Whether you are a new or veteran beekeeper, you’re not alone in our modern world. From hobbyists to environmental to commercial beekeeping, beekeepers with more than five colonies in the United States produced 161.9 million pounds of honey in 2016 alone. And among all those beekeepers, one tool proves the most crucial in maintaining the health and wellbeing of both hives and their tenders: beekeeping hive smokers.
If you don’t have the time to read our entire article and you just want to know what the absolute best beehive smoker is, click here for our top pick.
Our Top Picks for the Best Beekeeping Hive Smokers in 2020
- Blisstime Beekeeping Tool Kit Set
- VIVO Bee Hive Smoker
- Goodland Bee Supply Bee Hive Smoker
- Agralogix Bee Smoker
- CO-Z Bee Hive Smoker
How Do Beehive Smokers Work?
Even new beekeepers are aware of beekeeping hive smokers, but how do they work? Here we’ll explain just how a hive smoker works and how it affects bees.
Bee Survival Instincts
You have probably witnessed bees becoming agitated when you go near them or their hive. Bees have survival instincts that include secreting pheromones that alert other bees to danger. When they’re alert and aware of the danger, bees will sting to defend their queen and their hive.
Smoke from a beekeeping hive smoker masks the presence of pheromones. The smoke dulls bees’ awareness of the secreted hormones and keeps them from alerting one another to the “danger” of the beekeeper.
Food as a Weapon
While the smoke dulls bees’ response to danger, it also creates a warning sign of a new one. Bees perceive smoke as a sign of a fire, so their instincts kick in to get them to safety. When they sense or smell smoke, bees recognize that they need to leave home and find a new one.
But first, they must eat as much honey as possible so that they have the energy to travel and build a new home. The overindulgence, however, makes bees sluggish and sleepy, keeping them from rushing and stinging the perceived intruders.
Effects Wear Off
Though smoke creates a set of interesting results in bees, it does not cause them lasting harm. Within 10 to 20 minutes after they first sense the smoke, their pheromone sensitivity returns and everything goes back to normal.
Who Uses Beehive Smokers?
Anyone can purchase and use a beehive smoker, but there are only a few groups of people who truly need them.
Here’s who uses beehive smokers.
Commercial Honey Farms
Professional beekeepers aren’t the only people who use beehive smokers, but they are the most common group that utilizes these tools. For people who farm honey commercially, keeping to a schedule of proper maintenance and health checks is crucial.
Commercial beekeepers can use smokers to reduce the likelihood of both bee and beekeeper injuries, protecting not only themselves but also the future of the hives. Though the loss of one or two hives may not make a huge difference, large-scale impacts may mean going out of business for some operations.
That means smokers are a preventative tool in your beekeeper arsenal.
Animal Rescue Agencies
If you have ever lived in an area where lots of honey bees live, you may have noticed a few natural hives on your property or even on your house. Most of the time, people prefer to keep bees far away from where they live and work. While most people are afraid of being stung, many have legitimately life-threatening allergies to bee stings.
Whatever the reason, sometimes people must relocate entire beehives for the safety of both people, pets, and the bees themselves. In these cases, it’s not enough to simply knock down or damage a hive and wait for the bees to flee.
In part, because some species of bees are endangered, it’s not socially or environmentally acceptable to kill off any kind of bee. Regardless of whether it’s annoying or “threatening” your family or home, people must take precautions not to harm bees.
A smoker helps animal rescue agencies or staff beekeepers to rehome bees without hurting them. Beehive smokers can allow workers to remove bees and relocate them to a safer location, often at a site where there’s plenty of food for the bees and lots of space to roam.
Whether they fear bee stings or prefer to keep their bees calm to prevent injury, many small-scale beekeepers choose to use smokers. Although some may deem it unnecessary to use smoke to calm their hives, most beekeepers will need to access their hives for various reasons, anything from actually harvesting honey to just upkeeping your hive’s health.
Even if you do not plan to keep bees for their honey but have some on your land or property, you may need to help them out sometimes.
While there are many reasons why bees may abscond from a hive, one is an overproduction of honey.
If humans do not remove the honey, bees may begin to store excess where they would typically house young bees. For this reason, many amateur beekeepers will use smokers to extract honey from the hives of their resident bees.
Why Do I Need a Beekeeping Hive Smoker?
You may not want to use a beekeeping hive smoker, either for personal reasons or simply because you don’t perceive bees as a threat. However, there are a few reasons why you should consider it.
Bees Are Unpredictable
If you are friendly with your bees, you might not think you need a smoker. However, depending on the situation, you may find that your bees become more agitated than usual. For example, if it’s raining or if you are taking longer than normal, the hive residents may begin to get feisty. Experts recommend having a smoker on hand and lit, just in case you find that you need it.
