Bee Smoker Design for Third World Beekeeping
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
How to make the smoker:
- 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
- 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.