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Author Topic: NewBee Classic ?: Keeping Smokers Lit  (Read 4501 times)
DoctorZ
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« on: April 15, 2012, 09:01:45 AM »

BeeMaster Greetings:

A classic question from a NewBee: how does one keep a smoker lit? Besides bellows failure, do smokers wear out?

I inherited two old but usable smokers, but they fail to keep going. Each lasts about the time for one hive's observation. Then I have to relight every time I move to the next hive which of course is a pain.

I clean out the ash and the bellows appear to fan the flame fine, but they both peter out. I'm debating about springing for a new smoker, but as I have two - and both fail - perhaps it's Operator Error!

BTW my fuel is dry pine needles and small twigs. Perhaps it's my fuel? (I thought about moving to wood pellets, but I don't want to bring a blow torch into the game.)

Thanks all.
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hardwood
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2012, 09:16:32 AM »

With pine needles you need to get them really going from the start. Fold a handful into a ball, light the ball and, while pumping the bellows, push it part way into the smoker and keep pumping until you hear the flame (it actually makes a roaring sound). Stuff the ball to the bottom...pumping the whole time...and push another ball down on top of the first. push hard to compact the needles. You want the needles tightly packed so that the embers can jump from one needle to the next. This is most likely where you're going wrong. The embers can't cross to the next needle if they're not touching. Continue to pack these "balls" into the can until it's full. You should have good thick smoke from the start.

Scott
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"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

Theodore Roosevelt 1907
nietssemaj
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2012, 10:07:13 AM »

Is your fuel being used up or going out?

I was taught to
1) Loosely pack the smoker with pine needles.
2) Light pine needs and pump the belows to get a good fire going.
3) Once the pine needs are all embers pack more needles into the smoker.
4) Pump a few times and you should get a good powerful smoke.
5) Pack the smoker tightly with needles.


I've followed that and my smallish ancient smoker lasts a good 45 minutes and never has unburnt material left in it.


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beyondthesidewalks
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2012, 11:04:30 AM »

I was very fortunate to have a mentor that advised me to purchase the largest smoker available when I started.  I can load it up and it burns for a long time.  It's almost 20 years old.  I use twigs from local trees(mesquite smells nice but makes me hungry:)) and shrubs.  I used to ball up a piece of newspaper, then load wood on top of it and then start pumping the bellows until it was lit.  Now I use a piezo ignited torch to light my smoker.  It goes much faster.  I also keep that torch handy just in case the smoker goes out.  Makes relighting a breeze and very fast.

I also put my lit smoker in an ammo box when I'm done with it.  The ammo box suffocates the smoker and leaves the previous fuel in a charcoal state.  On the next use it's just a matter of adding fuel on top and getting the flame from the torch down on the previously burned fuel.  It lights right up, stays lit and is ready to go.  When using the smoker I find it's smart to give the bellows a pump every now and then to help it stay lit.  If it gets too hot and throws sparks or flames a quick shake will make it smoke nicely again.  Hope that gives you some ideas and helps.
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DoctorZ
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« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2012, 11:33:28 AM »

Thank you sirs, for your advice.

I think we're got NewBee Operator Error issues here: I'm putting in my pine needles relatively loosely and lighting it from the top, thinking that the fire will burn down to the lower part of the smoker.

Your posts indicate that there needs to be a fire alive below and have fuel above (ie balling up more fuel and stuffing it on top.)

I got it wrong, as the Brits would say "Arse over Tip"!
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hardwood
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« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2012, 03:25:02 PM »

Yes, it's best to keep the coals on the bottom (heat rises grin). If it's real breezy out keep the spout facing down wind too...that way the breeze will create a draft coming up from the blow hole and will keep the embers burning. If the spout is windward the wind flows into the spout and dowses the coals.

Scott
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"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

Theodore Roosevelt 1907
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« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2012, 11:20:47 PM »

IMO, thereís no piece of bee equipment more poorly designed than the smoker.  Thereís nothing I find more frustrating than keeping the thing lit.  Yes, you need to get the fire on the bottom of the can and the fresh wood on top as people say.  However that is easier said than done since heat rises and there is more O2 at the top when youíre trying to light the dumb thing.

I have finally resorted to a method similar to BeyondTSW.  I also use a piezo ignited torch to light the thing.  Itís either that or a sledge hammer to the thing.   I fill it half way with small sticks and throw in a couple of charcoal briquettes.  Light those with the torch and once burning, throw in some more sticks on top.  Once the briquettes are cooking (via the torch), my problems are solved.  The smoker usually ends up smoking until well after Iím done inspecting.

I know there was a post a few weeks back about some battery based electric smoker.  Iím skeptical a battery would provide the kind of power I would like in my smoker.  What would be a cool invention would be to incorporate a piezo ignitied torch into a smoker.  Smoke on demand!  Propane is much more energy dense than an electric battery so I donít think it would be underpowered! 
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beyondthesidewalks
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« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2012, 01:27:31 AM »

That's funny.  I've always marveled at how ingenius just the bellows portion of the smoker turns out to be.  Amazingly simple and effective.  I even marvel at the old fashioned bellows used in fireplaces.  There was a fellow on another forum I used to frequent that kept AHB in a south american country.  He had a homemade smoker with a huge firebox and bellows.  I guess he needed all that smoke to keep the AHB gentle.  I've always thought that the smoker is a great design.  The problem seems to be the operator to me. Smiley
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BlueBee
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« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2012, 01:35:04 AM »

You are probably right.  I probably donít have enough patience.  I want the torch version  grin  

