Newbee here.. I have to ask: What kind of smoker do you have? I had a rough time getting my Mann Lake smoker (with the blue rubber bellows) to light and stay lit. It was frustrating. Then my dad gave me an old smoker he picked up at a garage sale for a couple bucks. I give it a try and have not had any problems since. The difference? The old smoker had much higher airflow than the Mann Lake one. When you puff it, you can really feel the air move through it.
I think this one hits the nail on the head. There are smokers then there are smokers out there. They range from cheap imports to quality made in the US by beekeepers for beekeepers. I have several but my main two are a beecommerce import dome top and a kelley smoke cloud. While I love the dome top shape, the lower nozzle, the interior can and heat guard of the beecommerce it is not the one I reach for when I need volumes of smoke that can last an entire session of checking all my hives. The smoke cloud has much better airflow and will maintain a slow smolder almost idefinitely or until everything is consumed. BTW, a good test of any smoker is to get it going as if your going for a long session, packed to the brim, and then set it aside and let it burn itself out. A quality smoker with adequate air flow will consume all of the fuel where a lesser quality will extinguish itself.
Interesting post, David. I was nodding my head in agreement with yours and cinch's posts (what do I know, though, I'm a newbee! :) ) about the different styles of smokers with some styles being better than others. I was thinking, that makes sense being as lots of things have different designs that work better. Anyhow, you then mentioned the Smoke Cloud (I'm figuring the Kelley one)...
I use a Smoke Cloud and I burned pinestraw a good part of the time this year, but due to it's stench (sorry pinestraw lovers, I live at the edge of a pine tree forest, have all my life, have been involved in numerous planned "burning offs" and a few unplanned ones...pinestraw smoke stinks and it sticks like glue to your clothing, your hair, your skin, your ???...I'm pretty sure it even imparted it's smell to my cappings honey.
Of course some of you may love the stench, er, uh...smell so more power to you. :-D :angel:
Whatever the case, I wanted badly to just use pellets for the better aroma...but, I couldn't get them to stay lit using a propane torch or whatever. I kept talking with my mentor (he uses pellets) and one day I mentioned that I had started using dried grass from mowing the lawn. He suggested I stick some of that grass in the smoker and see if it would like the pellets. Well, I too a wad of grass and rolled it into a ball about the side of a baseball. I held the grass over the mouth of the Smoke Cloud and lit it, letting it flame up decently and then dropped it loosely into the smoker and began pumping until the thick smoke started bellowing out. It's then that I pushed it on down into the smoker with my hive tool and pumped a few more times. I then poured about 3 inches of pellets on top of it and started pumping again. It was like magic! Once the smoker was putting out thick smoke I finished putting ever how many pellets I wanted in the smoker. I know it will stay lit for 2-3 hours at a time now. I can leave it alone for 30 minutes and pump it several times and it'll crank right back up.
Even a good smoker can be contrary (like my Smoke Cloud). I think it just takes each of us figuring out a "technique" and that's probably gonna take some experimenting some. I do believe, though, that what was said about the different smokers is correct being as I've read several reports of smokers that several people had trouble with keeping lit. Also, it seems that the smaller smokers tend to be more problematical in lighting and staying lit than do the larger ones.
Whatever the case, that ball of dried grass sure did the trick for me in lighting the pellets.
Now, for my earlier remarks about pinestraw let me pull my body armor on. :-D