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How to Make a Nuc Box for Bees in 6 Easy Steps

I'm a proud apiarist who appreciates the benefits of making his own nuc boxes, not least of which is saving a boatload of money!

A DIY nuc box.

A DIY nuc box.

The Pleasures of Beekeeping

Beekeeping is a very rewarding hobby. Just think about all that delicious, golden honey flowing . . . mmm! But those of us who have been keeping bees for a while know that you eventually need to start splitting your hives to prevent them from swarming.

Another advantage of splitting is to make a new hive for another beginner to start their own apiary. Or perhaps you are the adventurous type and are interested in rearing your own queens.

Whatever your motivation is for splitting your hives, you will need the proper equipment to do so. One of the most important pieces of equipment you will need is the box, and that is where nucs come in very handy. A nuc (short for nuclear colony) is a smaller bee box that makes it easier for a fledgling colony of bees to get a strong start.

The problem is that they aren't exactly cheap, especially if you are buying several at a time. But with basic woodworking skills, you can easily make your own nucs. This article is dedicated to teaching you how to make your own nucs!

DIY Nuc Box Plans

Here are the necessary steps to making your very own nuc box:

  1. Cut Your Wood
  2. Add Sides
  3. Add Handles
  4. Attach the Bottom Board
  5. Drill Holes
  6. Make the Lid
  7. Add Bees (Bonus Step)
Wood cutting pattern for a nuc box.

Wood cutting pattern for a nuc box.

Step 1: Cut Your Wood

The first step is the most time-consuming, especially if you have never done it before. Once you have made a nuc or two, it starts to become a breeze. If you study the picture carefully, it has every piece laid out on a 2' x 4' piece of plywood. I use 3/4 inch plywood. I tried 1/2 but it didn't hold up at the joints nearly as well. Spend a few extra dollars for the good stuff, your bees will thank you.

Let me list out the dimensions of the pieces, just in case you can't quite read them in the picture. The parts are from left to right:

  • 2 Front Walls: 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 (you will actually get three from the cut outs)
  • 2 Front Tops: 9 x 2 1/2 (these become the handles of the box)
  • 2 Side Walls: 10 1/2 x 19 3/4
  • 1 Top: 9 x 22 3/4
  • 1 Bottom: 9 x 24 (can be shorter if you like smaller landing areas for your bees)

Once you have cut the pieces, you are ready to start your assembly. Yes, that's it, no more cutting or routing or anything else!

Adding sides to your nuc.

Adding sides to your nuc.

Step 2: Add Sides

There are several styles of putting the box together, but it really comes down to nails or screws. Nails are a bit easier to use, but screws will last much longer. I've chosen to put a bit more effort into it and use the screws.

One word of caution if you do choose to use screws: Due to the fact that you are driving them into the end and side of a piece of wood, it is strongly advised to drill a pilot hole before you actually drive your screws. This will keep the wood from cracking.

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It is also advisable to drive the screws or nails as straight as possible so you won't have sharp objects poking out, ready to impale you. Oddly enough, this tip is more for you than your bees. You will never hear your bees mumbling about any pointy objects they stubbed their toes on, but you will certainly hear about the beekeeper that ripped his jacket and let a good number of bees sneak in to sting him!

  • This step would be a tad easier if you had a third arm (as many tasks would), but it really isn't that bad. All you need to do is attach the sides to the OUTSIDE edges of the front and back. This is important since if you don't do it, your nuc won't be wide enough to accommodate the five frames you need.
  • I usually use two screws at each joint. You may want to add a third, but watch out that you don't apply too much pressure and split the wood.
Adding handles to your nuc.

Adding handles to your nuc.

Step 3: Add Handles

The part I love most about this design is that the handles actually double as the ledge that the frames rest on. Many other designs require that you use routers or other fancy techniques, but this is much easier.

  1. Take the smallest pieces of the cutout and place it on the front, flush with the top of the sides. It will overlap slightly with the front panel and sit flush with the outside of the side walls.
  2. Screw it in place with one screw on each side. Again, you may want to add an extra screw to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but one usually does the trick.
  3. Flip the box over and repeat for the back handle and ledge.
Attaching a bottom board to my nuc box.

Attaching a bottom board to my nuc box.

Step 4: Attach the Bottom Board

Because even bees need a floor . . . although technically speaking, this step is optional. Sometimes you want to make a second story to a nuc that you already have going. In that case, you wouldn't need a bottom board at all. It will simply set on top of the current nuc. You can have many boxes stacked on top of each other.