The guy who invented the unicycle probably also thought it was a great idea; just a problem with the operator Wink  
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AllenF
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« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2012, 08:10:03 AM »

So you don't think the unicycle is a good idea?     evil 
Don't clean out your smoker between uses.   Easier to light with burnt crud in there.  And give it a puff every few minutes just to keep it going whether you need smoke or not.   When done smoking the bees, plug the end of the smoker so it chokes itself out.   Then there is your fuel for the restart.   I use leaves straight out of the woods if it is dry out, rolled cardboard if it is wet out.   Then dump wet leaves for refilling. 
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beyondthesidewalks
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« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2012, 09:38:28 AM »

"The guy who invented the unicycle probably also thought it was a great idea; just a problem with the operator"

I've seen some folks do some amazing things on a unicycle.  Probably took many hours of practice and bruises to get to that level.  Smokers require some practice, patience and good fuel.  There are plenty of sources of fuel out there depending on where you live.  In the northeast people like sumac blooms.  In the piney woods it's pine needles.  Where I live mesquite rules.  I don't get how companies can sell smoker fuel when there is so much of it for free out there.  Now that's marketing. Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2012, 01:24:55 PM »

I appreciate this post.   So far the most frustrating thing about beekeeping is keeping the smoker lit.    I can build a darn good fire for boiling maple syrup, but I cannot keep this little smoker lit.    [It's a good thing I have nice bees...]

I don't have ready access to  pine needles, but we do have cedar trees close to the hives.   Would that work?    I've tried charcoal, but can't get it to light.   I've tried the pellets and they won't light.   I've tried lint.   I tried sumac berries in a toilet paper roll.   I've tried denim strips.   All I've gotten is a good 2-3 minutes or so of smoke.   Clearly I need to practice.    A lot.   

Sigh.
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beyondthesidewalks
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« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2012, 02:04:10 PM »

I use dry cedar twigs all of the time.  Smells great.  I recommend the torch idea.  Get some going in the bottom and keep pumping the bellows while you add fuel.  Get a good fire going in the bottom of the fire box and that should go a long way toward staying lit.  Pump the bellows everyonce in a while to keep it lit.

What size smoker do you have?  Many new beekeepers purchase a small one.  The cost difference between the small smoker and a large one is minor and well worth it.  In my experience, the larger the smoker the easier it is to keep lit.  I was fortunate that my mentor advised I buy a large one when I started.  Since then I've been given a few small ones and I have trouble keeping them lit.
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« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2012, 02:17:02 PM »

I've got this kind with the plastic bellows.   I'm thinking it's a smaller one.
http://blossomland.com/stainlesssteelsmokerplasticbellowswgaurd.aspx
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David McLeod
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« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2012, 06:02:38 PM »

Two words.

Baling twine.
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« Reply #15 on: April 16, 2012, 07:16:41 PM »

i use pine needles and have no problem .like scott said after you have it going ,pack it very tight and you will be fine.i left my smoker in my bee yard and 2 hours later went and got it,it was still smoking .
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Sparky
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« Reply #16 on: April 16, 2012, 09:29:37 PM »

I've got this kind with the plastic bellows.   I'm thinking it's a smaller one.
http://blossomland.com/stainlesssteelsmokerplasticbellowswgaurd.aspx

Is there a metal grate in the bottom with holes in it or a inner can inside ?
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Jim 134
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« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2012, 03:15:31 AM »

I was very fortunate to have a mentor that advised me to purchase the largest smoker available when I started.  I can load it up and it burns for a long time.  It's almost 20 years old.  I use twigs from local trees(mesquite smells nice but makes me hungry:)) and shrubs.  I used to ball up a piece of newspaper, then load wood on top of it and then start pumping the bellows until it was lit.  Now I use a piezo ignited torch to light my smoker.  It goes much faster.  I also keep that torch handy just in case the smoker goes out.  Makes relighting a breeze and very fast.

I also put my lit smoker in an ammo box when I'm done with it.  The ammo box suffocates the smoker and leaves the previous fuel in a charcoal state.  On the next use it's just a matter of adding fuel on top and getting the flame from the torch down on the previously burned fuel.  It lights right up, stays lit and is ready to go.  When using the smoker I find it's smart to give the bellows a pump every now and then to help it stay lit.  If it gets too hot and throws sparks or flames a quick shake will make it smoke nicely again.  Hope that gives you some ideas and helps.



beyondthesidewalks .......

Brazil smoker is the biggest smoker I can find.

Will this work   evil Huh

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27817825@N07/4102785413/#

 BEE HAPPY Jim 134 Smiley
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indypartridge
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« Reply #18 on: April 17, 2012, 07:14:45 AM »

Clearly I need to practice.    A lot.   

Every spring I encourage new beekeepers to practice with their smokers before their bees arrive. It's a skill. Different fuels work differently, and some work better for me than others. The basics are to start the fire at the bottom, keep adding fuel and pumping the bellows until it's really burning, then pack it down. But it takes some practice to actually make it work!
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« Reply #19 on: April 17, 2012, 10:26:45 AM »

I've got this kind with the plastic bellows.   I'm thinking it's a smaller one.
http://blossomland.com/stainlesssteelsmokerplasticbellowswgaurd.aspx

Is there a metal grate in the bottom with holes in it or a inner can inside ?


Yep, it's got a grate.    I like the idea of bailing twine.   I'm a yarn dyer and I have a lot of spare yarn.   I'll bet with a little practice, I could use that.   

I'm glad to have so many of you say over and over, 'Build a fire in the bottom, ventilate until it's really going, then pack it'.     That's a good plan.   I just really need to practice. 
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