The Complete Corncob primer

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The Corncob & New Smoker Primer

© 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012

By tiltjlp/John L Patton

While I’ve been smoking cobs for over fifty years, I’m no expert, but just maybe my father was, and he taught me everything he knew. While I’ve learned some things on my own over the years, I still use every bit of information my dad gave me back in June of 1959. While he did own a few briars, I never saw him smoke anything other than a cob.

I answer a lot of questions about cobs, but have also been given some good tips and pointers from other experienced cobbers. This, and what my dad started me out with, make up this Corncob & New Smoker Primer, which is always being updated and expanded. All of the advice offered here also applies to any type of pipe, be it briar, metal, or even Meerschaum. I’ve decided to add information for new smokers in the hope that they’ll avoid some common and frustrating mistakes. I base my new information on what questions I see new pipe smokers ask on the forums I visit. While I have considered separating this into two documents, I’ve decided it needs to be kept intact. Instead, I label each section, as well as giving credit to those who have offered useful advice. This isn’t about me or any one forum, but trying to help new smokers learn from our collected experience.

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General Information

Missouri Meerschaum brand cobs are the only corncobs that I smoke, and the only ones I would advise anyone to use. I’ve tried other brands, but none had the quality of MM cobs. MM has been making cobs since 1869, and they simply are the best. You can check out their entire product line, and read their history from a link at the end of this article. Mars Cigars has the best selection and prices of any e-tailer I have found, and they offer a 10% discount on dozen lots of the same model. Walker Briar Works also sells Corn Cob Pipes and special Vulcanite and Lucite Stems for Cob Pipes. And Jake Hackert modifies MM cobs with antler and maybe bamboo shanks, so there are many options. Most every MM models comes with paper filters, and I’m of the opinion that the filters only get damp and smelly. I very strongly suggest you remove and discard them.

Missouri Meerschaum does use Plaster-of-Paris and lacquer to finish their non-natural pipes, and a black stain on a few models. Usually, it doesn’t cause a problem on the inside of the bowl, but sometimes it can be a nuisance. If you notice any kind of stain inside the bowl, or just to be on the safe side, lightly use sand paper to remove anything and everything other than cob from the inside of the bowl. Some folks also sand the outside of the bowls, to make them “more natural”. Or just buy the Pride or Eaton, or the new Natural Freehand. The glue used in making cobs is non-toxic and very similar to Elmer's Glue. All MM cobs are very good smokers, but I much prefer the natural versions over the plastered. Natural versions are offered in limited numbers for most if not all of MMs full sized cobs, and can be ordered by calling the MM factory. MM hopes to eventually offer the natural cobs through retail outlets.

Quality Control Issues

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about cobs is about the plastic bits. Complaints about MM’s plastic bits should be a thing of the past, since every pipe MM makes now comes with an acrylic bit. But if you want to dress up your cobs, why not consider having better quality bits/stems made for each model MM cob you have, and switch them between cobs. Some cobbers have done this, and would surely share their experience, if asked. Of course, the Freehand comes with a vulcanite bit/stem, so maybe that would solve your problem.

Preparing For Your 1st Smoke

Since cobs are low-cost and machine-made, with very little finish work done to them, except for the two Corncob Snob Society Natural Freehand versions, which were actually hand-assembled, give them the once over before smoking them, and if needed, do some trimming with a pen knife to clear out the air way and the stem inside the bowl. There are some people who are overly critical of the quality of workmanship, but all but a few models retail for well under $15.00, with many under $10.00, which is quite affordable with inflation what it is. So, if you accept them for what they are, I think you will find them quite the bargain.

As for the wooden shank that extends inside the bowl, while some cobbers remove them, I’ve always left them, and over time, have gotten used to them. The models with hardwood plugs are no problem, but other versions will become more prone to burnout if the inner shank is removed. Cobs with paper labels don’t have hardwood bottoms. But then, in 50 plus years smoking cobs, I’ve never had a burnout. And MM will replace any cob that burns out, that isn’t your fault.

Another thing to consider about Quality Control is that if you’re into briar, you can’t fairly compare a briar against a corncob. A briar pipe is carved from a block of wood, but a corncob is made from an actual corn cob, which then has a wooden shank added to it. The fit and finish of a corncob simply cannot be as smooth as a briar is.

So if you decide to remove the inner portion of the shank, I’d strongly advise you to protect the bottom of the bowl with the application of Pipe Mud. Pipe Mud is a fairly thick mixture of cigar ash and either saliva or water. Mix until you have a thick mud, and then apply several layers, letting each layer dry partially. Allow the cob to rest for several days, so the pipe mud can cure. Pipe ash can also be used for Pipe Mud, but cigar ash is best.

