Pipesmoking Day 1

I bought a pipe today. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, in case the only tobacco I could get hold of was pipe tobacco.

So I went into a tobaconnist (they’re getting quite hard to find), and asked for advice. I bought a small pipe made of cherry wood, with a filter in the stem, for £17. The proprietor said he’d tried all the pipes himself, and this one would be his recommendation for a newbie pipe smoker. I also bought a pipe tool and some pipe cleaners and filters. And some Honey Dew tobacco and some Cherry Vanilla tobacco. He said that it would take a week or so to build up a carbon deposit inside the bowl, which was quite important.

And then got home and started trying it out. It’s a nice lightweight pipe. I didn’t have a job to hold it between my teeth. I wasn’t quite sure how to fill the pipe, so filled the bowl and pressed it down with a finger to what seemed like the same sort of density as a roll-up, and lit it with a match, and puffed away on it. It  went out almost immediately, and so I re-lit it and puffed away on it furiously to keep it alight (and getting quite lightheaded in the process). I kept wondering how long it was supposed to last after being lit. I also wondered if you always have to keep relighting pipes, or whether they only stayed lit when when enough carbon had built up. I never seemed to burn the tobacco right down to the base of the bowl.

And then I watched a few YouTube videos about pipe smoking.

The first guy lit his pipe with a gas lighter. But the second one swore by matches. And what’s “tongue bite”? Every one seemed to have different ideas about how to smoke a pipe. Some of them even coat the bowls of their pipes with honey to aid the carbonisation process. One said that you should let your pipe ‘rest’ for a day or two, and have lots of different pipes.

I also wondered how moist pipe tobacco should be. It makes a big difference with roll-ups. Too dry and it burns very hot. Too moist and it’ll hardly burn at all. By comparison with rolling tobacco, my pipe tobacco seemed a tad dry. But what do I know? I’m used to lighting roll-ups and then almost forgetting about them.

Also the loose tobacco I bought seemed very coarse by comparison with rolling tobacco. Which didn’t really surprise me. But I wondered if you were supposed to break it up with your fingers. I have vague memories of pipe smokers rubbing their tobacco between their hands.

At the end of the day, I had the impression that it was a bit of a full time job to smoke a pipe, and that either you let it go out and relit it, or else you puffed away on it furiously, devoting your whole attention to it. And I ended up with an ashtray full of burnt matches. It’s quite a lot messier than smoking cigarettes, and that’s pretty messy already.

But it was a different smoking experience. The smoke was more pungent than in roll-ups, but never hot.

I guess that after a while, you build up experience.

About Frank Davis

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22 Responses to Pipesmoking Day 1

  1. Grandad says:

    First of all, ignore all those who treat pipe smoking as some kind of elite religion.

    Secondly, try experimenting with a couple of brands of tobacco. It is amazing the difference between tobacco brands, and it is easy to love one and despise another.

    It does take a little practice until you get the hang of just how hard to pack the tobacco, but really that’s all there is to it. I started over forty years ago and [with one or two forgettable experiences] haven’t smoked a cigarette since. I don’t like cigarettes. I don’t like the taste or the smell [though I would never complain, as I consider myself to be a tolerant person]. I find the pipe is far more relaxing simply because it isn’t as convenient as a cigarette. That may sound strange, but it’s true. It makes me stop for a minute while I’m stoking it and lighting it, whereas a cigarette is so convenient that smoking one is almost an unconscious act.

    My simple advice is to persevere. It is well worth it. I also spend about a half of what Herself spends on cigarettes! Heh!

  2. Leg-iron says:

    Years ago I smoked pipes and have recently returned to them. They take practice but once you have it, a gentle exhale can produe a ‘factory-chimney’ effect. The heat of the bowl in your hand will tell you how it’s going and how much is left to smoke.

    Outside on a summer evening (if we ever get another one) a pipe is really relaxing.

    Filters? I have only smoked pipes with tar-catchers, little twists of metal in the stem. Never filters. These tar-catchers need cleaning but never replacing. Yeah, I’m cheap.

