Friday, July 11, 2014

Do Warre -- Bee Happy

Ok, after the horribly punny title, I deserve to be shot, but hopefully, not before introducing Empress Josephine! (In honor of Abbe Warre, we have a French queen this time. Plus, there's her connection to Napoleon whose symbol was a honeybee. :-) Very full circle, no?) Sadly, I haven't had time to add her crown  yet because I've been overloaded with work and prepping for houseguests. Her coronation will have to wait until I've got more spare time.

Don't look too closely. She's got a million flaws, but I  still love her.

The KTBH nuc I built last week and Josephine are my first two real woodworking projects. (My DH only just taught me how to use a table saw to rip top bars last May!) In any case, I'm very fond of my new nuc and hive even though they're both particularly fine examples of extremely poor craftsmanship.

As a first project for a shop dummy (I consider the Warre my first real project because I had actual plans to follow -- not like the nuc that I winged), it was pretty easy, and it went together really quickly (especially since I didn't allow myself to get bogged down by details like QC.)

Warre's original plans use metric units, but I didn't have a metric ruler, so I used plans by David Heaf that call for English measurements. These plans can be downloaded from For the most part, it's not too hard interpreting the drawing, but there are some really weird measurements like 13 25/32" -- Seriously? I'm supposed to measure that? Before I make my next People's Hive (yes, another one is being planned), I think I'm going to make templates for each piece so that I don't have to keep figuring out these funky fractions.

In his book, Warre describes two types of roofs. The simpler design is a flat top, whereas the harder one is peaked. Of course, I chose the harder one of the two because it's so pretty! It really was the most difficult part of the project. I goofed the angle cuts on the roof, so the bar that's supposed to fit over the top didn't fit quite right. To compensate, at my husband's brilliant suggestion, I angled the sides of the top piece and wedged it in. Caulk filled the cracks along the top board. Well, I meant to fill them with paintable caulk anyway. Instead, I could only find non-paintable silicone in the garage. In any case, it's watertight.

Also, the plans don't really indicate how the bar that makes the roof ridge is supposed to fasten to the roof. Again, my DH came to the rescue. He suggested some plastic spacers. I screwed right through the roof ridge through the spacers down into the roof.

Roof ridge wedged into place and screwed into a plastic spacer.

In the spirit of incompetence and general half-a$$edness with which I approached this project, I did not measure the gaps between the bars. Instead, I just eyeballed the distance between them (is that my husband groaning?) and stuck in some pushpins to sort of keep the bars apart. Anyway, when some bees move in, I expect they'll propolise the bars into place.

Bars with pushpin "spacers"

The entrance was also a bit a tricky. The plans call for cutting a 4 3/4" notch in the bottom board. I wasn't quite sure how to make the notch, so I used a dado head cutter to nibble out the opening. However, then I felt the opening was too big (maybe I'm just too used to my 3/4" TBH openings), so I glued in a small piece of wood to narrow it a bit. Probably I shouldn't have deviated from the plan, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

In the interest of time, I skipped observation windows. However, that's something I'll definitely do next time. Since Warres aren't supposed to get opened often, the windows seem helpful for non-invasive hive inspections.

Oh, I almost forgot! I made my very first jig! In his book, Warre describes making/using one to apply wax to the bars. I didn't refer to his sketch for the jig, but mine is probably close. Basically, I took a top bar and nailed it (lengthwise) to a piece of wood. To use it, I just slide a bar in and pour wax down the middle. Note that that the bar part of the jig is slightly off-center so that when I slide in a bar, a bit less than half of it is covered. For once, this off-centeredness isn't mere sloppiness on my part. I deliberately designed it that way so that the wax gets centered instead of being off to the side.

Jig is a bar nailed to a piece of wood.
Bar slides right in under the bar part of the jig.
Bars with wax

Finally, I put a bit of starter comb on one bar in each box. A common issue I've heard with Warres is that the bees don't want to move down to the next box. As a result, they become cramped and start swarming. I'm hoping that a bit of starter comb will overcome any possible reluctance on their part to build downward.

A little bit of starter comb for each box.

I was hoping that Austeja was just building supersedure cells, but it turns out that she's getting ready to swarm. I can see lots of new queen cells through the observation window. I'm going to try splitting her today if I can get to it. However, in the event that I can't, Josephine has been baited with some lemongrass oil and set out on the other side of my lawn, away from my "beeyard." Fingers crossed.

Waiting for a swarm... and her crown. 


  1. Congratulations! Is there anything better than a beautiful hive in a beautiful setting? Well done!

  2. Hi, just a tip about the measurements. The English version is a little funky because they are translated exactly from metric. So one ends up with something like 13 25/32" just take it to the nearest reasonable number and it becomes 13 24/32 which is 13 3/4". Trust me the 1/32" wouldn't be missed by the bees. Without looking at my plans, I know there is a measurement of 9/32" somewhere, that's 1/4". I keep bees in Warres and have built somewhere around 50 hives over the years. Bees are incredibly adaptive and, for the most part, real close is good enough in hive measurements. My experience has taught me to try to stay as close as possible to any measures you decide on so that any Warre parts you build are interchangeable with your other Warres.

    1. Thanks, Ernie, good advice! For sure, before I build another hive, I'm going to make template pieces that I can reuse so that all my hives are the same going forward -- and so I can avoid any more math!!!

  3. Hi Julie, I am afraid it has taken me a little time to get around to commenting on the post. The shear scale of how bad the pun was effected me quite heavily and it has taken this long to recover. It is baby steps but I get a little better each day.
    Any how, I thought this might be interesting to you:
    this is Bernhard (the german king of Warré hives) and how he constructs them. I am putting togther a slight variation on the warré and how to post about it in the not too distant future.
    What also might be helpful is that I mark on the top bar centres rather than the gaps. I put a pin nail in at 24, 60, 96, 132, 168, 204, and 276mm. So that is 24 mm from each edge and 36mm inbetween. My top bars then just have a short table saw cut in the middle of each end which slot over the nails. I use slightly narrower topbars than Warré states 22mm instead of 24mm. This adds an extra bee space between the bars. I did this in order to attempt to avoid the "false-floor" issue that sometimes comes with warré hives.
    If you are using two warré boxes as a bait hive remember to only have topbars in the top box. Do not install topbars in the bottom box until it is occupied.
    Best of luck, A

    1. Thanks for the link! Bernhard has a truly impressive wall of hives!

      I like the tip about notching the bars. Also, as you are the king of swarms, I will definitely take the bars out of the bottom box. I hadn't thought about it before, but you're absolutely right. I want them to start building at the top.

      So sorry to hear about your pun-induced ailments, but I'm glad to hear that you are recovering. You really had me warre-d. ;)


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