Before there were nail guns, powered screw drivers, exterior screws, star and hex bits, and more, there were specialized nails developed for a wide variety of applications.
Long ago, and remember when we talk about Langstroth hives we are talking mid 1800’s, there were multiple options in the ranks of the simple nail. Common nails and spikes, crate nails, cigar box nails, cooler nails, egg case nails, box nails, and more – all fine tuned by shank and head size for a particular job.
Box nails, which we use for hive bodies, are slimmer than common nails of the same penny size and have a slightly blunted point which helps avoid splitting. Along the way, a 7d box nail was deemed ideal for the material and dimensions of bee boxes. It may even have been sold as a bee-box nail. It’s probably still the best nail for the job, but newer fasteners and power-nailers have lessened the demand, making it harder to find.
If you order your hive bodies from one of the major bee supply companies they typically will not come with nails. However, you may be able to order them as a separate item along with your boxes. What you’ll get is the traditional 7d box nail used for ages before the advent of modern fasteners found in box stores.
However, what I most typically use is a substitute for tradition. Pictured are 6d, 2 inch, galvanized nails. The galvanization brings the shank size up and bit and provides a little protection from the elements. And they are easy to find in any hardware store. To pay homage to the 7d of yesterday, I usually take a few minutes to look for it on the shelves but I’m always disappointed.
Sometimes a board visually speaks to you and announces it is going to reject your attempts to apply a nail to it. I used to use soap on the nail to ease the boards objections, and the inevitable, but I now have a new helper – beeswax! Often we don’t know if our efforts help or not, but when a nail completes its task without incident we can assume credit with having eased the board’s objections to becoming a box.
I’ve noticed some prebuild boxes are now being assembled with staples. Perhaps in response to inquiries, we’re told the staples (or nails for that matter) are for holding things together until the glue dries. This may be true and I’ve started stapling the lighter, 5-frame nuc boxes but I’ll not risk my well being to a heavy, deep, 10-frame box joint coming undone sometime in the future while 30,000 bees are inside. So while I use a generous dab of waterproof Tightbond III on the hive body joints, I also appreciate the security and tradition of a nailed joint.