    I know nothing of the purist carbon-buildup thing but it’s true that pipes ‘feel’ better once they’ve been run-in. Of course, that could just be linked to getting the hang of pipe smoking rather than anything to do with the pipe. A different pipe is like a different car, it takes a little time to get full control.

    It’ll be easier to use home-grown in a pipe than in a roll-up. I don’t have the shredding machinery.

    I remember early school woodwork lessons where one of the things we had to make was a pipe-rack. It would probably get a woodwork teacher smoked at the stake if they suggested it now.

    I am inspired to fire one up now. I think the little Sherlock needs an outing.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I am inspired to fire one up now.

      Me too. Except that the thing won’t draw now. I’ve had to take all the tobacco out, and rod it out with a pipe cleaner. On my first evening using it!

      About 30 years ago, I tried a clay pipe. That was quite nice, but it rapidly filled up with tar.

      Another thing i need is a pipe holder for when I put the pipe down. They had one in the shop for £10, that was a scooped-out bowl of wood. That seemed too high a price. There must be cheaper options.

      • Junican says:

        For heavens sake, Frank! Stick it in a saucer!

        • Frank Davis says:

          Saucers? I don’t have cups and saucers. I drink tea from mugs. Gallon-sized mugs.

          Which reminds me to ask: why aren’t they cracking down on tea? The first thing I need in the morning isn’t a cigarette. It’s a cup of tea. I read something about the Chinese opium trade a while back, in which i learned that the flip side of the opium trade to China was the tea trade from China. Seems that tea is as almost as ‘addictive’ as opium.

          Anyway I’m using a roll of masking tape as a pipe holder right now.

      • George Speller says:

        Get a Falcon. Interchangeable bowls, clean fresh smoke, easy to clean -you can use meths on the metal stem! Consistent quality of bowls. And when you put it down it stays upright on its flattened base. Heaven!

        My current one is 15 years old and has had 3 new bowls and 2 new stems, otherwise it’s as new :-)

        Get a gas lighter (Poppel peizzo, refillable) and learn to service it. Keep lighter gas in the house, car and caravan as applicable. Carry a spare.

        Carbon cake needs to build up for the best smoke, but needs controlling. Throw away the pipe tool and use a Swiss Army knife with curved blade end. Don’t damage the wood at the base of the Falcon bowl when reaming.

        Tobaccos vary enormously. Don’t be seduced by the aromatic ones, You’re old enough for Condor!

        Be prepared for pocket fires!

    • Heretic says:

      You can buy tobacco shredders with settings for different degrees of coarseness for different uses. They are available online from specialist retailers in the US, for all I know there may be a supplier in the UK (just use google to find them). The initial investment is probably quite high, but you should only have to buy it once.

  3. RdM says:

    For reviews of pipe tobaccos – or for “window-shopping” before you try a new brand or blend – http://www.tobaccoreviews.com/ is a vast database.

  4. Stu says:

    I started smoking a pipe a few months ago, used to be a cigarette smoker but pipes are better in my opinion.
    I bought a Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe (like Popeye!) It doesn’t need resting for a day so you can smoke it as much as you want, it’s cheap, you can get them delivered for about a tenner and apparently you can try different tobaccos in them without the issue of cross contamination you might get with a briar. Heat won’t crack them, if you happen to sit on it or drive your car over it they’re cheap enough to not be that bothered :-)
    my personal favourite baccy at the mo is Charles Rattray’s Sweet Fragrant, a delightful combination of cavendish cut Burley and Virginia tobaccos, one of the aromatics which offers a consistently sweet taste with a pleasant room note! See I’ve
    even learnt the lingo! ;-)
    It’s a bit of a laugh going out in public coz people look at you as if you’re from another planet, small kids point and stare! I’m just waiting for the plod to ask me what i’m smoking! lol
    It’s true it’s a contemplative activity, it’s a bit tricky doing other things, wouldn’t recommend driving for example, but that’s the point, you want to take time out from the everyday mundane and meditate on the rights and wrongs of the world.
    All in all a pleasant activity that’s like a right of passage for a man, like growing facial hair once in a while!
    As Einstein was quoted to say “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgement in all human affairs.”
    And he was a clever bloke! :-)

  5. Briar Tuck says:

    Frank, many congratulations on your pipesmoking baptism. As you may have found, the reason that factory-made cigarettes became popular when introduced is that they were perceived as ‘much more convenient’. But, as with anything else in life, what you get out of it is very much dependant on what you put into it.