Dad’s Original Advice

After 53 years, I still use my dad's way of doing things. I don't fool with a false/charring light, but simply light it and start smoking.

  • Dry your tobacco more than you think you need to.
  • Pack it looser than you think you need to.
  • Smoke it slower than you think you need to.
  • Tamp it less, and more lightly, than you think you need to.
  • Clean your pipes after every smoke, using pipe spirits of some sort.
  • Don’t worry if you have a few relights.
  • And realize that becoming an accomplished pipe smoker will take time, patience, and trial and error.

To those, I’ll add a great tip I read on a forum several years ago, offered by DLT, or Nightcapper, dealing with the use of a tamper to help keep a pipe going. While I don’t tamp very often, I do place my tamper on top of the ash in my pipe bowl if the ember seems to be cooling. The weight of the metal tamper used while puffing will help revive a pipe that could be going out.

Using the advice offered here, your Missouri Meerschaum cob, no matter which model, should give you many years of service and satisfying smoking pleasure. In the past, I’ve had cobs last me as long as 22 years, and know folks who report over 40 years of use from a cob. With this kind of record, and the affordable cost, I don’t understand why some people will read this, and still buy either used cobs on eBay, or off-brands, which never match the quality of Missouri Meerschaum. Of course buying estate cobs because you’re a collector of older, rare cobs is another matter.

Avoiding Cake Build-Up

You don't need, or in my opinion, want cake in a cob. What makes a cob so good is that it somehow first absorbs tars and harsh flavors, and then dissipates them, which keeps the cob smoking fresh, if properly cleaned. Cake will not allow this to happen. Also, cake can transfer flavor from one blend to your next smoke, so that the true taste of the tobacco might be fouled, or Ghosted.

This advice is based on what my dad taught me back during the summer of 1959. I find it helps solve nearly every pipe smoking problem, and not just for cobs. Besides not letting cake build in my pipes, I also clean them after every use, and feel that my tobacco tastes better, and that I get more flavor. And now for a differing point of view.

Encouraging Cake Build-Up

Since none of us are experts, and we’re all individuals, no one set of ideas or methods will work for everyone. So what follows is Strong Irish’s opinion about allowing cake build up in cobs. While he and I disagree on a few points, both of us have decades of experience with corncobs.

”While many swear by not allowing any cake to form in a corncob pipe, claiming it allows the cob to absorb better and resulting in a cooler and drier pipe, I find the exact opposite to be true. First, I love a good seasoned cob but I don't want to taste the cob itself. By not allowing a cake to form, I feel that a little of the cob burns with the tobacco and imparts its flavor into the smoke.

I also believe that the reason so many guys have a burn out in the bowl of a cob is for this very reason. I have smoked cobs for 41 years and have NEVER had a burn out, since I do allow a nice cake to form in mine. I have have several cobs over 30 years old, a lot over 20 years old, that have some wonderful cakes in them, and they are still smoking great and show no sign of any burnout whatsoever.

Third, I think that as with briar, a well formed cake in a cob gives a much cooler, sweeter smoke and adds much to my enjoyment of them. Granted, they may not smoke as dry after several uses in one day, but I rotate mine so that is never a factor with me. I do keep my cake well reamed to a neat and trim interior and I like it to be about the thickness of a nickle as any thicker and the bowl gets too small and won't allow a tamper to pass”.

Exterior Cob Care

Another complaint I hear about cobs is that they look seedy, but I prefer the term rustic. Another problem for some folks is how they look over time. It really shouldn’t matter, since cob exteriors don’t have a thing to do with smoking quality. But I know that looks are important, or nearly all of us would smoke nothing but cobs and basket pipes. Several years ago, I did an experiment with four Diplomats that I got about 6 months earlier. Some of you might remember getting a chuckle from my post about rubbing those 4 Diplomats with Aloe Vera Gel. My idea was to see if the Aloe Vera Gel would minimize the surface cracking that can happen with cobs. While the surface cracking doesn’t affect the smoking quality, it can shorten the life of a cob, although it seldom will.

Well, the Aloe Vera Gel worked like a charm. Those 4 cobs, which probably were used 3500 times, looked like they had only been used a month. Since those cobs were really sorry looking, I finally decided to clean them up using Pledge Clean & Shine, Orange Scent, Anti-Dust Formula. The overall difference is like night and day. Of course they don’t look spanking brand new, but they do look fashionable enough to take with me if I need a pipe for my infrequent travels. They now look well seasoned, but no longer so gross they could embarrass me. As a bonus, they smell good too, at least on the outside. So if you have a few cobs that look ready for the trash heap, I suggest you grab a can of furniture polish. Of course now, neither Aloe Vera Gel or Pledge Clean & Shine, Orange scent, Anti-Dust Formula can be used on Natural cobs without ruining them.

