A Pipe Smoking Primer (Pipe Smoking 101)
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from AoM reader Jason Mills.
I can remember visiting my best friend when I was younger. It was fun to get together and have adventures like boys do, but one thing I really, really liked was his dad. His dad was an old farm man and looked like it from the weather-beaten lines on his face to his calloused hands. He was quiet spoken and loved smoking his pipe. Since my dad was a non-smoker, this fact really intrigued me as a young boy. I’d see him lighting up and smoking his pipe in complete happiness. He always smelled like pipe tobacco (Sir Walter Raleigh) and now, whenever I smell that brand, I always think of him.
Maybe you had a grandpa who was like my friend’s dad. Maybe you saw him smoking his pipe in quiet contentment and enjoyed that manly smell as I did. Maybe you’ve never known a man who smoked a pipe, so you don’t know what I’m talking about. Either way it doesn’t change the fact that pipe smoking is a manly art.
Why? Well, pipe smoking is as much ritual as it is relaxation. There’s a certain satisfaction you get when you pack the tobacco into the bowl just right. Then, the whoosh of the match followed by that wonderful, aromatic smell. Smoke a pipe with one of your favorite cocktails (maybe an Old Fashioned or a Martini) in the comfort of your favorite armchair, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect evening.
Pipe? Check. Man chair? Check. Grab the sports section and you’ve got the perfect evening ahead of you.
Even in cinema from the 1930s and 1940s, oftentimes you’ll see men with a pipe in their mouths. Movies like The Quiet Man, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and even It’s a Wonderful Life find men of all stripes smoking their pipes. Today, men who smoke a pipe are taking part in a manly ritual that stretches back to the dawn of time and has continued unbroken to the present. Convinced? Then let’s get started.
Since this article is for newbies, I don’t want you to go broke trying something you may not like. So, I’ve provided a list of the minimum items you need to start. When I first started smoking a pipe, I paid $12 for all of my stuff, but prices may vary in your area. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A pipe. I recommend starting with a corn cob pipe. Yeah I know it sounds corny (no pun intended) but they’re cheap (mine was $4) and if you find you don’t like smoking a pipe, just toss it with little out of your pocket.
- Pipe tamper/tool. Although not absolutely necessary, this is very helpful in packing the tobacco. Mine was $3 and was a combo tamper/cleaner.
- Pipe cleaners. Obviously for cleaning your pipe when you’re finished. Most tobaccoists will gladly provide you with a handful at no charge
- Wooden Matches or a pipe lighter.
- Tobacco. This is where a knowledgeable tobacconist is HIGHLY needed. Tobacco comes in a variety of flavors and strengths. I recommend starting out with a blended flavor. The one I started with is called Almost Heaven and is a vanilla flavored tobacco. My tobaccoist sold me a 3 oz sample pouch for about $5.
Once you have all this, you can get started.
How to Smoke a Pipe
“I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” -Albert Einstein
To start with, smoking a pipe is a leisurely activity. I’d recommend setting aside at least 20 minutes. That’s one of the reasons pipe smoking is so enjoyable. It lets you take some time to slow down. Again, make yourself one of the 5 Classic Cocktails Every Man Should Know, grab your pipe and tobacco, and take a seat on the porch to enjoy the evening. Now you’re really ready to begin.
1. Fill the bowl of your pipe. This step is the most difficult to master, but it affects the rest of your smoke. Fill the bowl loosely with tobacco and press it lightly down with the tamper. The bowl should now be filled halfway from the bottom. Fill the bowl again to the top and compress a bit more, packing more firmly. Now your bowl is about 3/4 full. Now top off the bowl with more tobacco and press down. There should be a slight space between the top of the bowl and the tobacco.
2. Put the pipe to your mouth and take a test draw. If air doesn’t flow freely through the tobacco, it’s too tight. If that’s the case, remove and try again. If your test draw is fine, you’re ready to light.
3. When lighting your pipe, use a wooden match or pipe lighter. I recommend wooden matches because they’re cheaper. Pipe lighters are made specifically for tobacco pipes and don’t alter the taste of the tobacco. If using a match, strike it and let it burn for a few seconds to get the sulphur off. Then, as you take gentle draws on the pipe, move the match in a circular movement over the surface of the tobacco. Do this until the tobacco is evenly lit. Once it’s lit, you’re still not quite there. This is simply the “false light.” Let it go out, then relight the same way. Once it’s evenly lit, this is the “true light” and you’re ready to smoke. Note: It is suggested that you NOT inhale the smoke into your lungs. Pipe smoking is different than cigarette smoking. This type of tobacco is a bit stronger and is more for the flavor.
4. Take it easy when smoking your pipe. Slow and steady, this is a marathon, not a 50 yard dash. If you puff too quickly, you’ll get what’s known as “tongue bite”– a burning sensation on your tongue. Definitely not what you want. Your pipe may go out 2 or 3 times during your smoke, but that’s OK. Remember, relax and enjoy. If you have a friend over, your pipe may go out more often as you talk! Enjoy the flavor of the tobacco.
That’s all there is to it. If you enjoy your first and subsequent smokes, you can buy the more expensive pipes and tobaccos. Who knows, there may be another article on the types of pipes and tobaccos in the future.
Some Other Tips
- If you find that the pipe starts “gurgling,” there’s too much moisture in the pipe stem. Simply take the pipe out of your mouth and put a pipe cleaner in the end for a second or two to remove the moisture. Try to keep your mouth as dry as possible to prevent this from happening.
- If the pipe gets too hot on your hand, let it go out and then relight. If it’s burning too hot, it can alter the taste of the tobacco.
- When finished with your smoke, always allow the pipe to cool before cleaning.
Editor’s note: If you’re intrigued by the idea of pipe smoking but for a variety of reasons want to avoid tobacco, you may wish to look into trying an e-pipe. E-pipes are electronic pipes that produce a vapor-like smoke but don’t contain tobacco. You can control the level of nicotine in the vapor from high to none at all. It’s a far cry from real pipe smoking, but an interesting alternative.
Pipe smoking is as much ritual as it is relaxation. Here's how to do it right.
How to Smoke a Pipe Like You Know What You’re Doing
When most of us think of a pipe, chances are, it’s hard not to picture a distinguished bearded gentleman in a smoking jacket with wisps of smoke exiting his mouth as he gazes at a fireplace from a man throne, his legs crossed in an ever-so-nonchalant manner.
OK, so maybe your mind doesn’t go to that level of description, but most can agree that a pipe is associated with some level of distinction. The next time you want to level up and experience the art form of pipe smoking, possibly while drinking whiskey, we’ve made a basic tobacco-smoking guide to help you along your journey.
For those who wish to experience the art form of pipe smoking.