    If you haven’t spent time around pipe smokers, you’d have to be very lucky to be able to just pick up a pipe, fill it, light it, and have a perfect smoke. Even if you came from a whole family of pipe smokers, and had therefore observed the ritual being performed many times in the past, it would still be a long shot. Pipe smoking is not about instant gratification — you do have to learn it, and acquire many small ‘knacks’ for getting things ‘just right’.

    Luckily, this is a mostly enjoyable process leading to the that particular flavour of private, minor joy visited on someone who has invested the time and patience required to learn something properly, and having been reading your blog regularly for at least a year, I’d say that your general attitude to stuff puts you in ideal position to get the best out of this.

    I’ve been smoking a pipe on and off since 1973 (and I think I’m slightly younger than you). At school in the early 70s, one could always tell which member of staff had been teaching in a particular classroom by the aroma left in the room, as they all smoked distinctively different tobaccos. Therefore, I got to watch the filling and tamping process, so when I first picked up a pipe, I knew the basic actions! Not many have that advantage today.

    There are numerous ‘how to’ guides available which cover the basics, so hopefully I won’t make redundant observations there. There are a few things, though, that you never see mentioned. Here they are:

    1. The rule of ‘thirds’ when filling is spot on, and there is a particular trick to holding the pipe over the opened flap of a tobacco pouch while filling it, so as to catch the bits which don’t get into the bowl and funnel them back into the pouch. “Drawing resistance” on a properly-filled pipe should be roughly the same as drinking milk through a straw — greater than this, and the tobacco’s too wet or too tight (ooer), less than this, and it will probably go out a lot and (perversely) burn too hot. It’s all to do with critical mass, and this is slightly different for all tobaccos.

    2. Like a cigar, the first light of a new bowl is for ‘charring’ the top layer of tobacco, not for igniting it. This get the moisture out of it, and allows you to tamp it to form an ideally combustible mass. The second (or third) light will be the one that actually gets it going, but this is always variable because all tobaccos have different moisture contents, and will vary according to freshness. Adjusting what you do to the particular fill you are lighting is part if the ‘knack’ you will unconsciously (and quite quickly) acquire.

    Since you already know how a cigarette ‘works’ from a physics perspective, think of a filled pipe as a cigarette bent into an L shape. The same process is at work, with the smoker inducing a low pressure area behind the combusting mass, causing smoke to travel through the as-yet-unburned material and up the stem. Everything it touches on the way changes it, with moisture condensing all over the shop, and stuff evaporating out of the unburned bits when they get heated by hotter smoke. The burning mass is much bigger than in a cigarette though, so it needs mostly to burn a bit cooler, and often a perfectly smokable pipe will have very little (if any) glowing incandescence visible in the bowl after it has been lit for a while.

    So, because the burning mass is bigger, it should burn slower and cooler. This in turn means that you don’t take ‘drags’ on it as you would with a roll-up. You just ‘sip’ at it while it’s in your mouth — you might actually only inhale one in every 10-15 ‘sips’ (say). Much will depend on what else you’re doing at the time. If you’re having a conversation, the pipe will naturally get used to gesticulate while making a heartfelt point. If you’re reading, it may well stay in your mouth, or simply be hand-held. You should be able to put it down for maybe a minute (or even two) and simply pick it up again without re-lighting. You may find that combustion is too slow after this, and curling two fingers over the top of the bowl while drawing will quickly restore things — this is analogous to holding a sheet of newspaper over a fireplace aperture to get a fire going. How tightly you clamp your fingers over the bowl quickly becomes instinctive.

