So you wanna take up pipe smoking? I don't mean a pipe of the noble weed, I mean a real tobacco pipe, like granddad used to smoke on cold winter nights with the fire roaring and a glass of scotch nearby. Maybe you've seen Lord of the Rings too many times, or you wonder what granddad enjoyed about his pipe, or you're trying to quit smoking cigarettes, or you just want a vice that sets you apart from the crowd. Well, here's the guide for ya.

There's a terrible amount of info to know about smoking a pipe, at least if you want to do it correctly and for the most amount of enjoyment. I hope to distill it down enough for beginners. First off, there's selecting a pipe to smoke, and getting some rudimentary supplies to help smoke the pipe at it's best.

Selecting A Pipe

There's many different kinds of pipes, in all shapes and sizes, but there's only a few different materials that go into a pipe's construction. A pipe is usually made of briar, meerschaum, corncob, or clay. Clay pipes were all the rage back in the 1700s, but they're not a good choice unless you want to indulge in terribleness. They break or burn through often, and are generally not well made. Most modern "corncob" pipes are actually made of wood, and not corn cobs at all, and they also burn through quickly, and also impart their own flavor upon the tobacco. If you're at all serious about pipe smoking, pass up on the cobs and clay pipes. On the other hand, a cob is a fine pipe for a fishing trip, as it's extremely cheap and therefore no big loss if it's lost to the lake bottom.

Meerschaum is a very unique material that's only found in a few places in the world, all of which seem to be in Turkey. Meerschaum pipes are very popular because they require no break-in period, and smoke cool, but they're also quite brittle. Dropping a meerschaum pipe on the ground usually spells disaster for the pipe. The white meerschaum does, however, adapt a new color over time with use, and the color is dependent upon the types of tobacco smoked in the pipe, and the smoking habits of the smoker, so it's excellent for making something that's personalized to the smoker.

For the purposes of this document, I'm going to focus on briar pipes, since they're the most popular and durable. With good maintenance, a briar pipe will last indefinitely and can passed on from generation to generation or resold as an "estate pipe". Briar is a shrub that's indigenous to Europe and is probably also grown in the states. It's a good wood for carving into pipes because it's very light, and being so, can withstand a lot of heat. Before I start suggesting pipes, I'll also say that a tobacconist is a great resource. Most tobacconists are pipe smokers themselves, and have a fair amount of knowledge about both pipes and tobacco blends. They're also usually friendly and patient because pipe smokers tend to be, and they're trying to sell you stuff. You don't have to go to a tobacconist to buy a briar pipe, many other places like pharmacies sell them as well, but the quality you'll find at a tobacconist makes the trip worth while. While a pharmacy will only stock cheaper pipes such as Dr. Grabow's, a tobacconist will have better pipes and a wider selection.

I suggest spending at least $50 on a pipe. If you're not sure you want to stick with it, then maybe you won't want to invest as much money, but to get a well-smoking pipe, $50 is about the entry level. You can spend as much money on a pipe as you like, and some are priced at $500 or more, but I've found that a minium of $50 buys a good pipe, and anything over $100 is priced because of extra touches such as precious metals, hand craftmanship, etc. They're nice if you want to show off, but they're not gonna smoke that much better. If possible, get a name brand pipe, like Stanwell, Peterson, or Savinelli. Most tobacconists also have "no-name" pipes that can be good smokers. Inspect the pipe before purchasing to look for flaws or defects, like pits in the briar that have been filled with putty. Avoid these if possible. Hold the pipe in your hands, make sure it grips well. You might even want to look in a mirror. After all, you're the one who's got to be seen with the damn thing. Admittedly, my first pipe was a no-name pipe with orange putty in several places, and it may not last forever, but now that I've gotten it broken in, it smokes deliciously, and I wouldn't dare get rid of it.

Supplies For Your Pipe

There's all kinds of accessories to buy for your pipe aside from tobacco, but the most basic and essential are easy. At the very least you should have a pipe tool or tamper, and some pipe cleaners. Tampers are like pipes in that you can spend as much money as you like, but I recommend an all-in-one pipe tool. These usually run around $10-12, and include a tamper, a scraper, and a pick. If you're really hard up for cash, you can even get by using a nail with a wide head. Pipe cleaners are cheap as well, get a bag of one hundred and they'll last a long time. Some people also like leather pipe bags and tobacco pouches, but these aren't absolutely necessary.

