Difference between revisions of "The Complete Corncob primer"

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While I’ve been smoking cobs for nearly 50 years, I’m no expert, but just maybe my dad was, and he taught me everything I know. So at the urging of Ed Anderson and John Q, I’ve decided to do my best at passing on some of dad’s knowledge. I’ll first give a run down on all the current Missouri Meerschaum models I’ve smoked. Over the years, as models have been dropped, and others added, my choice of favorites has changed, as it has recently. I’ll then go into detail on my dad’s lessons to me on the care and feeding of cobs. Both the cleaning and maintenance as well as packing, lighting, and smoking; information he began gifting me on June 1, 1959, the day he handed me a corn cob and a large tin of Carter Hall. And I’ll also give advice based on various concerns of both new pipers, and veterans new to cobs.
 
While I’ve been smoking cobs for nearly 50 years, I’m no expert, but just maybe my dad was, and he taught me everything I know. So at the urging of Ed Anderson and John Q, I’ve decided to do my best at passing on some of dad’s knowledge. I’ll first give a run down on all the current Missouri Meerschaum models I’ve smoked. Over the years, as models have been dropped, and others added, my choice of favorites has changed, as it has recently. I’ll then go into detail on my dad’s lessons to me on the care and feeding of cobs. Both the cleaning and maintenance as well as packing, lighting, and smoking; information he began gifting me on June 1, 1959, the day he handed me a corn cob and a large tin of Carter Hall. And I’ll also give advice based on various concerns of both new pipers, and veterans new to cobs.
  
Missouri Meerschaum brand cobs are all that I smoke, and the only ones I would advise anyone to use. Sure, 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 here: [url]http://www.corncobpipe.com/[/url] Mars [url]http://www.marscigars.com/index.asp?...TS&Category=24[/url] has the best selection and prices of any e-tailer I have found, and they offer a 10% discount on dozen lots. Frenchy [url]www.frenchyspipes.com[/url] gives cobs and supplies to our military, and still offers excellent prices and service. Most MM models come with paper filters, and I’m of the opinion that the filters only get damp and smelly. So I very strongly suggest you remove and discard them.  
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Missouri Meerschaum brand cobs are all that I smoke, and the only ones I would advise anyone to use. Sure, 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 [http://www.corncobpipe.com/ '''here'''].
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[http://www.marscigars.com/index.asp?...TS&Category=24 Mars] has the best selection and prices of any e-tailer I have found, and they offer a 10% discount on dozen lots. [http://www.frenchyspipes.com '''Frenchy'''] gives cobs and supplies to our military, and still offers excellent prices and service. Most MM models come with paper filters, and I’m of the opinion that the filters only get damp and smelly. So 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, which is natural and unfinished.
 
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, which is natural and unfinished.

Revision as of 10:48, 11 September 2009

The Complete Corncob Primer

By tiltjlp

While I’ve been smoking cobs for nearly 50 years, I’m no expert, but just maybe my dad was, and he taught me everything I know. So at the urging of Ed Anderson and John Q, I’ve decided to do my best at passing on some of dad’s knowledge. I’ll first give a run down on all the current Missouri Meerschaum models I’ve smoked. Over the years, as models have been dropped, and others added, my choice of favorites has changed, as it has recently. I’ll then go into detail on my dad’s lessons to me on the care and feeding of cobs. Both the cleaning and maintenance as well as packing, lighting, and smoking; information he began gifting me on June 1, 1959, the day he handed me a corn cob and a large tin of Carter Hall. And I’ll also give advice based on various concerns of both new pipers, and veterans new to cobs.

Missouri Meerschaum brand cobs are all that I smoke, and the only ones I would advise anyone to use. Sure, 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 here.

Mars has the best selection and prices of any e-tailer I have found, and they offer a 10% discount on dozen lots. Frenchy gives cobs and supplies to our military, and still offers excellent prices and service. Most MM models come with paper filters, and I’m of the opinion that the filters only get damp and smelly. So 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, which is natural and unfinished.

Since cobs are low-cost and machine-made, with little if any finish work done to them, 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 critical of the quality of workmanship, but all but one model retails for well under $10.00, several under $3.00. 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.

