Sunday, January 31, 2016

Making Solid One-Piece Wedged Bars with a Bandsaw

Last year, I posted about the process I use to make bars for my hives. Today, though, I wanted to share a new way that I learned to make bars, which a bee buddy shared with me.

My dear friends K & R are absolutely the best -- kind, fun, interesting, smart, talented, creative, and competent -- and they have made the most charming, comfortable home full of gorgeous artwork and crafts that they've created over the years.

The thing that I enjoy most about their company, though, is the interaction between them. Frequently, I see couples who've been together awhile, and they barely acknowledge each other. Worse, they sometimes actually resent each other. Not K & R. They're coming up on their 50th wedding anniversary, but when they look at or speak about one another, the love and respect they have for each other is almost palpable. Where one goes, the other is. When I think of them, this passage always comes to mind "the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh." Or maybe I'm just thinking of that song by The Kinks. Anyway, they are truly an inspiration and example to follow, and it was an honor to be invited to share the day with them and to see their bees and workshop last week.

OK, enough preamble and down to business. K is a fabulous woodworker with lots of engineering and mechanical know-how. He recommends using a bandsaw to make hive bars because it's much safer than using a table saw. He graciously offered to show me his process and let me make four bars to take home.

Step 1: Plane out any unevenness

We used a 2" thick board (which is really only 1.5" thick) to make our bars. The board had some twist, so we (actually, just K) first planed it to get a smooth, squared edge. K recommended using a hand planer because 1) it doesn't take long to shave off just enough to get a square side and 2) a power tool planer is so powerful that it kind of kicks up the twisted side as it planes (sorry, if I'm not describing it correctly), so the board comes out just as twisted on the other end. So he said if I wanted to use a power tool for planing, I should first plane one side and then put the board through.

Planing the edge of the board.

Making sure the board is square

Checking for twist. There's still a bit of twist,
but it shouldn't matter since the bars will be so small.
Note: K did NOT make the TBH in the background. He's repairing it for someone else.

 Step 2: Cut strips for bars using a bandsaw

Using a bandsaw, we cut 1 3/8" strips from our board since that is the size of my bars. If your bars are a different size (1.25" or 1.5"), you would cut to that size.

Measuring the width of the bar.
Cutting the board lengthwise to make the strips that are the width of the bars
One tool K had that I loved was a little portable, adjustable device for supporting the boards as they were run through the bandsaw. I'm totally going to get one for my husband (and me).

My DH may get a stand like this for Valentine's Day...

Safety Tip: You could use a feather board like the magnetic one shown here
to help guide the board through.
Step 3: Joint the bars

I guess because the board had some twist, the bars were kind of rough and bumpy after they were cut, so we ran them through a jointer planer. This ensured that we had nice straight edges for the following steps.

I suppose that if you don't have one of these tools, you could skip this step. The bees won't mind, but it's good to know how to do things the proper way.

Jointing the bars

Step 4: Cut bars to length

Now cut the bars to length. My bars are 20" long, so we used that measurement to mark the bars off.

I confess that I'm sloppy about cutting. I just cut, cut, cut, cut. However, with K showing me the ropes, we made much nicer bars bars since we cut around as many knots and splits as we could.

Marking where the cuts should be

Making cuts. I don't know what this kind of saw is called, 
but if you don't have one, you could use a chop saw, table saw, hand saw...

K took this photo because he wanted me to be able to provide photographic proof
that I was out all day woodworking and not quaffing ales at the local pub.
As you can see, he has an amazing workshop, and I was so honored that he
shared his knowledge, experience, and this space with me.

Step 5. Mark the bars.

Once the bars were cut, we ended up with bars that are 1 3/8" on two opposite sides and 1 1/2" on the other two sides. 

Because these measurements are so close, I sometimes have trouble remembering which side is which. So once the bars are cut to length, I find it helpful to mark the side that will become the top of the bar and will sit along the fence in Step 6.

In this photo, you can see that I wrote that measurement out because we were only making 4 bars, and I wanted you to see the measurement for these instructions. However, if I were making lots of bars, I'd probably just use a Sharpie to make a dot or X or something.

Bars are marked so that we know which side goes along the fence in Step 6.
The marked side will become the top of the bar.
Note: In my case, I use 1 3/8" bars, so one of the 1 3/8" sides of these bars will become the top of the bar. The other 1 3/8" side will get sliced up for the wedge on the bar.  So at this point, it's a good idea to inspect those 1 3/8" sides. If one of those sides has cracks or knots, that's the side that should get turned into the wedge.

Step 6: Shape the ends of the bar

Shaping the ends is actually a multi-step process that involves making two cuts with the bandsaw. The first cut is the parallel cut for the part of the bar that sits on the walls of the hive. The second is the angled cut along the end of the wedge. The following photos use a completed bar to show you what these two cuts are.

This is the first cut that has to be made. It's the parallel cut
that shapes the part of the bar that rests on the hive walls.

The angle for the bar is the second cut that has to be made.
So first we made the parallel cut. The side that we previously marked is along the fence.

We wanted the end of the bar to be about 1.25" or 1.5" (can't remember what we settled on). In order to save time and not have to mark every cut, K clamped a block of wood to the fence. That wood acts as a stop. Once our bar hit the wood, we pulled it out of the saw. Then we rotated the wood 180 degrees lengthwise and make the same cut on the other end.

Making parallel cut with the wood stop.
Next, we cut the angled ends of the wedge. Note, the wedge does not have to be angled on the ends. However, a lot of people like the way that it looks and feel that it creates less attachment/burr comb.