    3. You will fast discover if you are a ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ smoker. This is to do with the amount of moisture which gathers in the stem of the pipe, and can potentially find its way back into the bottom of the bowl. ‘Dry’ smokers have no problems with this, but ‘wet’ smokers will take steps to alleviate it. You really, really don’t want that moisture in your mouth, so the bowl of the pipe should always be lower than the mouthpiece even when the pipe is empty and ‘resting’. Some pipes have various patent mechanisms to help with this, but none (that I have found) are 100% effective (it also makes a nonsense of pipe racks which are designed to store pipes bowl-uppermost — which is really stupid). “Bent” pipes, as well as being easier on the jaw, are much easier to manage in this respect.

    4. When you first start smoking a pipe, you want something predictable and non-fussy that will respond to the different things that you, the operator, do in a predictable way. For this reason I would heartily second the exhortation of “George Speller” above to consider a Falcon. The Falcon system is quite brilliant, in that it makes a very practical pipe with interchangeable parts which smokes beautifully and is essentially non-fussy, and very easy to clean. Part if the Falcon secret is that the aperture at the bottom of the bowl is ring shaped, rather than just a hole, and this seems to induce a very even burn, leading to a superb smoke. A ‘bent’ Falcon will also happily sit on a flat surface, and any moisture (technical term: “dottle”) will find its way into the metal ‘gallery’ under the bowl. If required, you can whip the bowl off, ditch the dottle (bog paper optional) and replace it mid-smoke, all without relighting (although you’d mostly need to be smoking something really moist like Erinmore in order for this to be required).

    The only other pipe recommendation from me would be a Peterson ‘system’ pipe — these always smoke really well, are nicely built and have the advantage of the Peterson “p-Lip” mouthpiece — a simple method making sure that (a) hot smoke doesn’t hit your tongue (“tonge-bite”) and (b) you don’t gob down the stem accidentally (just having something in your mouth generally causes your saliva glands to kick in — hence that hooky, sucky thing that dentists have).

    5. If you’re smoking your pipe in public, always make sure that everyone around you knows precisely how great it is. Giant satisfied grins are in order, clouds of fragrant, billowing smoke on lighting, and much ‘aahhhh’-ing after you’ve lit it. If people look at you strangely, they probably think you’ve got pot in it, and that’s fine — grin at them good-naturedly, and make sure they know that a pipe denotes bonhomie and generosity of spirit (God knows, we need more of that) as well as an enquiring mind and stoically individualistic attitude. After all, they’re the ones not smoking a pipe, so that makes them much the odder in my book.

    Sorry to go on. Pipe-smoking is just too good to let die, though. I take a pipe to the pub every Friday, and every single Friday, I get some sort of positive comment from a total stranger. Given that for every 10 people who feel a particular way about something, only one of them will ever bother to say anything, I regard this almost blanket public approval. We will win in the end.

  6. Frank Davis says:

    Many thanks for all your advice.

    My principal problem at the moment seems to be to simply light the pipe. None of my cigarette lighters seems to be up the task, so I’ve been using matches, and getting through them at a heck of a rate, in part because a lot of the matches won’t light. The tips of Swan Vestas often just rub off. So I’ve taken to lighting matches with a lighter, and then using the lit match to light the pipe.

    Once I’ve got it going, it seems to burn quite well, as long as I keep puffing on it. I sip the smoke into my mouth and puff it out, inhaling (with plenty of air, as I do with cigarettes) every few puffs. I’m still finding that I get quite light-headed (i.e. a bit high).

    If it goes out, I’ve taken to just scraping out the ash at the top, and then relighting it.

    I seem to need to rod out the pipe with a pipecleaner every day.

    I hold it with my hand cupped around the bowl, which occasionally gets quite hot. This makes for another new experience of warmth, which you mostly don’t get from cigarettes. A pipe is also a handwarmer.

    I’m finding that when I’ve smoked a pipe, I usually don’t want another one immediately (unlike with cigarettes which I sometimes chain-smoke)

    I’ll keep an eye out for these Falcon chappies. But I must say I rather like my little pipe.

