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Pleasures of the Pipe

"Happy mortal he who knows the pleasure that a pipe bestows"

The old saying is prudent and wise, especially to those that take the time to familiarize themselves with the gentle art of smoking a pipe. Anyone can smoke a pipe and achieve consumption of the tobacco but it is the pipe smoker who knows what he is doing and what the other is missing. All the following suggestions and instructions are designed to do one thing: to increase the pleasure you can derive from your pipe. Many seemingly insignificant things when taken in total are very important. As a full service tobacconist, we are here to make the old saying come true for you!

Proper Filling of the Pipe

Packing can indeed be the difference between a great or poor smoke from your pipe. There are many methods encouraged over the years, some good, some hideous. Every cut tobacco is different and can change the way you fill the pipe, but generally the following steps will serve you well:

  1. Let the bottom 1/3 of the bowl pack itself. In other words, dribble some tobacco in the bottom and let it settle by tapping the sides of the pipe.
  2. Continue to fill the pipe in small pinches and increase slightly on the pressure toward the top of the bowl just to firm it up so as not to affect the bottom 1/3 which should remain fairly loose. Always use your fingers and not a tool to pack your pipe. You want to get an educated feel and after a while it will become second nature. The tobacco should be firm and even but with a slight spring to it.
  3. Always fill a pipe to the top. Never partially fill a bowl. Ideally, you want to smoke a pipe from the top to the bottom and have an even cake inside the bowl. The objective is to get the whole pipe working to expel heat and absorb moisture.

Note: Packing the pipe too loose or too tight will increase heat when smoking and disturb the taste of your tobacco. Excess moisture can also irritate.

Proper Lighting of the Pipe

To perform the ritual of lighting the pipe is the next important step toward a good smoke. Having filled the pipe to the top of the bowl, use a match or butane lighter to char all the tobacco you can see drawing slow and long through the pipe. This is the false light. The tobacco will spring up when fully charred at which time you should lightly tap this tobacco until a flat even surface is created. Be careful not to re-pack the bowl when tamping for you just want to flatten the tobacco that has bounced up.

Now you are ready to light the pipe. The even surface you have created with the false light allows the bowl to burn evenly all the way down instead of burning down the center and/or one side. You want the whole surface of the tobacco to burn down the column of the bowl. With the second match or lighter, light evenly while drawing through the pipe. A flat, even fire head should form and you are off to enjoyment.

Proper Smoking of the Pipe

Some of the hints that follow are helpful doís and doníts of pipe smoking:

  1. As you are smoking the tobacco down the bowl, never dump the ash out! This ash serves two important functions. The ash insulates the fire head and helps the pipe to smoke cool, while dumping the ash out will expose the fire head and it will be like starting over half-way down. The ash also helps build the necessary carbon cake on the walls and if you are constantly knocking the ash out you will never build an even cake.
  2. Every so often while smoking the pipe you should lightly tamp with a tamper to drop the loose ash down on to the firehead to insulate it. Having the pipe smoke cool provides the great taste for your tobacco.
  3. Moisture is the primary cause of tongue bite. If a good quality pipe and good grade of tobacco are at hand, you should not have a problem with tongue-bite. Pipe cleaners, such as B.J. Longís, should be run through the shank and stem (without taking the bit off). The very next draw will be cool and dry and pleasurable. It is almost impossible to use too many.

Proper Caring of the Pipe

Pipes made of briar are required to do two things: expel heat and absorb moisture. If you allow ample rest and clean your pipes regularly they will accomplish their duty efficiently. With reasonable care your pipe will last long after you are gone. If of good quality your pipe will always provide a great smoke when properly cleaned and rotated.

If convenient, cleaning the pipe should be done after every bowlful. Good cleaning solutions are regular unflavored brandy and 190 proof grain alcohol like Everclear. You start by dipping a pipe cleaner in Ĺ inch of either liquid. Running it through the shank and stem will cut the build up, keep the draft hole unobstructed and keep the pipe tasting sweet. The more you stay on top of this procedure, the easier and less time consuming it will be. The stem and mouthpiece should rarely be taken off because it is the only moving part in a pipe. The more you take it off, the more wear you create which may cause it to become loose fitting. Excess moisture also causes swollen mortises and loose tenons, so remember to use dry pipe cleaners during the course of a bowlful.

No matter how much you pay for a pipe or how good the quality, if you overwork the pipe it will not perform to its potential. Rotating your pipes is extremely important. Smoking the same pipe all day long every day will create a wet, sour, bitter smoke. Obviously the more pipes you have, depending on your smoking frequency, the more you can maximize this rotation. Allowing the pipe to rest and dry out is crucial. The bottom line is, the more time in between bowls in any particular pipe the better it will smoke.

Reaming the cake that forms on the inside of the walls is only necessary when it becomes thicker than a dime in width. Never ream all the way down to the wood. Cakes over this thickness can risk cracking the bowl because the carbon cake expands and contracts at a different rate than the briar. If a cake becomes lumpy due to unsmoked tobacco or uneven due to inconsistent burn, it can be reamed with a good three-sided blade like the Savinelli Fitsall Reamer. Your tobacconist might be preferred for this job of dealing with the cake.

As for the outside of the pipe and the mouthpiece, there are products that polish the briar and retard oxidation of the mouthpiece like Briar Pipe Wipe. But remember that keeping the inside of the shank and stem clean is what aids smoking performance.

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