Timbers for Hives

Most people will just be using what ever they have or are familiar with which is ok. I’ve used Hoop Pine, Cypress, Cedar, Victorian Ash and they all have made nice boxes. The Cedar is very soft and easy on the tools where the hardness of the Victorian Ash takes a bit more work.

I’d say the most common wood used could be Hoop Pine because it’s relatively cheap, easily accessible from hardware stores and is already dressed – smooth surface. Some timbers you might buy from a wood yard could be rough sawn so will have a rough surface and inconsistent thicknesses and will need Thicknessing (machined down to consistent thickness) so it’s always best to check what kind of timber you’re buying and what needs to be done to it to get it to the building stage.

Also consider the measurements of the timber you’re buying. If you get 35mm thick by 90mm wide then that may reduce the amount of work you have to do.

 

Hoop Pine

Hoop pine can be easily sourced and a lot of people build hives from Hoop Pine. It can be more susceptible to rot, fungus and termites  Try to place the hive under shelter and not in bushland and check the structure every now and then. That’s being extra cautious really and they’d probably be fine for many years. Make sure you give the finished hive a few coats of good exterior paint and provide protection from the out elements with a good roof.

*Tip: You could try sealing the inside corners where the joins are with glue or paint to stop moisture getting in to the join.

  • + Easily accessible
  • + Kiln dried
  • + Consistent quality which makes it more appealing to people
  • – More susceptible to rot and fungus and should be monitored

Cypress

  • Cypress can be a brittle type timber and a real challenge with all it’s chips and splits. It’s not unusual for it to be bowed or twisted and you may end up throwing away some of it if it’s not suitable or use it on a different project. It continues to shrink, expand, split and bow if it’s unsealed.
  • + Some of the Knots can look great as a feature.
  • + It’s naturally Termite resistant and can last many years outside.
  • – Unlikely to find kiln dried so must be seasoned/dried/aged
  • – Inconsistent quality

Cedar

  • + Relatively easy to work with. Light and soft, should have good insulation properties
  • + Termite resistant – Will last for a long time
  • – Expensive

 

Thickness

I’d recommend thicknesses from 25mm to 50mm.

If the only timber you can get is 20mm thick you could put two pieces together to make it 40mm, or build the 20mm thick box and stick another layer of 20mm around it. Thickness can also depend on insulation properties and your location…

Insulation Properties

Note that soft lighter woods may have better insulation properties compared to hard dense woods so this can also be taken in to consideration depending on your locality and climate. If you have long periods of extreme cold or hot temperatures then it’s more important to consider thicker timbers or the insulation properties

Timber Warping

The timber you buy may look perfect but it can continue to dry, shrink, twist or expand with moisture and shrink unevenly. Timber grain can be under tension and when you cut the lengths in to short pieces the tension can change and the short pieces may twist and warp over time. It can be very frustrating. If you have the time, you can cut all the pieces and then stack them up to air dry and age for a few months and by watching them you may get an indication of how stable or unstable they are. It’s quite possible that the older the timber the more stable it is, so if you have some old timber that’s been sitting there for 10 years but still in good condition it may be a good option.

Other materials

I would not recommend these materials for long term boxes as it will swell when it’s exposed to moisture and break apart.

  • Plywood
  • MDF
  • Chipboard

Preservatives to avoid when buying timbers for hives:

The manufacturers advise against using these treated timbers if it comes in contact with drinking water or food (honey inside the hives used for human consumption), of course you can use these for stands and roofs, it doesn’t bother the bees.

  • CCA:  Copper, Chrome, Arsenic
  • LOSP: Light Organic Solvent Preservative
  • MicroPro Sienna: New treated pine product with a pink appearance.
  • ACQ Preservative – Alkaline Copper Quarternary – Does not contain arsenic
  • Cuprinate – Not classified as a Carcinogenic

You might find the pine you buy from popular large hardware stores could be treated with ACQ and you wouldn’t know it. Any timber you use on hive boxes should be lightly sanded and once the box is finished you should age it a little.

 

Termites:

Some timbers are more susceptible to Termites. If you’re making a hive and placing in your garden on a stand or have it on your balcony or patio then the chances of seeing Termites are pretty low. If you’re boxes are going in to the bush or on a farm then the risk is higher. I think some people can worry a bit too much about Termites, you just have to look at where your boxes are being placed.

 

Moisture Content

My article about Moisture Content http://nativebeehives.com/moisture-content-wood-hives/

 

**Toxic Wood!

Wood is a great natural product but the dust can have negative impacts on your health. When working with wood you usually create dust and some species are called “sensitisers”, that means repeated exposures to skin or breathing it in can result in a reaction to the material.

Anyone creating saw dust should always wear a good quality dust mask and also use a dust extraction system on power tools in the workshop.

  • Cypress dust is very harmful to the respiratory system
  • Cedar can cause skin reactions and is harmful to the respiratory system

 

Statistics for timber – Unpainted. *If protected these could all last a lifetime

Hoop Pine – Softwood

  • Termite Susceptible
  • 5 years below ground, 7 years above ground

Cypress – Softwood

  • Termite resistant
  • Greater than 25 years in ground, 40 years above ground

Tallowood – Hardwood

  • Termite resistant
  • Greater than 25 years in ground, 40 years above ground

Cedar – Softwood

  • Termite resistant
  • 5-15 years in ground, 15-40 years above ground

Victorian Ash – Hardwood

  • Not Termite resistant
  • 0-5 years in ground, 7-15 years above ground

 

If your hive box is painted and raised off the ground then you’ll probably never worry about Termites being an issue.

If you’re placing your hive box in the weather it should have some kind of roof to protect it from the rain. If water is allowed to run down the sides it can get in to the seems between the layers and possibly cause mould and rot.

 

Let me know what timber you’re using and how it went!