Pipe Smoking is a learning experience. It has been described as "the world's last great mystery religion", and with good reason. Unlike other forms of smoking, where most, if not all, aspects of enjoyment of the hobby are transparent, or easily learned in a few minutes, pipe smoking requires a bit of specialized knowledge in order to reap maximum benefit.
In the past, almost all pipe smokers gained their knowledge either by trial and error experimentation, or through the instruction and advice of a more seasoned smoker. This usually was facilitated through the spoken word, and was probably instrumental in the rise of the 'pipe club', whereby smokers would gather to exchange news, tips and useful information.
CIn the interest of bringing the joys of pipe smoking to wider audience, we have prepared a series of "How To" articles covering most of the basic topics involved in smoking a pipe.lick each topic below to take you to the appropriate guide.
How to Select The 'Right' Pipe
Selecting a pipe is a subtly complex exercise. If you have been in a tobacco shop and watched someone buy a pipe, you may have wondered what was taking so long. There are a myriad of factors that go into finding and buying the right pipe for yourself. Unfortunately, very little has been written about how to buy your first (or second, or third) pipe. This guide will examine the factors involved in choosing a pipe for yourself, and will hopefully alleviate some of the perplexing questions beginning pipe smokers have.
A pipe must meet several requirements in order to satisfy you. They can be roughly divided into the following categories; Aesthetic, Mechanical, and Financial. Let's examine each of them, in order of importance, hopefully building up a solid foundation of knowledge with which to buy your first pipe with confidence that you have selected a well-made pipe that appeals to you and that you can afford, that will provide you with years of smoking enjoyment.
You must enjoy the look and feel of the pipe. All other considerations pale in comparison to this one. It will not matter if you have purchased a mechanically flawless pipe at an insanely good price, if, in a few weeks or months, you find that you do not smoke it any longer because it is not your style. It doesn't matter if a pipe is crafted by a big-name carver or a well-known factory if it does not appeal to you.
So, the first rule is: Buy a pipe you like. Pretty easy so far, right? Well, how do you know what you like? If you are new to pipe smoking, you may not be entirely sure of what types of pipes suite you best, or excite you most. The best advice in that case is to look at pipes. Look at lots of pipes. Visit our shop, handle the merchandise, chat with our salespeople, get ideas. Look at all of the different pipe styles. Sooner or later (probably sooner), a pipe is going to reach out and take hold of you and whisper quietly to you 'take me home'. When this happens, you must be prepared to move on to the next aspect of pipe buying, the physical inspection. Advice: A small-to-medium, or slightly bent pipe is best for carrying around or stashing in a pocket. Straight pipes are also easiest to clean - simply run a pipe cleaner through the mouthpiece, even while you are smoking (most effective if you take the pipe out of your mouth first!).
Bent pipes - I mean deeply bent and of medium-to-large size - are for sitting and reading, watching TV and the like. Though you can get a pipe cleaner through a bent pipe, it's not as easy as a straight pipe and requires a bit of maneuvering with the cleaner - a pain if you're walking or working. Thus, straight equals active, bent equals passive. And no, these are not sexual preference predictors.
The pipe must be constructed in such a manner as to bring you pleasure from smoking it. It must not have design flaws that cause it to be impossible to keep clean, lit, or even together. The question, especially for beginning pipe smokers, is how to tell if a pipe is well made.
You need to know, then, what to look for in both a well-made, and a shoddily made pipe, so that you can tell the difference, and buy only those pipes that are well made.
First and foremost, a list of things to avoid. The presence of any of the following should be a cause for great concern, if not a 'deal breaker':
- Lacquered or Varnished finish - quality pipes have a stain and/or a polished shine to them, but a lacquered or varnished pipe will not be able to breathe, resulting in a hot, wet smoke.
- 'Fills' - large holes or pits in the pipe, filled in with putty.
- Metal Filters - these inserts in the stems of some low grade pipes will cause condensation, resulting in a hot, wet smoke.
Besides these things to look out for, you should be on the lookout for the following characteristics of a well-made pipe:
- Grain: The more uniform the grain, and the tighter the grain, the higher the price of the pipe, but overall, this has little to no effect on the smoking quality.
- Weight: The lighter a pipe is, everything else being equal, the better it will smoke, being a better cured and more seasoned piece of wood.
