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Pipe Smoking 101

How to smoke a tobacco pipe

How to smoke a tobacco pipe


Selecting your first pipe

Congratulations! You have made the wise decision to become one of the many proud brothers of the Briar.

Selecting your first pipe is mainly a matter of personal preference. There are many different shapes ranging from a traditional billiard to a freehand work of art. Pipe shapes are a topic in itself we will cover later.

My recommendation when selecting your first pipe is to actually go to a brick and mortar pipe store and hold the prospective pipe in your hand. Imagine smoking the pipe and take in all of its  subtle nuances. Some pipes may just “feel right” and you can never experience that through a picture online. If a retail shop isn’t an option, you can always find great selections from places like pipesandcigars.com or smokingpipes.com, eBay is also a great resource for finding pipes.

You should typically expect to spend anywhere from $60.00 to $100.00 for a good quality pipe. I know this may seem like a lot of cash to fork out for something that you may end up not enjoying (yea right). I say go for it, pipes have great resale value on eBay as estate pipes so you could possibly recoup 60% of the cost if you so desire. My first pipe was a Peterson that I spent $90.00 on at my local shop. It is still my favorite pipe and I often think it will be a coveted family heirloom to my sons one day.

If you absolutely can’t afford to spend a substantial amount of money on your first pipe another low cost alternative is the classic corn cob pipe.  Although these pipes do burn out, you will be able to get a very good idea of what pipe smoking is like for a fraction of the cost. Many local drug stores still carry cob pipes (although I don’t suggest buying the tobacco there).

My opinion may be a little biased, but I say you just cant go wrong in making the decision to acquire that first pipe. In the end it is your pipe and as long as you are happy , you have made the right decision.

How to pack  your pipe

Many first time pipe smokers make the common mistake of packing the bowl with tobacco way too tight. Improper packing of the bowl can lead to the very uncomfortable condition known as tongue bite. Tongue bite is a scalding of the tongue and is quite painful. Bite has been known to turn new smokers away after the unpleasant experience. With the knowledge of how to properly pack and light the bowl, tongue bite doesn’t have to happen.

The bases of a good pack and light are to remember the tobacco needs plenty of oxygen to breathe and to maintain ignition.

With one hand hold the bowl and with the other, take a small pinch of tobacco between two fingers and gently drop the tobacco into the bowl. Let gravity do the work here, gently shake or tap the bowl to allow the tobacco to settle to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat this step till the tobacco is flush with the top of the bowl. Now gently press the tobacco down with your finger or tamper. Excessive force is not necessary. You may have 1/3 or possibly ½ of a bowl filled, depending on the size. Now pinch another small portion of tobacco and drop it into the bowl and repeat till flush with the top again. Tamp the tobacco down Again and repeat these steps till the bowl is full.

The tobacco should be springy in the bowl and not packed so tight that you cannot draw air through the stem. Smooth airflow is crucial for combustion.

Lighting the Pipe

Ignite a butane lighter or wooden match near the top of the bowl and place the flame close to the tobacco but not directly on it. Suck air through the stem of the pipe like you would suck on a straw. You will not inhale the tobacco but puff it out of your mouth. Move the flame evenly around the width of the bowl, igniting the top layer of tobacco. Many of the loose strands of tobacco will start to expand and wiggle around under the heat, this is totally normal. Remove the flame and take several good long puffs generating substantial smoke. The light you just preformed is called the “false light” or “charring light”.

Let the pipe die out and very gently tamp down the thin layer of ash to create a level bed on the top of the tobacco. Now it is time for the true light.  Place the flame near the opening of the bowl and puff the pipe several vigorous times drawing the flame into the tobacco. You will now have a well-lit bowl of tobacco. Slow down your cadence of puffing taking small puffs as if sipping on it. Puffing too fast will over heat the pipe and cause a wet smoke.

If a briar pipe does get too hot it will burn out or even crack. Briar is very heat resistant, but is not fire proof. If you find your pipe getting too hot simply slow down your smoking, relighting is inevitably something you will have to do occasionally and does not mean you are doing something wrong.

If your pipe gurgles there is actual moisture condensation in your bowl. You can simply run a pipe cleaner down the stem to sop up the liquid or just blow back into the bowl, the heat will evaporate it. A small gurgle is nothing to worry about especially if you are smoking in a humid region such as the gulf coast. (No matter how slow I smoke or dry my bowl I still get gurgle when I fish)

Finding your rhythm 

Smoking a pipe is something that can take on a life of its own and has been known to send the smoker into a hypnotic trance… I like to call this the Nirvana smoke. And don’t worry folks I’m still talking about smoking tobacco leaves. Any long time smoker will know what I mean when I describe a “Nirvana” smoke. It is something that does happen, but not with every bowl. The setting has to be perfect and for me very limited of distraction.

Advice I can offer on ensuring a very pleasant smoke, other than the obvious good quality tobacco, is to find a comfortable chair, make sure your pipe is clean and develop your style or rhythm.

My rhythm has developed over time and consists of small puffs that will often sync with my breathing pattern. As I slowly draw a breath I will gently draw in a puff of smoke  and every so often quaff it out of my nose through my sinus’. I find that keeping the pipe in my mouth with a softie bit or by just lightly clenching helps me to maintain my rhythm.

A little practice will go a long way and if you ever find your pipe getting a little too hot , give it a short rest to cool. Once you have mastered or developed your own rhythm you will notice that relighting your pipe is far less frequent.