What is a Top Bar Hive?

A top bar hive is any hive that uses individual bars instead of 4-sided frames. Generally the bars are a wooden wedge or strip from which the bees build their own comb. 

Why Use a Top Bar Hive?

Top Bar Hive KitWith a horizontal top bar hive, beekeepers don’t have to lift heavy boxes, purchase an expensive honey extractor, use foundation full of chemicals, or agitate the bees as much as box-style hives when managing the colony.

What Makes Our Top Bar Hives So Special?

Top bar hive window open



It Starts With the Best Wood

Our hives are crafted using Western Red Cedar in Portland, Oregon. Western Red Cedar is the ideal wood for hive construction due to its strength, light weight, and weather resistance. Our wood is kiln dried and milled to full 1” thickness for improved strength and better insulation for bees. Unlike pine hives, cedar does not need to be painted to help it last. We do however recommend sealing the roof with tung oil. We pre-drill all components for easy assembly, and our roofs always come pre-assembled.



Full Length Viewing Window

Viewing windows are a fantastic feature that come standard on Bee Thinking horizontal top bar hives. Our windows run the full length of the hive, giving beekeepers an unhindered view of their colonies without disturbing the bees. Monitoring the productivity of your bees is a cinch with a viewing window and friends and family will enjoy peering in to see the ladies at work!

Our Top Bar Hive in Action


42” Long Hive Body

Most readily available top bar hives are too small to allow a strong colony to thrive. We know from experience that anything shorter than 36” almost always leads to colonies outgrowing the hive. At 42”, our hives are large enough to allow for ample honey stores to support the colony through winter.

Hinged Roof

Hive roofs can be heavy and hard to attach, which is why we invented a roof that hinges and easily lifts up out of the way with one hand. Most other roofs attach with bulky hinges that rust or break over time. Our roof uses grooves and bushings allowing for easy opening and closure, and simple removal and attachment when needed.

Copper composite roof



Copper Top (Optional)

Improve the life and appearance of your hive by adding a beautiful copper composite roof. Not only will it help with rain and snow run off, but you’ll never have to paint or seal the roof. Copper composite doesn't corrode and leach into the soil like standard copper used in roofing. This composite material retains its color, insulates and reflects heat better than regular copper.

Hive Stand



Beautiful Stand (Optional)

The optional, precision milled, lap-joint stand elevates the hive to a convenient counter height. Simple to use, our stand allows the hive to set easily in the cradle, making any future lifting and relocation of the hive effortless, without any need for tools or disassembly.

Wedge Top Bars for Hive



One Piece Wedge Bars

Wedge top bars have proven to be the most effective, strongest design to promote beautiful, straight comb attachment and longevity. Our wedge bars are made from a single piece of wood, no gluing or staple construction, allowing for optimum quality and stability. We manufacture our bars on precision equipment from Western Red Cedar; these are the same bars we’ve used and trusted for years in our own apiary.

Easy Assembly

Our hives ship out with simple assembly instructions. The pre-drilled hive body and roof can easily be assembled with provided screws in 15-30 minutes depending on skill level and tools available. Alternately, you can pay a little more and we’ll assemble the hive body for you!

Free Shipping

Our top bar hives ship free to the lower 48 United States. We ship anywhere in the world – if you’re outside of the contiguous states, please contact us and we’ll get you a shipping estimate!

Bee Thinking Guarantee

We not only build top bar hives, but we use them in our own apiaries in Portland, Oregon. Since 2008 we’ve tested our designs with our own 30+ honeybee colonies; we know they work well. We’re confident we make the best hives on the market, and we stand behind our products. Take a look at our return policy to learn more.



Top bar hives in one form or another have likely been used for thousands of years. There is evidence that were once used in Greece in the form of a pot or basket with sticks laid across the top. They are one of the most basic methods of managing bees, as they are simple to build, simple to manage and are more advanced than a skep or cavity from which the comb cannot be easily removed.


Why top bar hives?

Top bar hives are less expensive to build or purchase than Langstroth or other foundation/frame-dependant beekeeping equipment. They do not require honey supers, extra frames, foundation, queen excluders, uncapping knifes, extractors or other expensive tools; they are almost fully self-contained beehives.

In addition to being a low-cost alternative to traditional equipment, they are significantly easier to work in than a Langstroth hive. When one inspects comb in a horizontal top bar hive, only 1 comb at a time is exposed, thus leaving the rest of the colony undisturbed. This makes for less agitated bees, and a more enjoyable experience for the beekeeper.

There are no boxes to lift. This alone has led many a beekeeper with an aching back down the path of the top bar method. Traditional honey supers and deeps can weigh upwards of 50 pounds each, which takes its toll on the body of the beekeeper. The heaviest comb you’ll need to lift with this style is a single 3-7 pound, honey-laden top bar!

