The smoker is a simple device for burning fuel in an environment that is starved of oxygen, until the bellows provide a mild blast of air. Use the smoker sparingly… Allow the prevailing wind to drift the smoke onto the bees.
Copper is a material that smokers have been traditionally made from, but tinplate, galvanized steel and stainless steel are also common. Stainless steel is more robust and corrosion free, copper is also corrosion free, but the heat anneals the metal making it prone to damage.
Inside the base of the firebox thereis a ‘grate’ that gives a ventilated false floor at about 1” height.
The barrel size of smokers varies, but certain combinations of height and width have been recognised, 180 mm and 250 mm are common heights, 75 mm and 100 mm are common diameters. These dimensions are used in any combination. Both larger and smaller types have been used, but the dimensions given account for about 90% of English speaking countries’ manufacture.
Some smokers are fitted with a grid or cage surrounding the firebox to act as a safety guard. A simple guard made from a “U” shaped piece of sheet metal is sometimes combined with a hook so that the device can be hung on a hive box edge when not in actual use.
The ‘Etna’ type is a version that has a hemispherically domed top. These are available in small and large versions, in tinplate, galvanized steel and stainless steel material and any of these forms is available with or without the wire guard cage.
Small barreled straight pattern English bee smoker
British made smokers of the early part of the twentieth century were smaller barreled, with fire boxes about 50 mm (2″) diameter and about 125 mm (5″) or 150 mm (6″) long. These had straight nozzles and were used with the barrel held horizontally. They have gone out of fashion, although some still do exist and are in use by a few ‘old timers’.
They had a reputation for not lasting long, but this was because critics didn’t know how to use them. The best fuel I found was corrugated cardboard. The best way to prepare it is to get it in large rolls if you can and there are plenty of sources. Roll it up loosely and stab it with a hive tool, then tear it up. This leaves a ragged edge that will light readily. Roll it up VERY tightly. Once alight I have often used it for well in excess of an hour before recharging. Next time you light it, just light the charred end and off you go again. It’s a great pity in my view they aren’t still made, but like a lot of good things in beekeeping they were rubbished by people who didn’t know how to use them.
venturi nozzle adaption for typical bee smokers
There is an adaptation, that some beekeepers make, to increase the efficiency of the bellows blast. It consists of a small tinplate or brass cone that is attached to the bellows over the air exit hole. This modification concentrates the air into a fine column that is aimed centrally along the venturi tube. The effect is two fold… first the narrow air column travels fast and thus travels further into the base of the firebox and secondly the fast moving, lower pressure, air draws additional atmospheric air in with each blast thus increasing the volume of air delivered with each pulse of the bellows.
Brass cone, ‘N’ type socket impedance matcher
It is possible to make such a cone from stainless steel nozzles that are intended for icing cakes. These cones are flatter and less pointed than the pointed one but they are just as effective.
Rauchboy, high quality bee smoker
The “Rauchboy” smoker is a high quality, heavy duty device, designed by Hermann Link and manufactured by H. Tuerksch in Duisburg, it features a ventilated sleeve that contains the combustible material within the firebox. Heavily engineered and with leather bellows, it is designed for a lifetime of trouble free service.
Spare bellows assembly to suit common smokers
The bellows on all types of smoker used to be made of soft and flexible leather, similar to the Rauchboy, but the last few decades have seen the use of a plasticised cloth (Rexine) that is commonly used for upholstery, this is not so durable as leather and sometimes cracks, also the return springs in bellows can occasionally fail.
The air blast, that emanates from the hole, is directed into a sleeve that is inserted in the side of the smoker barrel about half way up the void that exists under the grate.
Spring powered smoker known as a ‘Vulcan’
This smoker has no bellows at all, it is spring driven (clockwork) and has a metal fan that provides the draught. It is known as a ‘Vulcan’ smoker.
Similar to the Vulcan there is an almost identical version that is powered by a battery.
Both of the bellow less smokers have switches or levers to allow the delivery of smoke to be regulated.
German mouth powered smoker known as an imkerpfeife
In Germany, originally for use inside bee houses, an unusual smoker rather like a large metal smoking pipe has been developed. Known as an Imker Pfeife (beekeeper’s pipe). It is used with coarse tobacco stalks or herbal smoking mixture, it is blown rather than sucked.
You can purchase beekeeping veils with reinforced apertures in a suitable place so that the smoker mouthpiece will pass through.
Below are two methods of “smoking” bees without the use of the traditional smoker. There are several others. I have never used any of them, or even seen them used. Quite frankly the principle doesn’t appeal to me, as I have plenty of smoker fuel available and I have never seen any reason to use anything else. I’m sure the use of proper smoke is far less cost to the environment.
Liquid Smoke has been popular in recent years, it calms the bees very effectively. It is simply a spray bottle of concentrated brown liquid that is mixed with water at a ratio of 1:16. The dilute working solution is then sprayed using a trigger bottle (like that used for misting plant leaves with water). The puffs of spray being used in a similar fashion to ‘normal’ smoke. It is a handy tool for swarm collection duties as it can be used in areas such as flammable liquid storage units, garage forecourts and other places where a lighted smoker would not be allowed.
There are two disadvantages, to liquid smoke… First, you cannot use it to chase bees, in a particular direction, as you can with conventional smoke. Second, the pungent spray leaves a stain behind that may contaminate either nectar or honey. Repeated use will cause a build up of such a stain on woodwork and as I am unsure of the analysis of the stain I cannot be certain that it is a good thing or even an innocuous thing to have in a bee hive. The warning ” For bees only, NOT for human consumption” is displayed on the bottle. The ingredients, which are also listed on the sachet, state:- Water, smoke concentrate, and one or more of the following essential oils… Spearmint, peppermint, vanilla.
Fabi-Spray, aerosol alternative to smoke
Fabi-Spray “Cold Smoke” comes in an aerosol type canister and is ideal for simple manipulations that can be completed quickly. Just spray a small amount and the bees will retreat. This product saves the hassle of lighting the smoker for such ‘in and out’ type jobs.