This page is credited in full to Dave Cushman who created it. His voice is expressed in black colour text and any additions or comments in blue belong to myself. Credit: Dave Cushman’s website.
The Beekeeper’s Smoker
small copper bee smoker, Photo… E.H. Thorne
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. The two copper versions illustrated have different sized barrels, the smaller one at left has a diameter of 75 mm (3″) and a height of 175 mm (7″), while the larger of the two is 100 mm (4″) by 250 mm (10″). The two illustrations are depicted to a similar scale. The bent nose pattern was designed by Bingham and is also known as the ‘Empire’ type.
Use the smoker sparingly… Allow the prevailing wind to drift the smoke onto the bees.
Large copper bee smoker, from Thorne photo
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 (I have a copper one that has a very battered appearance).
Inside the base of the firebox there is a ‘grate’ that gives a ventilated false floor at about 35 mm (1 3/8″) height.
The smoker illustrated above is made of stainless steel and has the same barrel size as the one above left.
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.
Stainless steel bee Smoker
Some smokers are fitted with a grid or cage surrounding the firebox to act as a safety guard, as this small sized copper one illustrated at right. 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… Perhaps I am lucky, I have never used such a guard and I have not had any accidents.
I have seen many ‘home made’ bee smoker guards… Usually fashioned from a portion of a tin can and screwed direct to the front face of the bellows. In appearance these were rather like the stirrup or “U” shaped guard that occurs in the drawing of the straight nozzle older English style, further down the page.
Thorne’s Small copper bee smoker with gridded guard
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.??Etna Small and Large Bee Smokers with Wire guards ?
I used one of these for a number of years myself… It was second hand when I came by it and when I was begged to sell it, the buyer gladly paid 50% of the current new price. This is a good indication that it is a robust type that maintains it’s value. The top is retained by a simple loop of metal rather than the full hinge of most British types. This results in much less of a forward projection and gives a much neater appearance if a guard is fitted.
The cross section of the smoker. This diagram shows all the parts that are normally hidden from view, which include the bellows return spring and the firebox grate. Although not normally used in this type of smoker I have drawn the outline, in green, of the type of sleeve that is fitted within the Rauchboy firebox. I have actually tried this sleeve technique using empty fruit or vegetable cans to contain fuel such as pine needles and small pine cones, broken twigs and small off cuts of wood.
There is an adaptation, venturi nozzle adaption for typical bee smokers 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.
Cross sectional drawing of typical bee smoker
It is possible to make such a cone from stainless steel nozzles that are intended for icing cakes. I have personally used flanged brass cones, like the one at right, that are intended to maintain constant impedance on the rear of some “N” type coaxial cable sockets. These brass cones are flatter and less pointed than the one shown in red in the diagram above right, but they are just as effective. ?? ?Brass cone, ‘N’ type socket impedance matcher
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.
More details are available, including spare parts, on the Rauchboy website
Rauchboy, inner sleeve
The inner sleeve, shown at left, is not quite to the same scale as the overall picture, but it fits in the fashion denoted by the green outline in the cross sectional drawing further up the page.
Rauchboy, high quality bee smoker
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 example, 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. I have had such a spring failure only once, in a secondhand unit that was at least ten years old. The bellows illustrated at right are offered by the appliance trade for such repair purposes, this type is made by E.H. Thorne in UK.
The air blast, that emanates from the hole that is evident in the bellows picture, 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.
I have edited this page heavily to reflect what is usually used in the UK an cut the antique and experimental material.
I used one of the large Etna smokers for many years and it was excellent. In fact *blush* one night I forgot to put it out and take it in and the next morning it was still alight. That was burning hessian sacking a material very hard to get these days. For a cool cheap smoke very rotten wood is excellent, keep your eyes out in the woods for old fallen trees and scoop out some of the insides for future use.
Holding a smoker between the legs is bad for your legs, further the posture one is forced to adopt is very bad for your back. If you are told it is essential: then you are having a conversation with a person who is proving they are not suited to advise you.
Always remember you are using fire, more than one beekeeper has had to dial 999 having set the moors alight!