Building a Bee Mansion

You've likely heard of EALT's Protecting Pollinators project. Well, one of the many benefits of being an EALT intern, is that I get to work on awesome projects like the Bee Hotels!

I spent many hours in February and March preparing wooden blocks for our Busy Bee Volunteer Workshop, where volunteers assembled many bee hotels. My job was to drill different patterns of holes, with different sized drill bits, into hundreds of 2x4 wooden blocks. It was nice to use my hands and get some physical work done, instead of sitting in front of a computer screen. Thanks to internet radio and my grandparent’s awesome Airhome system, I was able to listen to my Berlin radio stations which made me feel like I was working in a shop back home.

Agreeably, after having drilled several thousand holes the work wasn’t as exciting as during the first couple hundred, but I still enjoyed spending time in the shop and smelling a wonderful scent of cut wood. As anyone who has done repetitive work knows, you have lots of time to think about many different things. Naturally, if you’re working on Bee Hotels you also tend to think about bees and the structures you are building for them. That’s when it hit me, I wanted to design and build my own epic Bee Hotel!

Step 1 Planning

I started with a piece of paper and pencil, brainstorming about different designs and structures, taking into account my skills and tools my granddad could provide me with.

In Germany, 10th grade school children have to take a WOODWORKING course - well, at least at the school I went to. Finally, the time had come where the woodworking course would seriously come in handy! I loved it back then and if I remember correctly, every student built a bird house. Time to step things up a notch and prove to myself that the course wasn’t a waste of time and I am able to work with dangerous tools and machines without a teacher supervising me. Okay, I’m not 15 anymore and over the years have helped friends and family members build kitchens, put down floors and fix furniture – stuff like that, you get the idea. But this was different – designing, planning and constructing, all without the help of dad, or an IKEA guide to tell me screw B has to be put into hole 14.

I wanted to make something unique, breath taking, flabbergasting – something that would catch people’s attention when they saw it, so they would be confronted with the whole issue of declining pollinators; but where to begin? First, I had the image of the Disney Palace in my mind, you know, the one they show before every movie – a Bee Palace sounds a lot cooler than it looked on paper. After getting frustrated because I couldn’t think of anything fitting, I started drawing house like shapes on my piece of paper, the ones a six year old draws. “Nope, nah, not elaborate at all" - I couldn’t believe how difficult it seemed to be.

At that moment my granddad walked in and had a look at what I had come up with. We started talking about different shapes and structures I could build, until he eventually brought up a (honey) beehive and asked me if I could somehow incorporate a honeycomb design within my structure. Honeycomb? Of course! Why didn’t I think of the hexagons in honeycombs? That’s perfect! Even though solitary bees don’t make honeycombs, every human thinks of bees when they see that hexagon shape! I could make my Bee Hotel look like a big honeycomb! I loved the idea and knew I was going to use it to build my very own BEE MANSION.

"I could make my Bee Hotel look like a big honeycomb! I loved the idea and knew I was going to use it to build my very own BEE MANSION."

"I could make my Bee Hotel look like a big honeycomb! I loved the idea and knew I was going to use it to build my very own BEE MANSION."

Design / Blueprints

After the great inspiration by my granddad I started drawing different structures with honeycomb hexagons as their main theme and eventually came up with one I was satisfied with. It was a bigger Hexagon in the middle, surrounded by smaller hexagons on the outside. Now that I knew how it was going to look, I needed to know what parts were required, and what sizes they would be.

I wanted to build it with 100% recycled wood and so designed it based on the sizes that my granddad’s wood scrap stash could provide me with. I found some great oak boards and several old cupboard doors I could cut into pieces. I measured their sizes and went back to my piece of paper. I knew that I would need five back parts of the hexagons and 30 side pieces that would later hold the wooden blocks into place. When I figured out the maximum sizes the pieces could be – to cut out all 35 pieces - I started marking the boards and prepared them for sawing. 

"I wanted to build it with 100% recycled wood and ... found some great oak boards and several old cupboard doors I could cut into pieces."

"I wanted to build it with 100% recycled wood and ... found some great oak boards and several old cupboard doors I could cut into pieces."

Step 2 Constructing

The age of pencils is over. The time of the saw has come. Yes, this is a clear reference to a scene in Lord of the Rings - Return of the King, but it reflects how I felt to finally put down the pencil, put on my work cloths and jump into action. ;-)

Sawing the boards and grinding off the ends to form the appropriate angles.

Sawing the boards and grinding off the ends to form the appropriate angles.

Sanding the angles and predrilling holes for the screws.

Sanding the angles and predrilling holes for the screws.

Assembling the hexagons big and small.

Assembling the hexagons big and small.

Cutting logs and blocks to size and drilling a variety of holes in each block for the bee nests.

Cutting logs and blocks to size and drilling a variety of holes in each block for the bee nests.

Attaching the stand and support board.

Attaching the stand and support board.

Finished! Ready to be set up. Total weight 117 lbs (53 kg)!

The perfect birthday present for my grandmother!

The perfect birthday present for my grandmother!

Building the Bee Mansion was an awesome experience for me. To see something develop and grow after having designed it on a piece of paper is very exciting. And to look at something and say “I made that” feels great too! I am thankful to have had this opportunity. Special thanks go to my granddad who provided me with all the tools and materials I needed to fulfill this project. I hope my story inspires you, to build you own Bee Hotel / Mansion / Palace or even Death Star if you possess the skills and resources! ;-)

Cheers,

Robert