- Sandpits: Sandpits happen, and there really isn't anything wrong with them, but the fewer of them in a pipe, the better.
- Finish: The pipe should look as if it was made with care. There should not be any obvious sandpaper marks, uneven stain, or bald spots without wax. The inside of the bowl should not be stained.
- Draft hole: This should be as close as possible to the center of the bowl, and should align perfectly with the air hole in the stem. It should also terminate in the bottom of the bowl, not partway up the side.
You must be able to afford the pipe. The most financial basic rule of pipe purchasing, and of almost any other purchase is this: "Buy the absolute best you can afford." You can't go wrong by buying quality. Pipes are available in a vast range of prices, from under $30.00 to well into the thousands, with plenty of well-made pipes in each price category. You should strive to get the greatest value for your money, The reason this is the final consideration is that pipes are not cheap or expensive, they are either good smokers, or bad smokers, and without careful consideration of the aesthetics and mechanics, a cheap pipe and an expensive pipe are equally likely to be a good smoker, or a bad one.
Having read and applied the principles above, you should have a good foundation of knowledge to apply to your pipe purchasing, and you should have figured out why it takes so long to pick out a pipe!
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Pipe Buying Myths
Myth: 'Buy a cheap pipe for your first one, so you haven't lost much if you decide you don't like it.'
Reality: Buying an inexpensive pipe as your first pipe is probably a recipe for disaster. While there are well made, inexpensive pipes available, without some experience in what to look for, you are likely to buy a pipe with some serious mechanical problems, which will give you a devil of a time as you try to learn to smoke a pipe.
Myth: Pipes are fashion accessories.
Reality: Pipes are pipes. They are fashioned to smoke tobacco in, not to be an accompaniment to your jacket or tie. They are not shoes or cuff-links. You should buy pipes because you like them, not because they match some outfit you own.
Myth: The shape of your face should determine the type/size of pipe you buy.
Reality: You should buy pipes that you enjoy looking at, holding, and smoking. Who really cares if your face is 'tall and lean' and you prefer squat, fat-bowled pipes. It would be a shame to limit your pipe horizons for such a silly reason.
Myth: Meerschaum pipes are for 'experienced' smokers.
Reality: Meerschaum pipes are somewhat more fragile than a briar pipe, and have different physical properties, but that is no reason not to buy one for your first pipe if that is what you desire.
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How to Pack And Light Your Pipe
The number one complaint of new pipe smokers seems to be that they do not know how to correctly 'pack' their pipe, resulting in either dottle left over at the end of the smoke, or a hot smoke and the dread tongue bite, or a pipe that is hard to draw on. Here is compiled a step by step outline to the correct way to pack a pipe for maximum enjoyment. Packing and lighting a pipe, much like smoking a pipe, is an art form, and this technique may take some time to master, but once you have it down pat, one of the major stumbling blocks to pipe smoking bliss will have been removed.
- Something to tamp the tobacco with
- Something to ignite the tobacco with
- Pipe cleaners
- First, it is important to make sure that your pipe is free from obstructions and left over ash from previous smokes. Run a pipe cleaner through the stem, dump out any dottle, and gently blow through the stem to expel any leftover ash. It is probably best to do this over a trash can, large ashtray, or other such receptacle, pointing the bowl of the pipe upside down to avoid spewing dottle and ash into your own face.
- Remove a small amount of tobacco from your tin/pouch/etc and lay it out on a flat surface. Gently pick apart any clumps in the tobacco, and make note of the moisture content of the tobacco. If it is too moist, you may want to let it sit out for a few minutes to dry out a bit. Go make yourself a cup of tea, pull an espresso, or open some mail. When you come back, it should have dried just a bit and be a little easier to deal with.
- Holding your pipe, trickle strands of tobacco into the bowl of the pipe until it is filled to the top. resist the urge to push the tobacco down with your thumb half-way through this operation. Do not pinch the loose tobacco while doing this, as you will create more of the clumps you just took time to remedy.
- Now, take you tamper/pipe-nail/etc and gently compress the tobacco. For bowls with straight sides, you should tamp gently until the tobacco half fills the bowl. For pipes with tapered bowls, aim for more like two thirds full. The tobacco in the bowl should have a very springy, almost soft consistency.
