The Complete Corncob primer
The Complete Corncob Primer
By tiltjlp See also Missouri Meerschaum Corncob Buying Guide
While I’ve been smoking cobs for over 50 years, I’m no expert, but just maybe my dad 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 Primer, which is updated and expanded when needed.
- General Information*
Missouri Meerschaum brand cobs are all 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 here. Mars has the best selection and prices of any e-tailer I have found, and they offer a 10% discount on dozen lots. Walker Briar Works sells Corn Cob Pipes and special Vulcanite and Lucite Stems for Cob Pipes. 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 or Eaton, or the new Corncob Snob Society Natural Freehand which are natural and unfinished. All MM cobs are good smokers, but I prefer the natural over the plastered.
- Preparing For Your 1st Smoke*
Since cobs are low-cost and machine-made, with little if any finish work done to them, except for the two Corncob Snob Society Natural Freehand versions, which are 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 critical of the quality of workmanship, but all but a few models retail for well under $10.00, with many under $5.00. 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 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 several days, so the pipe mud can cure.
- Dad’s Original Advice*
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.
- 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 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.
- Drying Tobacco, Packing, & Smoking*
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 Smoke Do-To-List*
After each smoke, what I do is take the pipe apart. I use pipe cleaners dampened with Pipemaster’s Clean & Cure 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 Bee Sweetener 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.
- Quality Control Issues*
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.
- Exterior Pipe Care*
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.
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 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.
- Wet Weather Cob *
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 absorb massive amounts of moisture, and then 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 didn'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.
- 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 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.
- 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 an expert on modifying 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 McArthur, 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 the dowel to that size.
Now open the bottom of your bowl to fit the plug. Go slow here, sand paper works just fine, it make take a few minutes longer than a dremel 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 as matching as possible.
Once the plug fits, take it back out and set it aside. You can remve 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 before smoking it.
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. To view my MM Buying Guide, follow the 1st link below. To visit the Missouri Meerschaum website, for product and ordering information, and a bit of company history, follow the 2nd link below.
See also:<br /> Missouri Meerschaum Corncob Buying Guide <br /> Walker Briar Works' Corn Cob Pipes & 'Forever' Stems