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The beekeeper and the lighting of his hive smoker

Published on 2 October 2022

Summary: The beekeeping smoker, and its ignition by the beekeeper. How did we arrive at the current device? What are its defects? What answers does the Zephyr automatic electric smoker from NumericBees provide?

illustration apiculture

No beekeeping without a smoker.

The beekeeper is obliged to self equip with a smoker to protect himself from a bee attack, whether he has caused it or not. So much so that one cannot be a beekeeper without a bee smoker. The one cannot go without the other. This has been the case since man first collected the spoils - honey, wax - from the hives, i.e. since the Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The "modern" bee smokers, i.e. with mechanical bellows and combustion chamber, were invented at the end of the 19th century by Moses QUINBY. They are an evolution of devices used for disinfestation, consisting of bellows with handles, and boxes containing a powdered product or fuel.

Moses Quinby

Since the beginning of the 20th century beekeepers have sought to improve these bee smokers because they have two major disadvantages: they are complicated to light correctly, and if they are badly lit or have design faults, they go out during a visit to the apiary, leaving the beekeeper defenceless.

Like others before us, we sought to overcome these two disadvantages by providing solutions that new technologies and physics can provide. In doing so, we were responding to a market demand, as evidenced by the numerous DIY projects that many beekeepers have been able to carry out at home and even present on a beekeeping forum, using various fans and battery packs.

Design of the automatic electric smoker for bees

The design of Zephyr, which required four years of research and testing, was based on several objectives. These objectives were: easy lighting, efficient smoking, not self-extinguishing, robust industrial components, an ergonomic bee smoker that facilitates the beekeeper's work to increase his pleasure, a battery autonomy that allows a professional beekeeper to work for almost a week without recharging, a device that is guaranteed according to current standards, and the beekeeper being the owner of his smoker, the possibility for him to repair or refurbish it if he feels the need. Finally, it is recyclable and has a small footprint. This design was not done alone in a design office but in the field in contact with beekeeping experts, professional and semi-professional beekeepers, and amateur beekeepers who contributed greatly to the design of the product.

Among the materials, wood derivatives are predominant, metals are mostly rustproof and recyclable, and there is only a tiny fraction of plastics left in the mass, which are indispensable for their insulating or shaping properties. The lithium battery pack is recyclable.

The components are connected by connectors and are removable and replaceable. The only tool required is a Philips screwdriver.

The components are industrial and robust, designed for hundreds of thousands of uses, or thousands of hours of operation.

Zephyr will give you many years of service if you take good care of it.

Zephyr Smoker

The battery pack is designed for several hours of continuous operation, which means a few hundred hives visited between charges. The life of the batteries depends on the number of charges during its life, we invite you to reduce the number of these charges by discharging the battery as much as possible before recharging it. The remaining autonomy is indicated by 4 leds: 4 leds lit - more than 80% remaining, 3 leds 60% remaining, 2 leds 40% remaining, 1 led 20% remaining, no led a few minutes of use remaining. The leds light up in both the ignition and smoking modes of operation.

Ergonomics of the Zephyr electric bee smoker

The ergonomics of the Zephyr bee smoker have been designed to make it easy to hold and use. It is lighter than a bee smoker with a bellows. It can be held like a traditional smoker, and it is easy to point it at the top of the frames. This bee smoker does not require any pressure on a bellows, which will relieve the hands of professional and semi-professional beekeepers and preserve their joints. Zephyr does not need to press a button to produce smoke. Simply tilt it towards your target and smoke is produced automatically. Move the smoker over the frame heads, Zephyr the automatic bee smoker produces the smoke.

Using the Zephyr automatic bee smoker

Zephyr is designed to make the user experience as simple and smooth as possible. To light this bee smoker all you need is a match and a quick fuel such as hay, straw, paper or cardboard. Flip the switch to ignition mode - symbolised by a match - and the electric blower will activate the combustion. As soon as red embers are present and your firebox is hot, which only takes a few seconds, load your device with your favourite fuel, place your green herb wisp and close the blower cone. You can go and dress your beesuit, Zephyr will start the combustion of your smoker for you. After one minute the blower will stop automatically. If your fuel requires more activation, simply restart the blower by tilting the device briefly. You should see a thick white smoke appear. Switch the switch to smoke mode - symbolised by a cloud - and you are ready for your visit to the apiary. Simply tilting the Zephyr automatic electric bee smoker forward will produce enough thick smoke to protect you from the bees. But don't oversmoke so as not to disrupt the colony.

Stop the electric bee smoker

To stop smoke production, simply turn the switch to the middle position - to 0 -. To stop the combustion in your bee smoker, you have to cut off all air flow in the device. A piece of old cloth placed over the air inlet hole and another in the smoke outlet hole will do the trick. Wait until your appliance is cold. For obvious safety reasons, remove all fuel, embers and ashes before storing or transporting it, especially inside a vehicle. To preserve the battery, make sure the switch is set to 0.

Safety. To prevent unintentional combustion, Zephyr is equipped with a timer that stops the ventilation after one minute. This means that if you forget the appliance is switched on, or if it falls on a sloping floor, the combustion is automatically switched off. This is indicated by the red LED in the hourglass, which shows that the time limit for the blower has been exceeded. To restart the appliance, simply flip the main switch or tilt and straighten the appliance. The LED goes out and the unit is in the previous mode - automatic ignition or smoking.

Warranty and serviceability of the Zephyr electric beekeeper smoker

Your Zephyr bee smoker is contractually guaranteed against component and manufacturing defects for two years in accordance with European directives. After this period of guarantee you will simply have access to the necessary replacement components from NumericBees to repair your device should it be damaged. As a strong advocate of repairability of equipment and opposed to what is known as programmed obsolescence, we wanted Zephyr to be easily repairable by its owner so that it continues to provide the services expected for a long time. Exploded drawings and component numbers can be found in the files provided on the NumericBees website. We will publish instructional videos or tutorials. You will be able to purchase the components from NumericBees at very reasonable prices.

We are confident that Zephyr will help beginner beekeepers enjoy their new beekeeping passion and avoid the hassles that have caused many apprentice beekeepers to give up in the past. Zephyr will relieve professional beekeepers, in particular it will eliminate the repeated pressure on the bellows at each hive opening. Zephyr is designed to make going to the bees a greater source of satisfaction. NumericBees' mission is to make beekeeping easier.

Credits: Jean RIONDET, beekeeping expert and François MARRE for the shooting and sound recording