- Put the pipe to your lips and take a test draw. If there is any resistance, dump out the tobacco and start over.
- Once again, trickle loose strands of tobacco into the bowl until it is once again full, perhaps even a tad over-full.
- Again, tamp the tobacco down gently with your tamp. For straight sided bowls, the pipe should now be three quarters full. For tapered bowls, the pipe should now be five eights or so full. You will probably find that to achieve this level of tobacco, you have to tamp with slightly more force than the first time. The tobacco in the bowl should feel springy.
- Put the pipe to your lips and take a test draw. There may be tiny amount of resistance this time, but if you have any troubles drawing on the pipe, dump out the tobacco and start over.
- Trickle a bit more tobacco into the pipe, until a small mound of it protrudes above the rim of the bowl, looking as if it needs a haircut. Return any left-over tobacco to its' container for future use.
- Using your tamp again, pack this tobacco down until it is even with the top of the bowl. This will take a bit more pressure than the first two tamping operations, but take care not to overdue it. The tobacco should still feel springy, only slightly less so than on the second tamp.
- Put the pipe to your lips and take a test draw. The resistance should be minimal, like sucking on a straw. If there is any more than this, dump out the tobacco and start over.
Now, if all of the above steps have been successfully completed, your pipe is properly packed and ready to be lit and smoked.
Lighting a pipe seems to be a very straightforward operation. You apply open flame, whether from a match, lighter or other such contrivance and puff on the pipe until it is lit. Well, to get maximum enjoyment out of your pipe, and to minimize the need for mid-smoke relights, it is important to pay attention to your technique here, as with any other aspect of smoking. Here are a couple of easy steps to ensure a nicely lit pipe.
- First comes the 'charring' light (also called the 'false' light), the purpose of which is to expel any extra moisture from the tobacco and prepare a nice even bed for the 'true' light. To achieve this, light your match of lighter and apply it to the tobacco, moving it in a circular motion around the entire surface of the tobacco. While doing this, take a series of shallow puffs on the pipe. It may be that the tobacco swells up in a spot or two and seems to unravel. That is the purpose of the charring light, to balance out the tobacco moisture and density.
- Allow this light to go out and tamp the tobacco back down even with the top of the bowl. You may find it useful to twist or spin your tamp in a circular motion while doing this. This is the point where many pipe smokers ruin a good packing job by tamping too hard. You should use a very light touch, wanting only to return the tobacco to the level it was before the charring light.
- Relight your match of lighter and apply it to the tobacco, moving it in a circular motion around the entire surface of the tobacco. While doing this, take a series of shallow puffs on the pipe. This time the tobacco should not unravel and puff up as it did before. Extinguish your source of fire, sit back, relax and enjoy your pipe.
Hopefully, by following these instructions, you have successfully lit your pipe and are enjoying it. Here are a couple more tips to consider:
- It takes time and practice to master this technique, but you should see steady improvement in your form and in the ease with which you can pack your pipe as you progress. It is not uncommon for it to take six months for this technique to become second nature.
- Don't worry too much about relights. Relighting your pipe is a fact of life, and only rarely, if at all, will you have a smoke where you do not have to relight at least once. You will probably find that as your smoking progresses, you will relight less and less frequently.
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How To Clean Your Briar Pipe
Without regular and diligent cleaning, your wonderful new pipe will become a soggy, ill-tasting mess, and will no longer provide you with the smoking pleasure you desire. To eliminate such problems, you need to embark on a regimen of regular cleaning and maintenance for your pipes.
- Tapered Pipe Cleaners
- Bristle Pipe Cleaners
- Regular or extra fluffy pipe cleaners
- pipe sweetener or grain alcohol
- shank brush or cotton swab
- pipe reamer
- pipe tool or pick
A smokers rotation is the number of pipes they own, and the order they are smoked in. This is an important concept to the care and cleaning of your pipes. First and foremost, because pipes need a rest in between smokes if they are to continue to function optimally.
The care and cleaning of your pipe begins with your very first smoke, and should continue forward from there. Before each smoke, run a pipe cleaner, either bristle or regular, through the stem to dislodge any leftover ash and dottle, and gently tap your pipe on a cork knocker or the palm of your hand to remove these obstructions from the bowl.