    On the matter of convenience, cigarettes are far more convenient. I suspect that the reason cigarettes were popular with troops in WW1 (and 2) was because of this. A pipe is rather like a muzzle loading rifle where the powder and ball have to be tamped down. A cigarette is much more like a cartridge, and comes in similar packets or magazines. Soldiers in combat probably mostly don’t have the time to to fill pipes and coax them into life. And given that most cigars are larger than cigarettes, they may have not had the time to smoke a whole cigar. So it’s not very surprising that cigarettes were given a big boost by WW1. Pipe-smoking and cigar-smoking are for people with plenty of leisure time. Cigarettes are for busy people. That’s my theory, leastways.

    • Briar Tuck says:

      Indeed — matches are really crap these days, and Swan Vestas, by traditional much shorter than a standard match (that’s why they sit across the box) have suffered a similar fate to the rest. Lighting a match with a lighter can work, and the lit match then needs to moved in small circles over the filled bowl while drawing. A purist will tell you that a gas lighter is best, and I can’t argue with this, but equally I’ve never noticed any ‘taint’ from a petrol lighter, which suits my temperament because they’re nice metal things that need some fiddling from time to time.

      Part of the light-headedness may actually be down to breathing in more (of everything) than you normally do, due to ‘pipe anxiety’, and end up mildly hyperventilating. Much also depends on the tobacco you’re using. I, for example, find GV too ‘strong’ in roll-ups (although I enjoy its flavour) and invariably end up with a headache. Old Holborn is no problem though — it’s just as ‘strong’ but its ‘strength’ lies in a different direction, and I find Amber Leaf or Drum equally satisfying. My father (I thought at the time) was a hopeless pipe smoker — always smoked Dunhill Royal Yacht, and could never keep it going beyond half a bowl. When I tried this stuff, I realised why — I’d never come across such a potent nicotine hit. And this was a man who mostly smoked Senior Service (plain), and bought them in round tins of 50 as the tins had a pull-tape which made them easy to offer to other people — he always kept a tin on his consulting-room desk to offer patients (he was a GP).

      At school (sixth form) I smoked Yachtsman in pipes. At that time, this brand was Dutch-owned (Niemeyer, I think). Nowadays, that brand has the same logo, but is owned by Gallaghers, and is an entirely different smoke. Oddly, higher in nicotine, but lower in flavour, and infinitely less enjoyable. Taste, with ‘enough’ nicotine, is what it’s all about.

      I’m sure your pipe is stunning. But a first pipe is always a shot in the dark, and the second is the one which is bought with some insight, in order to avoid the disocvered shortcomings of the first (if any). Everyone will, of course, have different requirements — that’s half the fun. And yes — they are terrific hand-warmers. Yours will probably require less cleaning as you get better with it — I certainly remember that happening in my own case.

      Assuming the pipe still tastes good, any ash in the bowl which doesn’t fall out if you turn the bowl downwards belongs in there. When it suddenly turns hot and sour, it’s finished — knock it out (gently). You can get ashtrays with a cork pad in the middle especially for delicate pipes, but the heel of one’s brogue (arf) is traditionally sufficient.

      Your ‘theory of convenience’ has merit, but you’re a roll-up man. Most people get to roll-ups from factory cigarettes, initially for reasons of cost. Then they realise that’s it’s not only cheaper, but a substantially better smoke, through the application of a little acquired skill — the first one you rolled would have been pretty peaky, I suspect! QED.

  7. alanx says:

    All this reading has had me dig out my Falcon and an old Alco (a similar pipe) and fire them up, much to my satisfaction.

    My problem when a beginner was too much heat leading to a sore tongue. This was dealt with by buying an Alco with two extra interchangeable bowls and swapping when the pipe became too hot – and as a beginner my pipe could over heat in a minute or so.

    Another handy point about the Falcon is that you can buy a spring loaded thingumyjig that will ream the carbon in the bowl equally with nil amount of skill required. This tool also keeps the hole in the bottom of the bowl to the correct dimensions, which is important.

