom bars, and it may be a little hard to grasp the differences until we get through the whole concept of frames and foundation.

When ordering frames, some terms to know are wedged, grooved, and split, or divided. The first term when describing frames refers to the top bar, and the second to the bottom bar. Thus wedge/grooved  means the top bar has the wedge that snaps out. It’s not a true wedge in the sense that it isn’t tapered, so the term can be a little confusing. The bottom bar has a groove that the foundation rests in.

Wedge/split means you have the same top bar, but the bottom is two separate pieces that get nailed in individually.  The advantage to a split bottom is that if you ever have to replace the foundation, they are a little easier to clean the wax out from. The disadvantage is in strength. With two thinner strips of wood individually nailed in, it’s not as solid as a grooved bottom bar.

A divided bottom bar is similar to split, but still joined at one end.

Grooved/grooved  would be used if you were going to install plastic sheets of foundation. Since plastic foundation sheets  are fairly solid and have no wires, there is no need for a wedge.

Here, we will be assembling wedge/grooved frames with the removeable wedge on top and a grooved bottom. The wedge is still attached to the frame by means of not sawing all the way through on one side. By giving it a squeeze you can pop the wedge free.  It’s a matter of preference, but I like to remove the wedges and set them aside while I glue and nail the frames.

snapping the wedge from the top bar

the wedge has been removed

 

grooved bottom above, split rails below

This photo shows two types of bottom bars. Above is a grooved bottom bar, and below are the two pcs of a split bottom bar.

A wedged top bar is used when you plan to install hooked, crimp wire foundation. This foundation has  crimped wires imbedded in it vertically for strength. The wires have 90 degree bends  at the top of the foundation. You snap the wedge from the top bar, place the foundation in the frame, then nail the wedge over the hooks. With this kind of foundation, you can use grooved, split, or divided bottom bars.

At bottom of photo below is cut comb foundation. This is very thin and there are no support wires. When drawn and full of honey, the entire foundation is cut out of the frame. In the center, the black sheet is pierco plastic foundation. It is used in  frames with grooved bottom bars, and is coated with beeswax. The large sheet is hooked, crimpwire foundation. The hook end goes in the top bar and serves to hold the foundation in place when the wedge is nailed back in.

from photo bottom: cut comb foundation, Pierco black plastic foundation, hooked crimp wire foundation

If you are going to do hundreds of frames a jig is handy. For one or two hives it isn’t a necessity.

Here is a jig for assembling frames

This is a small jig for doing 4 frames at a time. You can find plans for jigs that hold 10 frames at a time. If you plan on making a jig, it’s best to get the frames first and all from the same company, because dimensions do vary from one supplier to the next.

A word or two about tools.  Some beekeepers use crown staples and nail guns for assembling frames, which is fine if you already have an air compressor and guns.  Another handy tool is an electric brad nailer. Arrow makes a really good one that will take up to 1 1/8″ nails. They aren’t reallly suited for attaching top bars since the nails don’t have heads and  lack the gripping power of galvanized box nails,  but I do use one for nailing in the wedges, since those nails are small.  The electric nailer is also very useful when making many other hive parts.

If you don’t have any fancy tools,  don’t fret.  I’ve done literally hundreds of frames with nothing more than a hammer and pair of pliers.  Rather than using one of my full sized, heavy carpenter’s hammer, I went out and bought an inexpensive, good quality small hammer. It’s light, but has plenty of oomph for the small nails you’ll be using, and more importantly, the head is quite a bit smaller in diameter, which means fewer sore thumbs. If you are going to use nails for the wedges, a pair of good needle nose pliers works great for pushing the nails in to start them. It’s much easier than trying to hold and nail them, even with the small headed hammer.

So, we have everything we need. Lets get to work.  The first thing we’ll do is put a dab of glue on the joints. I use Gorilla glue, but any brand of waterproof glue will work. Use very sparingly because it expands as it cures. Be sure to follow directions on the bottle.

adding glue to side bar

    

Besides gluing, I like to put two nails in the top bar. I try to angle them slightly for more holding power. Maybe this is overkill, but the top bar takes a lot of pressure from your hive tool when the frames are glued in with propolis and you have to split them apart and pry them out. 

Here, I'm using a grooved bottom bar

Next, flip the frames over and glue and nail the bottom bars on, again using two  nails on each end. Check the finished frame for squareness. A combination square works nicely.

to finish up, nail the side bars

Finally, hammer one nail through each side bar into the solid part of the top bar. You’ve used a total of ten nails to complete the frame.

this stack of frames is ready for foundation

 

In our next segment, we’ll install foundation in the frames and show a few useful devices that make it faster and easier.

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About Beekeeping in the Berkshires

Here at Berkshire Farms Apiary we've been keeping bees and making honey since 2005, with hives in most of the surrounding towns. We also make pure beeswax candles, lip balm, and hand salve, as well as give presentations. As secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association, I am very active in the local beekeeping community.
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