  1. If you do choose to add the bottom, flip the box over and lay the bottom board on it. You need to decide which end will be the front.
  2. The extra length of the bottom board will hang over on the front end. This will eventually become the landing pad for your bees.
  3. Once again, screw this onto the box, usually one screw on the end and two on each side. I used to screw on the front until I started ruining my drill bits in the next step. You see, if you put the screw through the center of the front, then when you drill the entrance hole, you will drill right through your screw. Not a pretty sight seeing your bits all chewed up. With a bit of experimentation, I discovered that it doesn't really help much to even have a screw on the front.
Drilling holes in my nuc box.

Drilling holes in my nuc box.

Step 5: Drill Holes

The bees need a door, right? The size and location of your entrance matters. First, if you ask five different beekeepers what size entrance holes should be, you will probably get six answers. I make my entrances 3/8 of an inch for three reasons:

  1. It gives them plenty of room to come and go.
  2. It is small enough to defend against pests and robber bees.
  3. Most rodents have trouble getting through a hole that small when seeking shelter.

As far as the location of the front entrance, be very careful when deciding where you place it! I have heard of people leaving up to an inch between the bottom board and the hole. Note that this plan has a solid bottom board which does not accommodate water drainage, so if you aren't careful, you could end up with an inch of bee soup in the bottom of your hive instead of honey.

I put my front entrance as close to the bottom board as possible. This allows for adequate drainage. The rear entrance is typically an inch or so under the rear handle. I leave this room just in case I need to move the box and a handful of bees have decided to hang out on the back porch. It is important that you do drill both openings, as it will provide much better ventilation for the hive.

Making the nuc lid.

Making the nuc lid.

Step 6: Make the Lid

The lid is the easiest part of the entire job. Simply take the last remaining piece and screw two pieces of scrap that you have from the cutting step to the ends of the top piece and **poof** you have a lid.

The only mistake that I have ever made in this step was not doing a test fitting before I screwed the scraps on. It is a good idea just as a sanity check to make sure that the lid will actually fit on top before you screw them down.

Catching bees.

Catching bees.

Bonus Step: Add Bees!

While it is rewarding to be able to make your own nuc boxes, it is fairly boring to watch an empty box. Go out and find a swarm or get in touch with your local beekeeping guild so you will have some little critters that call your box a home. They will love your newest creation, I promise!

Good nuc boxes.

Good nuc boxes.

Important Details

  • The box should fit snugly with the lid. The last thing you want is to have a gust of wind blow the roof off of your honey bees' house.
  • The lid should also fit flush with the rest of the hive. If there is any bowing of the lid, it can get drafty and fail to retain crucial heat during winter months.
  • The entrance should not be too large. It doesn't take a large hole to allow the workers to come and go, so keep it small so rodents can't get in. It also makes it easier for the bees to protect their hive.

Why Is It Best to Make Your Own Nuc Box?

The answer is quite simple: it is much cheaper. The nucs that I used to buy were about $25, not including shipping. The ones that I make now cost me $3.50. Holy savings, Batman!

Beekeeping can become a very expensive hobby. Many people say that there is no money in keeping bees, but that isn't really true. The people that shell out tons of cash are the ones that buy overpriced equipment. If you are frugal with this hobby, it will definitely pay for itself many times over.

Nuc Box as a Bait Hive: Catching Wild Swarms of Bees

If you are looking to expand your number of bee hives by attracting wild bees, a nuc box is one of the best tools you can use.

  • Select a wooded area that is fairly accessible.
  • Put a piece of old comb in the box with a few frames and hang it about 10 feet off the ground. A swarm is more likely to pick this box than other places because it smells like an old hive was there because of the comb and because it is up off the ground.
  • This method can bring you a few extra hives a year if done correctly. Hey, who doesn't like free bees!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 jeffrichley lm

Have you tried making your own nuc?

Rowdy on August 14, 2020:

The landing board is to wide. Birds land there also. no more than 1.25 inches, or your bees become bird food.

NELSON VLADIMIR SENIOR on June 30, 2020:

THANK YOU I DID GET THIS INFO & MODIFY FOR A 3 FRAMES NUC BLESSINGS FROM NORTH TEXAS

Dave Navarro on May 16, 2020:

Used your plan and made a Nuc box today. Turned out great. Would post a pic if I could. Next step is to go swarm hunting. Thanks.

