You can use smoke as a simple way of calming your bees while you inspect them. The smell of the smoke makes the bees think that their home is on fire and they instinctively start their fire drill. Instead of defending the hive, they start to eat honey in order to prepare to leave and find a new home. After you have carried out your inspection and stop smoking, the bees will return to normal.
How To Use A Smoker
You should puff a little smoke around the entrance to the hive about 5-10 minutes before you open it. This starts the fire drill and they will hopefully be full of honey and unable to sting when you open the hive. Once inside the hive - you should smoke a little on the tops of the frames as you inspect the colony.
A traditional smoker is simply a metal container with bellows attached in which you light a small fire. The aim is to get the fuel to burn badly - producing lots of thick cool smoke. You can use a variety of materials such a old hessian sacking, dried leaves, cardboard or tightly packed dry grass. It is important that the smoke is cold and does not burn the bees. Mastering the traditional smoker is perhaps the hardest part of beekeeping and you should practise starting and keeping it alight.
If you don't like using a traditional smoker - help is at hand in the form of liquid smoke . There is no lighting required, it is impossible to burn yourself and it will never go out. You buy liquid smoke in a concentrated form and dilute it with water. Liquid smoke is made by condensing the smoke given off by wood as it smoulders. It is completely natural and will not harm your bees. You can then simply spray it from an ordinary garden sprayer. It is easier to use than a traditional smoker but doesn't quite have the glamour of a traditional smoker. However, it is taking off and as John Chapple a beekeeper of 30 years says, 'I wouldn't use anything else.'