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Pondering about top bar width

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House Bee

Joined: 14 Jun 2016
Posts: 13
Location: Germany, Landshut

PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:15 am    Post subject: Pondering about top bar width Reply with quote

Hi there,

second post Wink

I'm pondering about the right top bar width for brood comb spacing. I've read various different books and forum posts that touched the topic, but am really pondering of the several recommendations.

Phil Chandler recommends 38mm, Michael Bush seems to cope well with 32mm, here in Germany it is the typical suggestion to use 32-35mm spacing, Warre suggests 24mm+12mm=36mm in his book.

Since Phil suggests the largest spacing I came across, I wondered if this is related to some special bee conditions prevalent in the UK?

In my own adoption of Phil Chandler style TBHs I went for 36mm top bars. The main reason was that I got hold of nice 3000mm x 36mm x 19mm squared timber in my local DIY store. I'm pretty sure it will work out well, since using 35mm are used in my other hives (including the framed DNs that I want to transform next year).

I know that for honey combs I might increase it up to 50mm by using some spacers. But for brood combs 38mm appeared to me quite large.

What are your impressions/suggestions on the topic?

Thanks and best regards,
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 10:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi again Anselm

I believe the problem with this subject is that people are trying to find a best fit scenario. My gut instinct is that the bees vary the comb distance if they are given the chance to build how they want and I think the comb in the middle of the brood nest will probably be spaced closer than the combs on the outside to accommodate drones etc. I have certainly noticed that the worker cells in the centre are smaller.
One of my current top bar hives has bars varying from 31mm to 40mm in 1mm intervals with the width noted on the end of the bars and if I find things starting to overlap I can just insert a wider bar next to it. I started them off with 31-35mm and so far that is working out fine for my bees.
This variation happened rather by chance as I was reclaiming some timber and trying to get maximum use out of it, so I ended up with lots of different widths (I have a table saw, so this was a relatively simple process) I think this may be the optimum solution, but not everyone is able to make or buy bars of varying width like this.

I'm pretty sure Phil started off advocating 32mm spacing for brood, but people were having problems with comb overlapping onto adjacent bars, particularly if there was a good nectar flow at the time. This can be quite daunting for a novice beekeeper to deal with and also people struggled to grasp the concept of broodnest and honey storage and when it would change. I know myself that, despite having kept bees in framed hives for more than 10 years before discovering top bar hives, I was very unsure of how I would know what width bars the bees needed when and being quite anxious about it.

Increasing it to a uniform 38mm for everything and using shims as/if necessary, just seems so much more simple.

It may also come down to something as simple as the width of wood available to buy ready cut in the countries of origin of the various proponents.

I don't think it makes a lot of difference to the bees, it is just another minor restriction that we place on them for our convenience.... I'm sure they would prefer to build combs in different directions and have them curved at the ends etc.
One of the best hives I have seen for allowing them to do this was a Warre hive in Portugal (I think), where the boxes didn't have bars but a board with holes drilled in it, so that the bees could build comb in whatever direction they chose. Of course it was not possible to inspect individual combs in such a hive but it enabled each box to be split and tilted to inspect from below like a skep.

Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on the subject.


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Silver Bee

Joined: 29 Apr 2009
Posts: 882
Location: Stoke On Trent

PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 11:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I used to use 38mm everywhere - with no problems.

Due to the purchase of stupidly cheap wood and the destruction of all my TBH colonies through AFB I now use 35mm .Throughout. With no apparent problems.

I'm a KISS beekeeper.
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