Flare-ups vs Burnouts

What some of you may think is a Burn Out might actually be what I call a Flare Up. This happened to me for the first time a few years ago, with a well-smoked cob, and while I’m not sure what caused it, I’ll explain what happened. I was using a Zippo Pipe Lighter, and was somehow distracted, and probably held the lighter in one spot too long. One section of the upper inner bowl and rim caught on fire, which I blew out right away. While one section of the inner bowl is now very well-toasted, it’s none the worse for wear, and is still a good smoker.

Wet Weather Cob Care

Cobs are great year round, but do need a bit more attention in damp weather, since they tend to absorb some of the surrounding moisture. So, while I usually tell folks to allow their cobs to cool completely before smoking them again, you may need to let them dry out completely too. And that means both inside and out. One thing that might help if it's really damp, is to store your clean, dry cobs in Ziploc or similar Freezer Bags. This will keep them from absorbing even more moisture, which won't really be noticed except when you smoke them, and realize something isn't quite right.

Cobs have the ability to easily absorb massive amounts of moisture, and then dissipate it over time. Normally it'll only take about a 1/2 hour, but sometimes under extreme conditions it can seem like forever. I've never known a cob that didn't eventually recover. Pretty amazing for a pipe with an average price of less than $10.00. Putting them in a warm oven, after removing the bit, also works if you use the lowest setting, and only do it for a few minutes.

Breaking In Cobs

Advice offered by SmokeyTheWerewolf was so good I asked his permission to include it in the Corncob Primer. Thanks very much Smokey.

People say that cobs require no break-in. Compared to a briar pipe, I suppose that's nearly true, but there is a bit of a break-in period. With the first few bowls in a new cob, when you get near the bottom, that wood from the shank inside the bowl will start to burn. When it starts to taste bad, I stick with it just a few puffs more to help char that wood out of there.

Then I sit the pipe down and let it smolder completely out before emptying the bowl or trying to clean it. I figure while it's sitting there a bit more of the wood may burn, and I don't want to stop it from doing so. After 2 bowls, and then again after 4 bowls I hit that shank with a reamer with very little pressure. I'm only trying to whittle away the charred wood and expose more unburned shank so it will burn out more easily next time. After 6 bowls, your cob should be good and broken in.

In that process, most of the the wood shank will have been burned away. The little spaces to the side and under that shank will have filled with ash and just a bit of moisture making a natural pipe mud that will help round out the bottom of your bowl and provide for better smoke draft mechanics and will help protect the bottom of your cob from burnout.

Modifying Your Cobs

Adding a hard wood plug is pretty easy to do. This short how-to was provided by Billiard, also known as the Cobbler, who is the nearest we have to an expert on the modification of corncobs

Depending on the height of the cob you are modifying, you may also wish to cut off the bottom end of your cob to a shorter size, a good example of this is the MacArthur, since it has a large section of cob under the shank that you can remove that will save you both size and weight. Most cob bowls are just fine how they are and you do not need to cut them. If you are shortening the bottom of the cob simply put the cob portion you will be throwing out into a vise and use a hacksaw to saw it off.

If there’s a sticker at the bottom of the bowl, remove it and then use a pocket knife to poke a hole through the bottom of the cob's bowl dead center. Using a pocket knife twist it back and forth to make the hole a little larger. Don't make it too big yet, keep it small for now.

Next, make the hard wood plug. You can buy a cherry dowel from WoodCraft or Home Depot and these work great, a 3/4" dowel is best for most bowls but for the smaller cobs use a 1/2" dowel. Buy the shortest dowel they sell and it will last you a lifetime of cobs. Measure the distance between the air hole and the bottom of the cob's bowl walls and then cut off a length of dowel to that size.

Now open the bottom of your bowl to fit the plug. Go slow here, sand paper works just fine, it might take a few minutes longer than a Dremel tool, but this is a one time thing. Only whittle enough of the cob out to fit the plug in nice and tight, using firm hand pressure, so not to risk cracking the cob's bowl. Use the plug as a template, you want this to match up as perfectly as possible.

Once the plug fits, take it back out and set it aside. You can remove the inner shank if you wish, cutting it flush with the inside wall of the bowl. Now put a wee bit of Elmer's Carpenter glue around the outside of the plug and the inside of the cob's bowl that the plug will touch and put it place. Clean the excess glue from the bottom and use a Q-tip to clean the excess glue from the inside of the bowl. Give your modified cob 24 hours or longer to set and cure before smoking it.

