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Author Topic: NewBee Classic ?: Keeping Smokers Lit  (Read 4096 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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« 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."

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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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« 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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« 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."

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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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« Reply #20 on: April 17, 2012, 12:32:45 PM »

When the bees are at the farm, I build the smoker with pine needles as per below and if I plan to keep it lit for a long time I put a piece of dried cow patty on top of the pine needles. Most of the time it is still in there and has to be snuffed out. If it is good and dry, it doesn't smell bad and it lasts a long time. I'm sure your local farmers would not mind if you asked if you could stock up some.  grin
Jim
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« Reply #21 on: April 18, 2012, 08:55:48 PM »

I start mine with some waded up newspaper (using a self lighting propane torch like BTSW) slam in a wad of burlap and shazam...nice cool smoke for hours.
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« Reply #22 on: April 18, 2012, 10:45:25 PM »

Two words.

Baling twine.

Sisal or plastic? Don't really see sisal much any more
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« Reply #23 on: April 18, 2012, 11:50:15 PM »

"I put a piece of dried cow patty on top of the pine needles"

I've got plenty of that lying around but hadn't tried it in my smoker yet.  I've read stories of indians using buffalo chips and pioneers using cow patties but have never tried it.  How's the aroma and how do the bees take to it?
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« Reply #24 on: April 19, 2012, 07:21:05 AM »

Quote
Two words.

Baling twine.

Quote
Sisal or plastic? Don't really see sisal much any more
Definitely not the plastic! And if you've got sisal, you want to be SURE it's not the treated stuff. Most baling twine has been chemically treated. Sometimes treated twine is colored green or orange, but not always. Probably not a good idea to smoke your bees with sisal that was treated with pesticides and rodenticides.
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« Reply #25 on: April 19, 2012, 09:53:00 AM »

"Brazil smoker is the biggest smoker I can find."

http://s155.photobucket.com/albums/s313/Tomas_fotos/?action=view&current=smoker.jpg

Another large smoker for you.  Check out the rest of this album.  It gives a very neat insight to beekeeping with AHB.  Also, I admire the industriousness of these beekeepers, making what they need in a country where you can't just go down the road and purchase it.
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« Reply #26 on: April 19, 2012, 10:50:34 AM »

Like Sparky said..Put a can inside the smoker.  Find a can that will fit inside with some slop space around it.  Use an old type can opener (the kind that makes a triangle hole) and put a few holes in the botom and sides.  Light as stated stuffing fuel into the can...Air can get around fuel and it will stay lit.
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« Reply #27 on: April 19, 2012, 11:34:59 AM »

"I put a piece of dried cow patty on top of the pine needles"

I've got plenty of that lying around but hadn't tried it in my smoker yet.  I've read stories of indians using buffalo chips and pioneers using cow patties but have never tried it.  How's the aroma and how do the bees take to it?

It doesn't smell bad to me. Just don't use the fresh stuff.  grin That's a different story.
Jim
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« Reply #28 on: April 20, 2012, 12:21:37 AM »



Quote
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. 


If the yarn and dye is plant based it may be ok.
Animal based usually smells like burning hair and is obnoxious to the bees and keeper.

Most parks have some pine trees. Gather up the fallen needles and save them in an old bucket.
Twine scraps, burlap, dried leaves, brown grass any thing that is well dried.

And of course practice.

Goodluck
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« Reply #29 on: April 20, 2012, 07:14:31 AM »

Untreated sisal if you can find it.
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« Reply #30 on: April 23, 2012, 01:45:07 PM »

Eric lit the smoker yesterday with the torch.   It had a charcoal briquette, some dry sumac berries, some toilet paper, some pellets, and some cardboard in it from previous attempts.  He ventilated it like crazy and we had fabulous smoke for hours.   

Thanks for all the help!
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« Reply #31 on: April 23, 2012, 04:33:24 PM »

I use my smoker only when needed, and then i want it to work at once.

The easiest to get lighted and smoke from fast is the soft boards that they make bulletin boards of. Its a soft fibrous material made from sawdust and wood shavings.

Part and fray a corner and light with 1-2 matches and your off  grin fast easy never fails  happy campers

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« Reply #32 on: April 23, 2012, 11:42:51 PM »

>A classic question from a NewBee: how does one keep a smoker lit?