Selecting A Tobacco

There's several different kinds of pipe tobacco, as well as a near infinite number of tobacco blends. This is definitely an area where talking to your tobacconist helps, especially for a beginning smoker. If you're coming to pipe smoking from cigarettes, you're in for a real taste treat. First off, don't buy any tobacco you see for sale at a gas station. That tobacco is reserved for when you are at your wits end and stuck in Assneck, Utah with no tobacco. If you must buy pipe tobacco at any place other than a tobacconist, buy Captain Black White. It's easily the best of the entire Captain Black line, even Captain Black Gold. I don't remember what they print on the label, but it's basically a vanilla cavendish blend.

There's two main types of tobacco blends, aromatics and english blends. Aromatics usually have some sort of flavor added, like mint or chocolate or cherry or vanilla or rum or amaretto or maple syrup or whatever. Many aromatics are just a syrupy mess, but some are very enjoyable. Aromatic tobacco also is very pleasing to smell, which makes them popular for smoking indoors near people. English blends are more natural, and their flavor comes from the different tobaccos contained within. They tend to not have many flavors added, but instead draw out the natural nutty taste of the tobacco. They may contain exotic tobaccos, like latakia, or perique. In my experience new smokers tend to start with aromatics, and work into english blends before settling on a favorite tobacco. One of the best parts of smoking is trying new blends! Most tobacconists also make their own blends, and can probably suggest something good.

Lighting That Shit Up

So now you've got a pipe, some tobacco, and all the tools. It's time to pack up a bowl and blaze up. Packing the pipe is very important, and if you don't want the pipe to go out, it must be done well. Let the tobacco fall into the bowl loosely until the bowl is full. Then, use your tamper to push it about halfway down. Repeat the process, but the second time tamp it until it's about 3/4ths of the way full, and finally add some on top and tamp it again. The reason for filling the bowl like this ensures that the tobacco is mostly tightly packed on the top of the bowl, which is where the fire is. Next, use the pick to poke a hole down through the middle of the tobacco. This makes it so that the bowl cannot burn directly down the middle, which is what it will want to do, and instead will burn around the sides, making the bowl burn evenly. If the pipe is not yet broken in, don't pack a whole bowl. A half-bowl will suffice until cake has built up around the sides of the pipe, which will take around 30 smokes.

There's lots of different ways to light a pipe, just like there is with smoking cigarettes or cigars or halfling weed. Some people swear by wooden matches, some use freebie matches, Zippos, disposable lighters, etc. You can buy lighters specifically made for lighting pipes, but they're not necessary. I use a disposable cigarette lighter most of the time and it works just fine. It's really not much harder than putting the flame to the tobacco. Some tobacco won't light easily, but after scorching the top layer of tobacco, you can tamp it again and it will light much easier on the second try.

Once you have the pipe lit, smoke it! If you're coming from smoking cigarettes, it may take some time to get used to, because you don't want to take quick puffs. Instead, slowly draw the smoke into your mouth, let it roll around in your mouth, and then exhale. If the pipe is whistling when you inhale, you're smoking it too fast. Smoking it quickly will make the pipe burn too hot, which leads to a host of problems. A hot pipe will taste bitter, be painful to hold, and after extended use, will burn through. Depending on the tobacco, moisture may accrue in the bowl if the tobacco is smoked too fast. You'll know this right away when the pipe starts gurgling or if you get a mouthful of foul tasting juice. If this happens, run a pipe cleaner up through the stem to absorb the moisture. If the bowl is ever too hot to keep your fingers against, slow down or give the pipe time to cool. It will take a few tries to find the optimum smoking rate to keep the pipe from overheating and also not go out. It's a common fallacy that pipes shouldn't go out, and there's no shame in relighting. Often when I let a pipe go out near the end of a bowl, I like to gently tap out any ash and tamp it again before relighting.

Pipe Maintenance

When you've reached the end of the bowl, or have tired of smoking, tap out any ash. There also may be dottle (unburnt tobacco) in the shank of the bowl. The scraper on the pipe tool can remove this easily. You might notice a residue forming on the sides of the pipe interior. This is called cake, and is very important. A broken-in pipe has a small layer of cake that coats it's interior. The cake not only makes the pipe taste better, but also helps in heat dispersal and moisture absorption. When breaking in a pipe, be careful not to scrape the cake off, because the faster it builds, the sooner it will taste better. Finally, run a pipe cleaner through the stem to clean it out before storing your pipe. This makes sure that the stem is clear for next time and nothing can harden in it. If you really want to clean a pipe up, use a pipe cleaner dipped in scotch or whiskey. The general rule of thumb is to never put anything in your pipe that you wouldn't put in your mouth, so liquors make the best cleaning agents. Over time, the cake can build up so much so as to lessen the capacity of the bowl. You can either buy a pipe reamer, or most tobacconists will ream a pipe for free.