Information & Advice For New Smokers

While the following is based on questions often asked by new smokers, even us more experienced pipers aren’t always in agreement. On nearly every forum you’ll see posts which include YMMV, which means Your Mileage May Vary; a gentle reminder that there never is just one right way of doing anything concerning pipe smoking. While I have success in following my dad’s advice I offer here, it might not work for you. If not, try the advice of another. And since you will improve and refine your technique over time, what doesn’t work for you today just might work for you next year.

Types Of Tobacco

According to Mac Baren, there are only two main families of tobacco, Virginia and Burley. From Virginia, with its high sugar content, comes Oriental, whose leaves are smaller than regular Virginia, thus having a higher sugar content, and a waxiness, which makes them aromatic in nature. Also, Latakia is an Oriental, which grows close to the ground, is harvested by hand, and is dried over fires using a variety of woods, thus giving Latakia its smokey, woodsy nature.

Burley has very little if any natural sugar, burns well, and offers a slight taste of cocoa. While Burley is more robust than Virginia, it isn’t naturally sweet, like Virginia can be. While most Burley is air cured away from sun, Kentucky Burley is first air dried, and then fire cured, using woods that produces thick smoke.

Cavendish, which unjustly has gained a reputation as being an inferior tobacco, isn’t a type of tobacco at all, but a special way of processing either Virginia or Burley, in one of two methods. While the recipes and processes used are secret to each company, the methods are similar, as are the results. The first method is pressing the tobacco while adding heat and casing. The second method heats the tobacco using steam. Either method results in tobacco that is black in color, but is also milder and sweeter than the original leaf. And in spite of what some misinformed self-proclaimed experts will tell you, virtually every tobacco is cased in some way between harvesting and marketing.

So, tobacco that is black doesn’t mean that it is strong or harsh. Cavendished Virginia and Burley, while similar, are not the same. Both are mild and somewhat sweet, based on the casing or topping used. Most Cavendish is not goopy or gummy as some ill-informed smokers might claim.

Many smokers believe the use of flavorings is a relatively recent phenomenon but the first use of flavors in tobacco dates back several hundred years. Sailors were the first to come up with the idea of putting their tobacco inside their barrels of rum. They did so to preserve the moisture of the tobacco, only to discover that the remnants of the rum left in the barrel were absorbed by the tobacco. Since then, the process of flavoring has been somewhat refined, although tradition continues to play a very important part in the manufacturing process.

Cellaring: Storing, & Aging Tobacco

Many of us try to stockpile not only as much tobacco as we can, but also as many of our personal favorite blends as we can afford. And then we keep our fingers crossed that our tastes don’t change. But I don’t think our tastes change as much as they expand and evolve. And of course storing those tobaccos causes them to change character, and we hope that those changes are for the better. Sometimes they are better but sometimes they’re just different. And still again there are times when they pretty much stay the same, which isn’t always a bad thing. As we’ll see, there are quite a few methods for storing tobacco, and they all probably have an advantage as well as disadvantages.

Both from my own experience, and from what I have read on forums, not all tobacco ages the same. And keep in mind that most blends are just that, blends of a variety of different tobaccos. While the tobacco itself will change with age, often any casings or flavoring will soften or lesser over time. Virginia, with a higher sugar content, usually will age or change more. Orientals, including Latakia, often will soften or mellow. Cavendish seems to stay about the same, although their toppings or flavors, as mentioned above, might not fare as well.

It’s been said that Burley doesn’t age, but those who say that aren’t always Burley smokers. As a long-time Burley lover, I can assure you that Burley does age, but much slower than Virginia. Burley seems to mellow and meld with any other tobaccos it’s blended with, so that a Burley you might find harsh today might be more agreeable to your tastes in six months or a year. I have compared 5 Brothers that was 75 years old with fresh 5 Brothers, and couldn’t tell which was which. Of course 5 Brothers is probably as close to unaltered tobacco as there is.

The term Aging has come to mean storing tobacco so that over time its taste and flavor improve. But Improve is a very subjective term, and all that can be known for certain is that your tobacco will probably change with time. What those changes mean to taste and flavor, each of us has to decide for ourselves.

While most smokers seem to use canning jars to store their tobacco, and I have too, I now recycle used Middleton tubs, which are actually called Sta-Fresh Canisters. Middleton uses not only a high-grade industrial plastic, but also a patented Humi-Dome. For most, if not, all of their blends. I have found that these canisters, or tubs, as most folks call them, will not only keep tobacco fresh, but also can allow tobacco to age.

