How to Make a Mason Bee House
Mason Bees Are Native Pollinators!
Making a mason bee house is a simple woodworking project that takes just a few minutes to build, and making a bee house is a great project for using a few pieces of salvaged lumber and scrap wood. A mason bee house is also a fun project to make with kids, especially after they can watch the bees build their nest in a project that they made themselves.
Mason mees are natural pollinators. They are also solitary and unlike the honey bee, they do not live in colonies. Instead, the females do all of the work themselves, seeking out natural cracks and crevices to lay their eggs such as hollow twigs and the abandoned holes bored out by beetles.
Female mason bees will readily move into the tunnels bored into this little bee house to lay their eggs. Though they do not live in hives, groups of females will nest together, and they don't seem to mind the company from their neighbors. The eggs remain dormant through the fall and winter, and offspring emerge in the spring to pollinate plants.
Mason Bee House Plans
The Cutting List
Things You Need:
- 4" x 4" x 14" Pine Post (or larger)
- 5/16" Drill Bit
- 6" x 6" x 3/4" thick Pine or Hardwood board
The mason bee house is a simple structure made from a 4x4 pine post. The exact size and dimensions of the the bee house are not important, so use whatever pieces of recycled lumber or scrap wood are available. If you do not have a chunky post, simply laminate a few pine boards together. The wider the boards, the deeper you can drill the holes for the nesting tunnels. I used a piece of weathered pine post that is about 14" long. Do not use cedar or redwood, which is naturally insect-resistant and may discourage mason bees from setting up residence.
The top of the pine post is cut at a 22-1/2 degree angle to form a sloped roof to shed the rain. My power miter box is not large enough to cut all of the way through the post, so I finished the cut with a hand saw.
The 6" x 6" roof was cut from a piece of 3/4" thick cherry, recycled from an old shelf unit that was destined for the landfill. The back edge is cut at the same 22-1/2 degree angle to match the slope of the roof.
Lay Out the Holes
For a uniform pattern and a neat appearance, take a few minutes to lay out the locations of the holes before drilling. I started by measuring to find the middle of the front side of the post (the shortest side after the sloped bevel cut for the roof), and then drawing a center line down the length of the pine board. Marking the center at both the top and the bottom helped ensure that the line is placed down the center of the post.
Next, I measured 3/4" in from each side, again marking both the top and bottom of the post, and then drawing another set of lines for the other two rows of holes.
Starting at the top of the post, I measured down 2" and made a mark on the center line to indicate the location for the first row of holes. Using a square, I transferred the first mark to the other two lines, marking three locations for the first row of holes.
Measuring down 1" from the first row, I repeated the process to mark the locations for each of the holes in the second row. This process continued until I reached the last row, which is about 1-1/2" up from the bottom of the post.
The bees are not fussy about the patterns for the holes, and the lay out lines are purely for visual appeal. Rather than measuring and marking each hole location, you could use a small piece of peg board (with evenly spaced holes) as a template for evenly spacing and marking the locations for the holes.
Drilling Out the Holes
A drill press makes quick work of drilling out the 24 holes in this version of the mason bee house, but a hand-held drill will work just fine too.
Drill the holes as deep as possible, using a 5/16" diameter drill bit. The female bees prefer laying their eggs in deep tunnels, and all of the holes are at least 3-1/2 deep. Many mason ee house plans feature wider (deeper) designs allowing for longer tunnels, and the deeper the depth of the nest box, the better for the bees.
Use a small piece of sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel (or a pencil) to clean up the edges of the freshly drilled holes.
If you have a longer 5/16" drill bit, consider drilling the holes all of the way through the post. Then, cut a "backer board" to fit the back of the post, and attach it to the back of the bee house with a few weather-resistant screws. The removable back section makes it easy to clean out the debris from tunnels after the young Mason Bees leave the nest.
Hanging Your New Mason Bee House
The roof was cut from a piece of cherry wood that I salvaged from an old shelf unit. Cut into a 6" x 6" square, the roof overhangs the post by 1" on either side, and nearly 2" over the front of the bee house. Four weather-resistant nails hold the roof in place.
Though the bee house was made from salvaged pieces of weathered wood, the finished piece looked better after a quick sanding to soften the sharp edges, smooth out the saw cuts and to round over the corners of the post. A standard picture frame hanger makes it easy to hang the finished bee house.
Hang your new bee house in a sunny location in the garden. I hung one south-facing wall of our garden shed and is ready to host the next generation of mason bees.
Identifying Mason Bees
There are over 300 different species of mason bee. The two of the most common species found in North America are the Blue Orchard Bee and the Horn-Faced Bee, while the Red Mason Bee is common throughout Europe.
Smaller than a honey bee, these little bees live for only six to eight weeks, but can visit and pollinate over 1,000 blooms each day of their short lives.
Mason bees rarely sting, making them welcomed guests to the garden.
Have You Ever Seen A Mason Bee House?
Have You Ever Seen A Mason Bee House?
Meet a Mason Bee!
Around the Web: Mason Bees
- 10 Tips for Keeping Mason Bees
Keeping native non-stinging mason bees - even in urban spaces - is a surprisingly easy way to help the environment, and it's also an inexpensive and educational project for kids.
- Mason Bees-The Master Pollinators
The Mason Bee is named for its habit of using mud to build nest compartments. The orchard mason bee is one of the best pollinators around. They can easily be mistaken for a small black & blue fly about 2/3 the size of a honey bee.
- Bees, Birds and Butterflies ~ Ten Rules for Mason Bees
After 20 years, many thousand bees, many successes and several failures, this site offers their Mason Bee Rules
Give Bees A Chance: Invite Pollinators Into Your Garden
Keep the flowers blooming! Pollinators include including bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and other animals.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Do you bring your hive into a non-heated shed in the winter?
There's no need to move the mason bee house inside for the winter. I leave mine outdoors all year long.Helpful 3
How often should you clean the mason bee house, and at what time of year?
Mason bee houses can be cleaned in late spring, after the bees emerge from their cocoons. There are plenty of open and unused holes in my bee house, so I I have not cleaned any of the used holes.Helpful 2
Can mason bees be found in Alberta, Canada?
According to the Salisbury Greenhouse, the mason bee is a native bee species found in Alberta, Canada.Helpful 2
Can saltwater driftwood be used to make a mason bee house?
Just about any type of wood can be used to make a mason bee house EXCEPT for chemically treated wood. Do not use pressure treated wood for bee or bird houses.
How should I clean a mason bee house for continued use?
A small stick or skewer works well for clearing the dried mud from a used tube. So far, I have not cleaned out the tubes that were used by the bees. There are still plenty of open holes that are ready for occupancy.
© 2013 Anthony Altorenna