When I wanted to start my first hive, but had no idea how to go about it, I found that many of the pre-made hives sold commercially were based on Langstroth hive plans. After doing a little digging, I found out why. Langstroth hive plans lay out a framework from which all kinds of variations are possible.
When I tried it out for myself, I liked that there was not a lot of guesswork involved. I considered buying a complete kit, but found lots of tutorials for how to build my own online. Aside from lumber and a table saw, you do not need a lot of materials, especially if you are electing to go foundation-less (more on that below.)
If you’re like me, you’re looking for a hive that’s easy to build, looks good, and is easy to use. And if you want to do it yourself and build with materials you have at home, then Langstroth hive plans are worth considering. Their versatility is appealing to the master craftsman, and their simplicity is good for the layman.
What is a Langstroth Hive?
If you’ve been keeping bees for several years, then you’re probably familiar with the Langstroth style of beehive. If this is a new hobby you’ve picked up recently, consider using Langstroth hive plans to build your starter.
Originally designed in 1852 by L. L. Langstroth, the hive looks from the outside like a series of boxes sitting one on top of another. This gives them a simple but practical look that’s been continuously replicated ever since they were first made.
One reason the design was so revolutionary for its time has to do with “bee space.” Langstroth was the first to observe that in small enough spaces, bees won’t cement unused space as they usually would. Allowing for bee space meant less wasted space than prior designs, some of which were little more than empty boxes or dead logs that had been hollowed out in the center.
The Beekeeper’s Bible
Langstroth literally wrote the book on beekeeping, creating the standard text still used today. First published during his lifetime as A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee it’s more recently been re-published under a different title that includes the name of its famous author, Langstroth's Hive and the Honey-Bee: The Classic Beekeeper's Manual.
I found the guide to be easy to use, but I read that Langstroth’s hive plans weren’t always the most straightforward. He had a tendency to expect prior knowledge by the reader. There are five different designs in his original text, each with a range of complexity. The instructions don’t match perfectly with the illustrated diagrams.
Also, some of his original recommendations have been rendered obsolete. Don’t have a horse-powered saw on hand? Not to worry. You can easily substitute it for an electric saw. In Langstroth’s time, plans called for ⅞” thick lumber that probably isn’t available at your local hardware store.
But let none of this scare you away from using Langstroth hive plans. You can find modern variations of Langstroth’s plans to adhere to modern dimensions or order ⅞” lumber directly from a lumber supplier. Cedar, pine, and poplar are all recommended but other varieties will do.
From the top, you’ve got your outer layer called a telescoping layer, so called because it telescopes up and down around the inner cover. This layer will have some slack to allow the bees to exit the hive to collect pollen. It will sit about an inch above the top box. Each of the boxes is called a “super.” One advantage of the Langstroth hive plan is that you can stack multiple supers for more honey.
When deciding the materials to use for your inner cover, consider the climate. If you live in warmed latitudes, then you can use plastic foil, but not if you live in a place with cold winters. Choose instead a material that won’t trap condensation which can freeze at night.
The supers themselves are rectangular boxes that come in standardized sizes, making it easy to purchase new supers that are the exact size you need. The length of any super is 19 inches while the depth will vary depending on what you’re looking for. A shallow super is 5 ⅜” thick, a medium is 6 ¼” and a deep body is 9 ⅙”.
One of the nice things about the design of Langstroth hive plans is that a simple mesh screen can keep the queen excluded from the supers. That way she’s got her own area to lay eggs that doesn’t interfere with the honey in the supers. Langstroth hive plans aren’t the only ones that separate the queen this way, but they are exceedingly simple to install. Just use a mesh screen.
Designed after a careful survey of every other beehive design available, Abbé Émile Warré wanted to make a beehive that was simple, would not require much of the beekeeper and could be built inexpensively.
He referred to it as The People’s Hive because he wanted something simple that was in accord with nature and could be built by someone with little technical knowledge with the tools and materials they could find nearby. Some enthusiasts swear by Warre’s design because of its lack of a foundation which some consider more natural, as well as its simplicity of design.
If a hive is built without a foundation, then the bees will construct one themselves. The foundations that humans create are manufactured from beeswax that might contain chemicals, like pesticides. This is why some beekeepers would rather let the bees build the foundations themselves from their own wax.
Despite this advantage, Warre hive plans have never become as widely implemented as Langstroth hive plans have. Though squarer in shape, they’re designed to mimic the empty tree trunks which bees often select to build their hives out of, which means they don’t offer the same honey volume that stacks of supers do.
The boxes are light and easy to move
The design is easy for low-maintenance keepers
You can add windows if desired
It’s easy to cycle combs out completely
Might be too low-maintenance for enthusiasts
Combs are fragile
It might be harder to observe through slats than Langstroth
Fewer beekeepers use them, making it harder to find a community
Other styles are sometimes cheaper
One of the oldest styles of hive in existence, a key advantage to the top-bar hive is that it is easy to remove a single comb and look it over for defects. It’s also simple and cheap to make, which is why it’s popularly used for those who want to cut down on building materials.
You want a plan that doesn’t disturb the bees and keep them from doing what they do best: make honey. Top-Bar Hive plans can help with this. You can easily reach in and gently pick a honeycomb with your gloved fingers and have a look at it.
When the time is right for harvesting, you can strain the honey from the combs by crushing them. This is a low-tech but effective method of harvesting, though it will leave the honey with a strong taste of pollen. You can, of course, choose a centrifugal extractor if you want to remove the taste of pollen.
While the queen will create a place at the top of the hive for her brood naturally, you might find that Top-Bar hive plans don’t create the same level of separation that Langstroth hive plans do. You might find after using your Top-Bar hive for a while that an additional separation is needed.
Flexibility in how the hive is configured
You can do without a centrifugal extractor come harvest time
Less of the hive is disturbed during inspection
It’s relatively cheap and can be built without much know-how
It’s easy for heat to be lost through the entrance if it is placed too high
There is a steep learning curve when you first get started
They are high-maintenance compared with other types
They don’t come in a standardized size
If a comb breaks, it is tough to fix it
How it Compares
If you want to know whether using Langstroth hive plans makes sense for you, see how they stack up. We picked a couple of similar products available on the market to see how they compare.
Langstroth Hive Plans
The Langstroth bee hive plan is the standard for a reason. If output is a factor, in other words if you want more honey for your money, there is just no beating the Langstroth hive.
It’s also a great choice for those who want to share their love of beekeeping with those who have the same interest. You will have no problem finding fellow beekeepers who can give you tips and advice on how to manage your Langstroth hive. While you’re still definitely a part of the scene, a Warre hive keeper might find it hard to find a fellow Warre keeper in the area.
Many Langstroth hive plans are buildable for not much cost. You could build a Warre or Top-Bar hive for around the same price, but if you are looking for your honey to be your return on investment, whether you plan to sell it or simply want all the honey you can for friends and neighbors, then a Langstroth is probably going to be your best bet.
You are less likely to lose a comb the way that you would with a Top-Bar or waste space like you will with a Warre design. If you like that Warre designs come without foundations, remember that you can make this change to your Langstroth hive plan if you choose.
You can even start with a foundation in the frames of some supers and then leave them out as you stack them up. Because Langstroth supers are compartmentalized, it’s easy to take them apart and move them as necessary.
I hope that whatever design you choose that you make the most of beekeeping. Do as the bees do: keep busy!