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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Making Solid One-piece Wedged Bars

Update: This post has gotten a lot of interest, but making making bars this way can be a little dangerous. So I wanted to update it with some safety tips just in case someone tried to follow this process. Some of these tips have been shared with me by a wonderful friend who is an expert woodworker. If you have any other safety advice, please, feel free to share it in the comments below because beekeeping would be infinitely less fun if one were missing some digits. 

Awhile ago, I wrote about some options for making bars for a TBH, but I'm currently in the process of building a new hive, so I figured I'd show how I make my bars.

This season, I made some new bars (long story) that were just plain old flat bars (i.e., no comb guide) inserted between wedged bars with drawn comb, and I just haven't been happy with them. So for the new hive, I'm going back to making solid bars with wedges. I find that wedges make a big difference keeping the comb straight, and having them made of one-piece of wood means that the comb guide never falls off. I've heard that this is a real issue with comb guides that are attached to the bar via glue or staples.

Disclaimer: I would like to preface my notes by saying that this is NOT a tutorial. God forbid someone tries to copy me, loses a body part or something, and says that I gave bum instructions. I'm just showing how I do it. That's all.

Safety Tip: When I'm woodworking, I always wear glasses, hearing protection, and a dust mask or respirator. The glasses/goggles are particularly important, I think, because chunks of wood/dust seem to constantly be thrown at my face.

Step 1: Select the Lumber

I've made wedged bars with 1" thick pieces of lumber, but the wedge is not very pronounced. I've also been fearful of losing my fingers during the sawing, so I prefer getting 2" thick lumber (which is really only 1 1/2" thick.)

Before you pick a board, I recommend that you do a bit of quick math to determine how many bars you can get out of it. Sometimes, getting a bigger board will save money because you have less waste.

Here is the size board that I use. It's 8' long, and I can't remember how many inches wide. They run about $8-$10 a piece. My bars are 20" long and 1 3/8" long. Using that measurement, I can get about 24 bars out of this board. I'll need more than one board since my hives contain about 32 bars, but I don't mind cutting extra because I seem to be building new hives every year.

Here's the board that I start with. Just look at the board and not the mess in the garage. :-)

Step 2: Cut Boards to Length

First I cut the board crosswise into sections that are 20" long, which is the length of my top bars (sorry no photo). I don't like messing around with rulers, so I just use an old top bar to measure the cut.
Measuring the crosscut with an old bar.
Next, I cut the boards lengthwise into 1 3/8" strips, which is the width of my top bars. When I'm all done, I'll have 24 of these pieces, a few pieces that I'll make into spacers, and a few "practice pieces" (more on that in a minute.)

Cutting lengthwise. Again, I just use my old top bar to measure width of cut.

Step 3: Cut Angles for Wedge

Safety Tip: I usually cut the angles for the wedges on the bars first, so that's how I've written them up here. However it's really better (i.e., safer) to shape the ends first while you still have flat 90 degree surfaces. So if you try this at home, I'd recommend reordering Steps 3 and 4.

Now, I have bars that are 1 3/8" x 1 1/2". At this point, it's important to remember which side is which. It's helpful to have an organization system for this. I usually stack them so that all the bars are ready for me to saw when I pick them up. However, I still inspect each piece before it goes through. I've even thought that using a Sharpie to mark the side that gets cut would be a good idea.

Anyway, my wedges get cut along the side that is 1 3/8".

The first thing that I do is take a "practice piece." This is a piece that I can't use in the hive because, even though it has the same width and height as my bars, it isn't as long. I find the center points and mark a cross on the end of the bar. (See black lines in photo below.) Then, I mark where the wedge will be. (See green lines in photo below.) (By the way, I edited in all these lines after the fact, so if they're not marking the exact halfway point, overlook it. Just know that I used an actual ruler for this part.)

Marking cut lines on the end of the bar

Next, I adjust the angle of my blade to 60 degrees. An angle finder is very helpful for this.

Adjusting blade with angle finder

Ready to make the first cut. I don't always get it quite right the first time, so I like to fine-tune on my practice piece.



Next, I flip the bar over to make the second angled cut. In other words, the side that was farthest from me the first time, is now closest to me when I make this second cut. The sides that form a 90 degree angle are next to the fence.


Ready to make the other side of the wedge

Note: At this point, it's a good idea to make a couple of practice pieces to use in the next step.

