Choosing a Pipe for Smoking Tobacco
Choosing a pipe is harder than it may sound, especially if it is your first or second ever one. The range of factors that go into finding and buying the right pipe is extensive – and it can be even harder if you’re buying one as a gift.
Fortunately, this guide will be able to clear a few things up to help you get on your way to choosing the right pipe for you or whomever you may be buying for.
A pipe must meet your requirements and preferences for it to fully satisfy you. The different factors that you must consider exist as Aesthetic, Mechanical and Financial. By breaking the factors up into groups, we are able to consider all of the key points to hopefully match you up with the perfect pipe at the end of it all, providing endless enjoyment.
You must like the look and feel of the pipe. All other considerations are fairly meaningless in comparison to this one. Even if you purchase a mechanically perfect pipe, but you don’t enjoy the look and feel of it, then it is completely pointless. There is a perfect pipe out there for everyone, so don’t settle for second best. It doesn’t matter if the pipe is crafted by a big-name carver, or is simply a factory made pipe, if it doesn’t appeal to you, then it’s no good.
Buy pipes you like. Easy. But how do I know what I like? If you are new to pipe smoking, you may not be entirely sure which pipes suit your taste and preferences best. You need to make sure you consider all of the pipes you, seeing and discovering as many types as you can, before you indentify a few you may like to look at purchasing. Look at different pipe styles, because eventually, a pipe will just sell itself to you, so ensure that you’re ready to give it a physical inspection before you purchase the pipe.
2. Mechanical Considerations
The pipe not only has to look and feel good but has to bring you ultimate pleasure from smoking it. It must not have flaws in its designs. You must be able to operate the essential maintenance safely and comfortably. The question for a beginner is how do you find out how well a pipe is made?
First and foremost, you need to know what features signal a pipe you have to avoid. Quality pipes have a precisely aligned and perfectly smooth airway from the draft hole in the bowl to the end of the mouthpiece.
Any disruption in the smoke stream will cause turbulence in the smoking experience that can result in the pipe to smoke loudly and wet. Be aware that some pipes are designed with a moisture trap that many people do like to use.
Large holes and pts in the pipe are also the sign to steer well clear. While these may not interfere with the actual smoking of the pipe, they may not colour and age gracefully as the rest of the briar, which will result you in a dodgy appearance of the pipe.
Metal filters – these inserts in the stems of some low grade pipes will cause condensation, resulting in a noisy, wet smoke, which is an unwanted side effect.
Look Out For:
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 but plays a large part on the way a pipe looks.
Weight – The lighter a pipe is, the better it will generally smoke, and also stay in your mouth without straining you. Often a lighter pipe will mean that it has been cured more thoroughly (moisture removal).
Fit and 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. The stem and shank should join well and there should not be any/ many sand pits. Although it is not going to compromise the smoking quality of the pipe, generally the fewer sandpits in the pipe, the better.
Draft hole – This should be as close as possible to the centre of the bowl. It should align with the air hole in the stem as perfectly as possible and should terminate in the bottom of the bowl, not partway up the side.
3. Financial Considerations
Money plays a major role in everything. You must be able to afford the pipe! Pipes are available in a huge fluctuation of prices. Generally, the higher the price of the pipe, the better the quality of it is. This has lead to a rule some people like to use: “buy the absolute best you can afford to spend”. You should however, strive to get the best value out your pipe. A cheap pipe will probably be a bad smoker, while a more expensive pipe will be a better smoker.
Now you know a little more about buying a pipe, take a browse through the UK Tobacco pipe section to see what is available. Maybe you will find the perfect pipe for you right away, with some of the best pipes and best value pipes stocked throughout the website.
So, what is the right pipe for you ?
Here are some of the most popular shapes the serious pipe smokers can choose from.
Our Pipe Guide provides detailed information for all you need to know about smoking a pipe including aesthetics and different pipe variations.
How do you choose your first tobacco pipe?
Very long… long… short… curved… straight… filtered… unfiltered… how much to spend. What a dilemma!
Each type has its own characteristics and small advantages to offer. Above all, it is a question of personal preference. Everyone has their own tastes, and choosing a tobacco pipe is first and foremost about responding to a shape, a colour (there are tobacco pipes of every colour these days) and a finish (sanded, rustic, natural, plain, etc…).
There are some who will go into raptures of ecstasy in the presence of the “extraordinary” types of tobacco pipe; which, though technically perfect, I have to admit leave me completely indifferent. So it really is a matter of personal choice, a choice that only you can make. In making your selection, take into account the way in which you intend to smoke the pipe: what follows will help you.
Very long tobacco pipes (around 270 mm)
Tend to be smoked in private because carrying them around is problematic due to their size. They are difficult to hold in the mouth and tend to be supported in the hand. The big advantage for first time smokers is that the length of the stem cools the smoke, which allows the flavour of the tobacco to be better appreciated. These kinds of pipes, known as “reading” pipes, are intended for peaceful smoking in moments of calm relaxation.
Long tobacco pipes (around 170 mm)
Represent a compromise between very long smoking pipes and curved pipes. These pipes are very light and therefore easy to hold in the mouth. Comfortable and very pleasurable, these smoking pipes are often preferred by women and are greatly appreciated for those restful moments. They also offer the advantage of producing soft smoke at the stem end.
Warning: never dismantle a hot pipe; wait until it has cooled down…
When detaching the stem, always hold it close to the shank: the stem is thinner and therefore more fragile on these kinds of pipes than on traditional pipes.
Bent tobacco pipes :
sit well in the mouth due to their shape. Be aware of the weight however: upwards of 70/80 grams it can begin to be a burden on the jaw when held in the mouth for long periods.
Straight smoking pipes :
Some recommend these pipes for beginners, though there is no hard and fast rule. They are not recommended at weights of 80 g or more, however, because they then become relatively heavy in the mouth (example: the ButzChoquin “Makalu Unie”), unless you hold the pipe in the hand more often than in the mouth that is.
Short smoking pipes :
Though the size of these tobacco pipes makes them convenient and they are often attractively shaped, I do not recommend them for beginners, who as a general rule do not control the temperature of the pipe very well because they tend to draw or suck too strongly. This leads to the smoke being too hot when it reaches the mouth, which can cause irritation and thus does not permit the flavour of the tobacco to be appreciated. The choice of tobacco and the manner in which the tobacco pipe is smoked (calmly) will play an important role.
Filtered or unfiltered :
Eighty percent of French pipes offer two options: a 9 mm filter, or a metal filter used via an adaptor. The 9 mm type filters (activated carbon or foam) partially clean the nicotine from the smoke; they also soften it however. Personally, and to my great regret, I have never been able to smoke an unfiltered pipe, though I am not typical in this respect. I will now take the opportunity offered by this paragraph to provide an answer to a question I am often asked: filters should be changed every time you smoke a fresh pipe.
Finally, how much should you spend on your tobacco pipe?
This will obviously depend on how much you can afford. For a first time purchase, keep things reasonable, relative to your budget, but never purchase one of the new pipes you sometimes see on sale for €20 or €30 (you will not find any of those on this website!). If you want to give your first experience every chance of success, it is better to approach it in the right way. Once you have discovered and familiarised yourself with the art of pipe smoking, and if you enjoy the experience, you can always revise your budget, knowing exactly what you are looking for this time. Read our more comprehensive article how much does a pipe cost.
Here is what you need to know when choosing your first pipe.