Smoking a Pipe
Choosing a Pipe
Choosing your first pipe doesn't have to be a difficult or expensive process. There are three main types of pipes out there: briar, block carved meerschaum, and corn cob. There are others, but these three make up the vast majority of the pipes being smoked on a daily basis.
A corn cob pipe is a very good choice for a first pipe. They smoke very well, they require less rest time between smokes and they tend to not adsorb flavors of tobaccos and "ghost" as much as briar pipes. These pipes do not require a real break in period, but they do smoke a little better after the first few smokes. Corn cobs are also quite inexpensive which leads many people to acquire several for experimenting with new blends of tobacco. These pipes are very durable and can last for years with proper maintenance.
Block carved meerschaum pipes share many of the same characteristics of corn cob pipes. They smoke very cool, do not adsorb a lot of flavors, and they do not require as much rest time as briar. The main drawback of meerschaum pipes are their fragility and in many cases the cost involved in obtaining a quality specimen. Meerschaum doesn't require a break in period and it will color over time. This coloring can be avoided, but most meerschaum smokers find it desirable. Avoid pressed meerschaum as it generally doesn't perform as well as block carved meerschaum.
Briar pipes are perhaps the most popular pipes out there. There is a style of briar pipe out there for everyone. They do require some break in (with very few exceptions) and they do need to rest for a day or two between smokes. They also tend to adsorb flavors of the tobaccos you smoke in them. This "ghosting" can lead to strange flavors and can actually ruin a pipe for any tobacco other than that which has "ghosted" the pipe. There are ways to remove the ghost, but the procedure can be time consuming. For this reason many pipe smokers will dedicate a pipe to either a particular blend or type of blend. This minimizes the problems of cross flavoring.
Choosing a Tobacco
There are far too many blends and types of tobacco out there to make any firm suggestions for your first experience. Most people recommend a rather neutral tobacco that isn't known for having a huge nicotine kick. A lot of the blends that match this description happen to be Burley based blends. However, there is nothing wrong with starting with English blends, Virginias, or Aromatics. It's all up to you.
It is important to break in your briar pipe to allow it to reach its full smoking potential. The breaking in process leaves a layer of carbon on the inside of the bowl called cake. This carbon will aid in the adsorption of heat and moisture as you burn the tobacco in your pipe. This helps to protect the briar and also protects the flavor of the tobacco.
There as many ways to break in a pipe as there are pipe smokers. One of the most deliberate and thorough methods is to pack and smoke ¼ of a bowl once a week for about a month. After this pack and smoke ½ of a bowl once a week for the same time followed by ¾ of a bowl once a week for a month. Only after this process has been followed should you smoke full bowls. Try very hard not to over heat the pipe during this time. Proper packing is imperative. This process can be very hard on the tongue but it's important to take one's time. The cake should be about the thickness of a dime when done and it should be maintained at that thickness.
There are many other methods out there. Like all things in pipe smoking there really isn't a "right" way. It is important to find the methods that work for you. A search of the internet will yield many results in this area.
Packing and Lighting
Improperly packing and lighting a pipe can cause several things to happen. Either you end up with lots of left over wet and nasty tobacco at the end of the smoke (called dottle), a hot smoke and the tongue bite, or a pipe that is hard to draw on. Packing and lighting a pipe, much like smoking a pipe, is an art form, and there is no "right" way for each smoker. It may take some time to master the method that works best for you.
Many people like to dry their tobacco before smoking. It does depend on the blend and this preference can only truly be formed after some experience. It is advisable to smoke a bowl and see how it is. If it doesn't want to stay lit, burns hot, or doesn't taste very good, try to dry it next time. If all those things happen again, your packing technique is off. The best ways to dry your tobacco before smoking is to place some out for several minutes before smoking or to simply pack the bowl and wait several minutes before lighting the pipe. Some use the microwave or other methods, but methods other than just patience may change the flavor and characteristics of the tobacco.
Make sure that your pipe is ready to smoke. Give the stem a good wipe and make sure you didn't leave any dottle or ash in the pipe from your last smoke. If you really want to taste the tobacco and your pipe has a filter, chuck the filter. They get wet and nasty pretty quickly and can really ruin a good smoke. Most people NEVER use them. It is your choice, though.
The following is one method of filling a pipe. It should give you a good basis for figuring out what works best for you. There are a number of methods and procedures out there on the internet. Once you get started explore and experiment as much as you'd like. There is no "right" way, only the way that works best for you.
Let gravity be your friend. Hold the pipe in one hand and sprinkle a pinch of tobacco into the bowl of the pipe until it's filled. Take your thumb or finger and gently push down the tobacco until it's about halfway down into the bowl . Repeat this step with another pinch or two of tobacco. This time gently push it down so that the bowl is now about two-thirds full. Do it all again until the tobacco is at the top of the bowl, and is kind of spongy to the touch. It is very important not to pack the tobacco too tightly. You do not want to cram it all in there and make some kind of a plug. The tobacco needs to be loose at the bottom of the bowl and tighter toward the top. This allows combustion to take place without excessive re-lights and without creating a hot smoke.
Between each filling of the bowl suck a little air through the mouthpiece. If the draw has any more resistance than drinking soda through a straw, the tobacco is too tight. Empty the bowl and start again.
Now it's time to light the pipe. A soft flame lighter or a wooden match is really the best way to light your pipe. The torches are too hot and can burn the rim of your pipe VERY quickly. If you are able to exercise extreme caution and you limit the pipes exposure to the torch to 2 seconds or less a torch will work fine. Failure to exercise said caution may result in damage to your pipe.
