Multipurpose Top Bar Hive

Multipurpose top bar hive with follower board, cover, top bars and spacers. Side wall height is optimized for my criteria.

Want plans? Download a Google Sketchup based plan for this hive:

multipurpose top bar hive.skp

Before building this hive, be sure to check the length of your Langstroth frames. This hive is designed to work with 19″ long frames. If yours are larger, be sure to modify this design to accommodate them.


Need a taller hive and want to transition away from frames? My other top bar hives aren’t the best choice. A better solution might be a taller top bar hive that uses bottom frame support.  I’ve put my mind to the task using the following general criteria:

  • bottom supported 19″ long Langstroth frames capability
  • function as a two box long hive
  • can be stacked
  • hand truck friendly
  • 1 1/4″ top bar width
  • 3/4″ entrance/bottom space
  • I’ve found that my bee’s roughly occupy a 13″ diameter ball when clustering for wintering. I want a few inches of honey beyond that. So I’ve set my minimum side wall height at 13″ and optimized it for efficient lumber use

This hive looks much like my combo top bar hive. It’s got 24 top bars, a follower board, 1/4″ spacers and a flat cover. But there are some notable exceptions:

  • the conventional frames set inside the hive
  • a frame support slat runs along the bottom edge of each side
  • no maximum hive height
  • bee space is not maintained between frame end bars and the side walls


Working with 8″ lumber gives the best results with the simplest construction:

  • two 6′ boards are glued together for the sides
  • two 6′ boards are glued together for the ends and follower board
  • four 6′ boards are glued together for the bottom and cover
  • two 1″x4″x6′ boards are cut to finish the cover
  • one 1″x2″x6′ board is cut for the frame support slats
  • three 2″x4″ studs are cut for the bottom pieces and the remainder ripped for 30 top bars
  • two tops are ripped at 1 1/8″ for the spacer cleats
  • one top bar is used on the follower board
  • three top bars ripped at 1/4″ for top bar spacers
  • one 21″x35 1/4″ piece of blue foam insulation for the cover
  • one 38 3/4″x24 1/2″ tin for cover

Bottom Support

With bottom support there’s no need for the rabbit along each side. Without the rabbit:

  • the top edge is stronger
  • less prone to rot
  • has fewer hive beetle hideouts
  • and it’s easier to build
  • the ends can set inside the side pieces with the same dimensions as a follower board

The slats on which the frames rest are thick enough to provide a bee space below the frames. And they are wide enough to catch the bottom corner of the frames and support them.

When conventional boxes are set on top of this hive, they will rest on the inner 3/8″ of the side wall rather than the outer 3/8″. That requires a little more care when using excluders, Cloake boards, etc.

End Entrances

Gone are the side entrances. End entrances don’t interfering with the support slats. And they are easier to cut.

When tested, my bees preferred side entrances. Travel distances were shorter. And they had easier access to cooler/fresher air when things got hot.

But end entrances have been used successfully for thousands of years. To make up for the difference, I’ve increased the entrance surface area and put one on each end of the hive.

Flexible Sidewall Height

Sidewall height can bething greater than frame height. Use it to optimize comb height or lumber usage. And with additional supporting slats set on top of the bottom row of frames, this hive can accommodate another rows of frames if it’s tall enough.

Bee Space

It’s impossible to maintain a proper bee space when setting unmodified top hanging frames inside the hive. There’s about twice the space needed between the frame’s end bar and the hive’s sidewall.

Is this a problem? It is if the frames set inside the hive too long without being worked. Bees will eventually glue everything together even if it has a proper bee space. With a proper bee space it just takes longer.

So, how long is too long? I’ve found it takes about three to four years to glue up a proper bee spaced hive. I suspect, that without the beespace, they would glue this hive up in less than half the time. That’s about 1 1/2 to 2 years. If using frames, I’d work this hive at least once a year.


Here’s some modifications that might be interesting:

  • hinged end piece
  • window
  • gabled ends
  • sloped, vented cover like a Warre’ hive
  • landing board
  • legs
  • cleats
  • bottom supported frame hive
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