The two biggest factors in making a pipe taste bitter are smoking it too hot or smoking it too often. You shouldn't smoke the same pipe more than once a day if it can be helped, and let it sit for two days between smoking if possible. Not doing so won't instantly make a pipe taste bitter, but smoking 5-6 bowls a day out of the same pipe will make it turn bitter quickly. If you're serious about pipe smoking, this means you'll need several pipes, but if you're on a budget, you can fill in the spaces with a couple corncob pipes.


There's enough info here to get anyone started on pipe smoking, but there's also more info, like tobacco storage, blend reviews and pipe styles. You can find more information on these and other topics at YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY. STAY IN SCHOOL KIDS!

For many years, it’s been almost an article of faith that pipe smokers should smoke their pipes all the way down to the bottom of the bowl – that is, finish all the bowl of tobacco. The reasoning behind this belief is that smoking to the end of the tobacco develops a well-formed cake (carbon lining) on the interior of the bowl. Partial smoking, it’s said, will leave a cake only on the upper part of the bowl and result in a harsh-tasting pipe. Also, finishing the bowl of tobacco to the bottom prevents burnout, and leaves you with a pipe that smokes cooler and smoother.

That’s what many pipe smokers, myself included, were taught. Recently, though, the validity of this bit of conventional wisdom has been called into question. Writing in the North American Society of Pipe Collectors’ journal, The Pipe Collector, longtime pipe smoker Steve Fallon asserts that pipe smokers should call it quits when they’ve consumed around two-thirds of the bowl of tobacco.

Mr. Fallon explains that the remaining last third of tobacco will have absorbed all the leftover moisture and tars, and turn into a nasty bit of sludge. Continuing to smoke, he says, will leave much of that muck in the bottom of the pipe, waiting to intermingle with the next load of sludge from subsequent smoking. The pipe will also require more frequent relighting, due to the moisture in the remaining tobacco.

Better to smoke your pipe as long as it tastes good, and stop when it doesn’t, roughly at the point at which two-thirds of the tobacco has been smoked. Later, when the pipe has gone out and cooled down, the dottle (the remaining tobacco) can be dumped before it has a chance to foul the pipe. Mr. Fallon then recommends taking a piece of facial tissue or paper towel and twisting it down into the bottom of the bowl for a quick cleaning, along with the usual pipe cleaners run through the stem.

I usually follow this procedure, since I smoke aromatic tobaccos and they have a high moisture content; I've not noticed undue damage being done to the bowls of my pipes. Smokers of "English"-type blends (non-aromatic blends) generally find it easier to finish the entire bowl.


Fallon, Steve. "Another Smoking Controversy?". The Pipe Collector, volume 10, number 6 (December 2002), pages 20-21.

Care and Maintenance of a Tobacco Pipe

There are many different kinds of pipes used for smoking, but one thing they all have in common is that maintenance and cleaning is absolutely required in order to provide the most pleasurable experience. Proper care of a pipe extends the life, increases the enjoyment, and protects the value inherent in such an investment.

Regular Use

A pipe should only be smoked when it is dry and cool. This helps prevent damage to the joint between bowl and stem, as well as damage to the bowl itself. Excessive smoking of a pipe can lead to burnout in the bowl, which happens when the wood inside the bowl becomes hot enough to actually start charring. Also, a buildup of moisture inside the pipe can lead to nasty tar formation inside the stem. Believe me, that's not pleasant.

During smoking, be careful with the mouthpiece. Don't grip it between your teeth, as eventually you will wear through the tip or deform it to the point to where it is no longer useable. Don't set a lit pipe down on its side, because, a: you don't want to start a fire, and b: this will cause uneven burning inside the bowl, if it even stays lit. To light a pipe, use a wooden match. It burns cooler than butane torches and will cause less damage to the bowl of the pipe. Whatever you use, try not to place any part of the lighter directly on the bowl of the pipe.

