Today I assembled the last frame that I ever plan to assemble in my life. Thirty one years ago on March 30th 1980, I bought my first hive of bees. They were in a rotting hive that was leaning up against an abondoned chicken coop in Lebanon CT. I paid $75.00 for the hive and a pickup load of assorted empty honey supers. The bees I bought were in an old hive body that had a few frames, but mostly natural comb. Fortunately, I ended up at an A I Root dealers home for some advise and some supplies. The dealer, Bill Gerdsen, suggested that I add a second hive body of new frames and foundation above the original box and then wait for the bees and queen to move up. I then put an excluder under the new hive body and waited for the brood to hatch out. I next added a second new hive body and removed the old combs from my first hive body.
Thus began years of assembling frames with a hammer and nails. In those days, beekeepers went to either Root or Dadant dealers and bought hive parts from them ( at very high prices). Root frames were made like furniture. Even the bottom bars were drilled for nails. We used “Medium Brood Foundation” which had no wires so we put in four horizontal wires and then imbeded them with an electric imbeder. We even put eye-lets in the wire holes in the side bars. It would take 8 hours for me to assemble, wire and install wax foundation for 100 frames.
As time went by, I switched to vertically wired foundation and just used two horizontal wires and then stopped putting eye-lets in the side bars. This speeded things up noticeably, I could probably do 150 frames in a day. Then, in 1989, I bought a pneumatic stapler. I could now assemble 100 frames in about one hour and fifteen minutes. I got so I could wire and install foundation in 40 frames each hour. This was how I did things for the next 19 years.The only thing I changed was that I switched to using budget grade frames. These worked beautifully and cost a lot less that the commercial grade. I tried using a few hundred Peirco one peice plastic frames. I had good luck getting them drawn out but did not like the way that the bees made so much brace comb that it made the frames and supers difficult to separate from one another. I also found that my chain uncapper vibrated the flimsy plastic frames so much that it would strip most of the comb from the frame. I kept building wood and wax frames. Probably 20,000 of them!
It was Reg Wilbanks who convinced me to start using wood frames and plastic foundation. So, in 2008, I started using plastic foundation. I switched to grooved top bars and just snapped a sheet of plastic foundation. Now I could put together a completed frame a minute! This brings me to this past week. I had purchased 1500 frames last year and just received my order of plastic foundation from Dadant. I went to work on the frames, vowing to assemble an average of two hundred each day. This would still allow me the bulk of the work day to help my friend Lex Nishbal build a new set of kitchen cabinets in my shop. Low and behold, in ten days I had all of the frames done, completing 600 last weekend. Feeling proud of my accomplishment, I tallied up the hours and calculated that I had worked nearly 30 hours to complete 1500 frames.
I got to thinking. How much would it have cost me to buy them assembled from Dadant? I checked the catalogue and found a price of $1.71 each by the thousand. I had paid $0.58 for the frames, $0.69 for unwaxed foundation, and added in $0.19 each to allow for the cost of waxing. This comes to $1.45 each as my cost to buy the parts. I then subtracted my result from Dadants price of a $1.71 and came up with$0.26 each to assemble a frame. This comes to $13.00 per hour. This does not even include the fact that I had to use $40.00 worth of staples and I still need to wax the foundation, something that I do because I like a heavier coat of wax than is provided by the suppliers.
I kept thinking, What could I have accomplished in those thirty hours? My answer was a whole heck of a lot more than save $350.00 by assembling 1500 frames!!!!!! This is why I will never assemble another frame for the rest of my life!