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 medium thick mixture of pipe tobacco 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 several days, so the pipe mud can cure.

Advice Offered 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 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 draught mechanics and will help protect the bottom of your cob from burnout.

Cobs are great year round, but do need a bit more attention in damp weather, since they will absorb some of the surrounding moisture. So, while I usually tell folks to allow their cobs to cool completely before smoking them again, now you 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 absorb massive amounts of moisture, and the disapate 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 know a cob that won't eventually recover. Pretty amazing for a pipe with an average price of well under $10.00. Putting them in a warm over, after removing the plastic bit, also works if you use the lowest setting, and only do it for a few minutes.

What some of you may think is a Burn Out might actually be what I call a Flare Up. This happened to me the first time recently, with a well-smoked cob, and while I’m not sure what causes it, I’ll explain what happened. I was using a Zippo Pipe Lighter, and was 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. And now for my reviews.

I finally got my first Freehand, and I have been impressed. It is a very nice pipe that delivers an excellent smoke. Maybe it is because of the tall, conical shaped bowl, which is 2 1/4“ deep, but the pipe seems to enhance the flavor of any blend I smoke in it. I have heard that the shanks can be fragile, but the bowls are quite large, and no two are alike. Although the Freehand is heavier than my other cobs, it’s very well balanced, so that the weight isn’t even noticed. The Freehand is one of the finest cobs I have smoked in over 50 years.

The Diplomat has been my cob of choice for a long time, but the thicker walls that made it a real favorite was also the biggest drawback it had. The Diplomat no longer has the thick walls that I had come to appreciate. Diplomats now have standard sized bowl thickness, which isn't really a bad thing, since they are now lighter in weight and better fit my hand.

I'd say the Diplomat and Country Gentleman are quite similar now; the differences being that the Diplomat has a hard wood bottom, and isn't stained dark, which is the obvious, Signature feature of the Country Gentleman. The Country Gentleman has its fans, and is a nice pipe; I just don’t care for that black stain. More about the CQ later.

The Pride is an extremely nice smallish cob, and one of only a few MM models left alone, or unfinished. For that reason, it offers the dry and cool smoke every piper hopes for. I love this model, and its small size makes it ideal for quick smokes. The Washington is the same pipe as the Pride, only with the Plaster-of-Paris and lacquer treatment.

The American General has, as do most MM cobs, a polished exterior. Some folks remove this coating, for a more natural smoke. I’m much too lazy to do that. What would make the General a favorite is that it has a tall bowl, sort of a stack, and thicker walls than the popular Country Gentleman. This to me is a near perfect cob, other than its weight. I can fill the bowl all the way and have a nice, long, relaxing 90 minute or longer experience, or I can partially fill it and enjoy a nice, shorter smoke. Although it’s less expensive than the Freehand, I would choose the Freehand over the General, personally.

The Country Gentleman is popular, in part, I think because it looks funky, with that black coating it shares with the Patriot Spool. Now, some folks mention that it has a larger bowl than the Diplomat, which is true, but there is so little difference, it hardly matters. What keeps the CG from being a favorite of mine are its thin walls. It’s simply can get too warm to handle comfortably, and I’m a very slow smoker.

The Patriot Spool has the same black coating that’s on the Country Gentleman, but has the added bonus of being a narrow pipe. I like that, since it takes up less room, and when you live in a small apartment, it matters. I also think a black spool looks funky. Plus it has that thicker rim, for a bit cooler place to grip the pipe. It's also a nice flake pipe.

The Great Dane Egg is the only current model that isn’t a sitter, or poker style. That for me is a minor drawback. Otherwise, this is a nice cob, with thick walls and a medium sized bowl, similar to the Pride. It’s actually a cheapened version of the Bulldog, which was discontinued in 2000, and which was the last MM cob of somewhat higher quality.

The Legend is a fine starter pipe, and MM’s biggest seller. It’s what most people think of when you mention corncob pipes, what with its plastic amber bit. The Legend is a small pipe, and the shape varies slightly, since it seems that few source cobs are rejected.

