Category Archives: How-To Articles

How to make painting supers slightly less awful

Go ahead, admit it — we’re all friends here.  One of the most annoying tasks for the beekeeper is painting supers.  Since you need to paint all six sides, there’s no way to do it without making a giant mess.  Every time I have to paint supers, it feels like a scene from an infomercial for the latest painting-tool gadget, where some poor inept guy, covered in paint, throws his hands up in defeat and asks, “Isn’t there a better way?”

Well, there is a better way for us beekeepers…

All you need are some short scraps of 2×4 lumber and a piece of 1/2″ rebar (get this in the masonry section of Home Depot).  Cut the boards as follows:

Qty 2:  14 1/2 ”
Qty 2:  15 1/2 ”
Qty 1:  11 1/2″.

Assemble the pieces as shown, using 3″ drywall screws.  Drill a 3/4″ hole directly in the center of the middle board as shown.

Next, rig up something to hold the piece of 1/2 rebar at a comfortable painting height, as shown.  I use my workbench vice.  Then slip the box over the rebar.  Give it a spin to make sure it rotates smoothly.

Now you’re ready to paint.  Get your paint tray and roller queued up, and slip the super to be painted over the box.  Be sure to center the super over the 2×4’s so that you can easily paint both the front and back edges.


Now you’re ready to paint.  Here’s a short video showing how I use this tool:

When you’re finished painting. remove the super by lifting on the unpainted inner surface, and then hang it up to dry.  Shelf brackets work well for this purpose.


I hope that this technique makes your painting tasks a little less awful.



Can I use soy wax in my hives?

Last month, I wrote about the benefits of adding a thin layer of beeswax to plastic foundation before using it in the hive.  The only downside to this technique, of course, is that it requires huge amounts of beeswax.  I only have a few dozen colonies and burned through my supplies of beeswax after coating less than 100 frames.

I could of course buy beeswax, but I had concerns that I might be introducing disease spores and pesticide residues into my colonies.  I also had concerns about my wallet — beeswax is expensive.

What about soy wax?    Soy wax is produced by hydrogenation of food-grade soy oil and would be safe to use in the hive.  It’s also super-cheap.  I decided to give it a try.  I purchased five pounds of food-grade soy wax for $8 shipped and applied it (using the same technique described in the earlier article) to a piece of Pierco black foundation in a wooden deep frame.   I put this frame at position 10 in the bottom hive body of a healthy colony and waited.

Results:  See for yourself:

After nearly two months in the colony, the bees have not drawn out any comb whatsoever on the soy wax coated frame.  On the reverse side, they appear to have successfully removed a small amount of the soy wax in a few locations.

The bees didn’t seem to be bothered by the presence of the soy wax.  They simply refused to build on it.

There’s no fooling the bees.  If anybody has any extra beeswax, let me know!


Should you add beeswax to plastic foundation?

I’ve been using Pierco plastic foundation for several years with very good results.  The rigid plastic foundation snaps into a standard wooden frame very quickly, requiring no support pins or cross-wiring.  Best of all, when it’s time to replace the old comb, all you have to do is scrape off the old crud with your hive tool and you’re ready to put it back into the hive.

I’ve found, however, that the bees are reluctant to build comb on this recycled, bare-plastic foundation.  They tend to build burr comb perpendicular to the hexagonal pattern printed on the plastic.  Adding beeswax to the bare plastic is an often-cited important step when reusing older plastic foundation, or even when using brand-new, factory-waxed plastic.

The process for adding wax to the plastic foundation is very simple.  Melt some beeswax in a double-boiler, and then use a clean paintbrush to brush a thin coating onto the foundation.  It’s a messy, messy job, and it’s difficult to get a perfectly even coat.  How much wax is best?  Do the bees care?  I wanted to find out.

I prepared three identical frames, using Brushy Mountain deep, groove-top frames and factory-fresh, pre-waxed, black Pierco foundation.  The candidates are….

  • The  “Factory” frame, which contains only the thin coating of wax which is applied at the factory.
  • The “Thin” frame, which contained the thinnest-possible layer of wax I was able to apply using a paintbrush.  On this frame, only the edges of the hexagonal print contained wax – you could still see the black plastic showing through the center of the cells.
  • The “Thick” frame received a relatively thick coating of wax.  The majority of the hexagonal wells on the Pierco foundation were filled with wax, leaving an overall smooth surface.

I then inserted these frames into a deep super at positions 4,5, and 6.  Frames 1-3 and 7-9 contained traditional wax foundation as a reference.   A division board feeder was placed at position 10 and filled with 1:1 sugar syrup.  The hive body was placed on top of a healthy colony and left for 10 days.


It was not even close!   The “thick” wax was immediately accepted by the bees, drawn out, and filled with brood by the end of the test.  The “thin” comes in a close second, and the factory Pierco a distant third.  (Click the images below for a closer view.)

Warm up those double boilers (yard-sale crock pots or rice cookers work great!) and coat your plastic foundation.  Your bees will thank you.