The Ultimate Guide to Pipe Smoking
Choosing your first smoking pipe can be a tough decision to make, especially in a time where there are more options than ever. However, with a little help, you can narrow things down and find a pipe that suits you. You’ll need to consider practicalities like mechanical quality, as well as preferences like style and appearance. We’ve got the tips and info you need to simplify the decision and give you an idea of where to begin.
There are two basic goals in the crafting of a pipe. The first is to combat the build up of moisture. The smoother the passages are, the more effective they will be. Obstructions or depressions in the length of the airway of a smoking pipe will often accumulate foul-tasting fluid, which can cause a gurgling sound while smoking and sometimes even come up through the stem and into your mouth.
The second goal is to make sure that the airway meets the tobacco chamber at the very bottom and center, which allows you to burn the tobacco all the way to the bottom of the bowl. If the airway enters the bowl too high in the chamber, a greater amount of tobacco will be left un-burnt after smoking.
Examining a Pipe
When you’ve got the pipe in your hands, take a couple of draws from the stem. The draw shouldn’t be tight, and it shouldn’t sound very turbulent. Then take a look down the chamber and make sure the draught hole comes out dead center and at the very bottom. Luckily, pipes from reputable brands like Peterson, Icarus, and Savinelli rarely have engineering flaws.
Anatomy of a Smoking Pipe
Handmade vs Factory Made
Both factory-made and handmade smoking pipes have their place in the world, but there are some key differences between them that you’ll probably want to consider when you’re out shopping for your first pipe. Ultimately, budget may become the deciding factor, but practicality also comes into play. We’ve broken down the main differences below.
Not the Factories You’re Used To
The term ‘factory-made’ can unfortunately carry a negative connotation with it these days. It tends to conjures up images of tall, cold concrete buildings in far off lands churning out low quality, disposable goods. Not so with smoking pipes! Some of the most recognizable and affordable brands are made in ‘factories’ that have been around for 100 years or more, and they’ve been dedicated to quality from the beginning! Many of their pipes are hand finished and they are always inspected for quality. When it comes to value, they’re tough to beat.
|Reasonably priced, ranging from $65 – $300||Usually expensive, ranging from $300 – $5,000+|
|Solid mechanics, sometimes with nice features||Excellent mechanics, carefully hand-worked|
|Classic shapes with decent grain quality and textures||Varied shapes, textures, and grain quality|
|Functionality and quality for a lower price||Unlimited styles, and inventive use of materials|
Bent pipes are easy to transport and, more of the pipe’s weight rests closer to the smoker’s face when the pipe is clenched in the teeth, which makes it easier to smoke “hands-free”.
Straight pipes are handsome, practical, and really easy to clean since none of the channels in the pipe are curved or bent. They are usually the lightest of the types and are the easiest to transport.
With an extra long stem and petite bowl, the Churchwarden is the perfect lounging pipe to fill with a nightcap. The long stem keeps the bowl out of your face while your reading and also cools the smoke quite a bit.
Two-chambered pipes have a second chamber that the smoke fills before being drawn through the stem, leading to a nice, cool smoke. They are usually on the larger side and need a bit more care than other types.
Oh Yeah, Shapes Too!
The four types above are a generalization of what pipes can look like. There are many different ‘shapes’ of pipes that can fall under any of the four ‘types’ above. A bent Dublin? Sure. A straight Poker? Yup. A Billiard Churchwarden? No problem. Some combinations don’t exist because they would be a contradiction (i.e. a bent Canadian) and some just wouldn’t make sense (anyone ever seen a Churchwarden Cavalier?!). For some great info on each of the various pipe shapes, check out our Smoking Pipes Shapes Guide.
2. Selecting Your First Tobacco
Selecting your first pipe tobacco doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but that’s what we’re here for. We’ll break down the two major categories and ask you a simple question to give you a great starting point!
Some Professional Advice
The main goal of selecting your first tobacco is just to end up with something you enjoy. Your tastes will change over time and maybe someday you’ll have a go at a tin of that old school, full-strength English blend… and maybe you’ll even like it! At the outset, though, you’ll likely probably enjoy a lighter tobacco more than one that’s meant to put hair on your chest. In the same way that many people are introduced to beer via light beers before enjoying stouts and porters, you’ll likely find that something with a simpler profile and lighter feel is the right way to go in the beginning. All that being said, don’t let anyone, even a professional, tell you that your first tobacco has to be an aromatic one! There are non-aromatic tobaccos out there that are suited to beginners too.
Over 30 blenders represented in our shop
More than 200 quality blends to choose from
Aromatic vs Non-Aromatic
Aromatic blends have had flavorings added to their tobaccos. Flavor types abound… vanilla, nuts, whiskey, fruit, chocolate, etc. The ‘flavor’, however, is mostly noticeable in the aroma, rather than the taste. Complaints such as “my vanilla tobacco doesn’t taste like vanilla” are common when beginners have unrealistic expectations. While they might not taste quite like they smell, aromatics do produce smoke with a pleasant room note.
Non-aromatic tobaccos are in fact not always ‘un-flavored’. A sweet, alcohol based, liquid (i.e. casing) is mixed into almost all tobaccos to make them more palatable. If the casing is neutral or mild and doesn’t alter the flavor or aroma of the tobacco, it is considered a non-aromatic. These tobaccos have a much more natural flavor. Different types of complimentary tobaccos are often blended together for an even deeper, more nuanced profile.