Oxygen is the secret.

http://www.bushfarms.com/beesmisc.htm#smokerinsert

> Besides bellows failure, do smokers wear out?

They get clogged with creosote.  A torch will burn it 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.

Good fuel is also essential.  Burlap is my favorite but the ability to stay lit is an important aspect of fuel.  Cool burning is another.  Starting a fire with small dry sticks and letting it burn down to coals makes a nice basis that stays lit.
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« Reply #33 on: April 24, 2012, 12:57:28 AM »

Eric lit the smoker yesterday with the torch.   It had a charcoal briquette, some dry sumac berries, some toilet paper, some pellets, and some cardboard in it from previous attempts.  He ventilated it like crazy and we had fabulous smoke for hours.   

Thanks for all the help!

Glad it worked out.  Sounds like y'all had a little bit of every kind of fuel imaginable in that smoker.
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« Reply #34 on: April 27, 2012, 06:06:52 PM »

Lighting a smoker with pine straw fuel


Scott
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« Reply #35 on: May 25, 2012, 11:16:23 AM »

>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!

This is probably the best advice I've seen.  There is nothing like practice.   Wink
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« Reply #36 on: May 26, 2012, 12:22:56 PM »

I use discarded frames (broken up of course), and pine needles.
I have 2 gunny sacks of wood shavings in the barn, but have not used any of them yet.
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« Reply #37 on: May 26, 2012, 12:30:20 PM »

I have a small smoker, and have never had problems keeping it lit for hours on end.  The secret is to use a heat source.  When you build a wood fire, there will be charcoals in the ashes when it's cool.  Collect those and use a handful when you light the smoker.  Put them in a metal flat container, light one with a flame, blow on them until they're red hot, and dump them in the bottom of the smoker.

Pack your smoking material on top.  I usually break a bunch of small twigs to help replenish the coals when they burn down, and stuff the top full of dry leaves or grass.  Pine needles, wood shavings, pulverized manure, anything that will insulate.  Don't try sawdust, it just blows out when you pump the bellows shooting little coals around.

The formula, as any good scout can tell you, is the "fire triangle."  Heat, Fuel, Oxygen.  The coals supply the heat, the dried fuel material insulates against the coals cooling, and the bellows supply the oxygen.  Once the twigs are lit I have no trouble keeping anything actually smoking.  In fact, I have to keep moving the smoker to keep the smoke out of my lungs.

Should the inspections last longer than the smoker, I simply open and drop more twigs in, catch them on fire and reload with whatever's handy.
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"Thinking is like sin, them that doesn't is scairt of it, and them that does gets to liking it so much they can't quit!"  -Josh Billings.
carlfaba10t
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« Reply #38 on: May 26, 2012, 04:03:13 PM »

 Lots of post here so here,s mine; I think the smoker i have is considered small,but seems to work well.The first time i tried it i used some grass i had mowed 3-4 days before it was fairly dry on top but still showed a little green on bottom.So first lite tite wadded up ball of paper towel and lower to bottom,mine has metal piece with holes and 4 spring loaded straps to hold up until you push it down,then cram dry grass on top and pump until lots of smoke and [sparks from bottom hole ] now cram dry mixed with some not so dry grass on top and shove it in tight.pump some more until lots of smoke.With a little pump about every 15-20 min mine was still going after sitting unattended for 1 hr.Had to cork it to put it out.Not bad for first time i guess. Like behondthesidewalks says get rough with it. grin
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Carl-I have done so much with so little for so long i can now do something with nothing!
Beeboy01
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« Reply #39 on: May 26, 2012, 10:09:57 PM »

I use pine needles mainly because there are a lot of pine trees around my property. One thing that works is taking the ends of pine branches that are loaded with pine needles and hanging them out to dry, I use the fence around the bee yard to hang them on till they turn brown and then bag them up. One of the guy's in the local bee club brought in a gizmo which he uses to bundle smoker fuel with. It was a piece of PVC tubing cut lenght wise and slotted for twine. It looked like you laid the twine down in the piece of tubing and then piled pine needles or whatever in the tubing. Once it was packed tight it got tied up with the twine into a nice smoker sized cartridge which could be lit from one end and dropped into the smoker.
  The bottom grate needs to be kept clear of ashes and really needs to be in the smoker the right way. If it is upside down the fuel can't get any air. Guess how I figured that one out grin Pratice, Pratice, Pratice 
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