The first step is to measure where the cut needs to be made on one of the bars. We used the 45 degree angle on a compound square to find where to make the cut.

The compound square is on the bottom of the bar.
K is drawing a line up to the cut we just made for the edge of the bar.

To cut this angle, K has a jig that he uses. It's basically one of these protractor doohickeys that is screwed onto a block of wood. I don't know what you call those doohickeys, but they have a bar on the underside that fits into a groove on the bandsaw, which means that it won't shift while you're pushing the bar through. The doohickey's angle is set at 45 degrees.

Jig for cutting the angled edges of the wedge.

Here you can see the angle set to 45 degrees.

Next, we line up the bar with the blade so that we know where to make our cut. K has also attached a clamp to one end that fits snugly against the end of the bar. That way we don't have to draw a cut line for every bar.

Cut line is lined up with the blade.
The clamp tells us where to place subsequent bars.

The jig makes it very easy and fast to cut out multiple bars.
Just remember to stop pushing when you reach the other cut!!!

Step 7: Cut the angles

For the angles, we used a bandsaw that had its plate tilted to 30 degrees.

Plate on the band saw is tilted to make the angles.
Notice the groove -- K has a jig to make the bars.
The jig fits into that groove. Will show jig in a minute.
Angle set to 30 degrees

This is the jig that K uses to cut the angles on the bars. The jig fits right into the groove on the bandsaw so that it doesn't move around at all.

K's angle cutting jig

It's hard to see, but the bottom of the jig fits right into the groove

This photo with a completed bar shows how the angle gets shaped.
Remember how we marked the tops of the bars in Step 5? The marked side is against the plate of the bandsaw.

If you look at the bar, you can see how it's positioned.
The thinner part of the bar on the right will be the top of the bar.

Making the first side of the angle.

After cutting the first angle, flip the bar and do the other side. The top of the bar should still be against the bandsaw's plate.

Voila! That's it! The wedges are a bit rough, but that's a good thing because the bees can make stronger attachments.

Finished bars

Hopefully, you enjoyed this account my woodworking class.  I learned so much from K -- not even half of it is in this post!  I am forever grateful to him for opening up his workshop and taking time to teach me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Surprises -- Good & Bad

The winter storm that pummeled the North East was a bust for us. Not even 2 inches of snow. That doesn't mean I haven't had worries, though.

Austeja has been a concern ever since she swarmed late last year, going into winter with the least amount of honey. Even though she got some sugar on Thanksgiving, the observation window shows that the sugar is nearly gone.

To be frank, I'd prefer not to open the hives in winter and break all their propolis seals. On the other hand, if they have no food, they're goners anyway. So I've been waiting for a mid-40'ish day to restock her. I figured that they should be clustered up, but it wouldn't be too cold to freeze me or the bees -- a win-win all around. Today (46 deg F according to my weather app) seemed a perfect day to do it.

The last warm day we had, I kicked Bubblegum and Persephone, but got no reaction, leading me to believe they were deadouts, but they might have some honey I could steal for Austeja. Peach was the easiest to open, so I checked her first. However, I got a big surprise! Two bars in, and there were bees! Hooray!

Persephone was up next, and I got another surprise. The bars at the very end were completely empty. Bars closer to the cluster had only a ribbon of capped honey at the top. "Oh, no, they starved!" I thought. But as I kept going through the hive, there was no evidence of starvation. No dead bees buried deep in the cells. In fact, there wasn't a single bee to be seen. There were about 4 bars chockfull of pollen and a few capped bees left behind, but that's it. I've heard of this happening to a few other people up and down the East Coast, but I'm still wondering what the heck happened?

Some splotchy capped brood that was left behind

Bar with honey band

Honey band and lots of pollen

Pollen up close

No bees

This is where the cluster should be. No bees at all.

So no bars of honey to steal for Austeja. Ok, more sugar for her. I popped her open rather casually expecting her to be clustered up, but no! A furious black cloud flew at me, expressing great displeasure. I didn't even bother sugaring the combs properly. Instead, after filling half a bar, I cravenly fled. Since my good intentions were so completely misunderstood, I'm going to try this again another time -- maybe next week when the temps are chillier and I'm properly suited up. Today, all I got for my trouble was a sting to the index finger and a jacket covered in poop.

How are your bees?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Two Probable Deadouts

After a week and a half of chilly weather, we got a break today -- mid-50s F. Unfortunately, it also rained most the day, which wasn't conducive to cleansing flights. However, about 3pm, the downpour turned into a drizzle, and some of the bees went outside for a quick stretch before darkness fell.

I saw signs of activity around all the hives except Persephone and Bubblegum. I even knocked them about a bit (a couple of swift kicks actually), but not a single bee poked her head out, so they look like deadouts. 

Persephone is no great loss, especially since her queen was slated to get whacked in the spring anyway. Bubblegum, though -- that one breaks my heart. I really expected her to make it since she was one of the strongest colonies all last year. It just goes to show that you never can tell with bees.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What the heck?

I've always hear that 46-48 deg. F is about the absolute minimum temperature for bees to fly. This afternoon, my weather app was showing a local temperature of 39 deg. F.

Hippolyte must not have gotten the message, though, because a few girls were out buzzing all around the hive. Hippolyte, my Southern package... so far she's broken every rule of beekeeping. She's a crazy, unpredictable, wild thing. As mean and ornery as she is, I'm starting to fall in love with that one.