Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wax or Plastic

This is a continuation of a previous rant about plastic. In my inspection last week I found a really goofy frame. Take a look:

This is one of the plastic frames I have in the hive. You can see the bees added some comb in a goofy way, a little perpendicular to the foundation. I believe this is a frame where they had stripped off the wax earlier, and now they are hesitant to draw out foundation. This is the result.

I've discussed this on the BeeSource forums and there isn't a consensus. People are passionate each way. But I have my beliefs. Plastic works great once it's drawn out. But it is a nightmare if the bees strip off the wax.

I re-waxed some plastic frames earlier (and did it to this frame as well), and plan on reintroducing the frames to the hive. I also got some wired wax foundation and made up some frames as well:

Wired wax frames are a lot more labor intensive than the plastic foundations. You have to put the foundation in the frame, and nail a piece of wood along the top holding the vertical wires in place. Then you need to do something about the horizontal stability of the wax foundation. The traditional way is to use horizontal wires (there are a set of 4 holes in the side pieces of the frame specifically for the wire), but it's kind of a hassle, because you have to embed the wire into the wax (either using electricity to heat up the wire and let it melt into the wax, or using a star wheel device to push it into the wax). You also need to use some kind of grommets in the wood to keep the wire from slicing into the wood.

But then I found this video from "FatBeeMan" on YouTube:

He advocates using fishing line in an X-shape, and use a couple of bobby pins to secure things. I did that with the 5 frames I put together, and it wasn't too bad.

An alternative to all of these foundation types is to use no foundation whatsoever - it's called foundationless. Here are some such frames:

You can see that there is no foundation whatsoever. There is a groove in the top of the underside of the frame where you normally put foundation. With foundationless frames you glue some kind of guide stick (in my case some wide Popsicle sticks) to give the bees a guide. I also painted a little beeswax along the guides to further help them know what to do.

The downside of foundationless is that there is no wire or other support, so the wax tends to be more fragile. You need to be careful to not tilt the frame and let the wax break off (usually the bees will attach the comb to all 4 sides of the frame, so it's a little better than just one contact point). Obviously you can't put this type of frame into an extractor, but since the frames I am talking about are in the deep brood chamber, and no extraction is intended. I mark the top of the frame with the type of foundation it has, so I don't get them confused if I need to know later.

So I'm going to put some of the wired wax and the re-waxed plastic back into the hive, and see which one the bees like best. Based on my observations, the wax coated plastic is best for new packages, where the bees are gung-ho to build up comb.


  1. I've had the same problems with my all plastic frames. I'm currently in the process of taking out all my foundation/Duragilt frames and putting starter strips in or just placing a frame between two frames of straight comb. It's a lot easier (not to mention cheaper) that using plastic. I also love the sight of new, white comb. If they produce extra comb with honey, I'll probably harvest some for cut-comb honey.

  2. My bees appeared to like the re-waxed plastic foundation I gave them last time - it had an extra thick layer of wax (but you could still see the cell impressions). But why buy plastic foundation that you have to work on adding wax?

    Since I already have this plastic foundation, I'll re-wax it. But only for new packages will I put plastic in from the start.

  3. Steve,

    A couple of things:

    1. I have several frames from Don that he used the "fishing line X"'s not very good. The corners of the comb get chewed away.

    2. We extract unwired foundationless deep frames with no problems. Nothing says you can't wire foundationless frames if it makes you feel better...most people don't bother with the grommets.


  4. Steven: I used Plasticell and never had problems with them at all. Maybe its because I was feeding at the time so they had plenty to work with to draw the frames. The Plasticell I've added recently (without feeding) has been drawn out to perfection, even the drone frames, and maybe that's because we're in a flow now. I went to a natural beekeeping workshop recently and they made the foundationless frames -- but they used grommets. The guy teaching the course is a master beekeeper and said that tension from the wire and the handling with cut through the wood. Good luck!

  5. Regarding the issue of the wire cutting into the timber frames.
    I've also been told that by simply adding a staple with a good staple gun to the inner lip of the hole in the timber frame it will stop the wire cutting into the frame.. Maybe not as good as the grommets but I'm told it works..
    I've just bought some full plastic frames and was looking for info on the best method to apply wax to them..Which is what lead me here.
    I was thinking I should melt the way and apply via a paint brush.. Comments please..

  6. I just coat my plastic frames with a thin layer of wax and it works, like this - . I.M.O it is better than wooden frames.
    Thank you for sharing Steve.
    - Anonymous M.L


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