Choosing and Installing Foundation

You are walking down the path of beekeping on a nice sunny day with the intention of getting foundation for your frames. All of a sudden you come to a fork in the trail, but it’s not just a matter of turning left or right. There are paths going in every direction and you have to choose. The good thing is you can’t really get lost. In fact, you can choose to take more than one path at the same time.

If you have your frames built or bought, you’ve probably also purchased foundation. Lets look at some of the options and re-hash a little of what was said in the frame building discussion.

Wax foundation:  I should probably mention a little bit about how it’s made and where it comes from. Companies that make wax foundation buy bulk beeswax from beekeepers. The majority of this is a by-product of extracting honey. When bees have filled cells with honey and ripened it by lowering the moisture content, they cap the cells off with wax. During the process of harvesting the honey, the beekeeper has to remove this wax to extract the honey.

In large scale operations, it’s all done by machine, the cappings are then spun to remove excess honey and the wax is rendered and sold to companies that make beekeeping supplies. The wax is then formed into sheets which are run through a sets of rollers that emboss the shapes of the cells into them. There are small versions of these rollers for those who want to give a go at making their own foundation. 

A couple of years ago, a few suppliers came out with a rubber type mold for making single sheets of foundation. My friend Cindy, a member of our local beekeeping club brought one that her son in law made for her from silicone, to the last meeting. She hadn’t tried it out yet, but when she does, I’ll let you know how it worked out. 

Well, lets get back on the track we were on.  The most basic foundation is nothing more than the embossed wax sheets with no support.  You can use this in boxes the the bees will be raising brood in. Once they draw the cells out and everything is attached to the frame it will be plenty sturdy enough. 

For your honey supers, if you don’t plan on using an extractor, you can use plain wax foundation. During harvest time, you can drain as much of the honey out as possible, then  cut the foundation from the frames and use the crush and strain method to get the rest out. Your end products will be honey and wax, but keep in mind the bees will have to make all new wax the following year. Your choice depends on whether you are more interested in getting wax or honey.

A thin version of wireless foundation is called cut-comb foundation. If you saw the photo in the frame building article, you may have noticed that the you could see through this foundation. With cut comb, you simply let the bees fill the frames with honey and cap it off. Then using a knife, you cut around the inside of the frame to remove the entire slab of honey, which can be cut into sections and stored in the freezer. At one time, in pre-extractor days, cut comb honey was the only kind you bought.

The large sheet of wax foundation has crimped wires running vertically through it. The middle sheet is black plastic foundation, and th small sheet of wax foundation is cut comb. Notice the transparency.

The other type of wax foundation is that which is wired. As I mentioned, thin crimped wires are embedded in the wax to help support it, especially as it’s being spun in the extractor. If you get plain crimped wire foundation, you will use frames that have a grooved top and grooved bottom bar. You could also use a wedge top if that’s what was available, but it would serve no purpose other than to  give you the option of using hook wire foundation should you be replacing it in the future.

With hook wire foundation, a little bit of the crimp wires sticks out at the top ofthe sheets and is bent at a 90 degree angle. The wooden wedge is fastened back in over the hooks, thus holding the foundation firmly in place.

You can buy sheets of plastic foundation from various suppliers. Some are flexible enough that you can entirely assemble the frames then ben the plastic sheets slightly to pop them in.  Plastic foundation is usually supplied with a coating of beeswax to make the bees more readily accept them.

my homemade form board wil accomodate shallow, medium, or deep frames and is mounted on a base board with hinges

One item I’ve found to be invaluable for doing lots of frames using wax foundation is a foundation form board.

You can buy them, but if you have a tablesaw, it’s easy enough to make one, and probably better too. The concept behind a form board is this:  It’s a flat piece of wood with a few grooves cut in the surface in such a way that you can set a frame down on it and the surface of the board is level with the groove in the frame.  This flat surface supports the sheet of foundation as you slide it into the groove of the bottom bar. You can find a basic plan on beesource here:   Depending on your source of frames, you may have to modify the dimensions somewhat. This may be true even when you purchase one. I made my own to accomodate frames from Betterbee, and made two improvements to the available plan. First, I  added grooves so it would work for shallow, medium, and deep frames, and then I attached the foundation board to a longer piece of wood with hinges. This base can then be screwed or clamped to the workbench. I can then slip in a sheet of foundation, pop the wedge in, and flip the whole thing up to quickly attach the wedge with my nail gun.

Set the frame on the form board


slide the foundation into the slot or groove in the bottom bar


Set the wedge into place


Secure the wedge with three or four 5/8 inch long nails



Add support pins. These are split pins that slide into the holes in the sides of the frame, with one leg of the pin going on either side of the foundation


Two support pins have been pushed into each side of the frame, holding the foundation centered


A finished frame, ready for the hive.

This frame is ready to be put into the hive. The thin beeswax foundation is still fairly fragile at this point, so if you don’t intend to use it right away, store in an upright position, out of direct sunlight. An empty hive box is an ideal place.

If you are using plastic foundation, test fit it in the frame you intend to use. If it can’t be flexed into place, put it in before nailing on your bottom bars.
Well, that’s one frame down. Only 39 more to go for 2 deeps and 2 honey supers.  Put on your favorite music, relax, and enjoy the smell of wood and beeswax. Happy Beekeeping!

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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One Response to Choosing and Installing Foundation

  1. Fred says:

    Thanks for the great info.

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