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Trees and Timber
Michael Badger, MBE, MA
How often do we consider the trees we use for beehives and those that our bees visit to collect
nectar and pollen?
IN THIS technological age, timber is still the mainstay
material used for making beehives, coverboards and the
frames within. Timber technology is an interesting
subject that is not generally discussed by beekeepers. It
is one of those topics that is taken for granted. I am
sure all beekeepers love trees as their greenery is
without doubt soothing and restful.
Despite many attempts over the years, plastic and its
derivatives have not made any real impact on wood as a
replacement product for beehives. In the past, other
materials have been used to construct beehives. These
include asbestos, plastic and fibre reinforced plastics, and
yet timber is still the preferred material as it is easily
fashioned by the professional joiner or handyman alike
because of its durability, its workable qualities and ease of
cutting and shaping. The timber commonly used by the
reappliance manufacturers is western red cedar (Thuja
aBplicata), imported from British Columbia although some is
ahnow grown in the UK.
M y
b d
Latterly, beehives have become available in redwood (Pinus eilp
psylvestris), a softwood that needs protection from decay u
s s
oresulting from both wet and dry rot. A water-based paint to
system is applied externally to provide protection to the
exposed ends and at joints. These softwoods are durable but The largest Quinault Lake red cedar in the world atAberdeen, British Columbia
have the disadvantage of being a heavy material to handle
when lifting with honey-laden combs. In addition, they are Frames are generally made of a variety of softwoods from
prone to shrinking and warping because of the kiln-drying deal (Norway spruce) to redwood, these being produced
process applied after felling and cutting into planks. from off-cuts of used planed timber. The wood used for
WESTERN RED CEDAR sections is basswood (Tilia americana), a lightweighthardwood that has similar physical properties to balsa
Western red cedar is more expensive than its softwood (Ochroma pyramidale).
counterparts but it is a timber that is light in weight,
durable and highly resistant to decay. A disadvantage is THE OLDEST OF LIVING THINGS
that it is easily damaged. The natural toxins within the It can be argued that trees are the largest and, by a very
wood itself cause unprotected steel nails to rust fairly long way, the oldest of all living things. They were man’s
quickly. To overcome this it is good practice to use first source of raw material with their initial primary use as a
proprietary glue when assembling the wooden components. fuel. Later timber came into its own as man became more
This will add stability and additional physical strength. innovative with his quest to survive. Much later, two or
three other plants were added that have been said to beThe exterior of the timber loses its reddish colour after
our first renewable sources of raw materials – cotton,contact with the elements and attains a greyish hue. Some
rubber and soya bean – but it is difficult to vouchsafe thatconsider that the level of environmental pollution hastens
this is correct. this change. The wood’s natural oils assist it with
overcoming decay but it is not unusual for beekeepers to The earliest trees were tree ferns and giant horsetails which
give the exterior faces a coat of preservative paint that gives grew in vast forests in the Carboniferous period. Tree ferns
the hive’s appearance a nice decorative effect. still survive, but the only surviving horsetails are not trees.
Page 20 Bee Craft Digital November 2008
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