Click to enlargeHow to use the
Beehive Box Hand-Hole Cutter
See also
Building the Hand-Hole Cutter

The unit pictured here has cut thousands of hand holes in new and used boxes over the years.  It has been safe and trouble-free.  It can be modified to cut either grooves or scoops.  This one is set up for grooves.  Hopefully, these pictures should enable any handyman to make a similar unit.  This page shows construction details. Instructions on cutting boxes will follow later. See Important Safety Notice.

Using the cutter

This machine is designed to cut hand-holes in all four sides of assembled, new or used, standard depth bee boxes all in one go. The sides are cut with the spacer (wooden block shown at left in pictures) removed, and the ends require use of the spacer.  (More later).  Although brave users think of cutting hand-holes in knocked-down boxes (planks) before assembly, don't do it, at least not with this machine.  The advantage of working with assembled boxes is that they are easy to hang onto with a firm grip, and hands need never come near the cutter blade.

The job is very quick and easy, and each box is done in a minute or two.   Just make sure you have the box right-side-up before you cut!  Mark the boxes with pencil arrows if you need to. Trust me.  Boxes with hand-holes cut upside down are very confusing, especially in an extracting room.

The jig with safety guard closed.  The spacer, used for cutting ends, is far left in a special pocket where it won't get lost or wander around

The safety is shown partly open to show the marks (forward left) for sliding the boxes: One is for the ends, one for the sides. Note the full-face mask for safety.

Thin slats hold the box off the working surface and ensure a consistent cutting depth even when shavings and sawdust accumulate

Click any picture to enlarge

Setting Up

All the usual warnings apply.

  • Make sure that your workspace is tidy and free of distractions and tripping hazards and that you can walk safely around the unit.
  • Make sure that your electrical setup is safe.  I recommend a ground-fault receptacle (GFI) if there is any chance of moisture or you are working outdoors.  There are cheap and very effective GFIs that are like small extension cords and they will kill the power in a millisecond should you accidentally become part of the circuit. It could very well save your life.
  • Wear a full face shield and hearing protection and make sure that you have no loose clothing or jewellery.
  • Never place anything on the top surface of the unit that might get into the blade and be thrown 20 feet or more.  Check the area near the blade carefully each time before starting the cutter.
  • Make sure the blade is sharp.  If it isn't, sharpen it.  Dull blades are dangerous and do a poor job.
  • Prepare your boxes and stack them all the same side up.  Stand in your work position and think through and rehearse what you are about to do.
    • How you will move
    • Where you will step
    • Where you will put each finished box
    • Consider that there will soon be a big pile of shavings
  • These instructions are for someone working right-handed

Getting Started

The idea is to do a plunge cut, restrained by the jig fence, then extend the cut 2", guided by the jig, then lift the box out, rotate, and repeat -- then do the ends in a similar fashion.

Do the sides first.

  • Start the cutter and open the guard. 
  • Take the first box and, holding it by the top corners of both ends, and making sure it is right side up
  • Place the left hand end of the long side firmly down against the angle iron fence (to the left of the blade) while holding the other end up at 10 or 15 degrees. (clear of the cutter).
  • Holding tightly, slowly lower the box down on the spinning cutter.  Lower firmly and slowly, judging your rate so that the cutter does not stall or burn.
  • When the box is flat on the table, still holding it as described, move the box slowly to the right until the left end reaches the mark indicating a 2" long cut has been completed.
  • Then lift the box well clear of the blade, by tilting it back up smoothly, and rotate it end over end, and do the other side. (Make sure it is still right side up)

Set the left end firmly against the fence and lower carefully onto the spinning blade Another view
Click to enlarge

Now both sides are done and it is time for the ends. 

  • Because the ends are shorter, lift the spacer out of its pocket, over the fence, and place it tight against the fence. 
  • Place the left corner of the first box end against the spacer, holding the right side up a bit, then lower as before
  • Then slide it to the right two inches (to the appropriate mark).
  • Then lift the box well clear of the blade, by tilting it back up smoothly, rotate it end over end, and do the other end.
  • Put the spacer back in its pocket

  The end is the same, except the spacer is used Once down flat, slide the box to the right about 2" to make the groove.  A mark on the near fence shows when to stop and lift the box off the blade.
Click to enlarge

Do the next box. 

Note: When finished or if interrupted, immediately cover the spinning blade with the guard and turn off the machine.

There are three kinds of cutters that can be used

  1. Wobble blade (seen here)
  2. Butterfly
  3. Dado

All work well.  Some people prefer the butterfly for the scooped hand holes it makes, but is dulls easily and is not suitable for used boxes, whereas either of the others works well and makes very good hand holes, assuming carbide blades are employed.

   A close-up of the wobble blade and the adjusting shims. A butterfly cutter, used to make scoop type hand holes.  More expensive and hard to keep sharp.
Click any picture to enlarge.  Hover for info.
A wobble blade (left) and a butterfly cutter

Previous  - Building the Hand-Hole Cutter

Safety Notice and Disclaimer:
Woodworking is intrinsically dangerous, so if you are not an experienced shop person, "Don't try this at home!"  Find someone knowledgeable to do the job.
Of course, we do not guarantee anything.  This article is provided as a rough outline and intended for knowledgeable craftsperson. This is not a toy. While safe when operated by a sober, attentive and well-trained person, it can be very dangerous in the hands of careless or inexperienced people.  A powerful machine like this can throw boxes and small items considerable distances and with amazing force, and injure or maim.

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