Beginner’s Guide to Smoking a Pipe

Man smoking pipe tobacco through a pipe

“A pipe is the fountain of contemplation, the source of pleasure, the companion of the wise; and the man who smokes, thinks like a philosopher and acts like a Samaritan.”
-Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton

What does Sam Slick, Edwin Hubble, Van Goph and J.R.R Tolkien all have in common? Pipe smoking, of course! For thousands of years we have convened in pipe smoking, this practice has been the vehicle in social gatherings for all kinds of ceremonies, from birth rights, funerals and treaty signings; we are all aware of the term “peace pipe”.

In more contemporary times it has been a signifier to intellect and thought. One procures an image of an old Dunhill pipe hanging from the mouths of University professors, free thinkers and writers, the smell of pipe tobacco floating around the study.

The pipe has been seen smoked by men and women of all social status over the centuries, the banker, the fisherman and even the soldier on the front line. While we all know and have seen this iconic conduit, how many of us even know what to do with one once we pick it up?

In the following feature, we wish to dispense the knowledge that all our Grandfathers endured to us when we came of age, and pass on to you the rituals of pipe smoking.

 

Choosing Your Pipe

Pipes come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Whether it be the Billiard, a Straight Pipe with a 90-degree bend, or the Bent Pipe, it allows for a comfortable hang from the mouth; whilst the contemporary classic, the Poker, has acquired a cult following due to its intriguing, rigid shaping.

Tobacco pipes have been made from such materials like corn cobs or types of clay that make up pipe examples like the lavish Meerschaum, but the most common material would be the root from the Briarwood, an evergreen shrub found in the Mediterranean, the Cameroon Mountains, Ethiopian highlands and a few more arid terrains. The root is chosen because of its natural heat-resisting and moisture absorption properties and after curing, its inability to taint the flavour of the pipe tobacco.

For the beginner, however, we would suggest picking up a Corn Cob pipe as they are inexpensive, do not need “breaking in” and many smoking aficionados consider them a fine smoke.

 

Kit

To begin smoking pipe tobacco, you need a number of small accoutrements to aid you along the way. As well as the pipe itself, you will need some form of combustion, the simplest being the match. You will need a few pipe cleaners to keep your stem free from debris, a tamper or simply a wide-headed nail or screw. And of course, some pipe tobacco.

 

Packing the Pipe

We would recommend the Three-Layer method for packing the pipe; start by taking a pinch of pipe tobacco and simply dropping it into the bowl until it reaches the top on its own accord, then tamp it down halfway, utilising your nail, screw or tamper. That’s layer one done!

Repeat the process again until the pipe tobacco is roughly 2/3 full. Then do it for a third time, the third layer should require a bit of pushing to get it level with the lip of the bowl.

Now try drawing on the pipe, if air rushes through the stem like an empty straw, the pipe tobacco is packed much too loosely; if it feels like sucking a thick milkshake then it is packed too tight. We would recommend at this point to use your tamper to bore a hole through the centre of your tobacco to relieve pressure and increase airflow.

 

Charring and Lighting the Pipe

Ideally, you want to create a nice, even cake of char over the body of the pipe tobacco; to do this, ignite your match or lighter and move it around the top of the bowl while taking several liberal puffs. Once a nice dark char has covered all the pipe tobacco, tamp it down one final time, relight the pipe and take several deep draws until you get a good ember, and enjoy!

 

Troubleshooting

It is completely normal for a pipe to not stay lit in the early days, do not let this put you off the experience, just embrace another opportunity to further improve your pipe tobacco packing skills. It is incredibly satisfying when you can smoke an entire bowl from one light. If the bowl gets too hot to handle you are puffing too regularly; sit back and let the pipe cool, relight and take it slowly. Drawing too fast can result in the dreaded tongue bite which is one of the most common reasons people give up pipe smoking. There are many schools of thought and variables as to how one can receive a burn to the tongue; the two most common issues are packing the pipe too tightly and thus drawing too hard and creating a furnace. Secondly, it is an inferior product, suggesting that the pipe tobacco is too dry or too moist can affect the temperature. If you are unsure, our advice would be to shoot us a message, and we would be happy to advise you further. The key point to remember is that practice makes perfect.

So, grab yourself some pipe smoking accoutrements and enjoy an age-old method of rest of recuperation, and soon you will be passing the knowledge over yourself!

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