Why use a smoker?
The use of smoke causes to things to happen, both of which are beneficial to the beekeeper. First, the smoke masks the alarm scent bees emit to warm other bees about dangers to the hive (like a human taking the roof off their house). Without the warning bees will be less defensive. The second thing smoke does is make the bees believe there is a fire nearby and that the hive may be in danger. The response in the bees to go gorge on honey, as they may have to fly away and create a new home somewhere else. So a number of the bees are busy eating honey and less defensive.
What can be used a smoker fuel?
There are many types of fuel that can be used in your smoker. Here in Northeast Wisconsin there is an abundance of fallen pine needles which work very well. Other materials include pine cones, newspaper, cardboard, pelleted fuel, cotton waste, etc.. You can use pretty much anything that is combustible. Just don’t use anything that might be toxic-to you or your bees.
How does one light a smoker?
First, gather your materials. The smoker, an ignition source, flammable materials, hive tool, and fire extinguisher or water. Start by lighting something easy, like balled up newspaper or a used egg carton. Put it in the smoker and give it a few puffs. When it is burning well add more materials over it (pine needles, pellets, etc) and give it a few more puffs to get the material lite. Use you hive tool to gently press the materials down in the smoker. This packs the materials for a longer burn and can sterilize the hive tool if hot enough. Add more materials, pack, add more materials until full-all the while puffing away to ensure it stays lit. You are looking for a cool, white smoke and, for sure, no flames or embers flying out the nozzle which could injure your bees or start a fire.
So now, how does one use the smoker?
Start by giving a few puffs at the entrance to the hive. Remove the top cover and give a couple of puffs through the hole in the inner cover. Crack the inner cover and give a few more puffs. That should be sufficient to initially open the hive. Smoke the bees again if they are getting aggressive or the sound changes. There are times when the bees are just all wound up and no amount of smoke will calm them down. In that case, it is best to put the hive back together and come back another day
An article that is a bit more in depth on smoking bees.
A cursory overview of using a smoker from Mann Lake.
Using smoker in Kenya – almost identical to using it in Northeast WI.