Bees Can Get Hurt
Although you are at perhaps the highest risk of injury in this situation, your bees can also hurt themselves if they become agitated. Aggressive bees may come after you without regard for their own safety, and a knee-jerk reaction could mean you wipe out part of your hive unintentionally.
When your primary goal is to keep the bees healthy and happy so that they keep producing honey, you’ll want to avoid upsetting them for any reason. At the same time, you’ll also want to check on them inside the hive, especially if you’re going to extract honey. A bee smoker gives you that ability.
Timing Isn’t Always Right
Most beekeepers tend to understand a little bit about their bees’ personalities. Therefore, you may assume that since your bees are rather tame, you can check on their hive during their most sluggish hours.
However, though most bees are less active at night, it may not always be possible to make your rounds at night. Having a smoker allows you to pop in anytime it’s convenient or whenever there’s a problem.
Downsides to Using a Smoker
Are there any drawbacks to using a smoker for beekeeping? Here we’ll consider the potential downsides to using such a device.
Moral Objections to Bee Smokers
If you saw Bee Movie, you may have qualms about using a smoker on innocent bees.
However, recall that the film not only portrayed humans as having “stolen” honey from bees, but it also reinforced that without humans, bees would overproduce honey and potentially suffer from those effects as well.
Moral objections are the most common resistance to beehive smokers. People may wonder whether it’s necessary to use a smoker and whether it will hurt the bees. Others may feel bad about “gassing” bees since they are only doing what nature expects of them.
The need to protect the bees from overreacting to beekeepers’ entering the hive often ranks higher than moral objections.
Side Effects on Bees
In most cases, there are not enough potential drawbacks to keep beekeepers from using smokers. However, only people who understand the process of smoking should use the devices. Carefully read the user manual that comes with your smoker and use it as directed.
Using the wrong amount or type of fuel for a smoker can result in temperatures that are too high. Excessive heat can burn your bees’ wings, potentially killing off an entire hive, so using the smoker properly is critical.
Potential for Contamination
When it comes to bee smoking, just like anything else, less is more. That means use the least amount of smoke possible. This is so that you can both get your bees back to normal faster and avoid contaminating the honey. Just like barbecuing is a fine art, so is smoking the bees enough to make honey extraction safe without singeing it.
What to Look for in a Beehive Smoker
Although times have changed since the first beekeepers began using smoke to discourage bees from stinging, there are a few features to consider when shopping for a beehive smoker. Here’s what to look for.
Fuel types vary across each manufacturer and model of bee smoker. Common fuel types fall into one of three categories: starters, kindling, and fuel. For starters, you might use a cardboard or a pinecone. For kindling, you’ll want something that lights quickly, such as wood shavings or pine needles. For fuel, twigs, wood chips, or more kindling may work.
However, some smokers only recommend a specific type of fuel. To ensure the best results for both you and your bees, follow the instructions that come with the device and use the fuel prescribed.
Though in most cases you will only need a few “sprays” of smoke, you may want a larger capacity smoker if you have multiple bee colonies. Otherwise, you may be restarting the smoker numerous times while making your rounds.
Most smokers come with a means of mounting or hanging them while you work with the bees. After all, it’s nearly impossible to hold a smoker in one hand while using your hive tool or maneuvering racks around.
Look for a smoker that can hang or rest on a surface while you work.
Ease of Use
If you dress in full beekeeper garb, you may find it difficult to use a smoker, especially if you wear thick or cumbersome gloves. Take that into consideration when determining which smoker to purchase.
Fortunately, most models on the market feature safety measures such as a heat shield to keep hands cool and a perforated base for good airflow.
Using a Beehive Smoker
To use a beehive smoker, you will need the device itself, fuel, a means of lighting the smoker, and something to push the fuel into the can. Many beekeepers use a hive tool to force fuel into the canister, along with a long-tube grill lighter so that they can light the fuel inside the smoker.
Once you have the smoker smoking, use two or three puffs of smoke near the front entrance of the hive. Avoid puffing the smoke directly on or over the bees, as the heat may harm them. Keep the smoker’s spout at least six inches from the bees. You may need to wait ten minutes or more for the bees to “relax” before you can enter the hive.
Avoid setting the smoker on top of any surface that may melt or scorch, since the bottoms of smokers often become hot as well. On that same note, only hold the smoker by its designated handle to avoid burns or other accidents.
5 Best Beekeeping Hive Smokers
Now that you know why beekeeping hive smokers are a beekeeper’s best friend, here are our top five picks for the best beekeeping hive smokers.
Ideal for beginner to advanced beekeepers, VIVO’s Bee Hive Smoker accommodates all fuel types and can hold enough of it to keep you going through multiple hives. The “regular” size canister measures four inches in diameter and is 11 inches tall from bottom to tip. A larger size is also available for more intensive or prolonged smoke applications.
A protective cage-like heat shield prevents contact burns, while the perforated base allows for airflow. The removable firebase also keeps the fire from directly touching the bottom of the canister, cooling it down substantially.
