Friday, January 8, 2010

How to Smoke a Tobacco Pipe

Though it may seem a bit too nostalgic (or downright weird) pipe smoking is starting to make a significant comeback; especially in the 21 - 30 age demographic. Some appeal to the classy/manly look and feel of a pipe as they sit down with a friend, catch up on some reading, or sip some fail-me-not bourbon on the rocks. Others find more appeal in the fact that it is form of smoking that is less harmful than cigarettes. Whatever your reason, your looking to get into pipe smoking. Let's go over some basics.

Pipe tobacco varies greatly from one brand to the next. A good tobacconist will have a big enough selection to help you find exactly what kind of tobacco suits you.
To start off, the are two types of tobaccos you have to choose from- english or aromatic. The generalization is that beginners tend to like the sweet aromatics and more experienced pipe smokers will prefer a more full-bodied english tobacco. You can believe that if you want, but not everyone learns to appreciate Smirnoff Ice before they can enjoy Guiness, if you catch my metaphor. Whatever your preference, it's generally a good idea to find at least one aromatic tobacco you enjoy since, in a case where you find yourself smoking in front of others, people tend to like the smoke of aromatics. It's somewhat less intrusive. I've also heard of people hiding their pipe smoking session by using an aromatic tobacco and, afterwards, lighting an incense stick to blend with the smell and fool people into thinking the stick is the source of the odor.

Pipe tool
A pipe tool is super basic and doesn't need to be sophisticated at all. Basically, a pipe tool consists of a tamper, scoop and probe. The tamper is the flat foot used to “tamp” down the tobacco to let the embers spread. The probe is the long poker that’s used for stirring ash and aerating the tobacco. The scoop, through process of elimination and logical semantics, is used to scoop out the “dottle” – the ash and unburnt tobacco.

A pipe filter is an optional addition to your smoking experience. The filter is a piece of either cotton with carbon in it or balsa wood. Filters advertise that they absorb many of the carcinogens in the smoke. Along with that, the filter will also absorb some of the steam let off by the burning tobacco; leading to a cooler, drier smoke. Filters may also be something you'd want to try if you find yourself in the possession of a pipe that, all too often, begins gurgling from a moisture buildup.

Packing your pipe
This is where skill comes into play. Many people won't pack a pipe properly and might have an experience that discourages them from continuing. A properly packed pipe is like writing a short story. If you structure it properly and are conscious about the subtle details, you'll be drawn in with an intriguing introduction, held in place by a consistently enjoyable journey and, finally, be left satisfied with the gradual conclusion.
The predominant method of packing a pipe is the "Child, mother, father method." In this method, you grab your first pinch of tobacco, put it into the bowl of your pipe, and press it down gently with your finger - as a child would. Your next pinch of tobacco is put into the bowl and stuffed in with a press firmer than before. The third, and final, pinch of tobacco is placed into your bowl and pressed down firmly. By doing this, you're packing your bowl with layers of firmness that ensure a pleasant, even smoke.

Lighting your pipe
There are three main devices you can use to light your pipe. As with anything some tools are better suited for the job than others.

Matches: best - matches impart the perfect heat to the bowl. If your tobacco is burnt at too high of a heat, the smoke will be stingy and unpleasant. Matches tend to burn at relatively cool temperature. One thing to always remember is to let the match burn out the head before you bring it to the bowl. You don’t want the sulfuric, phosphoric properties of the match head affecting your smoke.

Butane lighter: Good – If you find yourself in a situation without matches, a butane lighter will do fine. Zippo makes a specialized pipe lighter that can be turned sideways and still have flame exposed below (see pic). Other lighters have a little extension that points the flame downwards. These are both just to make life easier for you.

Jet lighter: Worst – A jet-style lighter is probably the worst thing you could use to light your pipe. Your tobacco will char and produce a smoke that will scorch your tongue. If a jet lighter is all you have, then just don’t smoke. It’s like adding orange juice to your cereal because you don’t have milk. There is no possible reason to be using a jet lighter.

Whichever device you use to light, always keep the flame just above the tobacco and move it in a circular pattern while drawing in. The initial light is actually called a “false light.” The top layer of tobacco will light and puff up. The puffing up means the rest of the bowl won’t light. That’s why, after every initial light, you have to tamp the tobacco down and re-light to make sure you have a nice, last, even light.

It’s completely normal to have to relight your pipe 2-3 times throughout your smoke, the ash buildup tends to choke the embers of oxygen. Use your probe to gently stir and collapse the layers of ash then have another pass with your lighter/match.

Concluding the Experience
When your smoking experience is done, simply empty out the contents of the bowl using the scoop and let your pipe rest for about 24 hours before smoking again. For the first smoke, it’s especially important to let the pipe rest since it’s still being broken in. Also, for a new pipe, go very light on the scoop tool. Try not to scratch the walls of the bowl. You’re trying to buildup a carbon “cake” on the wall so as to give the bowl a bit of a burn protection layer for future lights.

As with most hobbies, you should invest in quality equipment for when you first start. Sure you can cut your spending to under $20 if you buy Captain Black and a pipe from China but that $20 is a complete waste if you end up having a bad experience and get turned off pipe smoking all together. Cheap tobaccos taste crappy. Cheap pipes can have a hot smoke, be prone to gurgling, have loose seals, break easily (happened to me), and even stain your hands with their varnish.

Anyone can buy a pack of cigarettes from a gas station and get their quick nicotine fix. Pipe smoking is about something completely different. It’s about appreciating smoke consistency, flavor, intensity, temperature, etc. I hope you enjoy your venture into pipe smoking. Keep it classy and take it easy.

I want to thank PipeFriendCHS for being my professor in Pipe Smoking 101. I recommend checking out his
YouTube channel and how-to playlist.