Safety Tips: 

  • I'm extremely conscious of where my fingers are at all times and keep them well away from the blade. I always use a push stick to guide the wood through instead of my fingers.
  • Use a featherboard to help guide the bar through and keep your fingers safer. My dear friend recommends the Grip-Tite Magnetic Featherboard. He let me try it, and I love it, too.
  • You can also attach a splitter with palls (sp?) to grasp the bar at the other end of the blade. This helps prevent kick-back. 

Push sticks are a cheap investment (usually around $5),
but these simple tools can be a hand saver.
The notch in the tip allows you to really grip the wood
and push it through without getting too close to the saw blade.


This is my friend's Grip Tite Featherboard.
I love the super strong magnets that lock it into place,
but any other featherboard could work, too.
Splitter with palls (sp?) on the other side of blade
(I'm where you would stand if you were cutting)

Step 4: Shape the Ends of the Bar

The final step is shaping the ends of the bar where it will rest on the hive. I used to use a stacked dado head cutter for this because that's what my DH told me to do. It was a safe way to shape the ends, but it didn't always leave them as clean as I would like them to be. As a result, I came up with this new approach. I think the end result is cleaner, and as another bonus, I don't have to change blades.

To shape the ends, I start by deciding how much bar I want on either side of the wedge. I think usually 1 1/2"- 2" is what I normally do. Then I adjust the height of the blade so that the highest part of the blade sticks up by that amount.

I also adjust the fence so that I can make this cut along the mid-point of the bar. Hard to explain, but you'll see what I mean in the photo below. Again this is where a practice piece comes in handy. I like to make sure I've got it right before I start cutting into my bars.

Note: At this point, it's a good idea to make the same cut on a couple of spacers. Since I have an end entrance, I need a 3/8" spacer bar right at the entrance to maintain bee space.

Cut bar along it's midpoint.
The height of the blade determines how much space will be on the end of each bar.
Next, I adjust the blade height so that it cuts off just that bit that just got sliced (without making too much of a groove in the bar itself). Again, those practice pieces are really handy at this step.  In order to avoid using too many practice pieces, I usually start my slices at the very end of the bar and gradually move toward the center. This lets me use the same practice piece over and over until I have the right height and cut length.

Note: If you want the ends of your wedge to be angle instead of straight, just angle the blade to the angle you want.

Cutting off the sliced piece.
Note: Remember to make the same cut for any spacers you want.

Safety Tips: When making the cut that runs parallel to the bar (i.e., you're holding the bar straight up and down), you can get a little close to the blade. Again, I'm always very careful to keep my fingers way clear. However, I like these ideas from my friend, too.

  • One thing you could do is use a tenoning jig like the one below to grab your wood and push it through. Actually, you can do the perpendicular cut this way, too. Your hands would be nowhere near the blade this way.
  • Another option would be to use a higher fence. You can make a higher fence by simply placing a board along the existing fence. The board adds more stability and raises your hand at the same time.

Tenoning jig


Making a higher fence with a board.
Note: This saw was turned off.
DO NOT EVER hold a piece of wood like this if the fence is on.
Just trying to show how to make a higher fence here. 


Step 5: Popsicle Time!

Tada! The bars are done! Time for a shower and a popsicle (though not necessarily in that order).




If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy seeing how to make bars using a bandsaw instead of a table saw.

11 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this detailed post! I've been trying to figure out how one would do this and no other site I've seen gives such detail. Your carpentry skills are awesome - love the table saw. I bought a cheap (but portable) Ryobi saw for $100 and it's falling apart after two years of making hives. I do like the portability though since I don't have a dedicated shop to do my woodworking and I can drag it out onto my back porch when I'm building hives.

    A couple of questions/comments:

    - Have you ever tried angling the ends of the triangles to match the slope of the hive sides? That seems to be the mode for the commercial bars like those from GoldStar and TheBackyardHive. It seems that you could easily do that on the last cut by angling your blade. I think the idea is that it helps the bees keep from attaching to the sides near the top.

    - Do you ever have problems on the last cut with the bar tilting on it's bevel as you slide it along the saw table top? I guess if you have a good grip (and a good saw) that wouldn't be a problem, but one idea would be to make the end cuts first and then do the beveling.

    - My bars are a wood comb guide glued into a kerf. I've never had a problem with the guide falling out and once the bees have build comb on them, I figure they are strong for the next use after harvesting. But they've only been used for 3 seasons. I have other bars that I nailed a triangular edging onto, but I think they like the comb guide bars better. Now that I know how to make the solid bars, I'll have to give that a shot!

