Footprint Foundation

The Idea

Footprint foundation.

A beeswax ridge runs down the center of my top bars. This ridge is produced by pouring hot beeswax into the notch of a wooden mold or by spooning melted beeswax directly into a saw kerf. The ridge helps the bees orient their comb down a top bar’s length. This method works most, but not all the time.

When I produce cut comb, in shallow supers, comb is cut off the frames. And about a cells worth of comb is left on the top bar. Chris Slade has referred to this as the ‘footprint’ of an earlier comb. It’s a great term which clearly details what I am describing. So, I am shamelessly using it. Thanks Chris.

Bees use this footprint as a guide the following season. It works great. And the bees seldom deviate from it when constructing new comb, even when the hives aren’t level.

Could a simple mold be made, that would mimic comb footprint left on cut comb frames? This mold would produce a central ridge, but the first hint of cell wall would project from the central ridge at a right angle to it.

The Details


So, I went back to my top bar comb photos. Cell sizes along the top row of cells were measured next to the top bar. Guess what? With a few exceptions, they all start out at about the same size! It didn’t matter whether the comb was broodnest or storage comb. And within a row or two, the bees would expand or contract that cell size to accommodate their comb building needs. My tbh cell sizes ranged from 5.0mm to 5.67mm at the top bar. Most measurements were in 5.63 to 5.67mm range. The average was 5.64mm.

Well, I couldn’t stop there. I did the same thing with shots from Barry Birkey’s tbh. And the same pattern was observed there, although the numbers are different. For Barry Birkey’s hive, these cell sizes ranged from 4.6mm to 5.83mm. Most measurements were in the 5.3 to 5.5mm range. The average was 5.44mm.

A.I. Root measured natural comb and found the interior angle, of the base, was 120 degrees.

Footprint Foundation Mold

Footprint foundation strip mold.

Could a mold be produced that would mimic this structure on a top bar to produce a comb footprint? A mold could never produce the delicately thin midrib that bees build. But maybe a delicate structure isn’t needed. The bees should use excess wax in the building/reshaping process. The ideal situation is to get a robust imprint that provides a definite guide for building comb, while not frustrating the bees. The finished product has a cell wall spacing that approximates natural comb. It could be thicker than natural comb but should taper to a fine edge.

Reducing the natural comb measurements from mm per 10 cells, to inches per cell, I came up with a cell size range of .21(5.4mm Barry’s ) to .22(5.6mm my bees) inches per cell. I think .22 is a good spacing to initially try. A .25 inch(1/4) pattern would be easy to build and well within the range of natural comb measurements.

Such a mold could be easily built from a hardwood strip. It would be soaked in water before it’s used. A thin bead of hot, molten beeswax is run down the center of a top bar. Then the mold is placed on top of the beeswax. The wax is allowed to cool and the mold gently removed.

Footprint Foundation Roller

Footprint foundation roller.

In the past, the Swiss built a roller that would produce a similar imprint on a top bar. I don’t know what cell spacing was used. It’s an interesting concept. But I think much excess wax would end up on the sides of the top bar requiring cleaning. A simple roller could easily be built.


Tom, a Colorado tbh beekeeper, is testing the same concept using thin, flexible, plywood strips inscribed by using a thin saw blade.

Using footprint foundation? Let me know how it works for you.


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11 responses to “Footprint Foundation”

  1. Brilliant, Dennis! Great idea.

  2. rowena holfeltz says:

    perhaps a stencil could be used. i have seen decotive raised plaster applied to walls this way.

  3. Blaine says:

    It seems that a shop with a water-jet cutting machine could cut the desired slots in a 1/16″-thick strip of of aluminum or plastic quite easily. See

    • -bW says:

      Hi Blaine


      Wyatt Mangum, in his new book, describes how to attach comb strips and expose the comb’s midrib for an excellent starter strip.It was a common method before movable frame hives.

      I remember considering it decades ago. But turned away from it, as my experiences using melted beeswax to attach things to top bars has been problematic. I thought the bees would do a better job with less.

      Footprint foundation solves the attachment problem as it’s only a pattern. And it would certainly be easier and faster than preparing strips of comb.

      Hummm. I think a new test is coming up next season. Thanks.

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