Bellows Bee Smoker for the Home Apiarist

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Introduction: Bellows Bee Smoker for the Home Apiarist

About: I'm the kind of person who's mind doesn't stop. Literally, I take medication to fix that just so I can sleep at night. I have an unhealthy obsession with making things and believe, firmly, in sharing what I ...

It's always been a dream, of mine, to have a few bee hives, so when I found a swarm on my property, I was pretty elated. More than that, they were free, they were wild and they were plentiful. I realized that it presented an opportunity to create my apiary in a traditional way, from building my hives, to creating my own equipment from scratch.

Unfortunately, the site I'd secured, on a neighboring farm property fell through, and I was left with 50,000 bees without a home. Luckily, it's not to difficult to find a home for wayward bees, and within a few days they were settled in a nice apiary in the next town.

Now there's no shortage of beehive plans online and I really don't have anything new to offer in that regard, however, I did notice that there was very little, in the way, of plans for building a bellows smoker. As it was one of the first (and favorite) items I created, I thought I'd share it with the instructables community.

A smoker works by pumping air into a metal canister, via the use of bellows, and forcing the smoke from burning twigs and leaves in a controlled direction. The action of 'smoking' a hive causes an instinctive reaction, in the bees, whereby their natural tendency is to gorge themselves on honey, to the point of lethargy as a defense against forest fires. This makes the bees docile enough to handle, minimizing stinging and aggression.

This design is based on the original design, created by Moses Quimby in the 19th century and remains the standard in bee smokers to this day.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies

Tools;

  • hack saw/tin snips or wheel cutter
  • hammer and anvil
  • bolt or strong wire cutters
  • sharp knife
  • drill with bits
  • step drill bit

Supplies;

  • stainless steel toilet bowl brush holder (dollar store)
  • 3-4oz leather patch
  • tack nails
  • brass sheet or copper pipe with fittings
  • empty candy tin
  • large spring
  • two 3.5x6x.25" pine boards
  • copper rivets or small nuts and bolts
  • self tapping screws
  • artist canvas/leather or other dense material

Step 2: Making the Burner Chamber

First you need to disassemble the toilet brush canister and remove any plastic. You should be left with a hollow stainless steel tube. Use your saw/tin snips or wheel cutter to cut it down to between 7-8" long. Once your tube has been cut to size, you'll need to create a base with the candy tin. I was fortunate enough that the inner diameter of the tin and the outer diameter of the canister were the same size, however you may have to experiment with finding a metal object that fits properly. Once you've fitted your base, use some self tapping metal screws to secure it into place.

Don't worry about burning the finish from the tin. The first time you burn material in your smoker should take care of that. Just be sure not to breathe it in or subject your bees to the smoke until its completely gone.

You'll need to elevate the material in the canister to allow air underneath so that it burns more evenly. You can achieve this with some expanded metal, cut into a round shape and bent down at the edges. I secured mine by drilling a hole in the base and bolting it down, but it isn't necessary. It will, however, help when you need to empty your smoker, not having to deal with a hot metal base falling out on you.

Step 3: Creating Your Outlet Lid

For mine, I created the outlet out of a sheet of brass, but any other metal sheet will work. I simply cut it into a funnel shape, and hammered it to size around the horn of my anvil, then drilled and riveted the seam. I then hammered a lip on its base so that it could be secured to the lid.

The lid is constructed out of the old lid from the toilet brush. I used my tin snips to enlarge the existing hole so that the funnel would fit snugly inside, then riveted it into place. I had bought 2 of the toilet brushed to experiment with and ended up creating another outlet using some 1/2" I.D. copper pipe and fittings. It did work, however the flow of smoke was limited. Should you opt to go this route, I'd recommend a minimum of 1" pipe for your outlet.

To secure the lid to the canister, I simply created a couple of wire clips that mount to the side main body of the smoker, and latch down over top of the lid. This allows for quick opening of the smoker for lighting and refilling of burnable material.

