How To Hand Roll A Ciggy

A question from Walt today on rolling your own ciggies reminded me that there’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for years, which is to explain how to hand roll a cigarette. It’s quite easy, once you get the knack. I’ve been rolling mine for 40 years. When I started, it took me a week or so to get to the point where I could regularly produce smokeable cigarettes. Like everything in life, practice makes perfect.

I’ve tried several times to explain how to do it using words, but it’s very difficult. So here is an explanation using words and pictures.

The first thing to do is to get a cigarette paper, open it out (cigarette papers usually have a crease down the middle), and put a bit of rolling tobacco on it. I usually do this with the paper on a table or something. The tobacco needs to be stringy and slightly damp so it adheres together. Too dry, and it’s very hard to roll into a decent cigarette. The same applies to the fingers. If your fingers are too dry, they’ll slip over the paper. Too damp, and they leave damp stains on the paper. The amount you put on depends on how fat you want the cigarette to be. I roll pretty thin ones, about 5 mm in diameter.

Then I pick up the paper and tobacco, and cradle it between the fingers of my hands, like so:

On the right is a section through the cigarette paper and tobacco, showing what it looks like resting between my fingers.

At this stage, I just use my thumbs to distribute the tobacco evenly along the length of the crease of the paper. Not shown, because it’s under my right thumb, is a scrunched-up paper that I use as a filter/economy measure. You can buy proper filters, but I never do.

After the tobacco has been evenly distributed,  I then slip my thumbs under the lower edge, and fold it up so that the tobacco now lies between the paper, like so:

The next stage is to roll the tobacco between the paper so that it forms a homogenous cylinder of tobacco. To do this, you just move your thumbs back and forth a few times, much like you were gauging the quality of some piece of fabric. You have to take care at this stage not to roll it too tight, because then it’s hard to light and keep burning. And if it’s rolled too loosely, it burns too quickly, often paper first.

Once the tobacco has been gently rolled, I swing my left forefinger up onto the top of the paper, and press down onto the top edge of the cylinder of tobacco under the paper, like so:

We’ve now arrived at the trickiest bit of the rolling process. The paper on the top needs to be tucked under the cylinder of tobacco.

This is done by holding the upper and lower papers firmly together between the upper lefthand forefinger and middle finger and the lower righthand forefinger and middle finger, and then using both thumbs to roll the cylinder of tobacco and paper upwards so that the top paper folds under the tobacco, withdrawing the lefthand finger when the rolling cylinder reaches it, like so:

At this point the glue (shown in yellow)along the edge of the half-rolled cigarette needs to be dampened with a quick dab with the tongue. I usually rotate my left hand around, while still holding onto the cigarette, before I raise it to my mouth, like so:

The final step is to continue rolling the half-rolled cigarette between fingers, holding it firmly, until the damp glue strip meets the paper, and adheres. While I’m doing this I usually pull on the cigarette to stretch it slightly, like so:

And the cigarette is now ready to smoke!

A common error at the outset, before you get the hang of it, is to squeeze the papers too hard in the middle, and too lightly at the ends (or vice versa), so that it looks like a christmas cracker, with tobacco dropping out of each end.

Anyway, that’s how I do it. Probably everyone does it slightly differently.

Cigarettes rolled this way seldom look quite as perfectly cylindrical as machine-rolled ones. So if you want your cigarettes to look good, you’ll probably need a machine. Although if you hand roll really thin cigarettes, the paper wraps around them several times, and often forms a perfect cylinder.

And that’s one of the big advantages of hand rolling: you can make the cigarettes as fat or as thin as you like.

One of the disadvantages, however, is that in the early stages of hand rolling, the tobacco can easily be blown away (for instance by sneezing).

Well, I hope that’s all perfectly clear. When I started, I thought it was going to take all day to draw all the pictures, but in the end I simply drew a picture of my left hand using my right hand, and used the mirror image of this for my right hand, and sketched in outline alternative positions for thumb and forefinger. It seems to have come out quite well.

Any questions? Alternative suggestions?

Interesting fact. My cigarettes have a diameter of 5 mm, and so a radius of 2.5 mm and a circular area of 6.25 π. I think that most manufactured cigarettes are about 8 – 9 mm in diameter, sometimes even 10 mm. That’s an area of 25 π, or 4 times mine. Length for length, 4 of my roll-ups would fit into a single 10 mm diameter cigarette. But since king size cigarettes are one and a half times longer (or more), it’s probably more like 6 of my roll-ups would fit into one king-size manufactured cigarette. So, for consumption purposes, when I smoke 6 of my roll-ups, am I smoking 6 “cigarettes”, or just one?

I think I’ll put a link to this page in my blogroll.

About the archivist

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to How To Hand Roll A Ciggy

  1. margo says:

    Brilliant drawing and description! last time I went to the doc’s for something the nurse asked me how many I smoked a day. Plucking a figure from the air, I said ‘about 15 roll-ups’. She decided to ‘call that 7-8 cigarettes’, and she wrote it down. So you’re right – roll-your-owners smoke less.

