Foundationless frames

As spring has started early this year in London I decided I should pull my finger out and get some frames ready for the not too far away swarm control and some comb change.

I make my own frames and as a result of my foundationless beekeeping only need to make simple frames and glad to say all from recycled timber.


You can see my top rail has a shallow saw cut and this is for the wax starter strip, I use starter strips as I have a few packs of foundation to be used up. Some people prefer a triangular section of timber with wax rubbed along the point. I will perhaps adopt this method when I finish my spare (obsolete) foundation.

I drill two holes through the sidebar for the wire and prefer to have a slightly larger gap at the top as at the bottom, I do this as the bees sometimes don’t always attach the comb to the bottom rail and slightly lower wire at the point supports the comb. I also drill two holes in the side. These two holes need to be all in the same position, so a bit of accuracy required or an easy thing with a simple jig and a pillar drill. The holes in the sides of the sidebars are for my current frame spacing screws and can be seen below.


I obviously assemble the frames and once more life made a bit easier with a nice toy to play with but a simple hammer and a few frame nails do just a good job.

After the frames are assembled I move on to wiring the frames. I have a high tech jig for this, a piece of ply and four nails that fit into the corners of the frame and hold it square. The spool of wire is held in the vice with the aid of a piece of dowel and its good to go.


First I tap into the left sidebar two frame nails half way and approx in line with the two holes.

I then thread the wire through the bottom hole across through the opposite hole up to the hole above and then back through the opposite hole on the other sidebar. Once through this hole I twist it round the frame nail a couple of times and nail it home. I can then pull on the wire and tension it and when wind it around the other nail a couple of times and then nail it home and then cut off the wire.


Some people use eyelets on their sidebars, but I find them expensive and awkward to fit, so I like to keep it simple and on the right sidebar as the wire pulls tight with the direction of the grain and can pull into the grain if stretched I simply fire in two staples to stop this. On the other sidebar the wire pulls across the grain and as a result does not bed into the timber.


Once the frames are wired its time to fit the wax starter strip and as I use old stock foundation it needs the wire removing. When you look at the wire you will see it is slightly less embedded into the wax on one side than the other. So it’s a simple task to simply pull the wire from the wax. If the wax starts to fall into pieces its no problem as I only tend to fit small parts at a time. I cut the wax into approx 20mm widths and find this makes for straight comb.


Once cut the I heat up some wax in a metal container on a low heat and place the edge of the wax into it and a four to five second count is a good time to then push the now hot wax into the shallow saw cut and when cool its surprisingly strong. If you have frames with removable wedge on the top rail, then it’s just a case of trapping the wax starter strip with the wedge.




Ok, once the wax is finished and only a few mins its time to fit my simple but a bit  fiddly screw spacers. I made this simple tool to make the job easier and just so happened to be 4mm thick and as the screw head is 3.5mm and the frame, 20mm gives me a total of 35mm and considered the correct spacing today. The tool is slightly tapered so when the screw nips the tool a simple tug and it’s released.





I have decided to fit four screws to the frames so the frames will be compatible with the very common hoffman frames in the UK. The easiest thing to do would be to fit only two screws on opposing sides of the side bars with a greater projection to give the correct spacing and this may be something I may go with in the future.


This year I have decided to try a couple of broods with narrow plastic spacers as opposed to the normal spacing of 34mm. The narrow plastic spacing is supposed to be the traditional spacing for the British National Hive with eleven frames and a bit of room at the end and not the large gap with the more modern frame spacing plus a dummy board. When you think about it it should create a slightly deeper honey ark over the brood and perhaps better for the bees. It may, however, turn out not to be so great and time will tell.



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13 Responses to Foundationless frames

  1. Emily Heath says:

    Fascinating to see how you do it Tom. One for the newsletter for sure.

  2. Reblogged this on Linda's wildlife garden and commented:
    lovely post and thank you for sharing

  3. thomas73640 says:

    Thanks Emily that will be nice you never know someone may decide to try foundationless and get as much enjoyment from it as I do. I have convinced Jonesie to give it a go in one of his hives and it will be interesting to see how he gets on.

  4. solarbeez says:

    My neighbor wants me to help him get started beekeeping. He’s got an old Langstroth hive. It’s much bigger than my Warre hives. I was hoping to get him to go foundationless too. I set him up the same way I set up my Warres. Ladders seem to work real well for me, so I took his foundation and cut it about 2″ wide (5 cm) and mounted that to be a vertical ‘ladder.’ Then I melted some comb onto the top bars. In the past it’s worked real well on my Warre’s but I’ve never tried it on the longer Langs. Their frames are 19″ (48 cm) long. Obviously you see a need to use support wires. Maybe I should use wires too?

  5. thomas73640 says:

    The wires help with inspections it gives you the confidence to turn and twist the frames, also especially important if extracting to strengthen the comb. I use wire but some people use strong fishing line say 30 lb + and I think the bees slightly prefer it.

  6. Pingback: Foundationless frames | The Apiarist

  7. The Apiarist says:

    Happy New Year Thomas … have you tried preparing and using your now wax starter strips? Last year I simply sliced up purchased foundation. I didn’t even bother removing the wires. I thought I’d make my own instead this year. It’s clear that the bees don’t need the cell pattern from other posts on the web.

    Re. your last comment. I used 15kg fishing monofilament last year ( but the bees chewed through it a few times – less than 5% of the frames used, and never rendering the frame unusable or unstable during inspections. I’ve bought some 30kg stuff for the coming season and hope that’ll be a bit more resistant.

    • thomas73640 says:

      Thanks and a happy new year to you and hoping you have a good one. I agree the bees dont need the comb imprint in the starter strip. The reason for me using foundation as a starter strip is so I can simply use up some old stock and once that has gone will experiment with a few alternatives. Rather fancy trying the triangular section of timber fixed to the underside of the top bar and simply rubbing a bit of wax along the point as this has worked well with TBH’s.
      On a friends hive the bees on one frame chewed through 30lb line and it must have taken them ages to do. Thank fully it was a one off and you should be fine. Also they go through brad with apparent ease so that’s best avoided and besides is more expensive than regular fishing line.
      I have to get into the workshop and start making frames and get them ready for the start of the season. Also finish the twelve hives I have started from some great salvaged timber I picked up last year, so a few busy days ahead but should leave me with some nice stock and room to expand.
      Good luck with the soon to arrive season.

  8. Pingback: How I make my foundationless frames | Beekeeping afloat

  9. Pingback: Cleaning and sterilising | Beekeeping afloat

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