Non-Beekeeping Saturday – How to assemble a flat pack Super

I am currently sat inside watching as the temperature hovers around 11 degrees celcius outside with alternating bright spells and showers. Definitely NOT weather to go beekeeping. I have one apiary that I really want to check and will rush off if the weather improves as I suspect that some hives may need another super.

In the meantime I thought I would write about how I build some hives parts starting with a super.

First I should say that I would love to have the time / skill and equipment to be able to make my hive parts from scratch but I don’t!

The next most satisfying for me is to buy the parts in flat pack for self assembly, it is also a lot cheaper than buying them ready made. I would say it is relatively simple, needing just a few tools, a place to work and the time. When I first started to buy and assemble hive parts I wasn’t 100% sure and did make some mistakes so just in case anyone reading this blog hasn’t tried it and would like to know how I will document my method.

First of all a bit of a disclaimer, I say ‘my method’ as always in beekeeping there are different ways to achieve the same result and it comes down to personal preference. For example a lot of the flat pack parts (supers / brood boxes) are supplied with all the nails required for assembly. I do NOT use any of them as I prefer to glue + screw my boxes.

The main reason for this is that I am not a confident hammer user and I believe screws hold the boxes together longer.

Enough of the pre-talk onto the method I use!

This is a typical flat pack super + the castellated spacing strips that I personally use in my supers. (If you don’t use or intend to use castellated spacing then I will talk about that later)

A Flatpack super + castellated spacers

As well as a flat clear work space large enough for an assembled super I use the following tools.

The tools I use

  • Wooden mallet
  • Exterior (waterproof) Wood adhesive
  • No.4 x 40mm Wood screws
  • No.4 x 50mm Wood screws
  • A drill (with suitable sized bit for the screws)
  • A screw driver (I use, for ease / speed a 2nd electric drill with cross-head screwdriver bit.)
  • A small hammer (*I only use this for the castellated spacers*)

Once unpacked the flat pack super should consist of the following elements:-

2 x Side sections with slots cut for the joints with the rails.

Side sections

2 x Front / back sections

Front / back sections

4 x Rails (2 top + 2 bottom)

Rails

The difference between a top rail and bottom rail is that the bottom rails have one face that is slanted. This faces the outside so that rain will run off the box rather than the top rail which has a more square cross section.

After un-packing the bits it is worth the time to check for any loose pieces of wood that want trimming off with a knife or any bits that may need a bit of a rub down with sand paper.

The next step is to start assembly by selecting one of the side section (both are identical . I generally check all the parts and decide before hand which way up I prefer to assemble the side sections and which side of the front and back sections I want to face outside, The main reason is that I generally buy 2nd’s (2nd quality hive parts) in the sales and sometimes they have a knot or other imperfection that I prefer to be on the bottom or facing inside away from the weather.

After having selected one of the side sections and decided which way up you would like it the next step is to apply some glue to the top of the slots where you will mate the rails.

Glued applied to side section slots

Note I have laid the piece on some paper towel as when the joints are made some glue will be squeezed out!

Also I try to apply the glue at the top of the slots where the rails will slot into so that as they are pushed in the glue will be spread down the joint.

Next taking one of the rails, in this case a top rail, push it home into the slot. I find sometimes you can push them in but most of the time I use the wood mallet to make sure it’s firmly in place and also give it a tap on the side to make sure it is fully mated into the joint in both directions!

Top rail slotted into place.

Then repeat the above procedure with the bottom rail.

Top and bottom rail in place

*You can see in the above picture the bottom rail (on the left) has the sloping surface facing the top rail (left to right in the pic)*

So now you have the first 2 rails slotted into the slots with glue in the joints and it should look like this.

2 rails slotted into one side

Next I should mention the most important tool that I missed from the list above!

Very important

A set square for checking 90 degree right angles!

Next we need to check that the rails are square (at 90 degs.) to the side section.

Checking the joint is square

Normally it’s not 1st time so it is easy to move the rail gently in or out until it is exactly square to the side section.

Rail is square (90 degs) to the side section

Do this for both rails and only when you are happy proceed further.

Next you can gently turn the parts upright and rest them on the work surface with the rails facing you as below.

Ready for drilling and screwing

Carefully drill 2 holes through the rail into the side section as below

Holes drilled

It is important to drill straight (vertically and horizontally) and I generally drill deep enough for the longer of the screws I use for assembly (50mm).

Then screw in the 50mm screws into the 2 holes you have just drilled.

Screws through the rail into the side section

The screws are counter sunk and care should be taken to screw them in just enough that the heads are flush (level) with the surface. If you go too far or too fast it tends to splinter the surface of the wood!

Once this is done turn it back onto the side section and repeat the process with the other 2 rails and you should end up with this.

All 4 rails attached to one side section

At this point check again all the joints are square and gently adjust any that are not.

Another shot showing the rails attached.

4 rails attached to side section

In the above you can see the upper rails have a rebate cut on their inside where the super frames rest and the bottom rails have the slanted surface facing outwards.

It’s time to attach the 2nd side piece, so turning the 1st side piece with the rails attached so that the rails point up in the air I then apply glue to all the mating surfaces of the rails that will go into the joints with the other side piece.

Glue applied to the mating surfaces

After applying the glue rest the 2nd side section onto of the rails and align as best you can the rails to the slots.

