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Ah, the smoker. I love the sight of a lazy curl of smoke drifting out of a well-lit smoker. But if you’ve been keeping bees long, you’ve also experienced the utter frustration of a poorly lit, poorly working smoker going out just when you need it most. I’ll touch on how to light it, how to keep it lit, and what smoker fuels I find the easiest and most effective to use. One quick note: not all smokers are created equal. Cheap, imported smokers are common, and the bellows are often the weakest link. When you close the lid of your smoker and puff the bellows, you should feel a strong current of air coming out of the nozzle. If you don’t, it’s going to be tough to light it and keep it lit no matter what.

Lighting a Smoker

This quick overview may seem simple, but I’ve seen even veteran beekeepers struggle with lighting a smoker properly. Learning to do it correctly makes a tremendous difference in how long it stays lit and how well it works!

  1. Use one or two sheets of shop towels, a strip of burlap, a half sheet of crumpled newspaper, pine straw, or a few handfuls of shredded paper for a starter. Place it at the bottom of the smoker, and use a long lighter to light it. Puff it a few times until flames start coming out of the smoker. If you use burlap, you don’t need a starter material. More on this below.
  2. Add handfuls of your favorite fuel until you see flames again. Add a few more handfuls, and continue puffing until you see flames or dense smoke.
  3. Fill up the rest of the smoker with fuel. Very lightly tap the fuel down and fill again. Don’t pack it or it will put the fire out.
  4. You are all set! Refill as needed.

The key mistake most people make is not getting a very hot fire started in the bottom of the smoker before filling the smoker with fuel. All the starter should be burned up, and the first handful of fuel should be burning before you add more.

Keeping It Lit

This is relatively simple. Once you have a good fire burning in the bottom and the smoker is full, just give it 10–15 strong puffs every few minutes. Using fuel that’s 100% dry is critical. Wet fuel will never stay lit. Keeping your smoker mostly full is also the key to maintaining a cool, thick smoke. Another tip is to avoid letting your smoker tip over (lay on its side). This will cause a smoker to go out regardless of the fuel you've used. The last key ingredient to a long-lasting smoker is the type of fuel you use (see below). One other quick tip—when you are done, I recommend dumping the fuel into a fire-safe container and leaving the lid of your smoker open. If you leave the smoker closed and let it burn out on its own, it will coat the inside of the smoker with residue, and your smoker will become extremely hard to open the next time you use it.

Smoker Fuels

Just as all smokers aren’t equal, the fuel you use in your smoker makes a tremendous difference in how well it performs for you. Below are common fuels, listed in order from my most favorite to my least favorite. Always avoid fuels containing glues or chemicals.


I 10/10 recommend burlap! You don’t have to use a starter material to light it. Simply roll it up into a roll the diameter of your smoker, light the bottom, and stick it in your smoker. It lasts quite a while, burns well, lights well, and is all around awesome. Make sure the burlap you get doesn’t have any plastic fibers in it. When it’s time to add more burlap, you can wad up a handful and stick it in your smoker. It creates a fairly cool smoke.


Ready-to-use Burlap

Fine-Cut Wood Mulch

You need a hot fire using a starter material to get this going, but once it is smoldering well, it lasts a very long time. Plus it’s very cheap. The key is to fully dry the mulch, and get a mulch that is small, finely cut pieces. Large chunks of mulch don’t work well at all. Another tip is that, once your smoker is full, wad up a shop towel, paper towel, or sheet of paper and put it in the top of the smoker before closing to prevent mulch from falling out as you smoke your hive. Mulch creates one of the coolest smokes.

Pine Straw, Pine/Cedar Shavings, or Cotton

These all light fairly well but burn up very quickly. They are cheap or free, but they don’t last long and tend to create a hot smoke.

Wood Pellets

I just really, really don’t like wood pellets. They last an incredibly long time once lit, but they are so hard to get lit and keep lit. They also fall out of your smoker nozzle since they are so small and tend to turn into sawdust after they’ve been in your smoker for a while.

super smoker

Our completely rebuilt Super Smoker has several new features that make smoking bees so much easier! You get all the convenience of a top-notch smoker at a more affordable price.

Updated Features:

  • Thicker stainless steel
  • Ultra thick leather bellows
  • Larger bellows spring for more airflow/smoke
  • Extended heat shield for increased safety
  • Welded lid to smoker joint to prevent long-term lid detachment
  • Stainless steel plate to protect from flame kickback and bellows burning


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