In recent years there has been a resurgence in foundationless, top bar beekeeping throughout the world as beekeepers look for low-cost, low-impact alternatives to traditional Langstroth, frame beehives. They are especially effective in parts of Africa and other impoverished areas of the world that cannot manufacture or purchase the precision milled equipment required to use traditional hives. In many areas of Africa the these hives have been critical in turning low-profit honey hunting and log hive beekeeping operations into profitable endeavors. This has significantly improved the quality of life for the inhabitants of numerous villages.


There are many factors to consider when placing any bee hive, however, horizontal top bar hives have some unique needs that should be addressed when deciding upon the final location.

Easy Access

While there are many "requirements" on the traditional "hive placement checklist," I think one of the most important factors to consider is ease of access for you, the beekeeper. The bees are adaptable, and can overcome just about any inconvenience you throw their way. If the location makes it difficult for you to enjoy the hive, and especially if it makes it difficult for you to work in the hive, this is a major issue. You will want a location that is free of obstructions on the backside of the hive (the side with the window), with at least 2-3 feet of space so that you can stand and squat comfortably. I assure you that you will spend more time than you know knelt down with friends and family while eagerly looking through the window to see the progress your bees are making. Try and provide enough space for at least 2-3 people to fit comfortably while looking through the window.

Level Ground

Horizontal top bar hives are foundationless, and the bees build their comb perpendicular to the ground. If your hive is on a slope, the comb will be equally sloped. Make sure you either place the hive on level ground, or place garden tiles, rocks or scrap wood under the legs to make it as level as possible. This also makes it easier for you to access the hive without fumbling up and down a hill.

Early Morning Sun

While this doesn't apply to extremely hot areas, it is generally agreed upon that hives are more successful with more sun than less. If you have to choose between early morning sun and afternoon sun, go with early morning sun, as this will get the hive active earlier in the day, and provide them with more time to gather resources.


If you live in an urban or suburban area and you feel there is potential danger to either the bees or people, be sure to place the hive in a relatively concealed area -- preferably one that is fenced off. Many beekeepers who live in the city like to point the entrance of the hive toward a fence or a hedge

Wind: Ideally the hive will be placed in a location that is protected from harsh winds billowing into the hive entrances during the winter. Due to the leg configuration and weight, our hives are very sturdy and we've had no issues with hives being toppled by high winds.


If you live in an arid region -- especially one where pools are prevalent -- this is consideration is more important. Bees need water to use within the hive, and they, being opportunists, will frequent the closest reliable water source, regardless of how inconvenient it is for you or your neighbors. If the closest water source is your neighbor's pool or bird bath, the bees will be more than willing to use them. If this matters to you, make sure you provide them with a shallow-sloped water source. Bird baths work very well!


Obviously if you plan to keep bees in your back yard you will have little control over the nectar and pollen sources available to your colony, but an important consideration nonetheless. We've had greater success with our colonies placed in urban and suburban areas, largely due to the abundance and variety of flower plants available in parks, gardens and yards. Rural areas, especially areas with heavy agriculture, generally have less forage available due to the use of mono crops, pesticides and fungicides.


The last, and maybe one of the most important factors, is whether it is legal to keep bees in your area. Many cities still outlaw beekeeping outright, or make the licensing process incredibly difficult for the beekeeper. Check your city, county and state laws prior to investing in a beehive and bees, and then make a decision accordingly. Keep in mind that a number of areas have antiquated laws explicitly banning the use of any hives but Langstroth or frame beehives.

While I don't know of anyone being accosted over such silly regulations, it's still something to keep in mind.


How to manage a top bar hive

After using Langstroth hives, Warre hives and horizontal top bar hives, we feel that horizontal top bar hives are the most enjoyable to manage -- especially for the new beekeeper. They do require more visits to ensure the colony always has ample space for honey storage, but with the use of the window and simple bar manipulation, the maintenance is quick and efficient.

When you get your bees you should install them at one end of the hive with the follower boards spaced in such a way that 8-12 bars are accessible to the colony. Open only 1 entrance (the one the colony has access to), leaving the rest closed up. Over the first few weeks the colony will rapidly build comb from the bars – it is at this time that you’ll need to play close attention to ensure that the comb is straight so you can easily manipulate it later on. If it is crooked or “cross-combed” you will need to gently push it back into place on the bar. If you fail to catch the cross-comb early on, the problem will be exacerbated and it will become almost impossible for you to remove single bars of comb.

As the colony grows you will want to move the center follower board toward the other end, providing them with more space to store honey and brood.  Once there are only a few empty bars left in the hive, you will want to begin harvesting honey or moving honey from the full hive to weaker hives.

As winter approaches you will want to check that the colony or colonies have sufficient stores – 30-50lbs here in Portland, Oregon. If you have multiple colonies you can spread the surplus around to ensure all colonies have enough. Otherwise, depending on your beekeeping philosophy you can feed 2-1 sugar syrup (We rarely feed in our own apiary, even if a colony is low on stores). Reduce the entrances available (if you have one of our top bar hives, use the entrance reducing bung).