Pipes: The image of a man smoking a pipe initially brings up an idea of a stuffy professor or a Victorian detective; someone from a bygone era or a pompous elite. These days, with the recent resurgence of retro cool – handlebar mustaches ring a bell, the pipe as a leisure activity has become more and more accepted and appreciated.
A friend of mine, an accomplished carpenter and gallant heavy cavalryman (okay, he was an M-1 Abrams Tanker, but that is the Victorian translation thereof) recently asked my opinion on pipes, and for information on how to get started in them. I am assuming that both their leisure factor and the idea of carving his own appealed to him. I have done a bit of research, spoken with a few of my associates, and a fact finding mission to my local Tinder Box and tobacco lounges have added to my existing knowledge, and allowed me to present the following brief introduction to smoking a pipe.
Wooden pipes are almost exclusively carved from a single piece of briarwood, with a plastic, bone, or ceramic tip as a mouthpiece. You see some occasionally carved from oil wood, and I have even heard Maple, but from the opinions of individuals who ought to know, briarwood is the best, and will not burn or scorch, like other, softer woods.
Pipes are a very personal ornament, and can reflect a lot about the individual smoker. To go into the intricacies of choosing your own pipe somewhat defeats the purpose of this article. Pick what you want, and for the reasons you choose for yourself. Intricate design? Sure! Traditional look? Fine. Go with a corn cob if you wish, but don’t think you have to do something just because.
Pipe tobacco is very different than many other kinds of tobacco available today. Some of the finest tobaccos available in cigars, for example, come from Central America and the Caribbean, while many of the finest pipe tobaccos are “oriental” tobaccos, coming from Turkey, Indonesia, and Africa. There are also many excellent choices coming from the United States – Virginia tobacco being very popular. There are often flavorings and different tastes from the curing of tobacco. In cigar smoking, flavoring is typically applied to mask inferior tobacco, but in pipes, it is an accepted practice, and not nearly so looked down upon.
Many smokers mix their tobaccos, using a stronger, natural, and full flavored tobacco as a base, and making their own blends. In this way pipe smoking is infinitely customizable.
Once you have your tobacco chosen, plugging and lighting is the next step. There are different techniques to this, and the one that makes the most sense to me is to grab a sphere of tobacco and pack it down lightly into the bowl. Grab another and pack it in more firmly, before packing in a third plug with force. This ensures that there is more air and freedom of movement around the hole at the bottom of the bowl to allow the smoke to flow through.
Lighting is done with a match or with a butane lighter, being careful not to use too much of the torch and burn the bowl. Puff as you light in order to get a good cherry going and ensure a firm, flavorful draw. I understand that sometimes three separate matches are used for a good light.
Once you have your pipe pack and lit, then you are well on your way to sophistication and distinction. Practice your one word answers to philosophical questions. Phrases like “Quite,” “Oh posh,” and “Indeed” are all rendered more credible with a pipe clenched in your teeth – no matter the actual context of the conversation.