Tuesday, October 07, 2014

How to Make a Beehive from Pallets

Not one to let anything go to waste, Brian recently set about making a bee hive from a pallet. He'd been pondering uses for this ubiquitous waste stream for some time and finally landed on a project with immediate relevance. 

Pallets seem to be everywhere and if they are going unused, they can often be acquired for free. Of course, you need to be careful not to take them from a business that intends to reuse them. We're advocating creative reuse, not theft! 

Of course, you also have to be very careful in selecting individual pallets. Always look for the symbol, IPPC HT (heat treated instead of chemically fumigated) and select only new looking wood that is clean and in good condition.  Colored and painted pallets should usually be avoided. 

The pallets Brian used were delivered to us with a shipment of apiary supplies. Brian planed the wood to remove any surface impurities and to remove the painted layer. Surprisingly (and disturbingly), the pallets were made of high quality hardwood. After planing, some really beautiful wood was revealed and Brian set aside two lovely reddish pieces to make a small jewelry box. I'll be sure to post about that too once it's finished!

Pallets contain lots of nails that have to be removed and it's best to choose ones without the spiral variety of nail. The worst thing about using pallets, besides having to determine if there are chemicals in the wood, is the nails. If you miss one, it will ruin a saw blade instantly. Even though Brian was very thorough in his nail search, he missed several and had to replace the blade on the table saw. Between dull blades and resins present in the hardwood, sawing the pallets created quite a bit of smoke in the basement, so best to cut outside if possible.

Lots of pieces of wood had too many nails to be salvaged. 

This is the pile of usable wood that Brian ended up with.

It took him a long time to disassemble the pallets because he needed the pieces to be as long as possible (at least 20 inches) so he couldn't just cut the middle bits out. He also broke a hammer handle trying to pry the pieces apart!

Next he planed and glued the wood into wider pieces and planed again, using a joiner and wood "biscuits" to make the pieces stronger.

Here are the two boxes with the top and the bottom assembled. Normally he would do inset handles, but this hardwood was actually very dense and it was easier to just nail on the handles instead. He used rabbet joints instead of box joints mostly because it's easier, but the joints aren't quite as strong. Normally he would make screened bottom boards for pest management and ventilation but for this hive he did a solid bottom board so that the whole entire hive would be made from pallets. 

You can see the blackened cuts on the boxes where the table saw blade was actually burning the wood. Brian managed to start a small ember fire in the table saw from all of the heat generated by cutting these boards. A spark from hitting a nail ignited a pile of sawdust but fortunately the fire didn't damage the table saw or result in any flames!

Here are the pieces for the twenty frames that Brian prepared with the saws, router and sander.

Below is an assembled frame. This is a foundation-less frame that has a thin piece of wood at the top that the bees start building their comb on. The main downside to this type of frame is that the bees make more drone cells and they have to expend more energy making the comb from scratch. The upside is that it can be used for cut comb honey if used in the honey box as there are no wires or plastic foundation within the comb.

Brian found that he had just enough wood to also make an inner cover (the part to the far left, below). The boxes now have ten frames in each.

Below is the completed hive that was made from hardwood (mostly oak) scavenged from pallets. It includes a bottom board, two deep boxes, twenty frames, an inner cover and a top.

The final accounting (not including the capital costs of the machinery) was as follows: pallets ($0), replacement table saw blade ($15), replacement hammer ($6), nails ($4), paint ($3), glue and biscuits ($2). Total cost of the hive was $30.00 plus about four days of Brian's time. The costs would have been lower if he didn't ruin a blade or break the hammer of course, but wear and tear on tools is going to be a substantial cost over time and it's easy to miss a nail or two!

Purchasing this hive assembled and painted would have cost about $250.00 and would have been made of pine, not hardwood. The cost to construct a hive from new pine would be approximately $100.00 plus the hours of labor. So I suppose if you have lots of time or access to cheap labor then hives could be profitably made from pallets. I don't expect Brian to craft any more hives from pallets however, because he could make about twenty hives in four days (not including the frames) if buying new wood of standard dimensions.

That said, he is rather pleased to have taken something that would have been thrown away and turned it into a home for some bees that will produce honey for a long time. Now he just needs to catch a swarm to put in the hive or try his hand at bee hunting to make it the ultimate scavenged beekeeping experience!


  1. Pallets might be treated with chemicals. Check the labels. http://www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/

  2. bees are good to have if you have a bee hive they will not hurt you

  3. hey thank you i want bees and i would love to make all my own hive! and this looks like a good cheap way of doing it

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