The one thing all pipe smokers do agree about is that all tobacco needs some air to age, so pack your glass jars so that there is still some room for air, or your tobacco won’t change much at all. Just make sure you tighten the lids firmly, and check them now and again. Then store them in a cool, dry, location, away from direct light, and be patient. When you finally open one of your jars, you’ll be surprised with the changes that have occurred. You will have to decide for yourself if the changes are for better or for worse. I’m convinced that most of us will say they’re for the better, even if they aren’t.

Dedicating Pipes To Certain Blends

With my ongoing exploration of the entire line of Mac Baren blends, I’ve found myself using a new cob, usually a Pride, Washington, or Diplomat, to try new blends, and eventually dedicating the pipe to that particular, or at least, a very similar blend. It’s grown to where I have 26 pipes back by my computer, and 23 out front by my recliner. That’s about a far as it can go, since I’m just about out of room for my pipe rotations.

But it goes the other way too, it seems. I have some blends that I only smoke in certain pipes, but use those pipes for other blends too. There are some blends I’ll smoke in any pipe, but not that many. I have 6 Great Dane Spools just for my Mac Baren roll cakes, which means mostly Club Blend, and my Gig Driftwood is reserved for Virginia blends, and usually Astleys 109.

Keep in mind I completely clean every pipe after every use, so for me, dedicating pipes has more to do with matching a blend with bowl size than anything else. But when I asked about this on the Pipe Chat and Corncob & Briar forums, I found that it’s more of a Some Do, Some Don’t thing than I had expected. Which proves yet again, there is no one right way of doing anything when it comes to pipes and tobacco.

Hghost replied: I have my pipes dedicated to tobacco types as opposed to specific blends. With one exception, a pipe, that is dedicated to Devil's Holiday, which ghosts a pipe terribly. I also consider bowl size. Generally larger bowls for Orientals. My pipes are dedicated to 1) OTC's/aromatics 2)Virginia/Plugs/Flakes 3)Orientals(English) My Falcon pipe bowls are set up the same way. My corncobs are usually used for OTC's and Burly blends. I have one of my CCSS Freehands dedicated to Orientals.

You can get away with the occasional Latakia blend in a Virginia or Aromatic dedicated pipe. A Latakia ghost will take over a Virginia blend and make an OTC or aromatic taste bad.

I do use Carter Hall or Prince Albert to build up cake in any new pipes. Orientals take forever to build cake. It then takes about 10 bowls of Oriental to remove all OTC flavors. I religiously keep cakes between 1/16" and 3/32".

Wyoming Cob, on the other hand does it a bit differently. I don't have any pipes dedicated to a particular tobacco, I just clean then after every bowl. And haven't had a problem with ghosts, I smoke straight Burley and aromatics. Along with Burley/Virginia or Burley/Cavendish all in the same cobs and have never had a problem.

Quaffer posted: There are just two sections to my cabinet: 1) pipes for English blends 2) pipes for everything else. I'll even throw 'everything else' in an English pipe if I feel the urge.

The more I smoke, the more relaxed I get with dedication. It does not make much of a difference for me. One reason is because I do not smoke any aromatics. (The verdict is still out on 1792.) However, I think the main reason is because I don't put a lot of any tobacco through any one pipe. I average well under one bowl a day and most of my pipes sit for weeks, if not months, between smokes. They never get saturated with anything.

I am a little careful with what I smoke Gold Nugget in, but not too careful. I do not mind a little bit of deer tongue carrying over into my next bowl.

JimVH said: I never used to dedicate pipes to blends, but I have found myself doing it lately. I'm not afraid of ghosting, I even enjoy it sometimes, but when I find a blend that really pops in a certain pipe it just makes sense to limit it to that particular mix.

But I think Muddler has a most unique approach: I have pipes that never leave the house, pipes I take to work & fishing pipes. The house pipes tend to be dedicated, often to just one or two tobaccos, sometimes to genres like Lat or Va's. I generally only smoke Va's at work & fishing. The objective of dedication is less about not ghosting & more about finding pipes & tobacco combinations that really sing together. For example, I've just lit up my Windjammer (a gift from Sparks) - it smokes Old Gowrie like no other pipe I own.

Preparing Flake Tobaccos

I’ve never been a big fan of Flakes, partly because I DGT most of my pipes, but mostly because I nevr have found a way to prepare them that seemed to work for me. So when I discovered Mac Baren’s roll cake blends, I was happy as a lark. The reason being that roll cakes are made from ropes, that are thinly cut into small coins. These coins are quite easily folded and stuffed into a pipe, leaving plenty of room for air to circulate.

