How to Build a Warré Beehive – DIY Beekeeping

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Various types of beehives are used in beekeeping. Perhaps the most common types are the Langstroth beehive, the top bar beehive and the Warré beehive. Warré hives are well liked for their focus on the well-being of honeybees. They are not common in use, but they have many advantages over other types of beehives.

Warré beehives were invented by Abbe Emile Warré by mimicry of the hollows found in trees that bees naturally use as their hives. The use of Warré beehives is usually foundationless. They are great for beekeepers that want to house their bees and rear them in a close-to-natural way. This guide takes a look at how to build a Warré beehive, as well as its uses, management among other thing.

About this Series

This topic will be broken down into several sections, with each section focusing on how to build a specific component of the Warré beehive. This post will serve as the main hub for the series.

Sections

In this series you will learn how to build:

  1. Beehive box
  2. Top bars
  3. Floor board
  4. Quilt box
  5. Roof
  6. Legs

How Honeybees Operate in a Warré Beehive

Beekeeping with Warre beehives is largely foundationless. Top bars across the top of the hive are used as the base on which honeybees draw comb. A Warré beehive is made up of boxes, a roof and a bottom cover. In the hive, bees draw comb from the upper boxes and gradually move down to the bottom boxes.

At the start, drawn comb is used for rearing of brood. It is later converted to use in storing honey as the brood rearing area is shifted to the comb drawn in lower boxes, or the lower sections of drawn comb in a Warre beehive box. Drawn comb in a Warré beehive hangs down into the box from its top bar attachment. It nearly reaches the top bars of the box below, leaving only the small bee space required by bees for movement through the beehive.

Wintering Bees in a Warré Beehive

Wintering bees in a Warré hive move up into the beehive gradually. They use up the stored honey in beehive boxes from the bottom, moving upwards into upper boxes. The empty comb near the cluster of wintering bees is used for brood rearing.

In the event that the cluster of honeybees reaches the top of the hive, it will have used up all the stored honey. At this point, the honeybee colony risks starvation and death. It is therefore important to leave enough honey stores in the Warré hive after harvesting. The stored honey should be adequate to last the bees through winter and some part of early spring before nectar flow begins.

Sections of the Warré Beehive

Three main sections make up the beehive. They are the base, boxes and the roof.

The Roof

The roof consists of a section to drain water from the top of the beehive as well as a quilt box. These quilt boxes are for regulating the humidity in the beehive and providing some insulation at the top. The roof in typical Warré beehives is made using thick wood for insulation purposes. In the quilt box, wood shavings or quilt help keep moisture from accumulating and condensing into water inside the beehive. A gap through which air enters and leaves the quilt box is also provided.

The Boxes

Boxes of a Warré hive are a little smaller than those used in Langstroth beehive setups. They are square, measuring 12 by 12 inches. Another distinction from Langstroth beehive boxes are the handles on the outside of the Warré beehive box. Some beekeepers have viewing windows on the sides of their Warré beehive boxes.

The smaller size of Warré beehive boxes makes them great for wintering honeybee colonies. The cluster of wintering bees around comb is smaller in a Warré hive, and therefore able to access honey easily without loosening up and losing heat. The walls of the beehive boxes are warmer as well, and thus condensation rarely forms inside this beehive.

The Base

Extending a Warre beehive is done by the addition of beehive boxes to the bottom, under the existing boxes. The box at the bottom sits on the base in a Warré hive setup. Warre beehive bases are simple and small. They do not require the use of an entrance reducer in many cases. The entrance into a Warré beehive is also small, which means that fewer bees can come and go simultaneously. The base can be raised off the ground using legs, although the original design of the Warré hive has the base very close to the ground.

There are not many additional options that can be added to a Warré hive. The simplicity that is characteristic of the hive prevents modifications. Common additions that beekeepers have are a landing board and legs for the base of the beehive. The material used in the quilt box also varies, but must remain one that is absorbent and can provide insulation. To ensure correct spacing between the top bars, you should have a Warré spacing tool. It is a simple, yet very useful device that makes sure you do not have cross comb in your Warré beehive.

Building a Warré Beehive

When going into beekeeping with a Warré beehive, you can either buy one or build your own. It will be much easier to build a Warré beehive when you have some wood working skills. It is a project that is successfully undertaken by beekeepers with intermediate carpentry skill, the right tool, and a passion for building their own beekeeping equipment. The major parts to build are the roof, quilt box, beehive boxes and the floor of the beehive. The floor is also sometimes called the base.

