Bee Smoker Design for Third World Beekeeping

2012
11.20

I should start by stating the official name of this smoker is the “3 can Jackson-Taylor bee smoker” (version 1). Maybe it will be called the “3-can smoker” or the “Jackson-Taylor” smoker in time, who knows.

 

About the Jackson part of the name, that would be Paul Jackson, a fellow Aggie and the Texas State Entomologist. You know, like the head honcho beekeeper for the entire state of Texas. His main job is really about keeping bee diseases from epidemic levels in Texas. That boils down to keeping AFB (American Foul Brood) below 2% in Texas managed hives.  His other passion is  bee smokers.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul about his bee smoker collection and made a mini documentary out of it. It was during that trip that we collaborated to build a third world country bee smoker.

The idea is to make a very simple smoker that can be built with the most basic of tools, power tools are forbidden, and the design is low tolerance that even a Wagogo hill tribesman in Tanzania could make a good smoker with scrap. I think we’ve done it.

This smoker is not for use in civilized countries where you can buy a good smoker.  It is more dangerous than a store bought smoker. Do NOT be cheap and make your own. I’m not responsible for burns or fires you accidentally cause.

My Video on The History of Bee Smokers with Paul Jackson

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How to make the smoker:

Components

  • Requires 3 steel cans – 2 of same size, 1 slightly smaller in diameter (no aluminium cans – they can’t take the heat)
  • Plastic or leather for bellows
  • Wood planks for bellows (maybe metal in a pinch)
  • Staples/wire/nails to affix bellows fabric to bellows backs.
  • Screws  (could use wire instead)
  • optional 4th can be used as a safety burn shield

Tools

  • Hammer or a good rock
  • Tin snips or a hacksaw or a sharp machete
  • Nail to poke holes in cans
  • Wooden can-wedge of the diameter of the larger can. This is used to brace a can from being crushed when nailing a hole thru it.
  • Screwdriver (if using screws)
  • Pliers (optional)

Time

It takes about 2-4 hours to build this, assuming you have scrap boards available. If you have to chop down a tree for wood, that will obviously take longer.

Step 1 – The Fire Chamber

Of the two big cans, take one and mark a circle for the incoming air hole where the bellows will blow in air.   The hole should be right at the bottom of the can. This hole should be about the thickness of a finger.  Bear in mind that the bellows hole will be smaller than this.  The idea is that the pushed air will come thru the hole into the bottom of the can and under the fire grate.3 can Jackson Taylor smoker

Once you’ve marked a rough circle on this can, use the wooden can-wedge to brace the can so you are able to use a hammer and nail to punch an outline of the hole into it. The wedge keeps the can from collapsing from the pressure of hammering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then take the nail and poke a perimeter around the air hole.  Eventually, you can use the nail to pry the metal circle off the can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, cool, we’ve got the fire chamber can done. If you want, you can jam a rock in the hole and spin it to smooth out the edges.  You can put that fire chamber can down and start on the fire grate

Step 2 – Fire Grate

Now we need a fire grate. The fire grate is simply a can bottom  of the smaller can. Just tall enough of the bottom to be taller than where the air hole comes in.  So that the blown air comes under the fire grate.

Cut the grate so that it is taller than the distance from the bottom of the fire chamber to the top of the air hole.

 

 

 

 

Take your hammer and nail and knock a good number of holes in the grate. This is needed by the bellows to put forced air to the fire chamber.

 

Use your machete/hacksaw/tin snips to cut ‘legs’ out of the can walls. You want a 3 legged grate. Remove some of the legs and save for later use as hinges.

 

Once your grate has been cut down to 3 legs, you can fold some of the ‘cut legs’ into an accordion type spring to help make a tighter fit. I had to do this because my smaller can left a big gap on each side. The accordion style spring will keep hot coals from falling under the grate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slide the grate into the fire chamber. Notice that the grate stands taller than the air hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3 – The Bellows

This is fairly straight forward – you need to cut two blocks of flat wood about 8″ tall and 6″ wide and hopefully 1/2″ thick.  If you don’t’ have a ruler, translate that into the width of an open hand tall, the width of a closed hand wide, and a thumb width thick.  You could use metal, perhaps, but I’m expecting you’ll use wood.

A machete can cut down a tree of the right width. Once down the determined beekeeper can cut out a log, and using a machete  as a draw knife, can fashion two boards of reasonable flatness. I’m not going to go too much into this part, but I’ve been deep in the bush and know what a machete can do wielded by a skilled hand. How fast it can be done will impress you, just stay clear of his swing.