But one flake that I do enjoy is Astleys 109, which until recently was a Broken Flake. But now it comes as one huge, but thin and pliable flake. I’ve been cutting it into more manageable flakes, and still enjoy it as much as ever.

But I have read that other pipers use a wide range of ways to smoke their flakes. Many smokers simply rub their flakes out, but I figure, if I’m going to rub them out, why even buy them in the first place? Others just fold and stuff, or roll and stuff, and some even cut their flakes into little cube-cuts, similar to commercial cube cut blends. I always find this amusing, since I read so many complaints about how hard it is to keep cube cuts lit. So let’s see what our fellow smokers have to say.

Cigarsarge posted: My favorite way to rub a flake is to rub it out lightly between the palms of my hands letting it drop out as it's rubbed. The first rub is pretty chunky. That's the way I like my flakes. If you want it rubbed out more do it again till it is the consistency you like.

I think TommyTree echos a lot of us: I find it depends very much on the consistency of the flake, and even then I've had mixed results. It seems that if you can connect with this method, it works wonders for you. If not, you quickly stop trying as it's less than satisfying. I still try to make it work, but only on occasion. Not sure if I'm doing something wrong or if it just isn't for me.

Gig says: Depending on how long and what blend of flake I'm going to smoke will decide how I prep it. I either rub it out for 3 step method of packing, roll and stuff for air pocket packing or simply fold and stuff Representing a small but growing number of women pipers, Pipe Mama reports: I break some of the flake into smaller pieces, some to a finer, smaller pieces. I prefer to let it sit for a bit to dry, then stuff larger pieces in the bottom, not too tightly, then drop the smaller pieces on top for easier lighting. I've tried the fold and stuff too, but it’s so much harder for me to keep lit.

And again, Quaffer: A lot of time I rub it out to the consistency of a broken flake and load it that way. I never have much luck with a standard fold and stuff. However, sometimes I will fold it, and then massage it between my fingers to loosen up the flake. I then take that loosened-up plug of tobacco and stuff it in. Every once and awhile I will cube cut a flake and gravity feed.

And Hbghost has devised a method that sounds like it might be worth trying: I usually rip them into about 1/4" lengths then rub them between the palms of my hands until they are almost fluffy. I will then air it for 15-20 minutes to remove some of the moisture. If there is a casing (like University Flake) I will get hints of it all the way through. I then pack it fairly loose. I have tried the fold and stuff method but prefer the method I have described above.

New Pipe Smokers & Forums

As I’ve said earlier, this information and advice, mine as well as other smokers, applies to any pipe you might smoke. The biggest mistake a new pipe smoker can make is to join a forum and right away, ask advice about which tobaccos to try. You’ll get a laundry list of your fellow pipe smokers current favorite blends, but seldom advice on what would be the best to begin with. I would suggest that new pipers get one or two ounce samples of what are known as OTCs, which means Over The Counter, which I also refer to as American Classic Blends. These are proven, time-tested Burley and Burley/Virginia blends that come either in 1 1/2oz pouches or 14oz tubs. These tend to be mild but flavorful mixtures that can help you decide if pipe smoking is for you. Many e-tailers also offer sample packs of variuos types of pipe tobacco, which is an affordable way of trying a variety of similar blends, to learn what you like, and dislike.

Of course, not everyone will like American Classic Blends, or any particular blend for that matter. But many who are detractors of OTCs haven’t actually smoked any of them, but instead are parroting what they have read or see on various forums. There are several higher priced boutique brands that many people pledge loyalty to, in part, I feel, because of hype. Infomercials might have been invented online by pipe and tobacco manufacturers.

I’m not pointing my finger at anyone, since I’m simply voicing my opinion, but I would suggest that you ask yourself if an “informative” blog entry is educational or hype meant to set the author up as an “expert” so more of his/her product might be sold? Because, yes, what we all call a hobby is actually a business. So, smoke whatever you want to, but smoke it because you enjoy it, and not simply to be cool, or to follow that latest trend or fad. I have smoked for 53 years, and have tried enough different blends to be of the opinion that for the most part, all blends are created equal. What sets them apart is individual tastes and advertising, much of which is in the form of hype.

I don’t believe there are any Experts in the field of pipes and tobacco. Many of us have many years of experience, but as in my case, that experience is limited lately to mostly corncob pipes and American Classic Blends. But I do feel I know enough to bring together my own, my dad’s, and even other cobbers opinions to offer a Primer that might educate new smokers as to the real value of cobs. I don’t sell cobs, I simply smoke them. It just so happens Missouri Meerschaum is the only company that makes quality corncobs. My goal is to help fellow smokers avoid buying inferior cobs made outside of the US, since those from elsewhere seem to be inferior.