Glenn Abuja on February 12, 2020:

Thanks for sharing. Ill make this shortly!

sinan dogrul on January 13, 2020:

can you give this sizes with the metric system

William Anderson on January 02, 2020:

Very good design, easy to build. I added a few extras like more ventilation holes in base and back. Door for the entrance for when I am shifting them. And locking dowels on the lid so I don’t have a problem when in transit. Thanks Bill

Bill, Loranger-la on November 18, 2019:

I have never kept Bees before but I have always been very interested in trying!

kathy b on August 03, 2019:

I just made this!!!!!! beyond easy if you have basic woodworking skills. I got all my wood at the resale/reuse site we have in town and made the entire box for under 3 dollars. I only used pine and some finished plywood. I'm hoping to make a few more so I can overwinter some nucs. thank you for the easy plan. would post a picture but I don't know how.

chriss stylianou on April 09, 2019:

not yet

ian on March 01, 2019:

you cannot buy 3/4 inch plywood for $14 per 4x8. you can find 15/32 for that price, but nowhere have I found 3/4in at this price point.

Happysan69 on February 09, 2019:

What size screw do use for the box

Ethan on January 18, 2019:

Howdo you make the frames

Cin D on January 02, 2019:

I believe the answer to the cost questions posted below is because he originally made the post in 2012 when plywood was cheaper.

HoneyBeeMan on December 26, 2018:

You only get 4 nucs from a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. Even using the cheap 1/2" plywood at $24 per sheet that would be $6 per nuc, but you advise using 3/4" plywood would be about $36 per sheet which would bring the cost per nuc to $9 per nuc. This is without considering cost of fasteners. Can you explain what you have learned to build a 3/4" plywood nuc for $3.50 per nuc?

Josh Albrecht on October 08, 2018:

how does it cost 3.50 cents for a box when it cost more than that for even just a 2'x4" piece of plywood?

Kenken on July 08, 2018:

Hello sir, im a newbie in beekeeping, just wanna ask where i can put the food if i put 5 frames.....thank you

Mel on April 28, 2018:

@Kevin

Based on the dimensions, it would house deeps.

KEVIN on March 20, 2018:

What are your frame sizes ... or did I miss that?

Katie Adams on March 19, 2018:

Update: caught my first swarm with this box. So, glad it worked. I don’t know if my picture will attach.

IMG_3498.jpeg

Rich Wilkie on February 21, 2018:

Great design!!!!! I found the 19 3/4 length just a little too long for the frames so I shrunk it by 3/8. Make sure your frames fit before you glue and screw. I also put two 3” holes in the bottom and covered them with hardwire cloth. It’s a nice touch for ventilation.

K. Adams on February 10, 2018:

Made it! Thank you for sharing!

jeffrichley lm (author) on August 17, 2017:

@Rob S, I typically get a full sheet of plywood and make 4 boxes out of it. At the time of writing, I was getting them for around $14 a sheet. Price may have gone up to $4 each now. :)

SmayWork on March 13, 2017:

Just found this post last night. I had a bunch of scrap pieces of concrete form plywood. Very nice stuff. Had concrete debris on the one side, so I built one of your Nuc boxes in about and hour putting the bare side facing inside. Then painted it and formed a aluminum clad top. Net cost $0.00, just a couple of hours. Hope to see if I can catch something. Thanks

Rob S on March 13, 2017:

How did you come up with the 3.50 cost? I can't find any ¾ plywood under $12 for a 2'x4' section. Thank you

Mr'B on June 07, 2016:

You can mount a Nuc on side of your top bar hive so you can transfer from trap to hive very simple I have 5 I built and they are healthy.

Turkeyfarmer on May 17, 2016:

I have caught 6 swarms so far thanks for the nuc measurements great little box

Ken B's on April 22, 2016:

Suggested add-ons to nuc lid.

From the scrap wood:

1. Cut 4 small pieces and attach them to

the outside left and right corners,

both front and back, to prevent the

lid from sliding left to right.

2. Attach strips of wood to the front

and back edges of the lid to grasp

for easy removal.

Glue up the project before drilling pilot

holes and driving screws.

suzanne on March 28, 2016:

holy smokes no routering or dadoing! LOVE THIS! Can't wait to get started.

Gerald brookshire on June 20, 2015:

Very good design. I built one in a very short time and hung it on a power pole about 10ft. up. Within 10 days i had a small swarm in it. I had used some lemongrass oil and honey comb foundation . left them in it for a couple of weeks and took it down and transferred to hive. They have done well. Thanks for posting your plans for us.

Terryrecruiter on June 10, 2015:

awesome, had buddy text me that his mom had a swarm out front, i made the NUC in 20 minutes and was rolling to go get my first bee rescue. the moved right in... had a few hang around back door then we headed home. Thanks.. ps it held 6 racks but i only used 4 so the swarm had room

Jon8898 on April 30, 2015:

B