The Eaton, which is only available as a natural straight model, is barely 5” long, and unfilterted. Think of it as a little brother to the Pride, although they don’t look that similar. Both pipes are natural, but the Eaton has a small barrel shaped bowl, with very thin walls. Unless you have small hands, your pinky finger might not fit into the bowl for packing, so this one might not be for you. I do have small hands, so I was able to pack my Eaton, which gave me a nice, cool 20 minute smoke. While I have though the Eaton was pretty much a toy, it’s actually a fairly decent cob for those times you’re in a rush.

The Pony is a small, unfiltered straight pipe. This model is a half step below the Legend in size and quality. Not a bad pipe, since I don’t feel there is a bad MM, just not the best.

The Cherry Wood poker is not a cob, but it is made by MM. It’s a small, thin walled pipe, which I use for some of my flakes. It’s perfect for two of the Heinrichs Dark Strong Flakes, so no, you won’t be able to stuff a full slice of FVF in this baby, but it does its job like a champ.

The Maple Wood poker is a twin of the Cherry Wood, which I find imparts a natural sweetness to any tobacco. These are excellent, low-cost flake pipes, which come either as bent or straight models. In spite of their thin walls, neither the Cherry or Maple version gets overly warm with flakes.

The following MM models I have not used, and will only describe for you.

The Great Dane Spool seems to be exactly the same model as the Patriot Spool reviewed above, minus the black coating.

The MacArthur isn’t quite what it appears to be. Made in tribute to Douglas MacArthur, who designed the original, it looks to be and is a very tall stack cob. If you look at it closely though, you’ll notice that the stem enters the pipe fairly high, so it’s as much for show as it is for smoking.

The Mizzou is a small, unfiltered pipe that is available only as a bent shape.

The Miniatures are just that, undersized versions of cobs. They come either varnished or natural.

The Ozark Minis are, as you might have guessed, smaller versions of the Cherry and Maple wood pokers.

And now I’ll offer the advice my father gave me back in June of 1959. While I’ve learned some things on my own over the years, I still use every bit of information my dad gave me. While he did own a few briars, he much preferred smoking a cob.

After 50 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.

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 30 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.

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 strong flavors, and then dissipates them, which keeps the cob smoking fresh, if properly cleaned. Cake will not allow this to happen. Here’s the advice I offer new pipers, 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. While I smoke burley a lot more than any other tobacco, the following applies to any blend in any pipe.

I dry nearly every blend that I smoke, at least a bit, and most, close to bone dry. I pack it very 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, or the tobacco is not 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-1700s are who invented the charring light, in order to sell more matches. And 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 Bee Sweetener whenever needed, which is usually every couple of smokes, at the most. 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 49 years, and I've never had tongue bite. Most of what I do goes against "current thinking", which only shows that there is no one right way.

After each smoke, what I do is take the pipe apart, and besides using a pipe cleaner folded in half inside the bowl; I also turn it around and use it on the shank. I use Bee Sweetener if the pipe bowl has a strong smell to it. I also use a pipe cleaner dampened with Bee Sweetener on the stem every few bowls, 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 Bee Sweetener on the rim of the bowl every other week, to get rid of tars that build up there.

The biggest complaint I hear about cobs is about the plastic bits. After all these years, I’ve probably gotten used to them, since I don’t really mind them. If they are a problem for you, why not consider having better quality bits/stems made for each model MM cob you have, and switch them between cobs. At least a member or two has done this, and would share their experience if asked. Or if you decide to stay with the plastic bits, you can buy replacement bits very affordably, either from MM, or from Mars. Of course, the Freehand comes with a vulcanite bit/stem, so maybe that would solve your problem.

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. 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 8 or 10 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.

One of the complaints I hear about cobs is that that 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. 4 Diplomats that I got about 6 months ago are sort of special, in that I experimented with them. 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.

Well, the Aloe Vera Gel worked like a charm. Those 4 cobs, which probably have been used 250 times each, look like they’ve only been used a month. Since those cobs were really sorry looking, I finally decided to clean them using Pledge Clean & Shine, Orange scent, Anti-Dust Formula. The 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 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 furnisher polish.

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.

tiltjlp Updated 9/11/2009