The frames are the holders for the wax on which the bees are going to make cells to store honey or rear young and thus they are an important point of consideration when deciding how to set up the apiary.
Frames can be made from wood or plastic. The plastic ones come with the foundation already installed as one moulding. The little I know about them is that they have to be painted with a thin layer of molten bees wax before the bees will think of drawing the cells out. I have no experience of this type of frame and will say no more about them. Personally I use frames made of wood and it is those which I will write about.
The wood frame is simply the wooden structure which we as beekeepers put together to form a frame on which the bees will build their wax comb. The frames are frequently made of pine but at least one major supplier advertises that their's are made from "quality Russian Redwood". To encourage the bees to build the comb we place wax foundation into the frames to guide the bees as to where we want the cells built - and for the most part they follow our advice. I will write more about the wax foundation on a separate page.
The most important concept to grasp when discussing frames is that of "bee space".
For bees to move around the hive comfortably they need a space of about 7.5mm. They are happy if the space is up to 9mm deep or down to 6mm deep. If it is more than 9mm then the bees will build brace comb which is more cells to fill the gap and reduce it to 7.5mm. If the gap is less than 6mm then they will seal up the gap with propolis since it is of no use for anything else.
We are aiming to hang our frames in the hive so that the bees can draw out the foundation to form new cells and leave a gap between layers of cells at 7.5mm.
To make certain the bees have the right bee space between the sheets of cells there are two possible types of frame which differ principally in the shape of the side bars. These are self spacing and manual spacing.
Self spacing frames
There are two types of self spacing frames - Hoffman and Manley.
Hoffman frames are pictured below. They have a wedge on one side of the vertical bars and the bar tapers to much narrower below the top.
The reason for the wedge at the top is that means there is not a lot of surface for the bees to stick propolis onto and thus when you wish to remove the frame it is is not as difficult a job as it might have been. Hoffman frames are sold as N4 or N5 frames. The "N" stands for National but these frames can be used with both National and WBC hives. N4 frames have a top bar that is 22mm wide whereas the N5 frames have a top bar which is 27mm wide. The frames names have a prefix "S" or "D" standing for Super or Shallow and D for Deep for use in the brood box.
Manley frames are also self spacing but the vertical side bars do not taper and there is no wedge on the side. Thus they are more difficult to remove once the bees have stuck them together with propolis. They have side bars which are 42mm wide all the way down. The extra bit of bee space is not enough to allow them to build brace comb but it is enough to encourage them to build slightly bigger cells. In the brood box bigger cells allows the opportunity to grow bigger bees and bigger bees can carry more pollen or nectar. In the super bigger cells means the bees can store more honey.
Manually spaced frames
Some frames are not self spacing. As beekeepers we have to find a method to space them. Two methods, both of which I have used, are end blocks and castellated spacers. I do not like either.
End blocks are blocks of plastic or metal which you slip over the end of the top bar. The idea is simple but from personal experience I find that they fall off at the wrong moment. For example you have a brood frame and on it you have found the queen and just as you are about to return her to the hive you turn the frame round and the end block falls off onto the ground. There is also a tendency too pick up the frame by the spacer and then find you have dropped the frame but are still holding the spacer.
The alternative method of spacing is to use a castellated runner on the sides of the box. The frames drop into these and are at a fixed spacing. Sounds ideal but for me I found that removing frames from the hive was far more difficult with castellated runners. When I am removing frames from a hive I like to remove one frame and place it on top of the other frames. I then use my hive tool to lever the next frame out. Having removed one frame already I have the space to lever the next frame out by easing it away from its neighbour before lifting it out. With castellated spacers I have to pull the frame straight up risking rolling bees between the frames. They don't like that.
Having said all that it is my personal opinion and there are many who would disagree with me - which is why the equipment suppliers sell the castellated spacers and the end blocks
In summary for National and WBC hives
DN1 and SN1 straight side bars - manual spacing - top bar 20mm
DN2 and SN2 - straight side bars - manual spacing - top bar 24mm
DN4 and SN4 - tapered side bars - Hoffman spacing - top bar 20mm
DN5 and SN5 - tapered side bars - Hoffman spacing - top bar 28mm
But there is more to buying frames as a browse in the catalogue will show you. Having decided what type of spacing you are going for the next step is to know the hive you are going to put the frames into. Thus you can get Commercial Hoffman Super and Commercial Manley and Commercial Hoffman Brood. Then there is the same for the Dadant and for the Langstroth. In fact just about any combination you can think of.
Hopefully that has helped you understand what is involved in the choice of frames. Having bought the frames you then have to put them together. A very good file explaining how is available from Beehive Supplies from here.
In addition to the frame you will need to buy the wax foundation and frame nails. The nails are often sold under the name "Gimp Pins" but I prefer the term "Frame Nails".