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6 Easy Steps to Make a Nuc Box for Bees

Updated on July 11, 2017

DIY Nuc Plans

Beekeeping is a very rewarding hobby. Just think about all that delicious, golden honey flowing... mmm! But those of us that have been keeping bees for any time 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. Perhaps you are an adventurous type and are interested in rearing your own queens.

What ever your motivation is for slitting 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. This article is dedicated to teaching you how to make your own nucs!

It's Easy!

With basic woodworking skills, you can easily make your own nucs!

Wood Cutting Pattern
Wood Cutting Pattern

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.
  • 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
Attaching a bottom board

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
Drilling holes

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, and
  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 lid
Making the 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: Adding 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.

  1. Select a wooded area that is fairly accessible.
  2. 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.
  3. This method can bring you a few extra hives a year if done correctly. Hey, who doesn't like free bees!

I'd love to hear from you and your experiences making your nucs. Do you have any other plans that you have had luck with? Let me know and I will feature it for you!

Have you tried making your own nuc?

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    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 weeks ago

      @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. :)

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      SmayWork 6 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Rob S 6 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Mr'B 15 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Turkeyfarmer 16 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Ken B's 17 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      suzanne 18 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Gerald brookshire 2 years ago

      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 profile image

      Terryrecruiter 2 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      Jon8898 2 years ago

      Brilliant NUC Box found your page at lunchtime, went to the timber store, had it made before teatime! Only one problem, being in England we use metric plywood (I used 12mm which is more than sufficiently strong) but this made the measurements wrong.

      I got round this by leaving a small lip around the floor and the roof, and placing additional double skin on the front and back walls.

      However, I was so impressed with the design I will be making another one, and this time I'll calculate my own measurements to accommodate the metric sizes. Once I've done this I'll post the dimensions here for others.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      THERE IS A BIT ONLINE WHERE YOU CAN DOWNLOAD A DEPT OF AGRICULTURE PANS WHERE YOU CAN BUILD FOUR NUCS FROM ONE FULL PIECE OF PLYWOOD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Simply brilliant, this is a great design and thank you for posting. I will defiantly

      Be making some, my hive boxes have a rebate so as the frame sits on the ledge there is still a bee space under it, you can purchase these runners from bee suppliers in the uk so I will be adding these, but this is the best design I have seen, can't wait to get started.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      do you have instructions on frames and how many can your nuc hold

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
      Author

      jeffrichley lm 4 years ago

      @anonymous: They work great! I've made a ton of splits with them. I've always been amazed that they work so well and are soooo cheap!

      As far as Hoffman Frames, I've never tried them before. I did a quick look on the interwebs and didn't find the dimensions. Are they the same dimensions as a Langstroth? The only concern that I would have is if the frame is more narrow on the bottom than the top the bees may try to fill the gap in. Some pics online seem to show them in a "V" shape and some look rectangular. I've never actually seen one, what are yours like?

      If they are a "V", you could always adjust the shape of the box a bit to make a tighter fit.

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
      Author

      jeffrichley lm 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Typically, I use wooden frames with wax foundation. I do have friends that use the plastic frames. What ever you have on hand is good.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hello Mel in Cornwall

      I'm going to try making this nuc box & I thought I'd check a couple of things with you? A) how did you get on? & B) Do Hoffman Frames fit in it?

      Many thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      what do you use for frames?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @Bash51214: How do you feed the bees in the nuc since there's no front entrance to slide in a front feeder?

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hmm, Jose I'm not sure I know which holes you are talking about. Are you talking about holes in the frames or in the box?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hello, Im in Chile and I wood want to know how to make the 4 holes of my beeframe¨s side bars, using a drill with 4 brocas. Excuseme my english..Thanks a lot.

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 4 years ago

      @anonymous: That's exactly right. Then you dump your bees in. As a side note, if you can get a frame of brood, you are almost guaranteed to no have your bees abscond.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @jeffrichley lm: I'm new to all this, so after building the box, do you put frames in?

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: You are more than welcome Papa Jim. If you take a snapshot, I'll post it for everyone to see. I'd love to get a photo gallery going here!

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
      Author

      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Wow Ken, thank you very much. I feel honored that you feel this is that good. Makes me want to keep posting! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Following your instructions, i built four nucs from one sheet of plywood, saves a lot of money over buying them, thanks for the good instructions

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is awesome!!! Thank you very much for posting. It's people like you who make the Internet a great place to find stuff.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Have been looking for cheap easy plans to make, thanks for the heads up from last poster that sizes are different over here to USA Nuc boxes over here are really silly price so looking forward to giving this a go. Cheers!

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Karina, that's very cool. Let me know how it works. If you have the converted measurements, I'll post them in here.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Just made your nuc, all went well other than the fact that I live in England and the measurements are different for a national hive. We but in an extra support on both sides so that the frames fit. Hope it is going to work...

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Very cool! I sure hope they have a great time making them. Let me know if there are any other good plans you'd like to see.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just posted about this on a site called Lumberjocks, a wood working community that spans the world. These guys will build it right and maybe even throw in some nice furniture to boot.

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: These are 5 frame boxes but I have heard of folks just putting 4 with extra space on the sides.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      These plans look like just what I need! It's almost stupid I have to ask this (since I do keep bees -- but this will be my first time doing splits) but will this make a 4- or 5-frame nuc? THANK YOU for putting these up!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Well making a nuc box is just as easy as can "bee" with your directions....just could not resist. A great DIY.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes, this is quite close to what I was hoping for. I do look forward to the traditional way of bottling as we are aiming for a more conservative approach, homestead if you will. your mentioned nuc could fit probably 3 slots right? And how long you think It'll take to be ready for harvest? We are planning to build several for kids environmental activities..

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for the kind words, I certainly appreciate it. The closest that I have for harvesting honey right now is Using a Honey Extractor. Take a look at that and let me know if it was what you were looking for. If not, I am going to be publishing a new one that gives much more details about getting it out of the hive and into bottles in the next few days. Hope you enjoy!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is by far the most practical guide ever. Thank you! Forgive me for asking how or if you documented the harvesting part? are there steps pictured?

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Absolutely! This nuclei box is a great way to catch swarms. I'm getting ready to do a lens about trap boxes that I use. These are the same boxes that I useand then transfer to other hives.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      i wonder how many top bars this accommodate? i am a backyard beekeeper with top bar hives. dunno if i can adopt your plan to collect some swarms...

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      Nice lens

    • SayGuddaycom profile image

      SayGuddaycom 5 years ago

      I've never even thought about it!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice instructions here, simple and to the point.

    • jeffrichley lm profile image
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      jeffrichley lm 5 years ago

      You are more than welcome, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Are you a beekeeper?

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      Bash51214 5 years ago

      i really enjoyed your post.. thank you..