How I make my foundationless frames

Following on from my previous post this is more detail how I make my foundationless frames. This process is easy for me as a joiner and woodworker for over 35 years, plus I have a few machines to play with but no reason why the frames could not be made with smaller power tools so very possible for the diy minded.  Also I have continued with my philosophy at making my beekeeping as self sufficient as possible so have made the frames from salvaged timber but must warn you some of the following photos may be distressing to a few people 🙂

You cannot make anything without first having a cutting list and my frames could not be simpler and as I have British National hives and run them with standard brood boxes each frame requires-

1 x top bar  – 432 mm long  x 22 mm wide x 10 mm thick

2 x side bars  – 215 mm for brood  and 140 mm long for super x 22 mm wide x 10 mm thick

1 x bottom bar  – 358 mm long x 14 mm wide x 7 mm thick

So the first process is having sourced your salvaged timber and it’s never the right size so you first  you need to reduce it into manageable lengths of multiples of the lengths you ultimately require plus a few inches for trimming.


This is the distressing bit. This timber is probably way to good to use on frames it’s the seats from church pews and from the same batch of timber all the hives and hive parts were machined although they were machined from the framing and knee rests ect.

I have to say the pews were not dismantled easily without a great deal of effort on behalf of the church to find new homes for the pews. They were very long approx sixteen feet in length and had been altered at least once in their life, also they were not the greatest example available with the timber in the seats the best part. The church wanted the pews removed so they could use the hall as a homeless shelter and other community events and have stacking chairs for the services. My initial job was to release the pews from the floor and alter any that people wanted. There were a number of oak pews that rightly were snapped up and a few altered. I also altered four of the pine pews but the remaining 10 no one wanted, the church tried architectural salvage, reclamation yards and even other churches but no one was interested as they were simply too big. In the end the church decided to put them on freecycle as the builders were moving in very soon and it was at this time I said I could salvage them and make use of the timber. I struck a deal with the church and reduced my bill as a gesture for the timber and then dismantled the pews.  I have saved the pew ends and  sections of the backs and intend reassembling approx six or seven four feet long pews and may go back to the church to see if they are interested in them. So with the timber already used and destined to be used I recon I have reused approx 70% and I think that’s pretty good. As for the 30% that went towards keeping me warm during the winter.


So with the confession over the next process after cutting to workable lengths is to check for visible nails and remove. Unfortunately the down side with working with reclaimed timber especially old Victorian timber is cut nails that have a habit of snapping below the surface and during the machining processes you find them. If you find them on the circular saw then that’s fine as I have old saws for this job but on the planning machine then the air would turn blue.


As this wood is too wide for my plainer I first need to cut in half and then square up the other two outer edges.


Also as this timber is approx 32mm thick and I need a finish of 22 I decided to run it through the saw  to remove the bulk of the timber to save me producing too many bags of shavings from the planning machine. Also this process shows the lovely mellow colour the pine has gone with 150 years of bottoms polishing it. It also gives me some lovely thin 5mm strips of timber to find a job for, thinking something on the boat.



After the saw it’s through the planning machine removing timber on both faces down to 22mm



Then it’s onto the table saw once more this time cutting to the exact length required. You cut the longer lengths first so that any shorter lengths can be used first for the next size down, this way you minimise your final bag of off cuts.



After you have cut everything to length you realise you have miscalculated and should have twice as many side bars to top bars, you curse yourself for a minute and decide whether to cut down some of the top bars to make more side bars or leave as they are. I decided to leave as it is and it is much easier to machine side bars and better to have more of the more complicated top bars in stock.



The next process is the joints and I have a spindle moulder for this job but just as easy with a router and router table. The tool I used in the spindle moulder for this operation is a wobble saw, it’s basically a saw blade that you can adjust so it wobbles and the greater the wobble the larger the cut. In this case as I am machining the top bars first I set the wobble saw to cut a groove 10mm wide and   4mm deep also adjust the height so its 37 mm high to the bottom of the groove. You will see I am machining the block of timber as one wide piece and later will cut them into strips.




After the top bars it’s the side bars and these are machined on the ends. So this time I set the wobble saw to 14 mm wide the same measurement as the timber between the two groves in the top bars and 10mm deep (the finished thickness of the top bar) with the saw cutting dead centre of the block. I only machine one end of all the blocks at this setting and after doing just one block its over to the saw table to cut one 10mm wide slice to check the joint is a good fit.


So after the top joint is all done I reset the machine but this time the depth is only 7mm as this will be the thinner bottom rail. As I don’t use foundation I only need one bottom rail.



The next operation is to cut the bottom rails and as this timber has a high risk of hidden nails they were solely cut on the saw bench. This timber was reasonably thin to start with and it was just a case of first pushing it through the saw twice to clean up both faces and then cutting it to 358 mm long  the distance from the outside to the outside of the two grooves on the top bar and will finish flush with the outside face of the side bars and finally cutting it into strips 7mm thick.


The next operation is to set the table saw to 10mm and start running the top and side bars through the saw.


In this instance I only cut enough for thirty frames as its better for storage to keep the big blocks as one and cut when needed. This process is also rather wasteful and you don’t realise at first but for every 10mm   you cut you also loose 3mm with the saw cut.



The next step is to set the table saw extremely low in the bed so that it barley cuts 1mm and central in the top bar. Once central it’s a case of passing the top bars over the saw and it cuts a nice central line so I can central a piece of starter wax.


There is one more task before assembly and that is to drill two holes in the side bars for the wire support for the comb. You can see the wiring and fitting of the starter strip in a previous post, Foundationless Frames.


Hope you have enjoyed this post and even better understood it. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or queries about the processes.

Happy beekeeping


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5 Responses to How I make my foundationless frames

  1. honeybuzzers says:

    This is really interesting, wish I was able to do this kind of stuff!
    Good post

  2. solarbeez says:

    What a great trove of beautiful wood. I’m not sure I understand all the cuts, but I see some nice commercial saws. I bet you’ve turned out a good many projects with it. While I’m envious of all that equipment, I’d need another lifetime to learn it. 🙂

    • Thanks the machines and myself go back a few years now and a good bit of history between us. Together they have helped me make some wonderful items with them doing all the hard work. They were never designed to do the work I have put them through but with my repairs and new motors ect we solder on. The grand children’s log hive by the way is just amazing. I can work with timber but could never be able to carve the faces into that log. A true artist and craftsman at work.

  3. hencorner says:

    Wow, what a great post!
    I think I can guess which church you got the pews from, how great that the wood can be recycled for something as natural as bee keeping… What are you going to do with all that Holy Honey????

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