  2. Wiel Maessen says:

    In stead of drawing, you could have made pictures of the rolling process? ;)

    • Frank Davis says:


      Only if I held the camera in my mouth, and worked the button with my tongue.

      • Wiel Maessen says:

        LOL, forgot that this was a one man project ;)
        What about using a camera on a tripod using the time release feature?
        Video might be an option as well.
        Plenty of options… As with everything in this world….

        • Frank Davis says:

          Actually, it turns out my mobile phone camera does have a timer on it. And also a video facility. Not sure if the video has a time delay.

          So I could have done it that way. Just didn’t occur to me. Most of the features of my mobile phone are a mystery to me.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    My uncle Mike would hand roll 3 packs every morning and make them perfect while drinking his coffee. After 50 years he was quite the hand roller!

  4. waltc says:

    Hey, thanks. I’ll have to print this and try it. If nothing else, it’s frame-able art.

  5. Twisted Root says:

    Perfect description of this ballet of the fingers.

  6. Sue says:

    I actually started rolling three skin spliffs first as a youngster. Progressing to the conical, large, mat rolled ones that some friends from Jamaica taught me. After that, roll ups were a doddle. Of course, I don’t do that “other thing” anymore :)

    • Frank Davis says:

      I was never very good at rolling three skin spliffs (particularly with the dry cigarette tobacco people used to insist on using). In the end, my spliffs became indistinguishable from my cigarettes, although sometimes I’d add a cardboard tube to them.

      These days, spliffs are simply too hard on my lungs for me to take them any more. I just end up coughing.Tobacco is much easier and milder.

  7. nisakiman says:

    Very good, Frank! It’s not exactly the way I do it, but pretty close. The difficult thing is actually analysing what you are doing so you can explain it! It is just so automatic. I remember once someone asking me to show him how to tie a waggoner’s hitch (dolly hitch, trucker’s hitch, there are a few names) – a knot used by truck drivers to tie down loads. It’s a very useful knot, as it acts like a pulley and enables you to put massive tension on the rope yet is easy to break and undo. You can even double it up to get more tension. Anyway, I said yeah, sure, no prob. But when I came to actually show the guy, I didn’t have a clue because I was looking and thinking about it. I basically had to shut my eyes and let my hands remember the moves and just do it.

    • Frank Davis says:

      It is difficult to watch what you’re doing. I lost count of the number of times yesterday when I thought, “Right. I’m going to watch carefully what I do when I roll the next one.” And I’d get out the papers and the tobacco, and, next thing, before I knew it, a roll-up had appeared in my hands, without me noticing! It’s so automatic these days that my fingers will roll cigarettes if paper and tobacco is set in front of them.

      In fact, because I was watching, I may well have been directing my hands (they are, after all, my hands) to do something a little different from what they actually do. Really someone else would have to watch me. Or I’d have to take photos.

  8. Messalina says:

    You’ve got it down to a fine art. Great drawings and descriptions.

  9. garyk30 says:

    Do those papers still tend to get stuck on your lips?

    Remember way back in time when movie cowboys used to roll their smokes one-handed?

    I remember, from about 60 years ago, being amazed by an old farmer that could roll his smokes one-handed.

    My grandfather was not so impressed, he noted that he never used two hands to load his pipe.

    Do folks still twist one end to keep the tobacco from falling out?

    • garyk30 says:

      When did we stop calling them ‘smokes’?

      Doesn’t ‘ciggies’ sound rather girlish?

    • Frank Davis says:

      No, they don’t get stuck.

      I’ve never seen anyone roll them one handed, but I’m sure it can be done.

      I occasionally twist the ends of mine, if I’m not going to smoke them immediately.

      And there’s all sorts of names for these things. I quite like ‘gaspers’ myself.

  10. c777 says:

    I smoke roll ups, all of my baccy has mainland European health warnings written on it.
    Wonder why?
    They overtax me, I don’t buy.
    They must think I am mug or something.

  11. smokervoter says:

    I’m wondering if Walt was referring to RYO, SYO, MYO as in using a machine with cig tubes which have filters. If so, here’s how to keep it from jamming.

    SYO=Stuff your own. MYO=Make your own. I don’t indulge in undefined acronyms.

    Don’t overstuff the tobacco groove. Pack it loose, but not too loose or you’ll have to stuff it twice to end up with a decent cigarette as otherwise it will only fill the tube halfway up. Pack the baccy in the groove with a lighter load up by the loading ‘beak’. That’s the aperture where you load the empty cig tube to.

    Another consideration is the quality of the tobacco itself. Before the SCHIP tax increase I bought my one-pound bag for about $16 and it was called cigarette tobacco. When SCHIP added an astounding $25 to the cost (thanks Obama, F-U Obama) I had to downgrade to buying ‘pipe tobacco’ which is coarser and drier and lower quality.

    Cigarette tobacco now costs $41 per pound. My machine never jammed with that shaggier, no stems blend. Pipe tobacco is $18 (all California prices) and that’s what I use. Spraying a fine mist of water on it and reworking it with scissors does the trick. I still get the occasional jam-up though.

    Once you get used to stuff-your-owns you’ll find that you prefer them to tailormades, at least I do. They cost one-fifth ! of the price here in California.

