This is a simple task that a beekeeper will repeat many
times during his (or her) life. Some may say that it is a chore, but
like many things... If the preparation is done right and a methodical
approach is made then the work itself passes uneventfully and the
stack of new frames is finished easily and quickly.
Prepare a suitable work surface that is sturdy, solid and
large enough to stack all the parts on, to do the work and to spread
out all the necessary tools. Empty hive boxes are useful to stack the
finished frames into.
Treat the frame assembly and the fitting of foundation as
two separate jobs. Frames can be completed to the first stage in any
temperature, but the fitting of the foundation and final assembly
should be conducted indoors or in a heated shed.
Before the assembly itself there are some preparations to
First lay out all the tools in a pattern that allows them
to come to hand easily.
Then unpack all the topbars that you intend to use...
Remove the foundation retaining wedge from the bar with a
knife that has a short, blunt blade, but a sharp tip, clean any
remaining web from the rebate in the top bar and remove a small
tapered chamfer from each end of the underside of the bar as shown in
the diagram below.
Also remove the sliver of wood that still adheres to the
wedge. Repeat this operation until all topbars are processed.
Before we assemble and nail the frame together we must look
at what nails to use and how they should be placed.
In my opinion (and the opinion of all major equipment
manufacturers) we should use 19 mm
Gimp Pins (1 mm Dia Parkerized and
stained) for the assembly of the frames, but 16 mm 'deep drive' panel
pins should be used for the foundation fixing wedge.
Some find power stapling machines handy for putting frames
together. I have done this myself in the past, but I find there is
little benefit in speed and the
staples are relatively expensive.
There is an advantage in grip as staples up to 32 mm in length can be
The mistake most often made is to nail the bottombars
through the side of the sidebar (at first sight this seems a good
idea as it saves two nails per frame, but it makes the disassembly
of the frames very difficult).
By nailing each bottombar individually into the end grain of
the sidebar... the nails will pull out easily when you want to put
fresh foundation in the frame in 3 or 4 years time.
Another thing that is often done wrong is that a nail is
placed vertically downwards into the side bar. This is disastrous as
the nail head impedes the scraping action of the hive tool when
cleaning burr and brace comb from the top surface of the bar. In
addition the nail grip in the end grain is not enough to handle the
Having sorted out our nails and where to place them we must
think how we will put the nails in... There are two methods:-
Warrington pattern hammer (4 Oz Wt) or... Pin Push Tool.
Both have their advocates, but I 'sit on the fence' as I use
a hammer for Gimp pins and a pin push for panel pins.
The assembly process...
Take a topbar and two sidebars and push the notches in the
sides onto the narrow necks of the topbar, ensuring that the grooves
in the sides (if any) face inwards, they will stay in place as they
are a tight fit (if they are too tight a little judicious use of a
craft knife will adjust the situation). Then with the topbar held in
one hand and your lightweight hammer in the other... Place the bottom
tips of the sidebars firmly and squarely against the top surface of
your bench and lightly tap the topbar at the points where the sidebars
sit (this ensures firm seating of the bridle joints). Lay the assembly
flat and put in the nails for this side of the frame. Turn over and
insert the other 2 nails. Next with the topbar resting on the bench
and with the sides pointing upwards add one bottombar (on the same
side of the frame as the 'meaty' side of the topbar). The ends of the
bottombar must be exactly flush with the outside face of the sidebar.
Your partly assembled frame should then look like the drawing below.
If your side bars do not have foundation grooves, make
certain that the 'V's are placed so that they occur in the positions
in the drawing. This ensures that the 'V's always mate with a flat
whichever way round the finished frame is placed in a group.
Inspect the part assembled frame for defects (missing nails,
groove outside) and check for squareness of assembly. Then stack them
in one of the empty boxes and repeat until all frames reach this stage.
The next operation is the fitting of the foundation and the
last bottombar, but before we detail this we should look at the
methods of wiring in pre-wired foundation as this has a bearing on
the placement of the panel pins to fix the wedge bar.
The crimped vertical style of wiring is more common in USA
whilst the zigzag method is more commonly used in UK.
The vertical wires extend a few millimetres above the top
edge of the foundation and this extension is bent at right angles to
form a positive gripping action when the wedge bar is in place.
The zigzag wired foundation needs a little preparation to
make it ready to go into the frames... The two small loops that extend
from the bottom edge of the foundation must be turned back onto the
surface of the foundation so as to ensure that no wire protrudes from
the bottom of the frame once it is assembled. (The bees tend to build
accretions of wax on any exposed wire and in removing this with your
hive tool the wire will be snagged and will rip through the comb
rather like a cheese cutter.) The three top loops should be bent at
right angles to perform the same gripping function as with the
vertical wired type.
Fitting the foundation...
Lay the part finished frame flat on the bench with the single bottom
Slide the foundation into the grooves ensuring that the wire ends or
loops are uppermost (The foundation must slide freely in the groove...
trim a small strip from one side if required) (use a metal rule and a
Fit the wedge bar to trap the protruding wires or loops and push the 3
panel pins diagonally through the wedge bar so that the pins also go
through the loops or pass between wires for the crimped wire type. The
angle of penetration should be such that the points of the nails
cannot protrude through the other side of the timber. (This would
disrupt normal frame cleaning as the hive tool would be impeded.)
The bottom edge of the foundation should rest about halfway
between the top and bottom edges of the bottombar. (This gives room
for the foundation to stretch under the weight of bees that will be
Fit and nail the second bottombar being careful not to
buckle the bottom edge of the foundation.
This view shows how the frame should look just before you
fit the wedge bar.
The view below shows the fitting and nailing of the wedge
Inset shows cross section at nailing point.
Repeat until all frames have been completed. Once a rhythm
and a method of placing the tools, so that they are in easy reach, is
established... the 'chore' becomes a pleasure.
Written... Summer 2000
Revised... 07 & 08 April 2002