How to Avoid Cross-Comb in Top-Bars and Langstroth Hives

Cross-combing is a huge pain to deal with and is common in top-bar hives and in Langstroth hives with foundation-less frames. Following are a few pointers on how to avoid the hassle.

  • Place new top-bars and foundationless frames between combs that are full of brood, pollen, or capped honey. DO NOT place new frames or top-bars next to uncapped honey. If you do, the bees are liable to continue drawing out the cells, leading to bulges in the comb. All you need is one bulging comb for a domino effect in the hive.
  • After hiving a swarm, use follower boards (in Langstroth hives) or divider boards (in top-bars) to limit the space the bees have. They are more likely to draw straight comb when their space is limited.
  • Make absolutely certain that the hive is plumb. Yep, get out your level, your shovel, wood shims, whatever it takes. Bees draw their comb with gravity, so a hive that sits unevenly will lead to similarly uneven comb.
  • Check early, and check often. If you find cross-comb, attend to it right away. Remove the offending comb entirely, or use a knife to detach comb that bends or runs between bars, and gently straighten it and press it onto the tab you want the bees to follow. However painful it may seem to perform this kind of hive surgery now, rest assured that it will only be a hundred million times worse if you wait. No, really.
Cross-combing in an established top-bar hive. Each comb connects to multiple bars, making it impossible to lift the bars without ripping comb. Ugh.

Cross-combing in an established top-bar hive. Each comb connects to multiple bars, making it impossible to lift the bars without ripping comb. Ugh.

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And here is what happens when you do remove top-bars in such a hive. (Actually, this photo is minus the bees. Their presence makes the whole situation 100 times more traumatic).

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Crazy comb in a Langstorth hive with foundation-less frames. When we added a second box, the bees disregarded the frames entirely and made something of a wax and honey pyramid, instead.

10 Responses to How to Avoid Cross-Comb in Top-Bars and Langstroth Hives

    • Fascinating, Pablo. Thanks for sharing these pictures. In addition to top-bar hives, we’ve tried going “foundationless” in some of our Langs and have had issues with cross- combing. We’ll have to try adding braces. Do you use the wedge from the frame for the brace? And how do you secure it (i.e. glue? nails?).

  1. I’ve been experimenting with foundationless frames this year, too, and have had the same problems with cross-comb. I was advised by another local beekeeper to glue “guides” along the tops of the frames, but this was only partially successful, so I’ve been alternating new frames with full frames, as you mentioned above (good tip on only using capped honey, though! I’ve definitely had some trouble with “bulging” frames!). What I don’t like about that method, though, and about checking early and often for cross-comb, is that I really don’t like to open up the hive if I don’t have to. I’d much prefer to just add a super full of empty frames and let the bees do their thing! If only that resulted in nice, straight, parallel comb in the proper (“proper” in my eyes, if not the bees’ eyes) direction.

    Next season I’ll have to try the braced framed that Pablo illustrated above!

    • Yeah, Pablo’s idea is pretty cool, and we’re going to try it, too. We have also seen people cross-wire foundationless frames, to not only support the comb during extraction, but also as a further ‘guide.’ Some beekeepers say that cross-combing is in part genetic: some bees tend to exhibit that behavior more than others. Hm. Wish I could choose the ones who prefer nice, straight comb.

  2. Davideo Starnes

    Something I tried last year was simply alternating top bars (Langstroth medium frames, wooden paint stir stick coated in wax secured to top of frame by three double wire brads) in between my plastic foundation frames. Guess what. Beautiful white straight wax drawn, very little cross comb, bees maintained bee space. Cross comb was at the wall. There was some “bulging” really not problematic.

    1 2 1 (x) 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 (cross comb at wall) 1 = foundation 2 = Top Bar x = bulging requiring a hot knife…maybe crossed a bit here too.

    This year I’m expanding the practice. Observations 1.) besides minor cross comb at side of mediums there was a definite lag in production due to drawing out comb…but Results: higher yield (wax and total honey) per frame. 2.) Combs must be handled vertically, never tilted to inspect especially on warm days late in year when heavy. They will end up on the ground!

    Crush and strain is much easier without foundation, again more yield not leaving any behind. Commercially, I think, honey with comb like that is absolutely a work of edible art especially backlit like in my kitchen, and could demand a premium. Next year , I plan on an upgrade in bottles to accomdate comb with less honey backfilled.

    Just a beginner…

    • Thanks for sharing, Davideo! Love your observations. We’ve also had good luck alternating frames. And totally agree with the caution to handle foundation-less frames VERY carefully.

      Happy beekeeping :).

  3. My understanding is that bees like to build their combs east-west, so I place my
    top bar hives north-south

  4. Just a note. I have read that the hives need to be placed with frame bars oriented exactly north south with a compass reading to insure straight comb build as the bees are geared that way. Can’t hurt!

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