The mounting hook allows you to hang the smoker while you work, which is vital for safe hive inspection since setting the smoker on grass or another combustible material is not an option due to the heat. Also, the suede material of the bellows retains its quality over time, but stray embers may burn or discolor the surface, making the unit look worn in only a few uses.
- Mounting hook
- Perforated firebase
- Versatile fuel choices
- Flames can escape the bottom airport
- Metal gets very hot, may require additional/thicker gloves
Along with a smoker, Blisstime’s Beekeeping Tool Kit Set also includes an uncapping fork tool, a frame grip, one beehive brush, an entrance feeder, and a hive tool. For anyone new to beekeeping, this starter set has everything that one needs to care for bees.
The smoker itself has a heat shield, mounting hook, and metal-edged bellows. The canister is stainless steel with a wide bottom, and the manufacturer does not specify a designated fuel type. A flip-top allows access to the canister, and you can use the hive tool to tamp down fuel when starting the flames.
Once you smoke the bees, use the frame grip and uncapping fork tool to access your hive. Then, use the bee brush to remove the excess off the honeycomb. The feeder allows you to refill your bees’ food from outside, so there’s no need to disturb the colony.
- Comes with “starter” kit
- Versatile fuel choices
- Mounting hook
- Experienced beekeepers may prefer a standalone smoker that goes beyond basic features
- No removable basket for cleaning/removing ash
This large-sized smoker measures four inches in diameter and 11 inches tall, and while Goodland Bee Supply supplies a few fuel pellets for their beehive smoker, you can always opt for another fuel type when those run out.
An internal burn tray helps you clear out ashes while also keeping the fuel burning evenly. A leather bellows and heat shield round out the look of the smoker, while the operation is straightforward for both beginners and professionals.
The polished stainless steel and engraving make a professional impression, but Goodland Bee Supply’s entry-level smoker is as functional as its competitors. The relatively narrow spout helps target smoke more easily, though this may prove a drawback depending on the user’s preference.
- Internal burn tray
- Comes with trial fuel pellets
- Mounting hook
- Clip to hold bellows flat when not in use
- High burn capacity
- No instructions so beginners may need assistance
Agralogix offers its medium-sized bee smoker with heavy gauge stainless steel for the highest burn capacity. It’s leather bellows and wood-burned company logo look fancy, but it’s the thick metal that helps it stand out in comparison with similarly sized smokers.
With wood outer and suede-type material, the bellows portion is unique in appearance but standard in function. The presentation isn’t always everything, but Agralogix recognizes that construction is key when it comes to a functional smoker that doesn’t look bad, either.
The thick steel is the highlight of this smoker, but it’s somewhat disappointing that the internal burn tray isn’t made of the same heavy-gauge material. The “legs” of the tray feel flimsy in comparison and can bend if not centered correctly in the canister.
- Heat guard
- Wood bellows construction
- Heavy-gauge stainless steel
- Internal burn tray
- Mounting hook
- The smaller size (four inches wide, seven inches tall)
Durable vinyl bellows and narrow mouth mean targeted, precise smoke delivery with CO-Z’s beehive smoker. A metal mounting hook lets you hang the canister when it’s not in use, and its substantial size is a benefit whether you have multiple colonies or need prolonged smoke.
The canister measures about five inches wide and the entire unit are 12 inches from spout to bottom. Heavy-duty stainless steel construction helps insulate the heat, and a heat shield protects hands from burns.
Overall, efficient fuel burning and a spacious interior for plenty of combustibles are two key perks of this large-sized smoker.
- Mounting hook
- Removable, perforated base plate
- Larger than average size means higher fuel capacity
- Relatively heavy compared to similar models
Whether you are new to beekeeping or are a veteran of the pastime, no doubt you see the need for a bee smoker. Depending on how often you check your hives, how many colonies you have, and how docile your bees are, your needs may vary from that of other beekeepers.
However, in our top five picks for the best beekeeping hive smokers, there is one that stands out as the best for all applications. The Agralogix Bee Smoker is a heavy weight when it comes to bee smokers, with high gauge stainless steel construction.
While other smokers may feel thin and get hot quickly, thus losing efficiency, the Agralogix model takes advantage of all its interiors space. Though it’s slightly smaller than other comparable smokers, this one gets our vote for most efficient.
It also has all the features we look for, including an internal removable grate and a leather and wood bellows. Overall, the appearance of a bee smoker doesn’t mean much, especially when the utility is the primary concern, but Agralogix does the design justice with its company logo burned into the wood backing of the unit.
For any beekeeper from beginner to expert, an effective and reliable smoker is the key to safe and fruitful hive checks. Thankfully, with our top five picks, it’s easier than ever to get in and check on your bees without stings or stress.
Want to check out our other reviews on awesome beekeeping gear? No worries. We understand. Here are some links to other cool gear you can get to make your apiary run a bit smoother.