Now, as far as custom made pipes, briar and otherwise, the value and worth are subjective, and will vary from person to person. While I’m sincere when I say I have never found any pipe that smokes better than a corncob, my experience is limited. I have owned one custom briar pipe, and it was a lower-priced custom. I also have a briar that was gifted me, that I feel would be worth between $350-$500. That pipe is wonderful, and loves Virginia, but so do my cobs. Value must be decided by the purchaser, not an onlooker.

But tobacco isn’t quite the same as a custom pipe. Boutique blends may or may not be worth the premium price charged, and again, it’s up to the purchaser to determine. But when a blender, large or small, sets himself/herself up as an expert, shouldn’t it make you wonder? My blends tend to be drier than most other blends, and I explain why, as well as offer advice on how best to add back some moisture if you feel they’re too dry for you. Other than telling smokers in general terms what’s in my blends, that’s all I say.

But there are other blenders who have attempted to create a mystic-like persona for themselves, giving the impression they and they alone have some special knowledge about these glorious tobaccos we all enjoy. They do so, in part, I do believe. so that they can charge a bit more for their own Boutique Blends. These blenders explain why their blends are packaged with much more moisture than other blends, which doesn’t mean much per tin, but add up to extra profit when multiplied by many 1000s of tins sold. I find it both amusing and frustrating that the tobacco used for my blends comes from one of these Boutique Blenders who weave their magic spell on the average pipe smoker.

Some pipers wonder if certain blenders don’t withhold their product, while stockpiling it, so that when they do made it available, they are able to charge super premium prices. A simple fact of this and every other hobby is that there are Snobs who like to appear more knowledgeable than they might actually be. So some smokers who can afford to buy higher priced blends help create the Myth that their blends are better than most others.

The truth, to a large degree, is that almost every blend is a good, quality blend, and that personal tastes determine what each of us smoke. As with any other product, price is a poor indicator of quality and value. So if you prefer some value-priced bulk blend or a time-tested American Classic Blends over a higher priced “Specialty” blend, you don’t have to hang your head in shame. As long as you enjoy the tobacco you put in your pipe, that’s all that matters. But if you enjoy more expensive blends, and can afford them, you have no reason to apologize to anyone. Now if you want to start paying for my tobacco, then you can have a say in what I smoke.

Drying Tobacco, Packing, & Smoking

I dry nearly every blend that I smoke, at least a bit, and most, fairly close to bone dry. I pack it loose; after all these years, I just know by instinct how loose. If you think you are packing your pipe loosely, but still have issues with tongue bite, you’re probably still have it much too tight, and the tobacco may not be dry enough. I don't use the tamper at all when packing. I also don't fool with a charring light, but start the tobacco burning full blast. My dad claimed that someone had told him match companies back in the mid-1800s invented the charring light, in order to sell even more matches. I never worry about relights; sometimes I'll need a few, sometimes none.

The most important thing is smoking lazy, as I call it. Ideally, your pipe should always be on the verge of going out; that's how you extract the most taste and flavor from whatever blend you are enjoying. You should keep your cobs, and other pipes, sparkling clean. I’ll use a pipe cleaner during a smoke, if needed, and both bristle and regular cleaners after every single smoke. I use 91% Isopropyl whenever needed, which is usually after every single smoke. The time and expense needed to keep your pipes clean will pay you dividends in more flavor and enjoyment. This has worked for me for 53 years, and I've never had tongue bite. What I do goes against Current Thinking, which only shows that there is no one right way.

Now, even us experienced smokers will sometimes pack a bowl just a bit too tightly. And when I do, I’ll reach for my pipe tool for a quick fix. The pick/spike of a pipe tool is perfect for poking a few holes in the tobacco in a pipe bowl to allow air to circulate, which often can make a bowl that’s packed too tightly smokable. Just make sure one of the holes is at the back of the bowl near the air hole.

Rehydrating Dry Tobacco

I’m an advocate of fairly dry tobacco, as anyone who has tried any of my blends knows. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of Mac Baren blends, which come as close to being at what I feel is the ideal moisture level as any blends I’ve smoked. Many blends simply are way too moist straight out of the tin, requiring lengthy drying times, or too many relights, as well as causing tongue bite.