When it was complete, I removed the scratches using my buffing wheel. Keep in mind, however, it will heat up and discolor so there's no real need to make it overly perfect, especially considering we're working with recycled/improvised material. It does, however go a long way to reducing the rough 'recycled' look.

**note** if you don't have rivets, you can simply use self tapping screws or small nuts and bolts.

Step 4: Making the Bellows Frame

The Boards;

The bellows are a clever design that uses an air inlet with a one way valve, and an exit valve that blows air out when the bellows are actuated. On one of the 3.5x6x.25" boards I drilled a 3/4" hole two inches from its base. I then tacked a leather flap over the hole. This flap will be on the inside of the bellows and will act as the one way valve allowing air in but preventing it from escaping.

On the other board, I drilled a 1/2" hole 1.5" from the base. I then took the metal tube, that acted as the handle of the toilet brush and pressed it into place. The tube is flared at one end ensuring it doesn't fall out. You can apply a bit of glue around it to ensure it doesn't move.

The Spring;

The spring allows the bellows to be operated with one hand by keeping them in the open position so that only compression pressure is needed. First I cut a few rounds off of the spring, heated the ends with a torch and straightened them. I then drilled small holes in the ends of the boards for the prongs of the spring to fit into. You can see a clear example of how it is fitted in the last picture of the next step.

**note** don't set the spring in place just yet until we apply the cloth of the bellows.

Step 5: Attaching the Sides

Optimally, leather would be the best material to use for the sides, however heavy canvas or other material will work just as well.

First I cut a piece of canvas 20" long by 4" wide. I then tapered each end down to 1.5" leaving me with an elongated diamond shape. Be certain to leave the middle 3.5" of the strip at 4" wide. This will form the top of the bellows and we don't want this section tapered. Once my canvas was cut I folded the edges over, so they wouldn't fray, then tacked it around the the edges of the boards using upholstery tacks placed evenly every 1/2".

Finally when my canvas sides were in place I installed the spring. Each arm of the spring was just under 1.5" long so it only needed to be tapped into place and didn't need any additional securing.

Step 6: Mounting the Bellows to the Canister

For my mounting hardware, I simply cut some 3/4" brass strips, tacking one end to the outlet side of the bellows and the other end bolted to the sides of the canister. The bellows should sit roughly 1.5" away from the canister.

As you can see in the images, the outlet of the bellows is not connected directly to the canister, and in fact a 1/4" gap is left between. This is to prevent ash and sparks from being sucked into the bellows and causing them to catch fire.

For starters, you'll need to drill the inlet on the canister using your step bit. It should be roughly 1/2" wide and 2.5" from the base. The length of the outlet tube, on the bellows is adjusted to roughly 1.25" long and the bellows are mounted to the canister using the brass strips.

It's important to make sure there is no movement between the bellows and the canister as the outlet tube needs to be perfectly in line with the inlet of the burn chamber.

Step 7: Testing Your Bellows

Remove the lid and fill the burn chamber with leaves, moss and twigs collected from the ground. Pack them in, but not to tightly so that air is able to flow through. Now using a lighter or torch ignite the leaf litter and make certain there is a good flame. Once it is burning, replace the lid. Optionally, you can add a bit of live material such as grass to increase the amount of smoke produced.

The action of setting the lid will cause the fire to go out, however the leaf litter should smoulder and continue to burn creating an abundance of smoke. In trials, a full canister burned for roughly 20 minutes before requiring the addition of more material. I recommend puffing the bellows on occasion when not using the smoker to help maintain the material burn.

Step 8: Finished

That's it. Being able to create my own equipment for my apiary, even though it didn't work out was a fantastic experience. There was a time when bee keeping kits didn't exist, and bee keepers had to be creative in fabricating their tools of the trade. In my opinion, it's about more than just saving money. It's about creating that close tie with your hobby and knowing, when it succeeds, that 100% of the credit can truly go to you.

As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable, and thanks for following.

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    22 Discussions

    Hi there,

    Your smoker looks great and I am going to adapt your design only I need a more horizontal format because of where my wild swarm has located. I have seen this in some older smokers online.