You may rest the Warré beehive stack onto the ground or elevate it a little using legs. It is important to consider durability of the floor that is made of wood. Raising the beehive off the ground helps with making the floor and entire beehive last longer. It also prevents rodents and small animals from having easy access to the beehive.

Measurements

Measurements for the Warré beehive can be done in either imperial or metric units. They are standard and give square beehive boxes.

  • The internal measurements of the beehive box cavity are 300 x 300 x 210 millimeters.
  • The 210 millimeters side represents the height of the beehive box.
  • The thickness of wood you use can vary, but make sure that the beehive box you build adheres to that standard in internal dimensions. 20 millimeters to 40 millimeters are allowed as the thickness of the wood you use to build the various beehive parts.

Specialty parts and modifications to the beehive may use thicker or thinner wood. The thickness of wood used plays a major role in the strength of your joints, and the insulation of the completed Warré beehive.

Materials

You can use any suitable materials and equipment you have to build a Warré beehive. You need wood of suitable thickness and tools to work the wood. Cutting, chiseling and drilling equipment are the major types you need. A hammer and nails are also useful tools to have with you when building the beehive. Wood glue that does not froth or change due to temperature variations can be used to add strength to some joints.

Beehive Box

The Warré beehive box has very specific dimensions that must be adhered to. It is 210 millimeters deep (the height) and has a square cross-section from top to bottom. It has the cavity measuring 300 millimeters on each side (width and length). Butt joints are great for beginners bringing together the pieces of wood that make the four sides. Finger joints and half joints make for better strength of the joints. The two opposing sides of a Warré beehive box have rebates on which bars sit. The rebates should be not less than 10 millimeters deep and wide. The ends of top bars to be used in the beehive box therefore sit on up to 20 millimeters into the thickness of the wood you use for the sides.

Top Bars

Top bars following this guide should be not more than 10 millimeters thick for proper seating in the box. A top bar to be used in a Warré beehive is usually 24 millimeters wide and spaced 12 millimeters from the next bar on each side. This arrangement leaves a space that is 12 millimeters wide from the last top bar to the surface of the beehive box on each side.

  • A top bar length of not less than 315 millimeters is recommended. It can extend further for added strength. The top bar carries the weight of honeycomb, the bees on it, and the contents of the cells in the honeycomb.
  • Foundation is not often used with Warré hives. You may cut a groove at the center of the bars on the bottom side and pour wax into it. The line of wax in this groove helps bees get to drawing comb quickly and guides them on the plane to follow.
  • When placing top bars in a Warré beehive, a checkered arrangement of the top bars helps with helping honeybees draw straight comb that does not extend to the top of bars in the next box.

Floor Board

A Warré beehive floor board holds the hive and its weight. It rests on the surface you have prepared for it. You can add legs to raise the floor board and the rest of the beehive. The floor board features a notch in the wood. This notch on one side of the floor board is the hive entrance for honeybees. It is recommended to be 120 millimeters wide. Its depth should allow at least 20 millimeters between the floor of the entrance notch and the lower edge of the bottom beehive box. Some beekeepers use a wider notch to allow for more bees to come and go at a time.

There are also entrance reducers that you can make or buy. You use the entrance reducer on the Warré beehive as part of hive management. It is especially useful in winter and to help bees defend the beehive better.

Dimensions of the floor board

The floor board of a Warré hive measures 338 x 338 millimeters. It can have a thickness of any size, although the recommended thickness is anything more than 15 millimeters. It can rest on another piece of wood that will make the landing board, or have a block of wood under it to elevate it a few inches off the ground. Using legs on a Warré hive raises it further off the ground for various reasons. A landing board measuring not less than 160 millimeters by 70 millimeters projects from the hive entrance. It helps bees end their flight and get into the beehive with ease. Honeybees leaving the beehive crawl onto the landing board and start their flight from there.

Quilt Box

At the top of the beehive will come a quilt box and roof. The quilt box rests on the uppermost beehive box. It can be made using wood that is at least 10 millimeters thick since it does not carry a lot of weight above it. The quilt box internal dimensions should measure the same as those of the beehive box. You can choose to make a shallow quilt box. But make sure it retains the correct dimensions in the square cross-section. Into the quilt box are placed wood shavings or sawdust to help with moisture regulation in the beehive. The quilt box also helps with insulating the beehive.