First, do the charring light. Place the flame over the bowl and take shallow draws through the pipe while moving the flame around the entire surface of the tobacco. Don't puff too fast or too hard. The best analogy is of the soda straw. Think sips of soda, not gulps. Once you've covered the entire surface with burning tobacco, stop and let the pipe go out. That's right, let it die. After this step the tobacco may have "swollen" a little. Take your tamper and gently tamp the tobacco down to even with the top of the bowl using a twisting motion. Don't tamp it very hard, you're just trying to even out the ash and the tobacco surface to make the "true" light easier. Just let the weight of the tamper do most of the work.
Once you have tamped the tobacco, place the flame back over the surface of the tobacco and repeat the charring procedure but this time draw a little more aggressively. Don't gulp, but take larger sips. Once you've covered the entire surface of the tobacco with again, your pipe should be lit.
One of the mistakes many make when first starting out in smoking a pipe is constantly puffing to keep the tobacco burning. Avoid this. Puff at a leisurely pace and if your pipe goes out tamp and relight. Constantly puffing the pipe creates too much heat and you will likely experience tongue bite. The object isn't to produce great volumes of smoke, but to keep the fire barely burning. You really want your pipe to be on the verge of going out most of the time. Sip the pipe. A gentle puff or two every minute should be a good pace. You may need to draw more often; it depends on the blend you're smoking, the environment in which you're smoking, and a number of other things.
If you find that the pipe is getting too hot to hold in your hands put it down for a few minutes and let it cool down. Once the pipe is just warm to the touch pick it up, relight, and then SLOW DOWN. This is supposed to be relaxing, remember?
Tamping is something that may need to be done several times during a bowl. Some people will not tamp until they've smoked at least half of a bowl, but most find it necessary to do so more often. If the pipe seems to be on the verge of going out, gently tamp the tobacco using only the weight of the tamper and a slight twisting motion. This helps keep the fire going and can prevent a lot of relights.
One thing you may want to do at least once (usually at the halfway point) is dump the ash. It's not necessary and some believe the presence of ash keeps the smoke cool. If you decide to dump the ash, tamp very gently and then tip the ash into an ash tray. Don't beat the pipe or scrape anything; simply dump the ash out into the proper receptacle.
You should see steady improvement in your smoking as you progress. You'll get better flavors and have less relights. It may take a while, though, so stick with it.
Don't worry much about relights. It's very common when you're first learning and fairly common to have relights no matter your experience. When you do relight, don't draw too hard and make sure the bowl isn't hot. If it is, let it cool down a little before proceeding. If you do find you're relighting a lot, you may need to pack the tobacco a little looser next time or try drying that blend a little before smoking.
After the Fire
After you're done smoking your pipe, it's time to clean it. Dump the ash and then use the spoon on your pipe tool to gently scoop the ashes and any dottle remaining in the bowl. Don't scrape the inside of the bowl; you may damage it.
Run a pipe cleaner through the stem and into the bowl to soak up the moisture. Use as many pipe cleaners as necessary until they come out clean. If your pipe does not accommodate a pipe cleaner going all the way through (cleaners often get hung up on bent pipes and in filter pipes), wait until the pipe is completely cool and twist apart the stem and shank in a clockwise direction. Run cleaners through the stem and then double one up and swab out the shank.
After you have run several pipe cleaners through the pipe, wad up a paper towel or napkin and twist it around in the bowl. This will absorb any moisture that's left in the bowl and clean it of some of the carbon. Doing this in a briar pipe will prolong the process of building cake. After the cake has formed to the thickness that you desire, this method is very good for preventing further build up of cake to a thickness that is undesired. It is generally accepted that cake is really not desired or needed in a cob or meerschaum pipe. The bowl material acts in a very similar way as carbon cake does in briars.
That's it! Your pipe is clean and ready for the next smoke after a day or two of rest. You can smoke your pipe again as soon as it cools, but smoking a briar pipe several times in one day without fastidious cleaning may result in a "sour" pipe. If you must smoke your pipe several times in one day make sure to run pipe cleaners through the pipe and "ream" the bowl with a paper towel and let the pipe cool completely after each smoke. This will minimize the chances of a "sour" pipe.
A resting period isn't necessary with cobs, but you should let them cool completely before the next smoke if possible.
After the next few smokes (or whenever the pipe starts to taste "funny") give your pipe a thorough cleaning. Make sure the pipe is cool, separate the stem from the shank and go to town on the stem, inside of the shank, and the inside of the bowl with pipe cleaners soaked in a high proof alcohol like rum, vodka, whiskey, etc. (Some people use 91% isopropyl alcohol, but others gasp at this. It's up to you.) You can wipe the outside of the stem with the same alcohol, but DO NOT wipe the outside of the bowl with it. Many of the stains used on pipes are alcohol based. Wiping the bowl down with alcohol can do severe damage to the finish of the pipe. Just use a damp soft cloth if you need to wipe down the bowl. There are wax products available on the internet if you need to replenish the shine.
Do not use alcohol on a meerschaum pipe. Use the paper towel trick to clean out the bowl. If you know that the stem is made of acrylic or vulcanite you can use alcohol on or inside the stem as you would on any pipe.
It will be impossible to get the pipe as clean as new, but you want to get it as clean as you find acceptable for the next smoke. If you take care of your pipe, it will last a long time, perhaps generations. Cobs can last a long time as well; they are not throw-away pipes or toys.
It is my hope that you have found this helpful and that you find great pleasure in smoking your pipe. It does take some patience and there is a need to stick with it. Once you have success, there is no greater pleasure in the tobacco world. Pipe smoking has become an important part of many lives and once taken with the hobby many wish they had gotten involved sooner.
I wish you the very best in your journey.
Edited by LilBastage, 26 August 2008 - 01:12 PM.