Getting smoked by the smoker..,

Today I helped a friend clean up his hive. His frames were poorly spaced which lead to a lot of bulging honey comb at the top of every frame. It took some time and a lot of smoke to get the job done. At times the smoke was quite irritating…,

Now I’m sitting at home and all my clothes and me stink of smoke- like when you have sat around a camp fire of an evening.

It started me wondering if that’s just par for the course- part of beekeeping. I once read that Nepal has the highest rate of lung cancer in the world- not from cigarettes but from poorly ventilated wood fires in houses.

I am wondering now if I can minimize the irritation and stench if smoke by using some particular fuel? Do some fuels produce less harmful smoke? Even a pleasant smoke?

I have used dried grass, pine needles, hessian, palm fronds- and whatever is at hand. I’m wondering if it’s worth it to try and source superior fuel?

Any one have a favorite?

Also I recently read this article about ‘smudging’ the use of medicinal herb smoke to purify spaces - apparently it’s actually affective at killing bacteria. Perhaps using the right fuel for a bee smoker could be less irritating to both me and my bees?

1 Like

I’ve tried different materials. All smoke would have plenty of carcinogens/chemicals/toxins in them. Pine needles stink the most but seem to be most effective for me at calming the bees and burn at about the right speed. It must have a stack of creosote in it - take a look in the lid of the smoker! I often put a respirator mask on with a combined p2 and activated charcoal filter when I’m doing a solid session with the bees. It is fantastic. Something I read once referred to fine dust off the wings of bees and also chalkbrood spores being an issue. I generally shower after getting all the smoke on my skin and change the stinky clothes. Another tip I read was to put the smoker down between hive manipulations where the drift of smoke is not going over you.

1 Like

As a newbee I’ve had my smoker go out several times mid-inspection. Since it’s typically my one window of opportunity to get in & do something important I’ve just kept going without the smoke :grimacing: I’m always in a full suit with gloves, so I don’t have the added worry about stings. (Not allergic, but a puffer-upper for sure)

Anyway, I can stay pretty focused with clamor going on around me in general, so I guess it depends on your individual makeup a little. But I notice that if I keep working steadily & slowly, the bees will stop being so agitated eventually. By the end of the season last year I wasn’t bothering with smoke.

I’ve also seen a liquid smoke product - anyone ever used this?

For a lot of smaller jobs I don’t use smoke- but when I do something where I’ll need bees to get out of an area so they don’t get squashed I use it. Today I was cutting off a lot of wonky combs crawling with bees and it was very useful.

About the smoker going out: I’m also new to beekeeping and that happened to me a lot. Our bee society newsletter had a small article saying how important a well prepared smoker is- it said properly prepared it should burn for 5 hours. Of course you’d rarely if ever need that but if it’s prepared like that- the smoke will always be cool- and when your not using it it won’t start smoking like crazy and getting too hot. Also you won’t have to run off mid inspection to sort it out if it dies… I think the article was spot on.

Now I light a small fire at the bottom and get it burning really well until it forms a small bed of embers. Then I stuff a very tight wad/roll of material completely stuffing the smoker. A few puffs and it’s good to go.

It’s always better to overpack a smoker than underpack it…


The problem is the smell lasts a very long time with the liquid smoke and the smoke isn’t in the air.

I like burlap for the smoker because it lasts really well. I like pine needles because the small a lot nicer… The main thing is to keep the smoker downwind so the smoke isn’t blowing on you. You always should be aware of the wind… also a little smoke goes a long ways…


There is a material available that leaves a pleasant feeling of euphoria and a devil may care attitude about the residual smell. Fortunately or Unfortunately it is illegal in South Australia


paperbark and pine needles.

It is illegal in all of the US also, contrary to popular belief, though a few states have passed “nullification” laws, it is still a violation of federal law.

1 Like

Hi Jack, I have recently been put onto wood shavings as smoker fuel. I reckon it’s the best fuel I’ve ever used. Once you get a decent fire going at the bottom of the smoker, put a handful of wood shavings in, it will smoke for a surprisingly long time. All I do is place my smoker down wind of me in between uses.

I notice you do a lot of wood work. My advice is, after you finish a project, just put all your wood saw dust & shavings into a bucket to use in your smoker at a later date. The saw dust works well also.

Another option for any beekeepers would be to keep an eye out for any house constructions. Offer the builder a bottle of honey with a large plastic bucket & ask if he/she would mind putting the wood shavings in it for you instead of sweeping them out.


I use pine needles, for length of burning time, coolness of smoke & effectiveness on bees. I have used dried lavender by itself but the smoke was very warm. So now I use pine needles with a bit of lavender. I rescued 6 1m X 1.5m lavenders from a house being demolished & not all of them survived the transfer.
I have the liquid smoke, which I purchased for days of Total Fire Ban. I’ve used it once & would prefer not to. It’s difficult to tell just how effective it was as I used it during one of the very few flows we had during summer. It is meant to be sprayed directly onto the bees & I’d prefer not to spray them with anything really. It smells very tarry & is meant to improve in effectiveness the longer it has to ‘brew’, I had to use mine only a week after making it up, so perhaps by now it would have better results without having to use as much? I did find it peculiar that it was described as being kosher. Not really sure of the relevance there, maybe someone else can let me know?

1 Like

I use wood shavings. They come in a big rectangular bag and they’ve lasted for 6 years now. Also, I let the utility company dump trimmings from their power line clearing operations and that stuff works as well on top of the pine shavings. It has moisture in it so it slows down the burn and makes for a smoky burn (incomplete combustion).

I tried dried tussock grass (poa labillardieri) this afternoon (left over after I cut them back a few weeks ago) as an alternative to pine needles and they were not too bad. I packed it in tightly and it kept going ok. The bees were calmish but I puffed and waited longer than usual. Probably not up there with pine needles however but I still have a bag of them left and will use again. I have tried gum leaves before when I ran out of pine needles but they are hot and a bit explosive with the oils. It must be due to the trees and bushes around my hives but it seems I am always downwind of the smoker irrespective of where I rest it.

I’m different to everyone else if seems. I’m happy to be downwind. The smoke drifting from the smoker usually keeps the bees away from my ankles…!

1 Like

I’m with you especially when my hive has been a little cranky…

1 Like

Ive been using Sugar Cane Mulch for the past two years, it burns really well with a cool smoke when packed and smells pleasant. I have issues with pine needles and pine products tend to get a sinus headache from the smoke. Working bees fulltime. Sugar Cane Mulch is available in Bunnings and produced locally to me other side of the Logan River, so I get to support local industries. One bag lasts all season, costs around $14 AU . Also don’t have to worry about potential contaminants and health issues from picking up stuff off the ground.

Hmm- lots of good ideas. I really want to try some herb like sage maybe - or some other antibacterial smudging herb… - but figure I’d have to grow it to get enough…

On another post on this forum, I think I recall someone waxed lyrical about “organic” sugar cane mulch. I can’t recall where they bought it sorry.

I found the posters by searching the forum - it was Paul in SW Victoria and Bruce in NSW- both mention “organic” sugar cane mulch favourably but no mention of the store.

Rosemary and lavender are pretty good choices if you want a herb. You do have to dry them out pretty well first though.

1 Like

I have organic sage drying just for this purpose—there is a blog called Beekeeping Like a Girl and she made some great suggestions about sweet-smelling smokers :wink: