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Bee Hive Woodwork Preservation

A little care makes parts last much longer

I am making additions to this page because I feel that what Dave Cushman wrote was more than most beekeepers wish to do and might put some off preserving their equipment to make it last longer. This isn't a criticism of Dave's methods, because what he suggests will work and obviously did for him for many years. Everyone has their own way of doing things, which I respect. I am retaining Dave's material intact for that reason.

Hives are treated for various reasons depending on the beekeeper, the type of hive that is kept and the wood they are made out of. The vast majority of wooden hive parts that are sourced from appliance dealers will be made from Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) (WRC). This wood is very durable and many state that it doesn't need preserving, but if it is to last a long time, then I think it needs treatment. Some suppliers make hives out of one of the many other softwoods, usually termed "pine", which could be anything, but almost certainly will be far less durable than cedar. Home-made parts are likely to be made from whatever is available, which could be treated timber or plywood. In my view, all will benefit from being treated in some way.

Hives are preserved to make them last longer, although in some cases the beekeeper may like them to be colourful, which is understandable, especially if in a garden. In the past, many beekeepers used creosote or one of the commercial preparations. Since July 2003 it has been an offence for the general public to purchase and apply creosote, although there are creosote substitutes. I am aware that some of the commercial preparations aren't recommended for preservation of beehives. That may not mean they are unsuitable, just that the manufacturer hasn't sought approval, which I understand is a costly process.

Because of the uncertainty of using some products, I am not offering advice. The user must satisfy themselves that what they are using is safe for bees and is legal. All I am doing is mentioning what others do, so the user can make their own mind up.

WBC hive lifts are likely to be made from WRC, that will last a long time without treating, but many beekeepers paint them with gloss paint. This works well if done on a regular basis, especially to seal the corners to prevent damp penetration. Gloss paint is unsuitable for single walled hives because it prevents the wood breathing.

For single walled hives, I have seen linseed oil and Tung oil used. Some use vegetable oil, such as rapeseed or sunflower. I have no experience of any of them. Coloured shed and fence paint is quite popular, one beekeeper I know uses three colours and flames out one colour each year, so he flames his hives on a 3 year rotation.

To make your hives last longer, a little commonsense and care will help a lot. Wood, whatver type, won't last long if damp, so keep them off the ground and make repairs where needed.

Roger Patterson.

The following is the original page written by Dave Cushman.

Hives in good condition are a pleasure to use, look good, have a higher resale value, they also ultimately save some of that valuable commodity - beekeeper man hours !

I hear some say "the bees do not care whether their hives are good, bad or indifferent", but properly treated hives are easier for the beekeeper to manipulate. This means less disruptions to the bees and I believe this can have a noticeable effect (lack of stress... better wellbeing... more productive).

The philosophy behind my approach is simple...
Roofs and Stands do not need to 'breath' and are painted with exterior grade gloss paint.

Floors and Coverboards have their upper and lower rims treated with Petroleum jelly (with white spirit added as a solvent/thinner). This soaks in and no propolis will then stick making cleaning a pleasure rather than a chore. All non contact surfaces on these items are treated with Raw Linseed Oil.

Brood Boxes, Supers and Ekes have petroleum jelly applied to upper and lower mating surfaces as well as the rebate that takes the frame lugs. The outer surface is treated with Raw Linseed Oil and the inner surfaces are left untreated.

Frame Lugs are not coated to avoid slippage when handling, but I apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to the top surface of the top bar and a generous dab onto the end grain on the tips of the frame lugs.

I have been accused of "wasting time" by doing all of this, but I find that the time spent is well re payed in time saved manipulating the bees.

Dave Cushman.

Originally written by Dave Cushman. Additions by Roger Patterson.

Page created Summer 2000

Page updated 30/12/2022