When you get started, you have a couple options for equipment. There are countless types of hives, including the top-bar, the Warre, traditional skeps, and many more. I'll focus just on the common box hive with frames, AKA the Langstroth hive, because, quite frankly, I don't have any experience with any of the others.
The Langstroth hive was developed and marketed by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth back in the mid 19th century. He was looking for a design that was conducive to honey harvesting, that would not destroy the comb inside the hive. Prior to his invention, the only option was to let the bees build their comb unguided, then cut out the comb, and basically, smash the honey out of the comb. Therefore, the bees would have to completely rebuild the comb before they could start making honey again.
The good reverend came up with the idea for a box with removeable frames, where the bees would make their comb. Then, the keeper could remove the frame, cut the caps, and remove the honey. When they are done, the drawn out comb is still intact (except for the caps, which the bees would have replaced anyway). The frames are returned to the hive, where they are cleaned out by the bees, and are ready to fill again.
Now, when one decides to keep bees, they need to plan and prepare well before spring. The potenial keeper needs to order bees, gather all the woodenware (the hive and all it's parts), and all the tools. With Langstroth hives, this can add up pretty quick. You can purchase new equipment from businesses that specialize in beekeeping supplies, such as Dadant, Brushy Mountain Bee Farms, Mann Lake, and many more. Ambitious beekeepers can try to make their own boxes, though the frames are difficult and somewhat expensive to make, because of the special equipment needed, but are actually pretty cheap to buy. Another option is to find someone that is getting out of the hobby, which can save you quite a bit of money.
Most companies offer a full set-up (two hive bodies, two supers, associated frames , foundation, a smoker, a veil, maybe a pair of gloves,and a few extras), designed for beginners. You can get them completely unassembled (it's really very easy to put the parts together, with any small amount of technical ability, and tools; nothing more than a hammer, needle nose pliers, carpenters glue, and maybe a flathead screwdriver) and put it together yourself over a weekend; or you can get them fully assembled. Typically, these will run between $150 to more than $300.
Buying new almost guarantees that your hive will start off healthy. You don't have to worry about prior colonies that may have had foulbrood, wax moths, or any of the other bee specific issues. You can guarantee the wood is in good shape, and the foundation is clean. However, you start with a bit of a financial investment. Plus, if you are assembling the hive yourself, you have to make sure it is done correctly.
I started off by getting a good amount of used equipment. A gentleman about 20 minutes from me advertised hives for sale. When I showed up at his house, he told me he had been a beekeeper during high school, getting involved through FFA around 50+ years earlier, and had just gotten away from it. He also mentioned that he had an extractor and smoker, and would sell me the whole she-bang. I got two full hives (minus one bottom board), a veil, a smoker, and a three frame extractor, (mind you, the veil, smoker, and extractor are all useable antiques, which is an added bonus, for history/ antique nuts like myself) and about 10 entrance feeders for $135, all in pretty darn good condition.
Now, with used woodenware, you run the risk of starting off with diseases. Some can only be killed by burning the insides, or by using chemicals (which is something I am trying to avoid). Also, the wood may be rotted, cracked, or otherwise damaged. I strongly recommend you NOT buy sight unseen. Inspect the woodenware thoroughly, and don't be afraid to pass if something looks damaged. Don't, however, pass on items just because they are dirty. Remember, you can clean them, or you can let the bees do it. They are fastidious about their homes!
When I bought my woodenware, I knew they had been sitting for literally decades. I removed all the old foundation, and scraped all the old wax and propolis off the frames and from the inside the boxes. I repainted the boxes, covers ,and bottom boards, and replaced all the foundation with new. I also had to replace a few frames. I also bought a new veil, a suit for my daughter, Maddie, and a few other items that I needed (hive tool, a hive stand, and stuff like that), so I kinda took both approaches.
Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. Please feel free to post your ideas and tips about aquiring woodenware. Also, feel free to post general comments, questions you have, or ideas for future posts. Thanks again, Dan.