A bee smoker is one of the iconic tools for beekeepers. Since I have started keeping bees I figured I needed a smoker and I bought one. I found it to be a pain in the apiary.
First off I really don't like to smoke my bees. When the weather is decent I much prefer to use a spray bottle with sugar water in it to calm and distract my bees. I think it is more user (bee) friendly. I only scare my bees into thinking they are in the midst of a forest fire (with lots of smoke) when the weather is cooler and I can't do my job of managing the hive without distracting my bees.
A traditional smoker uses all kinds of smelly stuff to burn like dead leaves, pin needles, old burlap, wood chips or other unpleasant stuff. These fuels are hard to light (IMO) and seem to go out at the most inconvenient time. The traditional smokers also cost too much, take up a lot of room to store and hassle the bees by going puff!, puff!, puff! every time you want to calm the bees. ("I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll...")
So here are some ideas for a cheaper, smaller, simpler, seldom-goes-out smoker.
Step 1: What You Will Need
I will show you several variations on the Simple Smoker so you may not need all of these tools and supplies for every smoker.
A battery-powered small personal fan
- Any of the $1 personal fans from Dollar Tree (varies by season)
- GREENIC Handheld Mini Fan, Portable Personal USB Powered Electric Fan for Outdoor Travel Office, Gray from Amazon $7.69
Some incense sticks
- Un-scented 100 pack stick incense (ISU1) - from Amazon $5.15
-Various small packets from Walmart ~$1
Fine wire ties to bundles several incense sticks together
A 12" piece of wire
A small pocket lighter
Step 2: Incense As a Source of Smoke
The smoke for my smoker comes from burning incense sticks. I make bundles of 6-10 sticks, tied together with a couple of thin wire loops, so they burn in unison and produce just the amount of smoke I want.
I ordered 100 unscented incense sticks from Amazon for <$6. I also tried some scented sticks of various "flavors" from Walmart. The bees don't seem to be bothered by the scented sticks any more than they are by the unscented sticks, but I just feel better subjecting them to less smelly smoke. (The scents from Walmart can't be any worse than burning burlap used in some traditional smokers!)
A bundle of 6 incense sticks will burn for 30-45 minutes and seldom accidentally goes out. I keep several bundles ready to go if I am going to be working a while in the apiary. It just takes a few seconds to light a new bundle of sticks.
I first tried just waving the bundle of incense sticks near the hive entrance and over the top bars of the frames. Waving the incense didn't get enough smoke where it was needed so I moved on to the next version of the smoker.
Note: It is not a workable idea to just blow on the smoldering sticks to move the smoke where you want it because the CO2 in your breath is an alarm stimulus to the bees!
Step 3: The Fan
The basic idea is to use a small battery-powered fan to blow the smoke from a burning incense bundle over to the bees. So we have burning incense stick bundles and a fan to blow the smoke. We could just hold the sticks in the same hand as the fan and maneuver the sticks so that the fan blows the smoke toward the bees. I did that for a while (see picture).
The fan I started with was a $1 fan from the Dollar Store. They have various fans during the warmer summer months and I tried using different styles as new fans showed up. All the fans seemed to do what I wanted. I tried trimming some of the foam fan blades shorter to reduce the flow rate to mere trickle and that worked well as far as the bees were concerned.
To begin with I just held the smoldering incense sticks in the same gloved hand as the fan and aimed for the desired smoke zone. It was a bit awkward getting the sticks in the right position each time I put down and picked up the fan.
On to the next step forward...
Step 4: Combining the Fan and Incense Sticks
Then I decided to use a piece of bendable wire to make an incense stick holder that kept the incense sticks in position in front of the fan. That made it easier to pick up the whole thing with one hand with my bee-gloves on (picture 1).
I found I needed to turn the fan off between smoking sessions because continuous fanning of the incense sticks quickly caused them to burn up. It was not particularly easy to turn the fan on and off with the small fan switch (picture 2) while wearing the clumsy leather bee gloves I wear while working my hives. It took two hands in most cases to pick up the fan (with sticks) and turn it on or back off.
That led to the next version of the Simple Smoker...
Step 5: "Advanced" Final Version of the Simple Smoker
I moved forward to a really fancy version of the Simple Smoker. This what I use now.
I ordered the "mini personal rechargeable fan" from Amazon for <$8 (picture 1). I modified it in these ways.
1. I discarded the base that comes on a ribbon attached to the fan (picture 2 and 3).
2. I made a wire incense stick holder (as above) and attached it around the fan sliding cover(picture 4 and 5).
3. I enlarged the switch with some blobs of hot glue so I can turn the fan on and off with one gloved hand (picture 6).
4. I put all the parts in a small pencil case that I can carry in my bee jacket pocket between uses: fan, incense and lighter (picture 7 and 9).
Note: If you put a few small pieces of aluminum foil in the case you can wrap the tip of the burning incense sticks and they will go out quickly. You can relight them again the next time you smoke the bees.
Life is good. The bees are happy. I am happy. And the total cost is less than $15. What a bargain.