Bee Vacuum (Version Two) Tutorial

P. Michael Henderson


This tutorial is out of date.  I no longer build the bee vacuum this way.
Please look at my more recent tutorial

Some time ago, I built a bee vacuum in order to capture hives that had set up "housekeeping" in unacceptable places.  That bee vacuum has proven to be a good solution.  But after using it for a while, I decided that there were some improvements I could make, which led to this bee vacuum, which I call "Bee Vacuum, Version Two."

I made a video to describe this bee vacuum, which you can watch below.


The tutorial, below, is out of date.  I've made significant modifications (and improvements, I think) since I did the below tutorial.  Until I can do another "picture" tutorial, please use the design in the video, above


There are, more or less, two problems when capturing a hive of bees and transferring them to a standard 10 frame Langstroth hive.  The first problem is to get the bees into something that you can use to transport them to your bee yard, and the second is to transfer them from your transport box to the hive itself.

Even when capturing a swarm that's hanging on a tree limb you can have problems.  We often just cut off the branch, put the branch and the bees into a cardboard box, and bring them back to the bee yard.  Then, we have to transfer them to a standard hive.  Often that means just dumping the bees into the hive.  But sometimes that doesn't work well - dumping them "disturbs" the bees and many fly out of the new hive.  The queen may be one of the bees that flies out as the bees are dumped into the hive, and, if so, the rest of the bees won't stay in the hive.  They'll usually wind up hanging on a nearby tree, often too high to easily reach.  Or, the queen may just leave the new hive because of the disturbance.

To address these problems, I built my first bee vacuum.  It was designed to be able to vacuum up bees, but I made it in two parts so that a typical swarm could be placed in the lower box, the top box replaced, and the remaining bees vacuumed in with their sisters.

If a hive was already established, the bees could be vacuumed into the lower chamber.

In either case, the bees can be transported in the bee vacuum, perhaps with the top removed to keep them cool.

The big advantage of my design is that the bees can be easily transferred to a standard hive by simply placing the bee vacuum on top of a standard full size brood box and opening the bottom panel of the bee vacuum.  The bees will migrate to the standard hive over a day or so, at which time the bee vacuum is removed. 

There are two things you can do to essentially guarantee that the bees will stay in the standard hive.  The first is to take a frame of brood from another hive and put it into the hive you're transferring the bees to.  In general, bees will not abandon brood.

If you don't have another hive that you can take a frame from, put a queen excluder at the bottom of the brood section.  This will prevent the queen from leaving the hive.  Once the bees begin to make comb in the hive and you can see eggs, remove the excluder.

My first bee vacuum worked great but I sold it to a local beekeeper and made a new one.  In making the new one, I decided to make a few changes.  The major change was to make the vacuum as a single unit, instead of two pieces, as I did with my first one.  This removed the problem of sealing the junction between the two sections.  I also decided that the "diffuser" section in my first design was bigger than necessary so I reduced it down quite a bit.  This made the overall vacuum smaller and lighter.

I realized that a swarm could be placed in the collection area of the vacuum by simply turning the box over, pulling out the slide and them putting the swarm into the box.  Then replace the slide, turn the box upright, and vacuum up as many remaining bees as you can.

Just as a side note, Africanized bees have colonized this area of California so all feral bees are hybrids.  But these hybrid bees do not exhibit the extreme defensiveness of "pure" Africanized bees.  Many people in this area keep feral bees because they coexist successfully with varroa and are good honey producers.  They also do not exhibit excessive swarming or absconding.  They are more defensive than pure Italian bees so you wouldn't want to work them without a veil.

But enough discussion, let me begin talking about how I made my bee vacuum.  The materials to make it aren't expensive but building it is labor intensive.

Around here, I can buy #2 pine that is sold as 1 by 12.  Of course, it's not 1 inch thick - it's 3/4 inch.  And it's not really 12 inches wide, it's somewhat less.  After I finished jointing the boards, I wound up with boards that were 3/4 by about 11 1/8.

I began by rough cutting the four sides.  A standard 10 frame hive is 19 7/8 inches by 16 1/4 inches, on the outside.  These boards are a bit longer than that right now. 

Wide boards like these often have a bow from side to side, and these do.  I'll just have to deal with it as I work them.

I decided to allocate 9 3/4 inches from the bottom for the bee capture area.  I'm going to make a "ledge" at that point to staple the hardware cloth to.  The material for the ledge is 3/4 inch.

Here are the strips that I will put into the grooves.  They are 1 inch by 3/4 inch.

You can see in this picture where the grooves will be cut.

This leaves me 1 3/8 inch of space for the vacuum diffuser, which I feel certain will be sufficient.

I cut the grooves on my table saw, making sure that the strips would fit tightly into the grooves.

I'm going to do half-blind dovetails for joinery so I cut the pieces to final size.  The sides to 19 7/8 inches and the ends to 15 3/4 inches. With 3/4 inch material, the inside will be 14 3/4 inches and I'm making the tails 1/2 inch long - that gives 15 3/4 inches.

I don't advocate using dovetails.  It's just that I know how to do them and I'm pretty quick in making them.  You can use other joinery.

I'm not going to detail how to make half-blind dovetails here.  I have a tutorial on making them here, if you want to use them and need instruction.

Once I cut the sides to size, I needed to close the ends of the grooves so that there wouldn't be a hole that the bees could escape through.  I had some scrap and glued it at the end of the grooves on all four boards.  After the glue sets, I'll cut the piece off and use a block plane to bring it flush.

Here's one of the "plugs" after being sawn off.

And after being planed flush.

I'm not going to cover the cutting of the dovetails but here's the result.

