Man and woman holding 10 and 8 frame honey supers in a warehouse setting

Michelle carries the full 8 frame super with ease while Jeff demonstrates how much heavier the 10 frame super can be

Every beekeeper decides whether their hives will use 8 frame boxes (that can hold 8 frames per box) or 10 frame boxes (that can hold 10). Many beekeepers have tried a hive or two of 10 frame equipment and a hive or two of 8 frame equipment, but eventually a decision needs to be made. Boxes of two different widths aren't compatible with each other, so an efficient beekeeping operation will be one size or the other. So, are you going to be a 10 frame beekeeper or an 8 frame beekeeper? 

10 frame boxes are the standard

Whether L.L. Langstroth just thought ten was a nice round number, or the wood he used for his first box divided neatly from a standard eight-foot board, the fact is that hive boxes built for 10 frames of comb have been the standard for more than a century. 10 frame boxes work well, bees thrive in them, and most beekeeping equipment (and educational literature) assumes you're using 10 frame hives. But there is another option.  

8 frame boxes: Easier lifting

8 frame boxes are narrower boxes that only hold eight standard frames, instead of ten. Using them is essentially the same as 10 frame boxes, though you need to remember that each box holds fewer frames and less honey. Not only are 8 frame boxes lighter, but their narrowness more closely matches the width of a slighter person's hips and shoulders. This makes it a bit easier to grasp a full box, not only with your fingertips in those carved-out "handholds" but also by squeezing with your forearms. A 10 frame box is 16-1/4 inches wide, and an 8 frame box is 13-3/4 inches wide. 

How much lighter are 8 frame boxes? 

Since full supers of honey are the heaviest and most unwieldy part of a hive, let's just compare the weights of these awkward loads of liquid gold. The box itself weighs nearly the same - the wood used to build it is only shorter by 5 inches. But a full honey super is 9 or 10 lbs lighter because it has 2 fewer frames. Each medium frame of honey weighs almost 5 lbs. That's over a quart of honey per medium frame.

  • Wood medium 10 frame box full of honey: 40-50 lbs
  • Wood medium 8 frame box full of honey: 31-41 lbs

Could the narrower style of an 8 frame hive be more natural? 

The hollow trees used by honey bees in nature usually provide a narrower cavity than the approximately 18x15 inch interior of a 10 frame box. Proponents of 8 frame equipment argue that their colony shape and size more closely match that of a wild hive. Though the average hollow tree may be a bit narrower than a 10 frame box, the truth is that bees can thrive in both 10 frame and 8 frame equipment, so either option is apparently good enough.

Remember to count frames if you use 8 frame hives

Some 8 frame beekeepers seem to forget that smaller boxes means fewer frames and less honey for their bees. If all of the beekeepers in your region use 10 frame equipment, and they all agree that the bees can't survive winter without "two deeps full of honey," then they're talking about 20 frames. Two boxes on your 8 frame hive can only hold 16 frames of honey, while three boxes would hold 24 frames. To offer about the same amount of honey as two 10 frame deeps, you may need to offer two full 8 frame deeps plus an additional filled medium honey super for winter.

Likewise, if you're splitting a hive into 5 frame nucs, a two-story 10 frame hive will yield four 5 frame nucs, while a two-story 8 frame hive will yield just three, plus a spare frame. 

There's usually no need to obsess over the frame numbers since the bees are pretty adaptable, but it's important to remember this frame math from time to time when you're taking advice from 10 frame beekeepers. 

Though 8 frame and 10 frame boxes are officially “incompatible” with each other, with a little ingenuity all kinds of things may be possible. We've seen 8 frame boxes being used as supers above 10 frame boxes. Not many people would ever try this, but it worked. The beekeeper just laid a long, 3-inch wide piece of wood on the edge of the 10 frame box where it stuck out, and that board acted as a little roof there, covering the few exposed inches.

Climate control

One other consideration is whether the bees will have a harder time controlling the temperature of an 8 frame hive compared to a 10 frame hive. If your hive has direct sunlight shining on one side, the bees may avoid raising brood on the sunny side because it is hard to control the heat. They may avoid raising brood in the outer frame, or even the outer two frames. If the sun hits both walls of the hive at different times of day, they may avoid outer frames on both sides. In a 10 frame box the bees will still have 6-8 frames available for brood, but in an 8 frame box they may only have 4-6 frames available. None of this spells doom for your bees, but if you live in a particularly hot and sunny climate it may be another factor to consider. 

Which option to choose?

Though both options are perfectly fine, our advice is simple: If you want things simple, pick standard 10 frame boxes. If you're prepared for a little mental adjustment when you read an article, and want a slightly easier time lifting things, go with 8 frame equipment. It's best to stick with one or the other, because sometimes you'll need to move a box between hives, swap bottom boards from one hive to another, etc.

The moral of the story is that bees will adapt to live in most enclosed vertical spaces. What we use to provide that space is entirely up to us, and should usually be based on the preferences of the humans involved rather than the honey bees!

After you've decided whether you'll use 8 frame or 10 frame boxes in your hives, you'll also need to decide what box height you'll be using.

>> Check out our article: Choosing Equipment: Two-Deep Brood Chambers vs. All Mediums