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!