How to Make a Nuc Box for Bees in 6 Easy Steps
DIY Nuc Plans
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!
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Flip the box over and repeat for the back handle and ledge.
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.
- 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.
- The extra length of the bottom board will hang over on the front end. This will eventually become the landing pad for your bees.
- 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.
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:
- It gives them plenty of room to come and go.
- It is small enough to defend against pests and robber bees.
- 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.
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.
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!
- 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!
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!
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.
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© 2012 jeffrichley lm