Category Archives: Smokers

Abelo smoker box

Small Dadant smoker

Small Dadant smoker

There’s no smoke without fire.

That’s usually considered to be an idiom.

Unless you are a beekeeper, in which case it’s probably also a proverb 1.

A large, properly fuelled and well-lit smoker will produce smoke for a very long time. The right sort of fuel and a few puffs on the bellows, perhaps with an infrequent top-up, will keep a smoker going for several hours.

A smoker that’s¬†“gone out” can often be resurrected with a few vigorous puffs. Indeed, after finishing in one apiary, stuffing the smoker nozzle with a twist of damp grass and driving to another apiary, it’s not unusual to be able to restart it without relighting it.

Which, when you think about it, isn’t very safe.

Too hot to handle

Most half-decent smokers have some sort of heat shield or cage. These stop you inadvertently melting your gloves or burning your fingers. Some heat shields are better than others but, frankly, none are really good.

The cage on the Dadant smokers I use is ‘barely there’ underneath the smoker. Polystyrene and Correx roofs are easily melted if you’re stupid enough to stand the smoker on them.

I am ūüôĀ

And that also means that car upholstery can be damaged if you don’t ensure the smoker has cooled down before packing it away.

I’m reasonably careful about this, but it’s easy to overlook things when in a hurry or distracted. In the past, through inattentiveness, I’ve returned to the car to find it filling with smoke 2 and periodically stories circulate about a beekeepers setting their car/van alight when transporting smokers 3.

Abelo smoker box

All this explains why I was so grateful to receive the gift of a smart metal Abelo smoker box when I recently gave an evening talk at a beekeeping association.

An ideal Christmas gift for a beekeeper

An ideal Christmas gift for a beekeeper

The box is well designed and amply big enough to take the larger of the two Dadant smokers (which is one of the largest smokers on the market). It has a fold-flat handle on the top and a small, but secure, catch to hold the lid closed.

The base of the box (not shown in the pictures) is recessed by about half an inch. This means that a hot smoker cannot directly transmit heat through the metal to whatever the box is sitting on.

Finally, the inner rim of the lid has a strip of draught sealant around the edge. A lit smoker placed in the box should go out pretty quickly due to lack of oxygen.

Could it be improved? Smokers go out faster when laid on their sides. In this box (unlike the one used by Ron Miksha) the smoker stands upright … unless I lay the entire box on its side I suppose.

It’s midwinter. It’s a month since I last opened a box of bees and it’ll be at least another three months until I fire up the smoker again and inspect my next colony.

However, when I do I’ll be able to transport my smoker safely between apiaries.


Colophon

There’s no smoke without fire was first used in the 14th Century, appeared in collections of proverbs from the mid-16th Century and remains current today 4.

If Carlsberg made smokers

They would probably be like this …

Large Dadant smoker

Large Dadant smoker …

Dadant … probably the best smoker in the world.

I was fortunate to be given a large Dadant smoker last summer and have been using it this season. It lights easily, burns evenly and just keeps on going. I can now keep a smoker in each of my larger apiaries without having to carry a hot, smelly fire risk back and forth in the car between inspections. The photo above was taken late October last year … the smoker is starting to look like its smaller relative¬†already …

Small Dadant smoker

Small Dadant smoker

The Dadant smokers are now made with a ‘finger heat guard’ in addition to the cage and this is the model shown by Thorne’s online though I think they actually ship the model without (as shown in the top picture). This is not an inexpensive smoker (c. ¬£60) in the UK … but¬†appreciably less expensive ($43) in the USA.


The autocorrect feature changes Dadant to¬†Dadaist … a reference to the avant-garde art movement in early 20th Century Europe.

Smoker fuel

Dadant smoker

Dadant smoker

A regular¬†topic on the beekeeping forum is smoker fuel ‚Ķ what to use, how to get it to ignite and how to keep it alight. There are as many answers as there are contributors to the threads, actually usually more. Lighting the smoker is part of the ritual of hive inspections, though it’s not always necessary. A plant mister makes a suitable alternative, particularly for small colonies and nucs. For mini-nucs, it’s the only thing I use. However, for large colonies, particularly for large aggressive colonies (which you’re presumably intending to requeen as soon as practical ūüėČ ), having a lit smoker to hand can provide peace of mind.

Which smoker?

In my limited experience (I’ve only ever owned two), large smokers are easier to light and work both better and longer. With the exception of those that get lost (it happens) or reversed over when leaving the apiary car park (ditto), a good quality smoker should last for many years. I’ve got the smaller of the two Dadant smokers¬†(see image above).¬†I should have probably got the larger one (10 x 4) which is¬†the only model stocked by Thorne’s. At around ¬£50 it’s not cheap, but I expect it to¬†last years more.

Which fuel?

The mother lode

The mother lode …

I use egg boxes for quick inspections. They’re easy to carry, ignite¬†easily and smoulder very¬†well, producing a cool – though perhaps rather acrid – smoke. I usually have one in the bag of stuff I carry to the apiary and – on a calm day – can even be used in the absence of the smoker.¬†Alternatively, for longer inspections I use a mix of wood chips and dried rotten wood. Every year or two I’ll find a tree that’s been blown down in the winter storms, uncovering a rotten core. I collect the wood, dry it in my greenhouse and store it in an old plastic dustbin. I buy chipped wood animal bedding from the local Wilkinsons (where they call them ‘wood shavings‘). A large pack, supplemented with dried rotten wood will comfortably last a full season, which is pretty good value for ¬£2. An old 30 lb honey bucket makes a convenient container to store and carry the wood chips/rotten wood mix in.

Lighting

Fuel bucket

Fuel bucket …

The majority of beekeepers I know use a blowtorch to light their smokers, and with good reason. If you get one with a spark ignition system it will light even in a strong wind. No more struggling with matches while sheltering in the lee of the apiary shed, or cowering in the car boot. A 20 second blast into a part-filled smoker, a few puffs of the bellows followed by topping up of the fuel, should be sufficient for a long session in the apiary. A well-lit Dadant smoker will remain smouldering for 30-40 minutes without attention (for example, as happened this afternoon, while I returned home to collect a spare brood box and frames to perform an emergency Demaree on a colony thinking about going AWOL*). After this period it might need quite a bit of encouragement to produce a good plume of smoke, but a regular couple of puffs of the bellows during the apiary session will keep it ready for immediate use.

Job done ...

Job done …

Periodically you’ll come across nightmare stories about smokers causing car fires ‚Ķ they can remain hot for a long time. Either transport them in a tin box or bucket, or make sure they are well and truly out. I stuff mine with grass immediately I finish inspections, potter about a bit tidying up and put the smoker in the car at the very end, once it’s cool to the touch.

Finally, I recommend you don’t leave a smoker in a car overnight ‚Ķ the smell of smoke permeates everywhere and can cause all sorts of domestic problems if you don’t have a dedicated bee-vehicle ūüėČ


* this was written in mid-May but posting was delayed once queen rearing started

Cheap smoker

Necessity is the mother of invention. I forgot my smoker on a recent trip to an out apiary and had to open a colony (to add fondant) that was livelier than I would have liked. However, I did have some egg boxes and lighter … a scrap of egg box smoulders for a long time and gives more than enough cool smoke to waft along the edge of the cracked open crownboard to calm the bees.

Egg box smoker

Egg box smoker …

You can even leave it sitting on a (metal) hive roof until you need it. This is probably not a good idea if there’s any chance of of causing a fire but in the winter everything around here is too wet to ignite.