12 August 2014

How to Smoke a Pipe

“…[the state of Virginia is] so great and honorable that, no matter into what part of the world you go, when you say, 'I am a Virginian,' you are expected to be an honorable, brave gentleman or lady; and I hope that you will all try to keep up the reputation which the sons and daughters of the Old Dominion have always had.” – Mary Tucker Magill
I am a Virginian, and very proud of my heritage. As such, I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually come to appreciate that wonderful weed successfully commercialized for the first time in 1609 by John Rolfe in Virginia; that weed that built Virginia’s economy, and was even used as currency for many years by early settlers; that weed that is today so demonized by politicians and the press. That’s right; I’m talking about tobacco.

Fun Fact: The world's first
ever anti-smoking campaign
was perpetrated by the Nazis
in Germany. Make of that
what you will...
When it comes to enjoying tobacco, there are two basic methods that can be employed. First, you can put it in your mouth as chewing tobacco or snuff. This is just nasty. Trust me, you don’t want to try it. Second, you can smoke it. Now I don’t know who was the first person to look at tobacco and say, “Hey, let me start a fire with this and put it in my mouth.” Certainly it was a brave, and perhaps somewhat stupid, individual. Some would say that those who try it today are likewise stupid. But whether brave or stupid, that prehistoric North American managed to hit upon a way to enjoy the flavor and aroma of tobacco without having to stuff one's mouth with the leaves and chew on them.

Now in the realm of tobacco smoking, there are three main options: cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Among these big three, which should we choose? Let me give you my opinion of each from experience.

Most people I know who smoke cigarettes don’t do it because they love the taste of tobacco; you can barely taste the tobacco in most cigarettes. Those who smoke cigarettes generally do so because the cigarette is a convenient vehicle to get as much nicotine as possible in a short amount of time. It’s sort of like people who drink Bud Light; I know they don’t do it for the taste.

Moving on to the next option, cigars are certainly a good smoke on special occasions. However, I’ve found them to be an intense, and sometimes overpowering, experience. They require a long amount of time, and leave you with sticky hands and a sour stomach. Also, if quality matters to you, they are fairly expensive. No, I understand the appeal of cigars, but they aren’t for me.

That's me. Quiet.
Intellectual. Manly.
But the third option, the classic pipe, is the best of all worlds. Pipe smoking is inexpensive, clean and pleasant. You don’t have to worry about sticky fingers like with a cigar, or the outer leaf turning to mush in your mouth while you smoke. Unlike cigarettes, pipes are for people who enjoy the taste of tobacco but don’t necessarily want to become a chain smoker or an addict. And in addition, pipes fairly exude an aura of quiet, intellectual manliness.

The problem I often see with pipe-smokers, however, is that while they’re smoking, they're constantly fiddling with their pipes: tamping, stirring, and relighting. It often appears to be such a fussy ordeal that I wonder why they want to smoke a pipe at all. Surely they don’t enjoy the constant and careful tending of their tobacco bowl.

Pipe smoking should be about enjoying the taste of the tobacco, and enjoying good conversation with friends while you do it. It shouldn’t be fussy or complicated. Now, the real secret to having a good smoke with a pipe is all about what happens before you light up. If your pipe is packed correctly, you can smoke it all the way through smoothly without relighting or constant tamping. So allow me to walk you through the steps of packing a pipe so that you can enjoy your pipe without the fidgeting.

Step 1: Start with a clean pipe.


If your pipe hasn’t been cleaned, do so. Make sure the bowl is clear of buildup, run a pipe cleaner through the step several times, put it to your mouth and suck in to make sure plenty of air is drawing through.

Step 2: Fill your pipe loosely with tobacco to the top. 


I usually keep my tobacco in a plastic bag, and just stick my pipe in the bag and scoop up the tobacco in the bowl. You can sprinkle to tobacco into your pipe, but I find I waste tobacco that way because some inevitably falls on the ground.

Step 3: Pack that tobacco down so that the pipe is now half full. 


You can buy one of the pipe tools with a tamper to do this, but I usually just use my thumb to do the job. The tobacco should still be springy after you tamp it, but it should be packed tight enough that it doesn’t spring up and fill the whole bowl again. If your tobacco is too tightly packed, your pipe won’t draw correctly and will go out. If the tobacco is too loosely packed, then it will burn too quickly and the bowl of your pipe will get hot. This can damage the pipe and burn your fingers as well.

Step 4: At this point, fill the pipe again with loose tobacco, and tamp it down once more. 


This time you’re aiming to have the pipe ¾ full of tobacco. It should still be springy to the touch however and not rock-hard. Perhaps you should take a draw on the stem to make sure you’re still getting good air flow through the packed tobacco.

Step 5: Now fill the bowl to overflowing once more, and this time just gently press it down so that some of the tobacco is still sticking up from the bowl. At this point we’re ready to light it.


Step 6: Hold the stem of the pipe in your mouth and draw slowly while you hold your match or lighter to the tobacco. Move the flame in a circle around the tobacco until it begins to smoke and you see the edges burn and crinkle. Then take it out of your mouth. We’re not quite ready to smoke yet.

Step 7: Now tamp down the tobacco flat with the top of the bowl.


You should have a pretty even bed of ash covering the top of the rest of the tobacco. This will ensure that you get a nice even burn.

Step 8: Okay, now we light it for real. Put the pipe in your mouth again, and using the same method as before move the flame evenly around the bowl of the pipe. This time, however, draw deeply on the pipe so that the flame is pulled down into the tobacco and the pipe begins smoking in earnest.

That’s it! Your pipe is lit. If you’ve followed all the above steps correctly, then you should be able to smoke through your entire pipe without a relight. Once the tobacco burns down a bit, you may want to give the ashes at the very top a little stir to break them down, but don’t tamp the tobacco again once you’ve lit it! That will only put out your pipe and make you have to relight it again!

And there you have it, folks!
Doing a Sherlock Holmes impression at this point is optional.

2 comments:

Erica said...

It didn't take you long to get to Godwin's law, did it?

Also, I'm not sure how one can get drunk on Bud Light, unless one drinks a lot. Or has a very low alcohol tolerance.

I don't think Holmes would have worn that bright orange shirt, but I suppose that's you prerogative. ;-)

Rick said...

I can go from zero to Godwin's law in 12.7 seconds. The same amount of time it takes a VW Beetle to accelerate to 62 mph. And of course you know about the Volkswagen Beetle...

Also, yeah. Bud Light is all about quantity. I once knew a guy who made fun of people who bought nice beers because then it costs more to get enough to get you drunk. Which just goes to show he wasn't in it for the taste.

And yep, I didn't go for the Sherlock Holmes imitation. That part is only optional. ;)