    - What kind of wood are you using and where did you find 2" thick wood?

    On a related note, I saw your post to the Treatment Free FB page about double walled hives. I didn't comment there, but one thought I had was that it seemed that your big problem was moisture buildup last year. That would keep the bees from being able to generate heat during the extreme cold. I assume you are going to use top entrances for ventilation in the new hive. Do you also have holes at the other end of the hive for cross ventilation? I found this to be helpful in the hot summer months and I just plug it up in the winter with a cork.

    I hope you'll do a post on your double-walled construction also. Happy sawing!

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    1. Glad you liked this post! The table saw is my husband's. When we first got married, he was really into making furniture, and he made a couch, reclining chair, several tables, etc. Nowadays, he's either too busy or too tired, so I've appropriated it as my own. Mwah hahahaha!

      So your questions:

      "Have you ever tried angling the ends of the triangles to match the slope of the hive sides"
      LOL -- I showed my husband the bars this morning, and he sniffed. "I angle the sides of the wedges. It looks nicer." Ha ha -- guess you guys are on the same wavelength. He told me how he achieved, but I think you're right -- just angling the blade on that last cut should do it.

      "Do you ever have problems on the last cut with the bar tilting on it's bevel as you slide it along the saw table top?"
      I don't really have problems with the cut itself (maybe because I'm not really cutting a big piece of wood), but he little pieces of wood that get sawn out sure do love to fly backward, so I've learned to stand off to the side (and wear glasses -- always wear glasses). I like your idea of doing the end cuts first though. Definitely safer!

      "What kind of wood are you using and where did you find 2" thick wood?"
      For the bars, I get fir boards at Home Depot. They're listed as 2" thick boards, but like I said, they're really only 1 1/2" thick.

      "I assume you are going to use top entrances for ventilation in the new hive. Do you also have holes at the other end of the hive for cross ventilation?"
      I've been thinking about ventilation a lot, and I'm not quite sure yet which way I'm going to go with the entrances. I know Bush recommends top entrances, but I don't think he does a lot regarding insulating his hives. On the other hand, there's a guy in CT who's been running TBHs successfully for a number of years now, and his hives have entrances near the bottom. Lazutin also recommends keeping entrances low.

      My hope is that by having double-walled hives, condensation will be less of an issue overall simply because the hive should be warmer. (Condensation seems to be an issue because the water freezes on top of the bees. But if it's warm enough in the hive, will the water freeze? I don't really know. When all is said and done, the hive walls should have an R-value of about 10.5.

      My divider boards are never completely solid & tight fitting because 1) i was squishing bees with the board when I moved it and 2) I like bees to be able to pass through (something I was doing even before I read that Lazutin recommends this). However, I'm also considering a ventilation bar at the back of the hive (maybe just a bar with screened holes in it). The colony that survived last year was in the leakiest hive, and I'm thinking the "ventilation" helped. However, I'm planning to reread Lazutin's thoughts on this tonight since he's my inspiration. Will definitely make a post out of this hive!

      Cheers!

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    2. My follower boards never fit well either because I'm a lousy carpenter. ;-) After the first year, I drilled a 1" hole in them so I can put my feeders on the other side and they can get through. I leave the hole open during the summer for ventilation (if I haven't removed the board completely) and just put a cork in it for the winter. They will propolize any holes/gaps they don't like.

      I would think that moisture will build up if there isn't enough ventilation despite the temperature. The cold temperatures can cause it to freeze above the cluster on the top of the bars, I would think. Like someone posted on FB they keep the cluster warm, but not the hive itself. If the heat from the cluster is warm enough to melt that (or a warm day comes along), it would rain down on the bees which would inhibit their ability to shiver to keep warm. A following cold snap could be deadly.

      This spring I had really bad moisture buildup in my hive because the bees were inside most of the time due to the rainy weather, even though it wasn't very cold. It could also be due to the fact that I tightened up the leaky screened bottom board, come to think of it.

      As for entrances, I think having them low is good. It makes it easier for them to get rid of detritus (wax moth larva, dead bees, etc). On one of the new hives I have this year, I think I put them a little too high and there is definitely a lot more of a mess. I've thought about having a top ventilation gap like you mention.

      Good luck with your new hive. I'll be interested to hear how it works out!