When emptying a smoked pipe, a cork ashtray is ideal. Knock the bowl gently on the cork until the dottle falls out of the pipe. A pipe tool can be used to remove the rest of the ash, but be careful not to scrape into the walls of the bowl when using a pipe tool. Whatever you do, never knock a pipe on a hard surface. This can destroy a clay or meerschaum pipe, and even a briar will suffer damage if this is done too often. If you are outdoors or no ashtray is handy, knock the pipe into the palm of your hand (make sure it's out first) and then dispose of the ash somewhere.

Cleaning should only be done when the pipe is cool. The stem and bowl should only be separated after a long cooling period, or the fit will loosen and the joint will no longer be airtight. This joint can loosen to the point where the bowl will no longer stay attached to the stem and the pipe may fall apart while smoking. You can also break the stem of the pipe, just ask Wiccanpiper. To clean your pipe, run a pipe cleaner through the stem by itself. Use another pipe cleaner to clean the bore of the bowl, where the stem attaches. Clear the inside of the bowl of all debris, but be careful not to damage the cake inside.

When not smoking your pipe, store it somewhere cool and dry. A humidor is not recommended for most pipes. Place it on a rack with the stem upwards and the bowl down. Store your tobacco in an airtight container. The tobacco can be a little bit moist, it'll be a better smoke that way as dried out tobacco is harsher and hotter.

Routine Maintenance

Most pipes will need to be reamed eventually. This process removes the excess cake from inside the bowl, increasing the capacity of the bowl back to normal and improving the draw as well. Ideally, the cake should be about the thickness of a dime uniformly around the bowl. A pipe reamer is necessary to do this evenly. Most tobacconists will be able to ream your pipe.

If there is a cork between stem and bowl, it should be checked often for fit and condition. If it is too loose, it should be replaced with one with a better fit. If too tight, you can carefully shave it with a razor blade for a better fit. The cork should fit entirely inside the bowl to ensure the best fit. If it is necessary to replace the cork, be very careful. Remember, any glue used to hold a new cork will be exposed to high temperatures and also may end up entering your system. The idea is to poison your body with pleasing natural substances, not dangerous chemicals.

The key to keeping a pipe in good condition is controlling the environment inside the pipe. Excessive moisture and heat will quickly damage any pipe, no matter what material it is made of. Every effort must be made to keep the inside of a pipe dry. Never wash the inside of a pipe with water, make sure a pipe is completely dry between smokings, and last, but not least, don't smoke in the rain. If you take care of your pipe, it will take care of you. A good friend once told me that a pipe is like a wife. Treat it with love, tenderness, and care, and, after 20 years, it will run off with some younger fellow and take all of your money.

Old guys who smoke too much
Personal experience

One of the worst things that you can do to your pipe is remove the stem from the bowl while it’s still hot. This can instantly ruin your pipe. If you bought your pipe from a tobacconist, they should have given you a few rules and tips for the enjoyment and longevity of your investment and this rule should have been appropriately stressed as rule number one. It’s like the fully-charge-the-battery-before-turning-it-on rule that gadget geeks inherently know.

Or even the if-you-drop-it-in-water-let-it-completely-dry-before-turning-it-on rule that we’ve all broken at least once.

If, out of criminal curiosity, you pulled that stem from that bowl while the pipe was hot and have thus ruined your pipe, you’ve probably noticed that the fit is wrong. It’s probably loose enough to spin freely and, depending on the style of your pipe, the bowl might actually fall off the stem while smoking.

Bad noder, why didn’t you listen to Phyrkrakr?

Here’s what you need:

Here’s what you do:

  • Standing over the sink, run the water as cold as possible. Not too powerful a stream but not too weak either.
  • With the lighter lit, hold the stem of the pipe over the flame (not in the flame) and allow the fitting to get hot. This should only take a few seconds. What you’re doing is using heat to expand the fitting while it’s outside of the bowl.
  • Immediately plunge the end into the cold water. You might even GENTLY push the fitting against the side of the sink while it cools. This will splay the end out ever-so-slightly and can improve the fit within the bowl – depending on how bad it fit after your little mistake.
  • Now dry it off completely and try the fit in the bowl of your pipe. If it’s not as snug as you want then try it again. The important thing is to heat the fitting slightly and gradually expand it until the fit is airtight like it was when you bought it. If you torch it the first time, you’ve destroyed your pipe and might not be ready for something as subtle and tasteful as a pipe. Try crack - a glass pipe can’t be ruined as easily.

This is first echelon maintenance. If the pipe was too messed up because of your little snafu, then you bite the fucking bullet and take it back to the smoke shop and beg forgiveness. Most shops have a guy that they can send it to who can breathe new life into the pipe.

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