DIY Telescoping Outer Cover 

DIY Telescoping Outer Cover 

Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you’re into DIY projects, beekeeping has you covered. Everything from bottom boards to inner covers to every sized hive body can quickly be built at home in a single afternoon. Not an experienced carpenter? No worries. Even novice builders can make their beehives with a bit of practice. Even better, there’s no need to buy pricey construction plans, nor DIY books, as plenty of free options are available online for each piece of equipment. Here we will discuss how to DIY a telescoping outer cover using a set of plans you select and how to “wing it” if your equipment doesn’t quite fit the plans available — it happens more often than you may think.  

This photo shows three variations of a telescoping outer cover: two with a heavy-duty plastic covering, one with the more modern aluminum covering, and one unprotected cover. Note the unprotected cover buckled in it first season of use. But it worked in a pinch.   

What’s the purpose?   

In beekeeping, the telescoping outer cover can perform many functions that dictate the cover’s overall construction. These variances allow the DIYer to personalize their covers to best suit their preferences. For instance, outer covers not only protect the growing colony from the elements such as rain, snow, sleet, and wind but can also perform double duty as a top feeder. Covers can also assist with transporting heavy honey supers to the honey house, double as fume boards, and even serve as “notebooks” within the bee yard to help the beekeeper keep up with colony details during each inspection.   

Selecting a Plan  

I remember vividly one of my first trips to visit my mentor. He took me around his workshop to look at the different types of equipment he’d collected over his 40 years of beekeeping, explaining the details of each piece. He had everything from 40-year-old frames, hive bodies, and outer covers to one-week-old versions. What I saw was a game-changer.  

These telescoping covers double as feeders and show how the same-sized cover readily works for both an 8-frame and a 10-frame hive setup.   

Scattered about my mentor’s workshop was a scene that exemplifies the very essence of beekeeping — there is no ONE right way to keep bees, including the equipment bees in which the bees are housed. As he went about the shop handing me each piece, Steve explained why some hive bodies had cleats for handles while others had recessed handholds. He explained why some wooden frames were made one way while others were slightly different in design. He taught me how changes were made over the past 40 years in beekeeping and how his bees performed in each version of equipment he’d used.   

Why do I tell you this in a DIY article on outer covers? Because what he taught me was the invaluable lesson that each successful beekeeper creates his own way of keeping bees, and his equipment shows it. Equipment comes in different styles, designs, sizes, and even materials — particularly older, used equipment. And while these variances do not hinder the bees in the slightest, it is these variances that may make finding a correctly sized DIY plan difficult. Often standard plans do not account for these variances, frustrating the would-be DIYer; this is where “winging” comes into play.  

The advantage of the extra width around the cover’s perimeter is to protect colonies from the elements better. With migratory covers that have no overlap, a misaligned lid can lead to rain, snow, sleet, and wind entering the hive. Something to consider when selecting cover styles.  

Many excellent plans are available online for free and are well worth utilizing as you DIY your beekeeping operation. This is our favorite plan as it clearly shows standard dimensions and offers solutions for some of the modifications I’ve mentioned. We’ve added extra length for hive bodies with cleats and added a quart, and half-gallon-sized feeder holes. We’ve also stopped adding aluminum. This plan makes modifying dimensions very easy for us. There are tons of videos online to assist those more visual DIYers.  

Most plans have room for adjustments that will accommodate any standard Langstroth equipment you may have. An example is constructing an outer cover for boxes with cleats at the top as these boxes don’t usually fit the plans available today. Cleats are vestiges from years past before recessed hand grooves became standard. I have many of these boxes throughout my bee yards, and I couldn’t be more pleased with them. However, to make an outer cover fit over the cleats, a couple of inches must be added to the overall length of the side rails and the length of the top board. Easy peasy with a few minutes of measuring.  

When establishing dimensions, be aware of how you typically set up your hives. Are they spaced far apart? Or are they nestled together in close quarters? This is where migratory covers are handy, even for the hobbyist, as the lack of overhang allows boxes to rest within mere inches of each other.  

Another additional adjustment includes a feeder hole in the top of the lid. This hole resides in the center of the outer cover and is intended for either a pint, quart, half-gallon, or even gallon-sized jar of sugar syrup. When feedings are not needed, the hole can be covered by keeping the jar in place, leaving a lid in the hole, or placing a piece of wood or brick over the opening until needed. I have lined the inside of unused outer covers with felt and turned them into temporary fume boards. And when the lids are wide enough, telescoping outer covers make the perfect “floor” for heavy honey supers during transport by placing the cover upside down, the super and honey frames on the upturned cover, and a second cover placed on top of the box to keep bees out. This keeps honey drippings from escaping the boxes, making transport and cleanup a bit easier. The take-home here is regardless of the equipment you have or the personal preferences you’ve discovered, any DIY plan may be modified to fit both your preferences and your equipment.   

When not used as a feeder lid, blocks placed over the feeder holes keeps elements out of the colony until the next feeding cycle.  

Construction tips  

When searching for plans that suit your preferences and style, look for details such as joinery methods and equipment needs. For instance, some plans use a butt joint which requires no special equipment to make the joints, and butt the two end pieces together and staple or nail together. Others use rebate joints to minimize the wood grain’s exposure to rain. We have used both types of joints and have found we prefer rebate joints for stability and longevity. However, we spent many years using butt joints, and they performed just fine.   

Unlike migratory covers with only two sides, telescoping covers make very good “floors” for honey supers during transport and extraction, keeping drips contained to the upturned lid.  

Other tips we have found useful are to use ¾ inch plywood instead of ¼ inch. This is very much a personal preference, but we have found the ¾ inch lasts much longer and holds up to the rough abuse we dish out on our equipment all year long with minimal repairs required. We’ve also discovered that using glue before nailing or stapling is a step not to be ignored. The overall strength of the joints is much improved with the use of glue. 

The one area that many argue over is the aluminum covering that is common on today’s commercially available telescoping outer covers. This metal protects the wood from the elements allowing the cover to last many seasons. The addition of this metal does require a special tool and a bit of practice to make it fit the cover properly. However, we no longer add aluminum to ours as a solid coat of paint, preferably oil-based, works nearly as well for us. Both coverings work quite well as notebooks, as sharpies and paint markers stick well and keep notes legible for many weeks as we move through the season.    

When constructing your own telescoping outer covers, you’ll find the customizations you can make are well worth the effort, regardless of the plan you intend to use. Just be sure to check measurements closely and make adjustments as needed before making any cuts. And don’t forget to add those special little touches that you know will make your beekeeping journey truly your own.  

Originally published in the Winter 2022/2023 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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