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    3. LOL! I'm sure you're not a lousy carpenter. I've seen photos of your hives, and they're gorgeous! However, if it makes you feel any better, when my husband inspects my work, he usually breaks out in uncontrollable giggles. He's not trying to be mean, but for someone who does things "the right way," I guess my cobbled-together hives are kind of funny.

      You have a point about the bees keeping the cluster warm and not the hive, but I've been told by various people that KTBHs have less dead space anyway because they are so small (i.e., the cluster reaches further to the edges and top of the box). I'm not really sure, and I wonder exactly what the cluster looks like in a KTBH during the winter. Lazutin's book has some very interesting photos of clusters in various types of vertical hives, but I just don't know what it looks like in a KTBH. Where exactly do they cluster in relation to the bars? I guess I should've opened my observation window more last winter to find out.

      I've been thinking about the cold temps above the bars, and I've been trying to work out in my mind how to do an insulated roof as well. I like the insulated roof plan on HorizontalHives.com, but because I'm a terrible carpenter, I always seem to have issues with making a hinged roof. Also, the roof can't be too heavy if it's not hinged. Anyway, I have the rest of the summer to figure it out.

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    4. Sounds like your DH needs to buy you an IR camera as a birthday/anniversary/special occasion gift before next winter so you can see where they cluster! ;-) I'm Jonesing for the FLIR-ONE (http://flir.com/flirone/), but I'll need a phone upgrade for that so I haven't taken the plunge!

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    5. Wow! That's so cool! Thanks for sharing that!

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  2. My hives are the Gold Star variety. I purchased one new as a kit, and found two used ones to sand and paint. I have now purchased the plans for the Gold Star hive, which has top bars very similar to yours. Who would have thought that three hives wouldn't be enough for me! Anyway, the plans recommend using poplar wood for the top bars, using 2X10X8foot to make 30 bars (17 1/2 X 1 3/8). Since I am having trouble finding the poplar, I was thinking of using fir instead. Have you had any problems with warping or bowing, or any trouble shaping them through knots? And do you sand or smooth them at all after cutting? BTW, love your blog, and your insightful posts to the top bar community groups. Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Maureen! Three hives... sounds like a great start to me. LOL! :-)

      Thank you for the kind words. I always appreciate your encouragement in our groups, too!

      I was at Home Depot today, and I specifically remember seeing poplar boards there (was browsing because my daughter wants to make parakeet toys.) I can't remember if they had 2" thick boards, though.

      The fir works beautifully for me. I've actually seen Phil Chandler recommend it. No trouble with them warping or bowing or with shaping them either. However, I do recommend standing off to the side and wearing safety glasses when cutting that little notch out of the bars.

      I'm afraid I'm too lazy to do any sanding or smoothing, but the bees don't seem to mind.

      BTW, you know R. Sumner? Her husband has built several Gold Star Hives now, and he's made some really nifty modifications. If you're interested, I bet he'd be delighted to share some of the things he's done. Have fun with your new project! Hope you post photos when you're done!

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  3. Hi - this is another great post, thank you for providing the detail on how you make your wedges.

    Question: you mention 60 degrees (which is probably 30 because most tablesaws don't tilt past 45) but the green lines you drew on seem more like two 45s = 90. Could you elaborate on that?

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    1. I'm not a great woodworker, so I'm not sure I'll explain this properly. You’re right about my saw not tilting past 45, but when I plop the angle finder on the blade (which you saw in the photo), it says 60, so that's how I wrote it up.

      The green lines are illustrative only, so I wouldn't pay too much attention to how those angles look. 1) The lines were added in with a computer so you could see more easily what I was doing -- they're not perfect 2) The bar is not a perfect square -- 2" thick lumber is really only 1.5" thick. So 2 sides are 1 3/8" wide and the other two sides are 1.5" thick. It's a small difference, but it means those lines between the midpoints aren't perfect 45 deg angles.

      In any case, the degree of the angle isn't really that important. The important thing is that the wedge is centered on the bar. For instance, you can make the bar thicker or thinner depending on your preference. This will make the sides of your wedge narrower or wider, but that's ok as long as the sharp point of the wedge is centered. You want that centered to maintain beespace.

      Sorry -- this is hard to explain without images. If it doesn't make sense, you can email me, and I'll send you an illustration.

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  4. Thanks - that makes more sense now. I've roughed out a few sample bars and have tried a few different techniques. I can make this work.

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Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!