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pipe smoking tips & tricks

So if you partake of the pipe (which I recommend you do), whether you’re a first-timer just getting to grips with your first pipe or an old salt with a cellar full of tobacco, the tips below may be of use to you.

lighters are fine

The most important thing is that you ignite the lighter away from your pipe. Make sure there is a flame before you take the lighter to your pipe; this way, no unignited gas will get into your tobacco. Likewise, if your lighter should blow out during the lighting, stop the gas flow or remove the lighter immediately. Venting a lot of unburnt butane gas into your tobacco can bring the flavour down, and this minimises the chance of that happening.

lighters are not great

The very best way to light a pipe, I suppose, would be the way you light a cigar: with cedar chips. This way you won’t even get a theoretical whiff of the sulphur in the match head, and all you’ll smoke will be smoke. But matches are good enough for the likes of you and me.

the three pinch method!

I’ll describe the method as it has been described to me.

The first pinch of loose tobacco is stuffed into the bowl of your pipe gently as one would handle a baby. The second pinch is stuffed in a bit more firmly, like one would handle a woman. And the final pinch is stuffed, you’ve guessed it, with brutish, manly force.

All archaic and sexist lore aside, this method works. Begin soft, and then tamp the soft stuff down with some force, and add the last pinch while really compressing the contents of your pipe. The product is a well-packed, well-smoking pipe.

the three pinch method?

fixing a bad smoke

You can try to fix it. Get the nail part of your pipe tamper out and loosen up your tobacco, trying to get an even distribution throughout. Shift it around so that the air doesn’t go past your tobacco but through it.

Maybe you’re in luck, and it works, and you’re ready to have a nice relaxing smoke. but in my experience, you’ll just be poking and prodding into your pipe for five minutes before finally giving up. So what do?

abandoning a bad smoke

After all, the point of pipe smoking is to enjoy oneself, to experience pleasure, and to relax. If a pipe does not evoke those things, it is not worth smoking.

So if you packed your pipe wrong and can’t fix it, just bite the bullet and empty it out. If you figure out quickly that you screwed up you can reuse the unburnt tobacco, so all will not be lost.

not too dry, not too wet

Now, once you’ve opened the tin or pouch, your tobacco will dry out. It’s a hard thing to prevent.

Luckily, remoisturisation is an easy process: just place a little vessel of water (a small bowl or cup) inside an airtight container with your tobacco, seal said container, and leave it overnight. The water will evaporate and reinvigorate your tobacco, and you’re ready to rock that good stuff.

removing the mouthpiece

I’ve heard two explanations for this curious bit of pipe lore. The first is that all pipes are cut with the grain running clockwise toward the shank; however, a cursory inspection of my own pipes gives the lie to this idea. The second explanation is that the direction does not matter so long as you always twist in the same direction, as the stress in different directions is what weakens the wood.

Frankly, I don’t believe either hypothesis. I don’t think the wood is affected greatly by the direction in which you twist; if anything endangers your stem, it’s the mouthpiece being wiggled. When removing your mouthpiece, keep it straight and don’t bend it up and down, as this may in fact crack the wood.

To my knowledge, no evidence has ever shown that the twisting direction matters, and I have always assumed that it’s more about tradition than anything else, like drinking port with one’s left hand. Twist whichever way you like, clock- or otherwise, and be merry.

a tainted pipe

Note: in new pipes, this may mean that there are some dyes or other things in the wood of your pipe that will most likely fade over the course of smokes. We’re talking older, used pipes that have been spoilt by many, many smokes – although I suppose this method may also work for brand new pipes.

To cure a sour pipe, remove the mouthpiece and stuff a pipecleaner into the stem of the bowl. Next, fill the bowl with plain table salt (finer is better). Finally, use a pipette or syringe or some other precise dispenser to add alcohol to the salt. Some prefer food-grade alcohol, which makes sense; whisky or vodka are fine, though I just use 70% methylated spirit. It all evaporates in the end, so I don’t worry too much.

Keep adding the alcohol until the salt is saturated with it. Watch out for overflow, as the alcohol may affect the finish of the wood.

And then leave it. You’ll see the pipecleaner turn brown pretty quickly as the alcohol dissolves the oils in the wood, drawing them into the salt. After about a day or so (you can leave it two days to be sure) the alcohol will have evaporated, and usually the salt will have taken on a brown colour.

Break the salty crust and remove all salt from the pipe. Wash it under a tap and let dry.

Often, this will do. Even badly affected pipes have completely cleared up after a single treatment, although I’ve cleaned friends’ pipes that took three treatments. Try it, smoke it, and if necessary, try it again.

restoring yellowed wood

Vegetable oil is all there is to it – I prefer boiled linseed oil, but olive oil works too. Liberaly wet a rag or some kitchen paper with your oil of choice, rub it into the wood and let it soak into the wood over the course of a day. The wood will become darker and richer in tone; you can repeat the process if you like, although usually, once does the trick. Try to avoid the inside of the bowl, but don’t worry if you spill into it. Just clean it off with a rag – it may taste a bit funny on your first smoke but it’ll clear out.

A cheap-as-dirt thrift shop pipe can easily be turned back into the elegant vessel it once was.

restoring a discoloured mouthpiece

Stems will turn brown, green and even yellow over the years, and they will spoil your smoke by tasting bad. Happily, oxidation can be dealt with fairly easily.

There’s a lot of to-do about soaking stems in hydrogen peroxide, which a friend of mine tried once, and it certainly cleared up the stem; it also required a lot of post-treatment sanding and polishing – and oxidation returned doubly fast.

I prefer to use special mouthpiece polish. It comes in several brands (I currently use Denicare from a little flat tin). Gather some of the polish on a rag and rub it into the surface of the mouthpiece. Rub the mouthpiece down with a clean cloth, and repeat. Dull green stems can be returned to shiny black glory in minutes.

The foul taste also disappears, though the polish itself can leave a rather musty taste, which goes away after a couple of days. I recommend trowling the Internet or tobacco shops for mouthpiece polish; it’s a fairly obscure product, but not crazy hard to find.

You can take a look at the image above to see the effect that two polishing sessions had on a very green stem. 2002-2020 | email | guestbook | to top

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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.

Basic Supplies

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.