During a smoke is an excellent time to begin the process of caring for your pipe. You can begin by paying careful attention when lighting your pipe. Keep your flame source over the tobacco, so that it does not char the rim of your pipe. If the rim of your pipes begin to develop a bit of a dark tint to them, it can usually be removed by moistening a pipe cleaner with saliva and gently rubbing the rim of the pipe with it. Done regularly, this will eliminate the cause of the charred, blackened rims so common on un-cared-for pipes. During smoking is also when you will notice if a more thorough cleaning is in order. If a pipe begins to taste sour, salty, or just plain bad while smoking it, it is probably time for a good cleaning. See Periodic Cleaning below.
First, a warning: Do not remove the stem of a pipe while it is still warm. This will cause the stem to loosen, and can cause you to crack the shank or break the tenon of your pipe. At the end of each smoke, your pipe should be given a good cleaning. Allow the pipe to cool, and then stir up any ash and dottle left in the bottom of the bowl. Placing one finger or the palm of your hand over the top of the bowl, shake the pipe for a few seconds to evenly distribute the ash along the inside walls of the bowl, which will greatly speed the formation of 'cake', a protective layer of carbonized tobacco and ash inside your pipe. Cake acts as an insulator, greatly extending the life of your pipe and guarding against burn outs. See the Periodic Cleaning section below for instructions on maintaining the cake, Dump out the remaining ash and dottle, and run a bristle pipe cleaner through the stem until it is just barely visible in the bottom of the bowl. Remove it, and either turn it around or use another pipe cleaner, repeating this process until the pipe cleaners come out clean. Moisten a pipe cleaner with saliva and rub the mouthpiece with it to remove any buildup there. Blow gently through the stem of the pipe to dislodge any leftover ash and wipe your pipe down with a soft cloth, perhaps impregnated with a compound such as Briar Pipe Wipe. If you wish, you may insert a regular pipe cleaner into the stem of the pipe before placing it back on the rack, in order to absorb any residual moisture, but if you are diligent in using your pipe cleaners, this is not necessary. Place the pipe back on it's rack or stand and allow it to rest, hopefully for two to four days before it is smoked again.
You will want to, on occasion, give your pipes a more thorough cleaning than just swabbing out the stem after smoking. Most smokers do this fairly regularly, some going so far as to do so after all of their pipes have been smoked once, thus providing themselves with a fresh, clean rotation of pipes. You will have to experiment a bit with how often you do this cleaning to find what works best for you. To start this cleaning, carefully remove the stem of the pipe from the bowl and lay the two pieces on a paper towel. Dip a regular pipe cleaner in alcohol and run it through the stem, from the tenon to the mouthpiece, pulling it through. It will most likely come out with a bit of black or brown gunk on it. Follow this pipe cleaner with a dry one, and repeat until the moist pipe cleaner comes out the same color it was when it went in. Push one final dry pipe cleaner through to remove any moisture and set the stem aside. Using bristle pipe cleaners, moistened with alcohol, vigorously swab out the air hole of the pipe, alternating with dry, regular pipe cleaners. Don't be afraid to use a lot of pipe cleaners doing this. Pipe cleaners are cheap, new pipes aren't. If the air hole of your pipe is large enough in diameter that there is little resistance when you do this, you may want to fold the cleaner in half in order to scrub the sides of the air hole properly. Once your dry pipe cleaner comes out of the air hole the same color it was when it went in, run one more dry cleaner through the air hole to absorb any residual moisture. Using a cotton swab or shank brush, clean out the tenon, the portion of the pipe where the stem attaches to the bowl. a doubled over regular pipe cleaner will do in a pinch. If your stem or bowl has a band, now is the time to polish it, using a good silver, or other metal, polish, depending on what your band is made of. Carefully reinsert the stem into the bowl, and give the pipe a good wipe with a soft cloth, perhaps impregnated with a compound such as Briar Pipe Wipe. Cleaning over, allow your pipe to sit for a day or so before smoking it, to allow the alcohol to completely evaporate. If you have cleaned most or all of your briar pipes at once, now is a good time to smoke your meerschaums and corncobs you have been neglecting.
