Success With Bee Hive Smokers

In the years that I’ve been keeping bees at Brookfield Farm and my other bee yards I have seldom used a smoker.  Now it is true that with gentle, slow motions one can often dispense with smoke.

A smoking bee smoker


But that’s not the reason that I often forego the smoker, except on very defensive hives.  The simple fact is I just could never keep the smoker lit.  Happily, beekeeper Pat Ray has shed light on my delima, and my bee hive smoker now stays lit.


In the past, my smoker would light, and I’d work a hive.  After the first few blasts, I didn’t need the smoker.  Then I’d move to the next hive.  Very likey I didn’t need one there.  Luck doesn’t hold forever. At some point I’d hit a touchy hive and reach for my smoker, which would be out.

I tried different concepts:  Paper with bits of wood to form a base, then larger dry pieces of wood on that seemed a good idea – not for me however.  Finally I’d just grab a handful of straw, twist it into a circle to create a chimney, light that and add dry maple leaves.  As I keep goats as well as bees on our cedar and maple covered farm, I have a vast supply of straw and leaves. This works for a quick hit, but burns out rapidly.

Burlap standing by to be used as bee smoker fuel at Brookfield Farm

New Burlap For Fuel

Pat’s fuel of choice is burlap, acquired from coffee roasters.  The burlap is cut into squares which can be easily stashed in a truck or a bee bag.


He pointed out that as I habitually empty my smoker when I’m done with it, I’m creating a problem for myself.  I’m taking away all the dry, crispy bits that will help light the smoker when I need it.  So the first time I used his method, I simply put ripped, dry newspaper at the bottom of my very empty smoker, lit that and added the burlap.  After that I followed his advice.




Crispy burlap left from previous bee hive smoking

Crispy burlap


Remove the crispy, burnable burlap, left from the last time you used the smoker.

Knock out any ash



Burnable remains of burlap from a bee hive smoker

Yep, it will burn

Put crispy, burnable stuff back in  – if you can pick it up it will burn (or put in the ripped newspaper if you don’t have any).




Burlap burning as it goes into a bee smoker

Lit burlap


Light your burlap square.

Hold it so the crispy bits catch the flame.




Add the new, burning burlap square – loosely, let it catch and breathe.

Close top tightly


After a while, push the burning burlap down a bit  but not tight.

This keeps the burning bits in contact.

Remember to pump it even when not in active use.

Keep more burlap squares in your pocket to add as needed.


Do not empty the smoker when you’re done.

Close off the smoke holes (Pat uses an empty shotgun shell casing pushed into the “spout”)

Let the smoker fuel die out on its own.  This leaves the crispy, burnable stuff for the next time.


Pat’s method is simple, effective, and leaves me wondering “why didn’t I think of that before?” But that’s the joy of  visiting and working with other beekeepers.

Kitten examines bee hive smoker

Not Pat Ray

How do you keep your bee hive smoker lit?  Do share.  Learning is a life-long experience.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington.



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5 Responses to Success With Bee Hive Smokers

  1. Natalie says:

    Great post! I have gotten better at keeping my smoker going. I put in wood shavings, then add cardboard rolled up into a cylinder. More shavings on top, then I light it with one of those handheld propane torches (also handy for scorching hiveboxes). I used to use matches but the torch makes a big difference. And I learned not to empty out the last session’s crispy bits. I get the thing really going before I close the lid, and do a fair bit of pumping right after that, then leave it alone except for the occasional pump.

    There are so many smoker fuels! I’ve used sumac bobs too, as we have lots around. And of course I always put some green grass on top of everything before I close the lid. I find that I am using much less smoke now that I’ve become more comfortable and relaxed as a beekeeper. 🙂 Still so much to learn!

  2. Natalie says:

    Oh, and when I’m done, I plug the spout of the smoker with grass to cut off oxygen. Then I sit the smoker in a metal bucket (my attempt at safety!) and let it cool off before putting it in the garage.

    • I replied and didn’t hit reply – there’s probably a reason I just wrote about bees sleeping, I should probably do it too. I think your smoker ideas are great. A metal lid on that metal bucket would make it perfect. I learned that the hard way early on: the back of my pickup suddenly looked like a 1990’s music video. Happily no harm done, but the smoker gets shut up tight now.

  3. Vincent Richardson says:

    connected to you through Facebook…

    Just finished reading Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, by Ross Conrad…

    I was particularly fascinated by the mention of using screened bottom boards in conjunction to using a smoker in the battle against parasitic mites. Most interesting was the mention of the importance of the fuel used in order to maximize this effect of fighting mites by using small amounts of leafs from tobacco (pure), black walnut, cedar, grapefruit, and creosote bush (and undoubtedly others not mentioned or considered). Conrad’s thinking is that some fuels are more effective than others in this ongoing battle…

    • I love that book. When it came out I got it out of the library (thank goodness for a good library and interlibrary loans). As I read it I kept thinking, yep, yes, alright, and “where was this book when I started out.” I think you make an excellent point about the smoke source – I’d forgotten that part of the book. Around my place I think I can find lots of cedar bits to burn (we’re cedar, big leaf maple, and alder at the farm – and we have some strong winds). I depend more on genetics, the bees hygenic practices and the bottom screen for mites, but I figure anything we can do without resorting to chemicals is worth a try. You know the only thing I disagreed with in Conrad’s book was a photo of a fellow who tucked his bee suit into his boots: my girls would have been down those boots in a flash…

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