Top Bar Hives

Kenyan Top Bar Hive.

The Idea

The Details

A top bar hive or top bar hive is a long, horizontal hive with removable combs. It consists of just three parts:

  • the hive body
  • the top bars
  • and a cover

Top bar hives :

  • are simple
  • are cheap
  • have many advantages
  • have few disadvantages
  • and are especially suitable for natural beekeepers

They are easy to build, using readily available local materials. And they can be purchased as well.

Hive Body

The hive body is a trough-shaped box with enough volume for a bee’s nest and enough room for the beekeeper’s needs.

The hive body is completed by providing an entrance for the bees. A hole is often cut. Or the cover can be propped up and a gap left between the top bars for a top entrance.

A Kenyan top bar hive without its cover and half of the top bars.

Top Bars

The top bars are wood bars whose width mirrors natural comb spacing. They set on top of the hive body covering the opening. And the bees attach their comb to them.

Top bars are removed for colony management without damaging the bees or comb.


A cover protects a hive from the weather. It sets above the top bars. And is securely fastened to the hive.

That’s it! A top bar hive is a beehive that’s as simple as it gets.


  • bees build the broodnest their way
  • less colony disturbance
  • minimal beekeeper exposure
  • no heavy, repetitive lifting
  • cost much less than an equivalent conventional hive
  • produce the highest quality honey and wax
  • no extracting equipment needed
  • self contained
  • no extra storage space required
  • facilitate comb rotation
  • easy to build
  • an ideal educational hive
  • an ideal urban beehive
  • won’t break apart when dropped
  • weather tight
  • won’t tip over
  • adaptable to local building materials, conditions, needs


  • confound conventional beekeepers
  • produce less honey on a per hive basis
  • can’t be disassembled to reduce weight
  • not compatible with standard equipment
  • comb is fragile
  • heavy to move
  • take longer to work
  • hives must be level when drawing comb
  • not suitable for large-scale, migratory, feed lot beekeeping


Here are a few examples. Most of these are built using conventional lumber.

And here are more top bar hive images from Google.

Building a Top bar hive

Most top bar hive beekeepers design and build their own hives. It is the best way to get into a top bar hive.

  • their simplicity and low cost makes them an ideal hive for the DIY guy
  • going through the design process forces an evaluation of the bee’s and beekeeper’s needs

I’ve got more to say about building top bar hives. Check out building a tbh. And my top bar hive plans as well.

Buying a Top bar hive

Not too long ago, top bar hives couldn’t be bought. If a beekeeper wanted one, he had to build it. Today, manufactured top bar hives are available for purchase. For my needs I find some of the manufactured top bar hives:

  • way too expensive
  • too complicated
  • too small
  • and some are too frail

But my needs might not be yours. So, before buying a top bar hive, it’s important to determine its suitability for:

  • the beekeeper needs
  • the bees needs
  • and the demands of a particular location or climate

And it’s probably a good idea to look over my Build page.It can help a beekeeper evaluate a hive’s suitability. Then spend a little more time with Google looking at all the different kinds of top bar hives. There are some beautiful and functional ones out there.


Already have a top bar hive? Here are some thoughts on how to manage them.


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