Paralysis by Analysis
If all this information seems a bit overwhelming, you’re not going crazy. There are many, many choices when selecting a tobacco. Without years of experience under your belt, it can be hard to decipher all the signs, and separate the marketing hot words in a tobacco’s tin description from what’s really going on under the lid. Let’s bring it back to basics. Take a look below, and see what best describes you.
“I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth and I’m a sucker for mom’s Christmas cookies.”
You should start with a simple, straight-forward aromatic tobacco like Peterson’s De Luxe Mixture. Virginia and Cavendish are flavored with walnut, honey, and vanilla extracts for a light flavored blend with a nice room note.
“I like the natural smell of leather, the aroma of black tea, and the taste of a milder whiskey.”
Cognac from Smoker’s Haven, a mild English blend with notes of, you guessed it, Cognac, would be a good starting point. The Cognac helps to soften the otherwise very smoky Latakia leaf that’s blended with Virginia and Orientals.
“I really enjoy a good English Porter, and I look forward to the caffeine jolt from my pour over.”
The famous Three Nuns from Bell’s is a strong and flavorful blend that’s probably right up your alley. The otherwise sweet mellow Virginia is given a kick in the pants by the assertive dark-fired Kentucky leaf.
“I sprinkle peat on my tree bark before I eat it for breakfast.”
Go for the burliest of all Burleys! Tabac Manil’s La Brumeuse is a straight blend made up of only the rare Burley varietal, Semois. The tobacco is grown, harvested, cured, roasted, and packaged in the scenic Ardennes Valley of Belgium. Rustic, herbal, floral, earthy… the purest smoke you’ll find!
How to Pack Your Pipe
Many beginners have been turned off by the learning curve associated with packing tobacco properly, but there’s no need to get frustrated. Practice makes perfect. There are three methods explained here, so find your favorite, and give it a go. If it doesn’t work out, just try again. Before long you’ll be packing like a pro!
The Art of the Pack
The most important skill in pipe smoking is being able to pack the bowl properly. Otherwise, you won’t enjoy the hobby as much as you could be. If packed too tightly, it will be tough to draw smoke and the tobacco won’t burn evenly. If packed too loosely, the pipe could get pretty hot and won’t stay lit for very long. That’s why the pack is important!
Unfortunately, while proper packing is an important skill, it’s also probably the most difficult to master. Even after years of smoking, you might still have a sub-par pack from time to time. However, it’s partly the fostering of patience and determination that makes pipe smoking the great form of smoking that it is.
It’s paramount not to get overly frustrated, and give up. You will master this skill if you try, and once you do, you will feel accomplished. You’ll also likely want to begin teaching others, which is equally as rewarding as doing it yourself!
There are three main ways to properly pack a pipe, and different people choose different methods. It doesn’t matter which you use, the important thing is that it works for you.
On the Drier Side
You want your tobacco to be fairly dry. How dry is fairly dry? Well, you want it somewhere between bone-dry and soaking wet. More specifically, you want it dry enough that it really doesn’t even feel moist when you touch it. It should just barely feel moist, but when you squeeze it between your fingers, it shouldn’t crumble (then it’s too dry). If you find that your tobacco is too moist, spread it out on a paper towel and dry it out for as long as you need to.
Avoid the Tongue-ache
Don’t even bother trying to smoke overly moist tobacco. It WON’T be a good experience. You’ll have problems lighting it, keeping it lit, getting good smoke from it, and it will likely burn hot and wet, leaving your tongue soar and your pipe gurgling. That ‘gurgle’ is water being deposited in the various cavities of your pipe, and one of life’s more unpleasant experiences is inadvertently sucking that ‘water’ up the stem as you draw… and then tasting it.
The two-pinch method is probably the simplest of the three. Pinch out the most tobacco that you can comfortably hold between your thumb and two fingers. Work it into the bowl and stuff it down.
Don’t use too much pressure. This means the tobacco is not firmly packed, but not loosely packed either. If you turn the pipe upside down the tobacco should be packed tightly enough that it doesn’t fall out without a good shake of the pipe.
Then take a bigger pinch of tobacco between your thumb and three fingers and follow suit. This time the pinch should almost look like it will be too much to fit into the rest of the bowl. Stuff it in using a bit more pressure. When you’ve worked it all in, pack it down until the tobacco is compacted but slightly spongy to the touch.
Like the two-pinch method, you’ll take a pinch between your thumb and two fingers, and pack it into the bowl.
The second pinch should be a bit larger than the first, but not by much. Pack the second pinch more firmly than the first. There’s an old adage: the first pinch should be packed with the strength of a baby, the second with the strength of a woman, and the third with that of a man.
The third pinch should be large… as much as you can comfortably hold between your thumb and three fingers. Work the tobacco in and tamp down firmly with you finger or tamper, applying even pressure to make the tobacco surface flat.
Start by cupping the palm of your non-dominant hand. Fill the palm of your hand with more tobacco than you will need to pack your pipe.
Then take the pipe in your other hand and gently place the empty bowl atop the tobacco, moving it in a circular motion. Keep your palm cupped, or you may end up with tobacco all over the table and none in your pipe.
Look inside the bowl. You should see that the pipe has essentially filled itself with tobacco. It won’t be too densely packed though, so feel free to tamp it with a finger or tamper and repeat the process until the bowl is packed fully. Once the tobacco feels just a bit spongey to the touch, the bowl is packed!The Ultimate Guide to Pipe Smoking Choosing your first smoking pipe can be a tough decision to make, especially in a time where there are more options than ever. However, with a little help, you
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