    It took around a year of experiment and experience until the holy grail that led to a very cool smoke was found, and for me this was through tobaccos like St Bruno Flake, Erinmore Flake and even stronger stuff like Digger. Condor Flake is up the same street style wise, but not to my taste.

    My preference is to put the broken up flake in the pipe with no rubbing, get it burning then keep it just about ignited by extremely gentle draws whilst allowing it to exhude copious amounts of nicotine at me – not lung smoking.

    Messing and buggering about with pipes is all part of smoking them years later, tampering with the density of ash on the top to get the draw right, getting the fill right, pipe cleaners used about four times a day, bowls rested up after a day’s use – and relighting very often as it takes a knack to smoke a bowlful without doing this.

    One tobacco I loved as a beginner was called Black Honey (I think) – it’s not sold in packets, you have to find a proper shop that has sweetie jars full of loose tobacco. It is a very good mixer and an extremely easy and attractive smoke.

    Whilst it is true that my best pipes are not Falcons, the Falcon set up makes for far less mucking about and molly coddling, so the Falcons are the ones that see the most use.

    This post was made under the influence of Maker’s Mark – hic.

    • Briar Tuck says:

      I remember the Alcos! It seems Falcon bought them out eventually. My Falcon is ’76 bent (AN1 stamp), with Billiard bowl, and although I always intended to get extra bowls for it, I’ve never needed any. There’s a little potted history here:


      The reamer you refer to is I think the British Buttner pattern. These a superbly simple and effective, and still easily available (plenty of google links) — they will work for any pipe, and much better than those nasty ‘hedgehog’ things.

      I think there is something to praise in almost all pipe tobaccos, but often there is much to loath as well. The ‘aromatics’ get, I think, an unduly rough ride from experienced pipe men, due almost entirely to the existence of ‘Clan’, which is admittedly a bit of a shocker (and always, always too dry in the pack). Some of the Danish ones are (IMHO) perfectly acceptable (‘straight’ Borkum Riff and Alsbo), but as with any tobacco, sticking to a single brand all the time means you get less out of it. Like beers (or tea for that matter), switching between several favourites keeps one’s senses sharp, and enables better appreciation of the differences.

      It occurs to me that it would be admirable to be able to extend this principle to governments, but nowadays it seems that they, above all other examples, are the epitome of ‘badge engineering’ — where the branding differs, but the underlying product is the same old crap with no perceivable difference in flavour. ~ BT

  8. alanx says:

    Even more pissed tonight. The Alco is still going strong, and there’s years left in the bowls.

    Will respond fully when more sober, I clung onto betamax for years.

  9. alanx says:

    @ Briar Tuck – wow, thanks for the link, there is some serious detail about metal pipes on that website.

    Again will wait for sobriety to dawn before commenting fully. This may take a week.

    A foreman I had (who was actually an utter twat) told me that pipe smoking requires an apprenticeship. Much as I disliked that man and pipesmoker purism as well, there is truth in what he said.

  10. alanx says:

    A bit of detail on reamers, now I think the Buttner was a flat steel two bladed affair that used to come in a little leatherette wallet, and a very good device it was too.

    The reamer mentioned above was different and may no longer be made, I bought mine in the early 90’s. When it has the white cover on it it looks rather like a lady’s intimate electro pleaser thingy. Once unsheathed for action it has a plastic body with three spring loaded blades and is made for the Falcon and Alco alone, as the blades continue at the bottom to clean the hole in the bottom of the bowls for these pipes.

    This is handy as keeping that hole the correct size keeps the pipe functioning well, in fact my first piece of advice to a new Falcon user would be never to scrape tar from that hole with a knife, but rather find some bolt that is the correct diameter to push the gunk aside.

  11. … Opium had become the primary commodity associated with british trade with cina and it what food was in 1700’s how the dutch introduced to your oriental the particular popular train associated with using tobacco opium in the tobacco water line.tobacco

  12. jimmyspie says:

    Can you use tobacco for glass? I wanted to buy glass smoking pipe like those and I’ve used a wooden pipe for years but It’s time to try something new, or what about a metal one? Preferences?

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