2nd side section aligned with rails

It is now a case of using the wood mallet to gently tap the side section down onto the rails whilst holding them in the right position. I find it easier to start at one side and get 2 of the rails started and then start the other 2 and then go round all 4 in rotation until the side section is firmly mated with all 4 rails. Don’t forget to tap them from the side to make sure they are fully in place!

It should now look like this.

2nd side section mated with all 4 rails

Repeat the process of drilling and screwing the rails to the side section as you performed with the first side section and it now looks like this.

2 side sections and 4 rails all attached

Again check all four corners are square.

Checking for squareness

If you find corners are not square you can usually adjust them by squeezing gently of diagonal corners across the box.

Once you are happy that all four corners are square I then drill and screw the side sections to the rails.

Side sections screwed to rails

So far you have used 4 of the 50mm screws at each corner of the box.

Again check the corners are square and now you can wipe off any excess glue with paper towels or a damp cloth.

Excess glue

You do not have to remove all the glue as that left around the joints will dry and act as a weatherproof seal.

Glue sealing the joint

Now I slot in the front and back board by locating it into the rebates (slots) cut into the side sections and pushing it down. Generally I use the mallet for this as most of the time it is a tight fit!

slotting in a front / back section

Now depending on whether you are using castellated spacers or runners and whether you use top or bottom bee space will dictate how far down you hammer / push the section.

In this example I am using castellated spacers so I line the front / back section up with the lip on the inside of the top rail.

Front / back section in place

Repeat this for the opposite end and then the super should look like this.

Super box with front / back sections in place

Turning the box on its side I drill 6 holes (not too deep) through the front / back sections into the top /bottom rails (3 top and 3 bottom).

6 holes drilled through the front / back section into the rails

They don’t have to be in a specific place, I generally space them roughly equally along the length of the section and just ensure that they go through into the front / back sections.

Into these holes I screw the shorter (40mm) screws.

40mm screws through the front / back section into the rails

I like the heads of these screws to be just below the surface of the wood so that when you come to scrape the inside of the box clean from any wax / propolis, the hive tool / paint scraper does not catch on a screw head.

Screws heads driven just below surface

Now the main construction of the super is completed, I check one final time that all the corners are still square.

Woodwork completed

At this point I will explain how I fit castellated spacers. Also for the purpose of this post the castellated spacers are a little to long for the wide of the box. This I believe depends on the supplier of the different parts and whether the super is a first or second quality!

Anyway there are various solutions for fitting them and I will describe the method I am currently using.

Taking one of the castellated spacer place it inside face of the front section and you will find it will fit when you use the rebates cut on the inside of the side sections.

Initially lining up the castellated spacer

Once you have the strip centered use the small hammer to hammer it down the side of the front section repeating the process on the other side of the castellated strip.

Castellated strip being hammered into place

As I am using bottom bee space on this super I hammer the castellated spacer down until the top of it is flush with the top of the super.

Lining up the castellated spacer with the top edge of the box

When you have done this on both side you will see that the spacer is bowed in the middle.

Castellated spacer bowed

Don’t worry about this! Turn the box back on its side and using small nails you can secure the spacer strip flat along the wood section. Start in the center and just push the strip flat and nail it to the wood with a suitable small nail. Working out from the center until all the pre-punched nail holes are used you should find the strip is now pretty flat against the front of the super.

Castellated strip nailed in place

At any point before you can use a spare super frame to check that the strips are at the right height for your bee space convention.

Checking the height of the castellated strip

And now you have a finished super!

Finished super

I then treat my supers with my preferred wood stain / protection. Giving them several coats to protect them from the weather!

Painted Super

Like anything with practice it gets easier. It takes me approx 30mins to complete a super now.

Stack of supers waiting to be painted

One final point is as I said at the start of the post, this is my own personal method and I am sure other beekeepers have theirs and their own opinions on if I am doing it right or not!

I thought this may be of help to someone, apologies for the extremely long post!

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About yorkshirebees

A 2nd generation beekeeper that is enthusiastic about bees and beekeeping.
This entry was posted in 2013, Equipment, General, Hives and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Non-Beekeeping Saturday – How to assemble a flat pack Super

  1. Is this a National hive? What is the reason for the rails and slotted boards instead of simple one piece front and back like the sides?
    Nice article and we are in complete agreement about the superiority of screws over nails.

    • Yes this is a BS National Hive (British Standard). I don’t know for sure why the design is not simplified to 4 parts but I can only guess historically it was easier to manufacture this design in multiple parts. Even though it is the most common design hive used in the UK. and therefore availability and price is better than other designs, it is by no means the best design. If I started beekeeping again with the knowledge I have now I would probably go for Langstroth hives!
      Glad to hear you agree with using screws!

  2. Pauline says:

    Thanks for detailed post WITH PHOTOS!!!!! It was of great help as the “instructions!??!**” with the pack are hopeless. We ‘newbees’ need all the help we can get! 🙂

  3. Katherine says:

    Thank you. We have been struggling with a national brood box which arrived without instructions. Also, like you we prefer to use screws than nails as they’re less likely to split the cedar. Thank you for the detailed post. So glad it IS long.

  4. Anthony Webster says:

    Love the article agree screws much better, going to give it a try myself but might use different size screws as you say splitting can be a problem. I will also take screws a mm down and use plastic wood over the top of them.

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