Recycled Building Materials

Question: 

Due to wholesalers having large minimum orders, I’m struggling to find a cheap source of timber. I’m considering driving to all the local salvage yards, to see what scrap wood I can find to make supers out of.

I however struggle to identify which woods are suitable to build hives out of. Are there some things to look out for that would determine if some wood is suitable or not? If a wood is “treated”, does that mean it’s unsuitable? I’m receiving conflicting information on a type of wood that’s around locally called “marine plywood”; would this be suitable to build out of? Has anyone have any experience with seeking wood from salvage yards, or building hives out of pallets?

Answer:

I have used a lot of recycled wood materials in building beekeeping equipment. We use scraps from a local door/cabinet shop to build all of our frames, both for retail and our own use. The species of wood doesn’t seem to make a difference to the bees, but we prefer woods that won’t split when stapled or fastened together, like poplar, alder, pine, spruce, etc.

We love using hardwoods for the top bars and bottom bars of frames. Woods like cedar or redwood don’t make strong enough frame ears. Same with the bottom bars. When a frame is heavy with honey, and the beekeeper jars it to remove the bees, sometimes the bottom bar joint will split and the ears will break.

For box material, we go directly to the sawmill. They have 2′ (1×12) scraps that people buy for firewood for very inexpensive. They also sell 4′ trimmer ends (1″x12″ for deep boxes). There is waste, but it’s only $0.15 per board foot.

Concrete form plywood works great for lids, bottoms, and boxes. Only make sure that the side that’s been coated with form release is on the outside of the box, not the inside. Even with a thorough pressure washing, I’m afraid I’ve done some harm to bees in the past by using the form release on the inside.

Using ½” form plywood on the sides of the box gives you enough room to put 10 frames in your 10-frame box with that little extra wiggle room. It’s the same kind of room that beekeepers have when they use 9 frames in a 10-frame box. You could also put 11 frames in the 10-frame box if your end bars are 1¼” wide rather than 1⅜”, which is the correct distance between combs if your bees are small cell.

I have also used recycled shipping pallets to build both boxes and frames. You can avoid having to glue up 1″x4″ pieces if you use a solid piece of lumber on 2, parallel sides and make the other sides from pallet pieces. I’ve also used particle board scraps for boxes and MDF (multi density fiberboard) for lids when I was desperate and in a hurry for materials. These materials swelled with moisture and weren’t durable enough to justify the labor and savings.

It’s up for debate exactly how much trouble treated lumber can be for bees. We prefer to avoid chemical-treated wood, but last year a friend and I cut out a thriving hive from a creosote-soaked railroad tie retaining wall. We did not expect them to be so healthy given the creposote. You can watch a video about that cutout here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qQf6E6IAhI

It’s tempting to use recycled lumber to save money. However, considering all the factors in keeping a healthy hive, using new lumber removes one more potential harm from the list.

Right now, I’ve collected a bunch of plywood shelving from my old grade school that is being demolished. It smells strongly. My concern is that the school has used bug bombs or chemicals from exterminators to control pests. I am reluctant to use these materials because if the bees die, how do I know that the hive building material wasn’t part of the problem.

All being said, I use a lot of recycled materials for my own bees, but never for our customers. The Honey Company policy is that we do not buy or sell used beekeeping equipment, only items built from new wood.

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