    I am going to share my story with you hoping for some input or feedback with ideas and or suggestions from you or your readers on whether this plan is likely to work or not or any refinements as to what might make it work better. Or why it won't work at all and I should default to the bee experts who have been almost no help so far.

    I have a wild swarm moving into my front exterior porch wall. I have contacted over 15 area companies purporting to be bee experts asking for help capturing this swarm and removing the honey comb that is bound to be building up. The bees have been there since Memorial Day weekend and their numbers appear to be growing. I do not want a hole torn into my wall as there is already a hatch that will access it. Every single bee expert responding would not promise anything, including showing up and all promised a cost of minimum $700 and also tearing out the wall was a requirement without even visiting the site.

    I am actually quite handy and grew up in the country so I have been googling a bit and have decided I can handle this problem myself. If I can capture the bees and give them to a beekeeper, great. If not, I can kill them just as easily as the next guy and for less than $700. I have killed snakes, rats and wasps infesting my house before. I live in New Orleans on a sizable lot with a nice vegetable garden, several citrus trees and a nice long oak line street out front. We have lots of wild life around, including crows, purple martins, night crowned craned, hawks and the occasional eagle. We have also spotted raccoon and possum families, as well as coyotes. We have heard what is purported to be foxes at night.

    I googled around and found your homemade smoker. I will probably adapt it to a more horizontal design like the older one I noticed in some other google site photographs.

    I will also be making a homemade bee keeper suit out of an old South African WW II pith helmet, a couple layers of purple tulle netting, a few layers of clothing such as a lab coat and sweat suit top and bottom with elastic cuffs, socks, shrimp boots and some heavy old doeskin leather garden gloves.

    I plan to use 2 temporary bee hive boxes made out of old copy paper boxes from my office.

    I have made an angle iron rake fitted to the interior of the porch wall out of metal shelf segments bolted together.

    My plane is to assemble the outfit, smoker and 1 temporary bee hive box sitting in a plastic bag on the porch along with some insect killer and a shop vac.

    I will place the other temporary bee hive box also sitting in a large plastic bag secured to a ladder with moving straps on the outside of the hive in the yard at hive level. I live in a raised house so this is all at the 2nd floor level.

    I plan to use the homemade smoker to calm the bees one evening when it is a bit cooler and they are down for the night anyway.

    Then I will open the access hatch at the bottom of the porch wall on the interior, propping it open with a brick.

    I will place some jelly pan rolls on the floor in the porch cavity.

    I will use my new horizontal smoker to smoke calm the bees hopefully. I am thinking of using incense cones or a block of BBQ charcoal that I already has a fuel for the fire. I may add pine straw to increase the smoke as that is what I see in may bee smoker sites. Any suggestions here would be especially helpful.

    Once that step appears successful, I will take my angle iron tool and use it to rake/take/knock the honeycomb down, catching it in the jelly roll pans hopefully. If I am fortunate, it will contain the queen in her chamber.

    I plan to put that comb into the temporary hive and leave it there for a while to see if the hive moves in with her.

    If that works, I will bag the temporary hive up, take it outside and offer it to local beekeepers.

    If it does not work, or I anger the bees beyond control and everything goes bad along in the process, I will shop vac the swarm, or spray the bees with insecticide. Whatever is needed at that point if self defense is warranted.

    My secondary goal here is to save the bees and relocate them after all.

    Once I get them out by hook or by crook, I will pressure wash the interior cavity with hot water and maybe tsp solution or bleach solution.

    Then I plan to paint the porch cavity and area with an insect repellent such citronella oil.

    If I save the bees and even get some honey, great, if not thew bees are going anyway.

    Please provide input if you have a chance. This needs to happen soon.

    Love your bee smoker idea. Maybe I'll get a chance to post this adventure.

    Thank you

    Production of super! My friend and you do not accidentally from Russia? My grandfather - a beekeeper, used exactly the same only from steel, yet 40 years ago.

    Great work! Congratulations!
    Using the stainless steel toilet brush holder is a great idea!

