Top Bar hives are so cool. One of my very first colonies was a booming top bar hive that became our first “honey cow” for the backyard. I love watching the bees work the comb down the length of the hive. If you build one, make an observation window so you can check them out as they work.
One thing that I’ve seen some new beekeepers do is allow their bees to draw crooked comb. Obviously not intentionally – but in any kind of hive configuration, straight comb = more straight comb, and crooked comb always = more crooked comb. If you don’t nip it in the bud, the crooked comb will become so crazy by the time they work down a few frames that sometimes it’s impossible to get the bar off the hive. I’ve had students that didn’t catch this early enough and once the bees do their thing and glue it up with propolis and wax, they could NOT open up the top bar hive EVER. Don’t let that happen to you. Make sure you keep a watchful eye on their progress as they build the comb down the bars.
One way to assist your bees with drawing straight comb is to give them a guide. I’ve seen some top bar hives that use a wedge style top bar which is quite handy. But if you are building one yourself and you want to have an easy way to make a comb guide without having to make complicated cuts with your saw here is a tip for you.
Make all of your top bars out of 3/4” lumber. I made my brood nest bars 1 1/4” wide and my honey top bars 1 1/2” wide. Then take your top bars and rip them down your table saw blade creating a groove about 1/4” deep. Make sure you are dead center in your top bar. If you are off just a little bit, the bees will make you pay dearly for your mistake so take the time to get that rip into the center. It’s well worth the extra couple minutes to get your saw set right. You must respect the bee space.
Then just take some rips that are slightly less than 1/8” thick and about 1/2” – 3/4” wide and use them for your guides. All you have to do is glue them into the groove you ripped into your top bars. Make sure your guides are shorter than your top bars so they will fit into your hive. You want your top bars to rest on the top of the hive – NOT the comb guides. I cut my guides short enough so they are approximately 1/2” away from the side of the hive body. Don’t worry if you are not perfect atthat distance. You can even be a little off and still be fine.
Another DIY tip is to mark the outside of your top bars for your brood nest. I decided to paint just the outside of my brood nest bars so I could readily distinguish them from my honey bars and not have to worry about getting them mixed up. As long as you have an easy way to tell them apart from one another you’ll do fine.