A smoker is a very important tool in an apiary. It is used to calm bees and direct their movement. A little good smoke goes a long way though. There is no need to use too much if the smoke is right. “Good” smoke is a dense, cool smoke that isn't hot as it enters the hive or makes contact with the bees but is thick and foggy so as to get the best coverage and effect.
I start with a “wick” made from a strip of cheesecloth, paper towel, etc… something that had been used to strain beeswax for crafts. The wax covered cloth or paper makes an effective and long lasting wick tho keep a smoker going a very long time.
To light the smoker, many people use a long lighter such as to light a grill. I prefer to use a propane torch instead resulting in a more stable flame source less likely to go out easily and can be easily directed at a specific spot like a wax covered wick.
I prefer to use a combination of dried pine needles wrapped in burlap and rolled up. It produces excellent smoke, thick and cool with a good burn time and rarely fails when lit properly to begin with.