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How To Clean Your Meerschaum Pipe
Without regular and diligent cleaning, your wonderful new meerschaum will become a soggy, ill-tasting mess, and will no longer provide you with the smoking pleasure you desire. To eliminate such problems, you need to embark on a regimen of regular cleaning and maintenance for your meerschaums.
- Tapered Pipe Cleaners
- Bristle Pipe Cleaners
- Regular or extra fluffy pipe cleaners
- shank brush or cotton swab
- pipe tool or pick
One of the joys of owning and smoking a meerschaum pipe is watching it slowly change color, from a milky white to a dark brown. When you first get a meerschaum pipe, be careful that your hands are clean as you smoke it for the first few times. Meerschaum pipes are coated in beeswax which aids in the coloring process and protects the brittle meerschaum. As the pipe heats during smoking (and be careful not to get it too hot) the beeswax melts. If your hands are dirty, the beeswax will pick up that dirt. Though some suggest not touching the bowl of a meerschaum pipe while smoking it, I think this is a little extreme. Just take care that your hands are clean and dry.
A sample 'Coloring' regimen
There are many different ways to go about coloring your meerschaum pipe, but one of the simplest is as follows:
Smoke your meerschaum several times a day for about two weeks. Unlike a briar pipe, meerschaums do not need long periods of rest between smokes, and can safely be smoked multiple times in a day. Do, however, allow the pipe to cool between bowls.
After this two weeks, your meerschaum should be noticeably heavier than when you began, owing to the amount of tars and oils now trapped inside the meerschaum. Put your meerschaum aside for a period of about one month. During this time, the beeswax will wick the tars and oils towards the surface of the pipe, coloring it in the process. Repeat and enjoy!
The care and cleaning of your pipe begins with your very first smoke, and should continue forward from there. Before each smoke, run a pipe cleaner, either bristle or regular, through the stem to dislodge any leftover ash and dottle, and gently tap your pipe on a cork knocker or the palm of your hand to remove these obstructions from the bowl. Be especially careful when tapping a meerschaum pipe to hold it by the shank, never by the stem!
During a smoke is an excellent time to begin the process of caring for your pipe. You can begin by paying careful attention when lighting your pipe. Keep your flame source over the tobacco, so that it does not char the rim of your pipe. Unlike a briar pipe, it is near impossible to remove this rim charring from a meerschaum pipe, so it pays to be extra careful in this department. During smoking is also when you will notice if a more thorough cleaning is in order. If a pipe begins to taste sour, salty, or just plain bad while smoking it, it is probably time for a good cleaning. See Periodic Cleaning below.
First, a warning: Always remove a stem from a meerschaum pipe by twisting it gently clockwise while supporting the shank with your fingers. At the end of each smoke, your pipe should be given a good cleaning. Dump out the ash and dottle, and run a bristle pipe cleaner around the inside of the bowl to remove any possible cake build-up. Unlike a briar pipe, a meerschaum requires no cake, and in some instances, a cake can be detrimental to a meerschaum, either slowing the coloring process, or causing the pipe to crack. Clean out the stem with a bristle pipe cleaner once, remove it, and either turn it around or use another pipe cleaner, repeating this process until the pipe cleaners come out clean. Moisten a pipe cleaner with saliva and rub the mouthpiece with it to remove any buildup there. Blow gently through the stem of the pipe to dislodge any leftover ash and wipe your pipe down with a soft dry cloth. Place the pipe back on it's rack or stand and allow it to cool.
You will want to, on occasion, give your pipes a more thorough cleaning than just swabbing out the stem after smoking. Most smokers do this fairly regularly, some going so far as to do so after all of their pipes have been smoked once, thus providing themselves with a fresh, clean rotation of pipes. You will have to experiment a bit with how often you do this cleaning to find what works best for you. To start this cleaning, carefully remove the stem of the pipe from the bowl and lay the two pieces on a paper towel. Dip a regular pipe cleaner in alcohol and run it through the stem, from the tenon to the mouthpiece, pulling it through. It will most likely come out with a bit of black or brown gunk on it. Follow this pipe cleaner with a dry one, and repeat until the moist pipe cleaner comes out the same color it was when it went in. Push one final dry pipe cleaner through to remove any moisture and set the stem aside.
Looking for information on a tinned tobacco that you noticed last time you were in the shop? Check out tobaccoreviews.com. This site is user-driven and supported and is a great resource of information!
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