Comb Honey Corner
One of the advantages of writing a column in the American Bee Journal is letters from readers. Most of the time a reader will have a question about one of the articles where that reader is trying to follow the directions for a particular recommendation in that article. Recently, the opposite was the case. There was a short lament in one of my articles concerning split top bar frames for comb honey production. These were available through Walter T. Kelley Company many years ago. They finally stopped making them and there was no other source. That is no longer true.
One of my readers suggested a name and phone number. Leon Nolt (bee supply) in New York State; the phone number is 607-243-5975. Leon grew up helping his father in a cabinet shop. He followed that calling until his father retired and then expanded into carpentry. He is back in the cabinet shop now. He makes custom furniture for people houses and our bee houses. Leon does keep bees and makes his own equipment.
It took a number of phone conversations, measurements and discussions about fit and finish. His product is an improvement over the Walter T. Kelley model. The top bar is stronger and the fitting is remarkable. I have put together nearly 400 of the frames. I had only 2 end bars that split. Those splits were repairable. The angle on my nail was the fault. Leon’s top bars fit tight enough into the end bars that you question if nails are needed. I glue and nail all of the joints for my frames.
The frames need at least one nail through the top bar into the side bar. Many years ago another cabinet maker, Mr. Bill Wulfers, taught me to turn over the nail and dull it slightly by tapping the point. It sounds counter intuitive, but it works. If you dull the nail point slightly, it will reduce splitting the wood pieces by 90%. Mr. Wulfers also made the frame jig used to put together the frames illustrated. The joints of that jig are tight enough to hold water. It is a cherished gift from him after teaching a beekeeping class for his club. He has since passed away.
The jig holds 10 frames. The side bars are placed along each side of the jig upright. The first operation after loading the jig is to put glue in the joint. Once the glue is in place, the top bars are forced into placement between the side bar rabbets. My preference is to put one nail down through the top of the bar to hold it and reinforce the glue. The entire jig with top bars attached is turned over. Bottom bars are squeezed into the rabbets after a drop of glue is placed in each. A strategic nail is placed up through the sidebar just as was used for the top bar.
The frames are then removed from the jig. The wooden pieces on the jig that hold the sidebars in place are hinged at the back of the jig to move them out of the way so that the frames can be removed.
Another strategic nail goes through the rabbets into the side of each frame joint, both top and bottom. I have recently switched to staples to hold the side of the frame joint together. Instead of one nail, I use a staple on both sides. The nails used for the side of the frame should be long enough to go from one rabbet into the next without going all the way through. That nail through the rabbet uprights on the sidebar of the frame keeps the top bar and bottom bar together when frames are pried out of the bee box with the hive tool. The bee’s glue, propolis, will hold the frames so tight to the boxes that the nail through the top or bottom will be pulled out even with carpenter’s glue in the joint. Hence, nails or staples through the sides are needed. There is a long narrow staple that can be used to go down through the top bar into the sidebar, but nails are longer. Staples are faster.
The advantage of split top bar frames should not be underestimated. The side bars and bottom bars are the same as those used on the Hoffman frames. Split top bars allow another 3/8 inch of comb to be built between the top bar and bottom bar. This extra comb allows a larger chunk of comb honey to be placed into the clear hard plastic boxes.
Speaking of boxes, my recommendation is and has been to use the clear hard plastic boxes made by pioneer plastics and sold by Dadant. These boxes look better and protect the comb honey better. They do not look like a recycled sandwich box. The company makes another size box that is 2.25” wide and 4.25” long. This box makes a pretty honey bar (like candy bar). I will suggest to Dadant that they carry both sizes. Those honey bars sell faster than the square 4” x 4” chunks. With the split top bar frames, you can cut a chunk that will weigh a pound for the full size box or a half pound honey bar. Just a note, the cost of the boxes and shipping is the same from Dadant as direct from the plastic company.
There is another jig used to load the split top bar frames. Cut a foot long piece of 1 x 4 lumber. We all know dressed lumber is ¾” thick and 3.5” wide. Put two nails into the board six inches from each end and 1/4” apart. Align the nails perpendicular at the center. Make sure the points do not come through the bottom of the board. These need to be small finishing nails. The nails should protrude from the top of the jig by about 1/2“. The split in the top bar is placed over the nails such that the nails are in the split. The frame is placed on the jig perpendicular to the 1 x 4 with the nails in line. Turn the frame parallel with the board and it opens up the split. Place the wax foundation in the split, turn the frame perpendicular again and the frame pinches the foundation in place.
I use Dadant extra thin surplus foundation. The foundation you see.…