Observation Hive

A functional $10 four frame observation hive.


Four frame observation hive.

Plans? Want plans? Here’s a Google Sketchup based plan for this hive:

observation hive.skp

This hive is one frame high and four frames wide. It is large enough so that a small colony of bee can sustain itself during the summer. And it is easily transported for demonstrations or maintenance work.


Observation hives are small hives used to observe bee behavior. They consist of a box with glass sides. So, the bees are observed without disturbing them. Many hives are custom built for a specific location or need. Some observation hives are constructed as a fine piece of furniture. Some are elaborate and expensive.

I’ve been building them for over 30 years. And have built almost every kind and size. I use a deep frame as the basic building block for my hives. I’ve built them tall and thin, short and fat, and a few intermediate kinds as well.

My observation hive spends much of it’s time out doors on my patio. It’s simple, portable, and self sustainable. I sometimes use it as a mating nuc or hold a spare queen in reserve. I come home after work. Sit on the patio, and watch the bees. It’s sort of like a beekeepers tv channel. 🙂


This Ob hive is built from 3/4 inch thick lumber. A six foot piece of 1″ x 8″ provides the necessary lumber.

The hive consists of:

  • a bottom at 22″ x 7 1/4″
  • two sides at 10 7/8″ x 5 3/4
  • a top at 18 3/8″ x 5 3/4″
  • 2 side cleats at 5 3/4″ x 1 3/4″
  • 2 bottom cleats at 7 1/4″ x 1 3/4″
  • 8 mirror clips
  • 2 pieces of glass or plexiglass at 19 3/4″ x 10 3/4″
  • 4 deep frames
  • a small piece of 1/8″ hardware cloth, about 5″x 5″
  • wood screws

Wood Work

Prepare the bottom pieces, the two sides and fasten them together,:

  • the sides have a 3/4″ dado cut starting 3/4 inches below their top edges
  • center one side on the bottom
  • make it flush with the edge of the bottom piece
  • drill pilot holes and screw the side piece securely to the bottom piece

The second side is centered on the bottom board.

  • There are 19 7/8 inches measured to the outside edges of the sides. Check the spacing with a frame. Make sure the sides align with each other and attach it, with screws, to the bottom

Corner details.

Next, cut out the top piece:

  • cut a mason jar ring size hole in the lid
  • staple a piece of 1/8″ hardware cloth on the inside surface to cover the hole
  • securely fasten the top between the sides

Fasten the cleats and provide an entrance:

  • place the top cleats flush with the upper surface of the top piece
  • place the bottom cleats directly below the sides on the bottom of the hive
  • cut a 1″ entrance hole on one end

It’s a good time to apply a wood finish, if desired.

The Glass

Mirror clip.

When purchasing the glass, have the glass shop round off the edges and the corners.

Mount the mirror clips that hold the glass in place. These clips, when loosened, allow the glass to slide vertically. If the clips are removed, the glass can be removed horizontally.


It is easy to add a super or two to this observation. Such a super could incorporate an excluder and simplify colony management. Excess honey or bees could easily be removed without disturbing the entire hive. But the resulting hive would be heavy.


Stock this hive with:

  • one frame consisting of a queen, bees, brood, honey and pollen
  • two empty drawn comb frames
  • one foundation frame

Remove any excess propolis and beeswax, especially on the end bars. Tolerances are kept fairly tight to maintain a proper bee space and deter burr/brace comb.

Hive Maintenance

Completed hive with frames, glass, and chair.

Eventually, the glass will need cleaning. It’s a good time to:

  • remove extraneous comb or propolis
  • provide additional space with a frame of foundation
  • remove a brood frame when excess bees become a problem

Over Wintering

Once winter sets in, I’ve over wintered this hive by moving it inside to a cool, dark, undisturbed location.

When the weather permitted bee flight, I’d set it outside. And then retrieve it when winter weather returned.


I’ve spent countless hours watching bees in observation hives. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a sensual experience that encompasses sights, sounds, smells and taste.

And it’s a great way for non-beekeeping family members to share in a beekeeper’s experience. And you’ll need a good chair with this hive.

But this is not the only way to build one. Check out these images from Google.



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