The bellows cloth should be thin leather or heavy plastic.  I’ll assume that the most likely path will be using wood boards and heavy plastic.

Remember those legs you cut from the fire grate? Some you may have folded, others you cut off entirely to use, and 3 you left as real legs. Well, here is where you will use them as hinges. Fold 2 in half.

 

Poke holes in the hinges, so you can screw nails thru them.

Screw in the hinges onto both sides of bellows. As an alternative, an aluminium can strip could also be used for a hinge. Do not expect these hinges to survive more than a year.

 

 

Drill a hole near the bottom with the hinges in the center. This hole can be drilled by spinning a screwdriver, knife blade or even a flint arrowhead. The diameter should be about the diameter of a chapstick tube or permanent marker pen (0.6″). It should be smaller than your fire chamber air hole.

 

 

 

 

Just a thick plastic bag used as the bellows fabric. Leather would be ideal.

 

 

I’m going to use green twigs to help hold my fabric onto the bellows boards. This helps make a seal. In a pinch, a cotton fabric embedded with beeswax would work, perhaps attached using tree sap.

 

 

I used some wire that I bend into staples using pliers. These long staples were hammered into the edges of the bellows boards to hold the green twigs that hold down the bellows fabric. BE SURE TO ATTACH THE FABRIC WITH THE BELLOWS IN THE OPEN POSITION (about hand wide).

 

Here the bellows fabric is attached, now all that you have to do is cut away the excess fabric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because there is no internal spring in the bellows to open it, I had to attach a finger loop on both sides. I used copper out of electrical wire I found. There are better solutions to this, but this is simple. Also, I could have driven in two nails to make an arch as well, but the copper looks nicer to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4 – Mounting the Bellows to the Fire Chamber

There is 3/4 of the small can leftover.  It will be used to attach the bellows to the fire chamber. But first, fold in the edges of the can to reduce dangerous sharp edges and also to strengthen the can.

 

Bend over the jagged edges of the can to make the can stronger. Then use the nail and hammer to poke two nail holes thru both left side and right side. Also poke 3 holds down the middle of the can to screw into the bellows back. Make sure you attach this to the side with the air hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screw in the bellows mount into the bellows. Note that you’ve already punched two holes in both the left side and right side (4 holes total). These 4 holes will be matched up with 4 holes you will punch into the fire chamber. Then you’ll screw in and attached this to the fire chamber. BE SURE TO LINE UP THE BELLOWS OUT AIR HOLE WITH THE FIRE CHAMBER INLET AIR HOLE. The BIG BIG trick is to leave a 2 finger gap (1.5″) between these two air holes. This is so that the bellows doesn’t suck in sparks from the fire chamber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whoops, no pictures of knocking holes into the fire chamber.  Well, here’s the scoop. Once you attach the bellows, there are screw tips pointing into the fire chamber and you will have trouble getting the fire grate in or out. I recommend inserting the fire grate in first before attaching.

Well, I don’t have a shot of making holes to attach the bellows to the fire chamber. But this shot shows you the can-wedge wooden stick that is the diameter of the can and keeps you from crushing a can whenever you are driving holes thru it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 5 – Smoker Cap

The last is putting on the smoker cap. This cap has multiple uses:

  • It can hold extra fuel
  • It focuses the smoke in directional manner

The last can to be used is the same sized (diameter at least) can as the fire chamber can. First, we’ll cut out a hole like we did for the air hole inlet in the fire chamber. Next, we’ll need to make a way to get a compression fit to slide it a little ways into the fire chamber.

Just like you did for the air inlet for the fire chamber, punch a hole into the smoker cap using nails. The idea here is to cut a hole near the top for the smoke to blow out of.  Again, you will want to use the wooden can-wedge to keep the can from crushing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhaust hole can be smoothed by shoving in a rock and spinning it to dull the burr edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make two cans of the same diameter to fit inside the other, a small cut must be made (1″) in the cap can on the bottom. I prefer to make the cut to line up with the exhaust blowhole. The bottom, where the cut is made, is then squeezed so that it can slip into the fire chamber can about 1/2″ deep, enough for a tight, stable fit.
Be sure to fire up your smoker and burn off any plastic coating inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compress the bottom of the Smoker Cap into the fire chamber to finish the smoker.
When using the smoker, remember that the cap is HOT AS HELL, and you will needed a cloth to remove the cap to refill the smoker.

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