Development of modern honey bee housing, both natural and human-made has always been on the beekeeper’s radar. Most modern hives are made of wood, but other materials have been used with some success.
A major concern of many beekeepers is protecting this “wooden ware” from the ravages of nature, usually via paint or preservatives, The latter materials can be harmful to honey bees so it is wise the be careful.
Commercial preservation of wood often includes a processed called Wolmanizing®. This is a generic term for pressure treating wood. The most commonly the material used is chromated copper arsenate or CCA, which is good for preserving wood and also is an excellent termite preventative. Unfortunately, like termites, honey bees are insects and CCA doesn’t do them any good either, so it is not recommended. All this suggests that beekeepers should be careful about treating beehives, either through the services of a commercial preserving plant or on a do-it-yourself basis.
Some preservation materials are more readily absorbed into the comb, honey or even the bees themselves than others. Materials to avoid when treating wood are pentacholorphenol,tributyl tin oxide and CCA. Some proven preservatives include copper naphthenate (perhaps the most used) acid copper chromate and copper-8-quinolinolate. These extend beehive life from an expected ten to a potential twenty years, however, their effectiveness against termites is open to question.
The concern about preserving beekeeping woodenware is not new. Over the years beekeepers have tried many schemes to protect their equipment. Traditionally, wooden beehives have been painted only on the outside; it is believed that the inside should remain unfinished so it can act like a “sponge” to absorb moisture on wet days and release it during dry conditions. A corollary to this is that when the inside of the wood takes on too much moisture, it causes the paint on the outside to peel off. Another consideration is the end grain is not well protected except by several coats of paint. There are also different opinions as to which kind of paint (oil-based or water-based) to use. A glance at bee supply catalogs shows various types advertised.
Bottom boards are subjected to most punishment and their treatment, therefore, takes on special significance. Generally they have been painted all over and/or treated with a preservation process. Invasion by termites is of prime concern, when bottom boards are in contact with the ground. Elevating hives will usually control termite infestation. CCA appears to be be acceptable for pallets (containing number of hives) in contact with the soil, PROVIDED untreated and/or painted bottom boards are placed on top for the bees to walk on.
Soaking wooden beehive parts in hot paraffin is an alternative to painting or using other preservatives, but the process can be tricky. The material can be applied with brush or as a dip and gives good results on all wooden equipment, EXCEPT bottom boards, which are in contact with the soil (ground).
Several examples of preserving woodenware are found on youtube.com. As in many areas of beekeeping, there can be wide range of ideas about the best method to protect the beekeeper’s major investment.