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.