But this section is about re-hydrating bone dry tobacco. I suggest that if you encounter tobacco that has dried out, smoke a bowl or two before re-hydrating it, since you may be pleasantly surprised. While most pipers suggest placing the dry tobacco in a shallow bowl, and covering it with a wrung out damp towel, making sure not to let the towel touch your tobacco, I have what I believe is a better method.

Just as most of us dry our tobacco by the pipeful, or a one day supply, I feel that re-hydration should also be done one bowl at a time. What I do, and what I suggest, is that you load your pipe with the dry tobacco, just as if it was perfectly ready to smoke. Then cup your hand around the bowl, and gently breathe into the bowl 5-10 times, until the tobacco has enough moisture added to suit your needs.

Why my method works is that it only re-hydrates the top of the tobacco, so that it can be lit properly. Why add more moisture to the entire bowl, when smoking will naturally add some moisture as the tobacco burns, and the pipe gets smoked. My method will help avoid the tobacco in the bowl from becoming too moist, and turning the bottom half of a pipe into tongue-biting inferno.

Delayed Gratification Technique

There are actually two kinds of DGTing, and I use them both. The first is just loading your pipes all at once, however many you'll smoke during the day. By letting the tobacco dry in the pipe, the tobacco at the top will be drier than that at the bottom of the bowl, and allow the pipe to require fewer relights.

The other version of DGT, which is better known, involves smoking only part of a bowl, and setting it aside for a while. While most pipers are unwilling to DGT beyond a few hours or overnight, I have forgotten pipes for days and even weeks, and still enjoyed the rest of the bowl. But of course I like my blends close to bone dry. Normally I don't DGT beyond 72 hours, but never simply dump a bowl without giving it a try. I DGT roughly 95% of my pipes.

Everyone to their own devices, of course, but I DGT most of the time, and rarely have a bad smoke. I think if it's something you want to master, you might just try my way before giving up. First, pre-load your pipes several hours before you'll need them. Second, don't use a charring/false light, but light the pipe and puff away. Third, when ready to set your pipe aside, put a pipe cleaner into the stem, to just before the bowl, and leave it in place for three minutes. Then using the pick of your pipe tool, remove any loose ash. Then remove the pipe cleaner and set your pipe aside, and forget it for at least several hours, if not overnight.

Now, the first few puffs of a DGT blend might be or seem a bit harsh, but almost always will smooth out. Also, if you have a DGT pipe that you want to last a bit longer, you can freshen it up by adding more tobacco. Use the same blend or experiment with another, complimentary or contrasting blend. Also, whenever using a pipe cleaner on a pipe you’re still smoking, don’t push the pipe cleaner into the shank so that it touches the tobacco in the bowl. It can cause shards of tobacco to be drawn into the shaft and stem of your pipe, and can ruin a good smoking experience.

After Smoke Do-To-List

After each smoke, what I do is take the pipe apart. I use pipe cleaners dampened with 91% Isopropyl on the stem, as well as the shank and bowl, and then wipe off the end of the tendon. After every smoke, I use a wadded up paper towel to scrub the inside of the bowl. I also use a pipe cleaner dampened with 91% Isopropyl on the rim of the bowl every other week, to get rid of tars that build up there.

Cobs seldom retain ghosts from any tobacco, although there are always exceptions. And just like Meerschaums, you can smoke a cob again, as soon as it has cooled and you have cleaned it. Also, cobs require much less breaking in than briars. Some people are bothered by the taste of the inner shank, but that usually goes away after 4-6 bowls. And make sure that you remove the paper filter that comes with most cobs, and discard it; all it does is get wet and smell bad.

Final Thoughts

An excellent selection of Missouri Meerschaum pipes is available at Pipedia Underwriter, The Pipe Nook, Eddie Gray, Owner

Cobs aren’t going to be for everyone. But if you keep an open mind, and follow the advice offered here, you might be surprised. I hope this helps you enjoy your cobs, and any other pipes, a bit more. If you decide to try my father’s, I would suggest that you follow it all, in order to give it a fair test.

To view my MM Buying Guide, follow the 1st link below. To visit the MM website, for product and ordering information, and a bit of company history, follow the 2nd link below.

In June of 2010, after a 3 week hospital/nursing home stay, I gave up pipe smoking after 51 years, in hopes of cutting out machine-made cigarettes. I'm happy to say that on March 30, 2011, I lit my first cob in nine months. I'm not going to begin blending again, but I won't give up my cobs again. My forum, Corncobs & Briar, though small, is still up and running, which is th 3rd link.

Updated 3/03/2012

John Patton/tiltjlp

You may also enjoy listening to Brian Levine's interview with Phil Morgan, the General Manager of the Missouri Meerschaum Co., on the Radio Show