Roof

The roof of a Warré beehive is gabled. The slope or a gabled roof helps with draining water off the top of the beehive. It also helps with dropping snow off the beehive. The material at the top of the roof for a Warré hive can be wood or metal sheeting. It is placed on a frame that telescopes onto the quilt box. The roof should also extend some distance outside the quilt box to prevent water falling off the roof and onto the sides of the beehive.  A ventilated opening in the roof structure helps dissipate solar heat. A typical roof for a Warré beehive is 120 millimeters deep, with the triangle making the gable having an additional height of 90 millimeters. A board within the roof box helps improve insulation for the beehive. You may combine the quilt box and the roof into one structure.

Legs

For raising the beehive you have built above the ground, you can use legs under the floor board. Up to four legs might be needed for one beehive. Each leg is built from thick wood blocks. The height of the legs can be any size you want. For additional stability to the legs, they are made to rest on wide pieces of wood. The wide pieces of wood also help to prevent the leg of the beehive from sinking into the ground. You need to replace the legs or some of their parts periodically. Painting the leg or using treated wood makes them last longer.

Pros and Cons of a Warré Beehive

Pros

  • The design of the beehive is close to what honeybees use in nature.
  • Warré beehives are great for natural beekeeping. It is foundationless and encourages frequent drawing of comb.
  • Maintaining the beehive is not expensive. The design and build of a Warré beehive sees to it that the beekeeper does not need to frequently interact with it.
  • Warré beehives are great for beekeepers that want a lot of wax from beekeeping. The designer of the beehive was an abbot and was responding to the need for wax to make candles.

Cons

  • Honey yields are not high with a Warré beehive. Its yield per year pales when compared to other popular beehives.
  • Comb in a Warré beehive is fragile. It is not supported by frames around it. When conducting inspections or other maintenance activities, you must not disturb the beehive too much or risk the comb breaking. Broken comb can kill bees in the beehive and causes time to be diverted into removing the comb from the beehive.
  • The pool of hands-on experience in Warré beehive use is small. Despite its popularity among beehives used in modern beekeeping, finding someone to mentor you in beekeeping with a Warré beehive can be difficult.
  • Adding boxes to the bottom of a Warré beehive requires some effort in dissembling the beehive stack. It takes time and might hurt you due to working with heavy weight.

Managing a Warré Beehive

Management of a Warré beehive is done a box-by-box basis. Each box in the beehive stack can be taken as an independent unit. Harvesting of beehive products from is also done box-by-box. A Warré beehive is designed to require minimal maintenance. Harvesting beehive products from the beehive largely involves removing the top box from the stack. After you have removed the top box, you should add an empty box with bars only to the bottom of the stack. This cyclic use of beehive boxes encourages honeybees to be continuously drawing comb. It makes a Warré beehive give you high yields of wax per year.

Managing Comb

It is common finding honeybees have attached comb to the sides of the beehive box. Sometimes, they do that to support the hanging comb. Warré beehives have no frames, instead, they have bars under which bees draw comb. Additionally, beekeeping with Warré beehives is largely foundationless. An L-shaped tool is used to cut comb from its attachments to the sides of boxes.

Comb that is free of the sides can then be lifted up and out of the beehive. The uniquely shaped tool can be purchased from the various manufacturers and sellers of beekeeping equipment. Try guitar or piano wire between boxes to make sure comb from one box is not attached to the top of bars in the box under it. Foundationless beekeeping allows honeybees to build cells of their preferred size.

Harvesting Honey

A bee escape board helps you harvest honey with ease from a beehive. It allows honeybees to move in one direction only. It is great for clearing bees from one box to another. An escape board for your Warré beehive will help you remove bees from the box you want to remove from the stack in a few days.

With honey harvesting, crushing comb and straining it is the primary method used to extract honey from comb. You may also use a rotary honey extractor with a wire basket to extract honey from the comb you remove from a Warre beehive.

Installing Bees

Installing bees in a Warré hive needs you to start with at least two boxes. The bottom box has bars while the top box has no beehive bars at first. The queen cage is placed on the bars of the bottom box and the cap removed to expose the candy plug. The package bees are shaken onto the bars on the bottom box. Bars of the top box are then put in place and the rest of the Warré beehive stack made up. Any bees left in the package box after installation can be given time to get into the beehive by leaning the box containing them against the entrance of the beehive.

Moisture and Condensation

Moisture and condensation are aspects of hive conditions that are very well addressed in a Warré beehive. The quilt box at the top is filled with material that absorbs moisture and releases it outside the hive. The wicking properties of the quilt box prevent moisture building up in the beehive. Condensation in the beehive is not a problem for wintered honeybee colonies. In a beehive, condensation is a leading cause of bacterial and fungal buildup. The quilt box at the upper sections of the hive also plays a role in the ventilation by allowing air through it. From the top, it insulates the beehive from the heat or cold outside.

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