Next, I cut the strips for the longest sides and glued them into the grooves.

Then I glued up the box.  Check the diagonals to make sure it's square.

Then cut the strips for the end pieces to length and glue into the grooves.

This is what the box looks like now.

The dovetails came out fairly well.

And looking into the box you can see the strips forming a ledge that I'll staple the hardware cloth to.

One thing I forgot was to cut the handles before I glued up the box.  I can do them now, but I find it easier to do before glue-up.  I made a jig for making handles some time ago.

I use a router in a plunge base, with a flush trim bit with a top bearing.

Here's one of the handles.

And the box after making all the handles.

Next, we'll make the bottom slide.  I'm using 1/8 inch hardboard for the sliding bottom

We need some way to slide the hardboard, and I'm going to make some strips with a groove, and glue them around the bottom.  The groove is about 3/16 inch, or maybe just a bit smaller.  It's just enough that the hardboard can slide smoothly along the groove.



Two strips are cut to length for the long sides of the box.

And then glued to the bottom of the box.

The grooved piece for the end is cut to length and then beveled slightly before installation.  I used a shoulder plane.

This is what it looks like.  The bevel is put on to make sure the hardboard will slide into the end groove easily.

Here's the box with three grooved pieces installed.  I cut the hardboard to width and slid it into place to make sure everything fit well and that the hardboard slides easily.

Now we have to address the end where the hardboard enters the box.  I cut a piece that is the thickness of the bottom part of the grooved boards and cut it to length.  In this picture, that piece is not glued yet - it's just laying on the box.  I glued it down after taking the picture.

Then I need to put a piece above the groove.

I mark the place where I'll have to remove some of the side grooved wood so that I can install the end piece flush.

Using a saw, I saw down to the groove, and then use a chisel to remove the wood.

I cut the end piece to length and glue it in place.

The hardboard slides freely through the slot.

Next, I cut the hardboard to length - leaving a small amount sticking out.  I'm going to put a handle on it.  I slid the handle to the side so you can see how it fits, and how close I made it to the box when the slide is closed.  I glued the handle on.

Here it is glued in the proper place.

In using the vacuum, you'll remove the bottom slide after you place the vacuum on a brood box.  This will leave you with a slot that's about 3/16 inch high.  That's big enough for a bee to get through.  

I want to keep the bees from escaping through that slot - I want to force them to go into the brood box - so I made a stub slide to fill the slot after removing the bottom.

This is what it looks like from the outside when it's slid into place.


And this is what it looks like from the inside.


I need to keep that stub available so I made a storage place for it on the side of the box.

This is what those end blocks that hold the stub look like.

Now, the vacuum hose attachment. I bought a 2 1/2 inch port at Rockler.

I have a 2 3/4 inch Forstner bit, but I realize not everyone will have that.  You can mark the hole and then saw it with a jig saw.

I drilled the hole with my drill press.  That's a big bit to try to handle with a hand drill.

Here's the hole after drilling.  Note that you want this hole on the opposite side from the bottom slide - it's more convenient if they're not on the same side.


[Update 10/12//2017]  I removed the slider, described below, from the box.  The problem was that many cutouts involved dirt, such as when I would retrieve a hive from a utility box, or sometimes a building cutout.  The dirt would lodge in the lower groove that the slide rides in and I would be unable to close the slide.  When that happened, I'd have to put something (like my glove) in the port to keep the bees from escaping.  So I decided it was better to make a plug for the port and do away with the slide.

The second problem I had was that I might stop vacuuming and would close the slide.  Then, when I started up again, I'd forget to open the slide.  So if you want to put a slide in, follow the directions below.  [End of 10/12/2017 update]

I made a slider to close the vacuum port after you vacuum the bees.  I actually did this much latter in the build but decided to put the build of this slider here where it will be in order.  You'll see pictures later in this tutorial without this slider.

First, I drew perpendicular lines at the outside of the hole.

Then I made some pieces of wood with a rabbet that was the depth of the hardboard.

This is how the pieces will be arranged.  They will be aligned with those lines I drew earlier.

I start by gluing one side and the back.

Note that the rabbet on the side piece would allow air to leak at that point when you were vacuuming so I plugged the holes.  You can see the plugs in one of the following pictures.

The problem piece is the one that has to go over the slider.  It has to be supported by the two side pieces.  You can see it here, which also shows the hardboard slider.

To attach that piece to the two side pieces, I used dominos.  You can see one of the plugs I put in on the side piece in this picture.

After gluing, this is what it looks like.  Note that I also put some corner blocks because the plastic port didn't quite cover.

After using the bee vacuum to rescue some bees that were in a cable TV box. I found that some of the sand vacuumed up landed in the bottom groove and then I couldn't close the slider all the way.  So I modified the slider.

With the slider just barely closed, I traced the port hole on the slider.

Then I cut back the slider almost to the lines.  I left maybe 1/8 inch from the line.

This is what it looks like now when closing the slider.

And what it looks like fully closed.

Then I attached the plastic port with four 1/2 inch wood screws.

I put a handle on the slider, and put a stop at a location such that if you pull the slider all the way to the stop, the port is fully open.

Now to install the 1/8" hole hardware cloth.  Cut it to the interior size.

I used a upholstery stapler to drive staples to hold the hardware cloth in place.

Use a lot of staples.  You don't want any bees to be able to get past that hardware cloth.

Finally, I put a piece of carpet opposite the vacuum hose port.  I really don't know if this is of any value, but the idea is that if a bee comes in too hard because of excess vacuum, the carpet will cushion the landing.

I stapled the carpet to the end of the box opposite the vacuum port.

And that's completes the box.  Next I'll work on the box lid.

The tutorial continues here