    Just a thought: wouldn't be better if put the bellows a little higher? Now it stands on the spring and the canister edge. It could stand more stable on bottom of the canister.
    I see the reasons using this kind of spring at the bellows, but there are better solutions. My smoker has a door hinge, attached at the bottom of boards, but inside of the canvas (mine has leatherette instead). Also the spring (a thin steel strip, formed in "V" shape) is inside of the bellows. I believe this is better solution. (However your spring could last longer.)

    1 reply

    All great suggestions tho here's the method of my madness. The inlet, in the burn chamber from the bellows had to sit just above the grill for best air flow. Any higher and there may not have been enough air through the burning material, any lower and there may have been flow restriction so it just seemed logical to me. Now with the bellows outlet, if I'd mounted it higher, it would have been better, but then we either run into the problem of it flowing into the burn chamber to high, and if I'd mounted it lower, again, there may have been restriction inside the bellows from where the two boards meet. So all in all, it was the lesser of two evils. The spring, absolutely could have been better had it been lower profile which would have allowed the smoker to sit flat when placed on a table, but I weighed the thought about whether someone following the instructable would be able to find a coil spring, or a piece of spring steel. The former seemed to be more likely and anyway, it fit with Quimby's original patent. Strength wise, a coil spring does have more tension than spring steel.
    BTW Quimby's original design used canvas. The leather was an upgrade by later manufacturers to prevent coals from burning holes through the bellows so it is indeed a good alteration to make.

    Our smoker is still in pretty good shape, but I have been looking at ways to build our own equipment when our kit pieces wear out. This looks like a nice alternative to buying another smoker. Nice work.

    That looks just like my commercial smoker. Well done and well written.

    For fuel, I use what my grandfather (bee researcher) taught me to use: whatever is on site. Dead, dry grass makes an awesome smoke. Dry, untreated cardboard does as well. Dry, hardwood leaves makes a good smoke as well. The bonus is that all of these fuels are free (with possibly the exception of the cardboard). My grandfather also said that it helps to put a small ball of beeswax in when you start your smoker because the smell of burning wax moves them a little faster.

    5 replies

    Pine needles work great, that's my favorite choice of smoker fuel.

    Once the lid is closed they smolder really well. And they too are free!

    I had put together a 'choke' mod that works like the damper on a wood stove for controlling the burn of particularly resinous material, but it didn't end up in the final instructable because I modded it after the images were taken. It's simply a butterfly valve that sits inside the outlet on the burn chamber made out of brass. One advantage of the choke is that it can actually slow the burn time of your material so you're not refilling as often.

    When I read what you wrote about the beeswax, I did a bit of research and you're absolutely right. It seems that a lot of apiarists use it especially with particularly aggressive bees. Thank you for that.

    That's great. I want a hive of my own someday but who knows when. At least I can make a smoker then

    Nice work antagonizer. As a beekeeper for over 55 years and with 150 beehives much of that time I could make a few comments and minor suggestions for the benefit of people who intend to copy yours.

    Firstly, the lid would be better hinged on one side with a clip on the other and a knob to lift it with because when you come to re-fill it when working the bees it will be very hot and you don't want to burn yourself.

    Secondly, most commercial smokers have the spring inside the bellows as this makes the base flat and easier to stand down. A hook on the front of the burn chamber will allow you to hang the smoker on the open hive.

    Finally, when you have a little bees wax you could melt some and brush it over the canvas to make it more air tight.

    Good luck with your beekeeping.

    Great work, I am looking into building a couple of hives for our property, plenty of trees reliant on pollination here, and currently plenty of clover growing to attract bees! This is a very well written and presented instructable. Particularly kudos for avoiding brazing any of the metalwork, anything related to welding makes me break into a cold sweat...

    Good tip about using Wax. I'll give that a try. Makes sense.

    my wife has been talking about getting bees. this will come in handy

    Loved this.. Definitely gonna be building one of these soon. The one I'm using right now is kinda old and beaten up but this gives me an insight on what I need to make one. Thanks!