    As to the gear I agree heartily with Messalina. Buy the small blue Rizla cigarette tube filling machine for about $8. And the Gizeh cigarette tubes are the best, something that makes a big difference in ease of production. They come in a wonderfully minimalist yellow box by the brand name TWISTER with the S reversed.

    • brenda says:

      I used to use a small rolling machine, was great to start with. Then they started growing wrong. Aparently the plastic stretches. So sick of pulling another one apart, I started doing it all by myself. Yes practice is what it takes, its all the more enjoyable when you’ve done it right.

  12. smokervoter says:

    Not shown, because it’s under my right thumb, is a scrunched-up paper that I use as a filter/economy measure. You can buy proper filters, but I never do.

    I’ve never seen anyone do that before. That explains what Leg-iron meant the other day when he said that he always rolls his cigarettes with the filter on the right. Always. It had me completely baffled, as I was assuming he was somehow hand rolling a cigarette that included a filter.

    Come to think about it now, that wouldn’t be an impossibility either. It would help define the circumference.

    He might also have wondered what I meant by my filters always coming out on the left. Always. I was referring to machine-rolled with filters.

    It’s damn near impossible for a right-handed person to make the filter come out on the right. Hard to describe with words and I don’t draw so well.
    By hand that is: using CAD computer software I drew up building plans for a living for 15 years.

  13. smokervoter says:

    Uh oh. I’ve got an unclosed italic tag in there somewhere. Non-ending Italics are so hard on the eyes, yech!.

  14. waltc says:

    Yes, I just unearthed it, and it’s a Premiere Supermatic machine. The tubes I bought have a built in filter and the tobacco was pipe tobacco. There used to be a place in the US, and maybe still is, that sells cigarette-(not pipe) tobacco leaves (whole) and apparently all you have to do is chop it in a food processor if you have one, which I don’t. If that interests you, I’ll try to track it down. I also know a guy who rolls with a small gizmo called (something like) a zig-zag (?) that looks like one step up from hand-rolling. And he somehow inserts pre-made filters into the loose papers. I’ve seen the machine and smoked his cigarettes, though I never saw him demonstrate the process. But I imagine if anyone’s looking to pick up a couple of extra bucks on the side, holding classes in hand-rolling could turn out to be a not-bad business to be in.

  15. Nicely done illustrations Frank! And it’s interesting: I had never realized that the interior joint of the thumb narrows so significantly until I saw the narrowing in your drawings and then took a look at my thumbs. They really DO narrow down a bit, don’t they?


    • Frank Davis says:

      Not all hands are the same. Some people have fat fingers, and some people have thin fingers. Mine tend (like most of the rest of me) towards the thin end of the scale (but are by no means the thinnest I’ve ever seen). And from the gaunt pictures I’ve seen of you, I imagine the same is true of you.

      But at the fat end of the scale, the interior joint isn’t as narrow as I’ve drawn it. I drew my own fingers, not theirs.

      Who is to say what the best sort of hand is? But these bastard healthists will be examining our hands next, and saying that they are too fat or too thin, and that there is an ideal size and shape of hand to which all must aspire.

  16. Pingback: A Tobacco Shredder | Frank Davis

  17. Pingback: Tobacco Mixtures | Frank Davis

  18. Courtney says:

    I have been using a paper roller forever, but have been trying to learn to hand roll for cases like today where I cant find it. Two people have shown me two ways to do it, but it was awkward. Your way seems to be much easier. But, can you tell me why the middle is still slightly too fat? And its still a little loose….am i not doing the thumb up and down thing enough times? Granted, i just started trying it this way, but im not sure what i am getting wrong.

    • Frank Davis says:

      It takes a while to get it right. Trial and error. My roll-ups are a lot slimmer than regular cigarettes. And the less tobacco there is inside them, the more perfectly cylindrical they tend to be. Try using less tobacco.

  19. Aura table says:

    This is a great guide as always partner

  20. Pingback: Downgrade | Frank Davis

  21. Pingback: Hard Core Addicts and Contrarians | Frank Davis

  22. Frank Davis says:

    Here’s a YouTube video of someone rolling a cigarette almost exactly the way I do. Starts 2 minutes in after explanation of savings made by rolling:

  23. CRP says:

    Great tutorial and the pic art is awesome!

  24. Admiring the hard work you put into your site and detailed information you provide.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a
    while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material.
    Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  25. poloniex says:

    I hardly comment, but i did a few searching and wound up here How To Hand Roll A Ciggy |
    Frank Davis. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if
    you do not mind. Is it only me or does it look like some of these comments
    come across like coming from brain dead individuals?

    :-P And, if you are writing at other online sites, I would like to follow everything fresh you have to post.

    Would you list of every one of all your community pages like your
    linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  26. Pingback: The Secret to Rolling the Perfect Cigarette

  27. Саня says:

    I have seen how my partner makes rollies, tried myself-got a trompet. Now tried again and again got a trompet. It is not so nice in shape, but it is still smokable! I know practice makes perfect, but not today for me.

No need to log in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.