By- Kim Flottum
In one of our articles this month we take a long look at taking good care of your hive tool. I put that title on the article…Your Most Useful Tool, because it is just that. Very, very soon you will find that your hive tool becomes the sixth finger on the hand you carry it in, and a third hand all around. It separates supers, pries up inner covers, cleans odd pieces of wax and propolis off anything, removes entrance reducers, pries up very, very stuck frames, and if you insert the short end between two frames and twist you can loosen even the toughest stuck-on frames. In fact, with the leverage a 10” hive tool gives you (don’t get one shorter) you could probably move your car.
You may not end up using the most common paint-scraper design tool because there are many on the market, all with special and general uses. Some have handles, some have hooks, some have narrow bars for cleaning between top bars. But no matter which you end up using, you’ll find there are a hundred ways to lose them. Left on a hive top, dropped in tall grass, left in the basement to move a widget, borrowed by somebody, sometime, buried on the work bench….they are incredibly easy to misplace. So, my advice is to always have two, or seven. I probably own a couple dozen, at least one of every style, and a whole bunch of the paint-scraper variety. Oh, you will see tools that look exactly the same in paint and hardware stores. They are NOT hive tools. They are not made of hardened steel and will break, not bend when used to lift a stuck, heavy super. They break, and that piece of broken steel takes off…somewhere. Preferably not your face or hand. Somebody somewhere calculated that when you insert a hive tool only an inch between supers that were very stuck together, and lifted, you were putting something like a couple hundred foot pounds of pressure on the blade. That leverage I mentioned adds up, and regular steel won’t hold up. Get the good stuff. And if not already, paint it…neon orange or blue, bright red or neon yellow. You’ll know why the first time you get back to the car and find you’ve dropped it somewhere along the grassy, weedy path. It’ll show up.
Your smoker is tied for first with your hive tool for important. It too needs some occasional care. If you don’t have one yet, get the 10” size. Smaller is a joke. Period. Depending on your fuel of choice the platform that sits slightly above the bottom so the intake from the bellows has some room can occasionally get clogged with hardend ash. Most models have eight or 10 holes in them to allow forced air into the chamber to be evenly spread out and provide additional oxygen evenly distributed into the fire. Plug up some of those holes and the even distribution goes away and you’ve got a one-sided fire going all the time. Not good. Check it every once in awhile and if necessary, it is removable, clean the holes. They also sit on, usually three legs, one or more of which can become bent when you are stuffing fuel in and again, the distribution goes awry and you need to correct.
Oh, it’s not uncommon to have the platform come loose and actually fall out when you are emptying your smoker’s contents after using. If this is in your driveway it’s one thing, if out in a distant roadside, another. Some companies sell missing parts, some don’t. Check when you empty so you don’t loose it.
The spout will gradually build up a layer of ash and creosote inside, depending on the fuel you use. I burn pine straw exclusively and this produces a lot of creosote. I have to clean out the inside of the snout about every 4th or 5th time I use it with a long screwdriver to make sure the opening stays completely open and clean.
With a bit of care and attention, you’ll own that smoker a lifetime. But, hinges break, bellows material cracks and goes bad, heat shields fall off, bellows springs wear out, stuff happens. I have a smoker that’s over 50 years old. I don’t use it on a routine basis, but it is still the best smoker I own. The bellows leather is nailed (not stapled) to the bellows form and the you could drive a car through the opening into the fire chamber, the platform on the bottom is bullet proof, and the hinge is indestructible. They made them tough back then, tough enough to last. As corny as it may sound, take care of your tools, and they’ll take care of you.