Talk:Pipe Packing and Smoking techniques

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Good day,

I'm a retired newspaper editor, a pipe smoker since the middle 1960s, and over time I've learnt that different sorts of pipes (and indeed, some different pipes of the same sort!) favor different degrees of tamping, and different smoking techniques.

Unfortunately, the "different degrees of tamping" would be something the owner will have to sort out, and the "individual quirks" are evidently mainly due to the variations in diameters and placement of the stem passage.

That is, a pipe drilled "high," with a small well below the stem passage, might tend to make gurgling noises toward the end of the smoke, when water vapor condenses as the smoke is obliged to make the right-angle turn from the bowl to the stem.

(I've two identical clays, perfect reproductions of the reed-stem "Colonial-era" red-clay pipes, and the one with the stem-passage hole higher up the side of the bowl gurgles like a Lebanese hooka while its mate, with the passage entering the bowl at the very bottom, is as quiet as a cat padding across a roll of cotton batting!)

Filling the pipe, generally speaking, is best done with the tobacco rather loose at the bottom of the bowl, and firmly packed at the top-- the old-time advice is best: "Fill the pipe first with the hand of a child; next with the hand of a woman, and finally with the hand of a man." After each pinch, the smoker inserts a finger and presses the tobacco down evenly. When topped off, press down firmly with the thumb to level the tobacco and give a finishing tamp.

That's the refined and gentlemanly way-- many men simply poke the bowl into the pouch, and simply pack tobacco into the bowl with the index finger 'till full; that works well, too!

The pipe must be evenly packed, though. Done unevenly, the tobacco burns hotter in one part than another, and this will contribute to a hot-spot, produce a smoke that bites the tongue, and may eventually burn out the bowl or even cause it to crack.

One may have an entirely satisfactory "short smoke" with just two or three pinches of tobacco, though! When I'm pressed for time, or simply want a "whiff," I'll put two or three "pinches" of tobacco in a reed-stem clay, packing between pinches as usual, and fire up: A very satisfying smoke that doesn't require 20-30 minutes, or leave me with the better part of a bowl of tobacco unsmoked.

Please note, however, that virtually all "bowls" will have to be relit at least once! I will generally check the draw of the filled pipe, then light the freshly-filled pipe and take a few puffs, after which I'll uniformly tamp the "ash." Afterward, I'll light it a second time, and proceed to smoke.

Simply smoking a pipe is a "juggling act with fire!" You see, the "smoking" is an exercise in controlled combustion: The more rapidly, and the harder, one puffs, the faster the combustion of the tobacco. The faster the tobacco burns, the hotter the smoke (resulting in "bite" and a burnt tongue) and the hotter the pipe (contributing to burn-out of the bowl) while the slower and more gentle the puffs tend to be, the more likely it'll burn unevenly (as parts of the ember in the bowl go out) or even eventually go out entirely.

This means that the pipe will probably require relighting at least once, and possibly more often, as one progresses. This is normal.

I've tried all sorts of ways to light my pipe-- "borrowed embers," matches, "gas-fueled" lighters, and alcohol and naptha liquid-fueled lighters.

"Borrowed embers" involve using a small nugget of "fire" from a camp-fire or the like, placed atop the tobacco 'till the pipe is lit. A few centuries ago, a vital part of every "gentleman's smoking kit" was a set of tweezers with spatulate tips, made to pick a small ember from the hearth or camp fire to light one's pipe. These "fire tongs" were made of brass, copper, tinplated steel or the like, and were from three to eight inches long. While an ember of aromatic hardwood would add a pleasant note to the smoke, a burning bit of coal or peat would pollute it with a nasty coal-tar stink!

Matches should be explained a bit: "Sulphur matches" had been around since the time of the Roman Empire! Only, these "matches" were splints of wood having had the tips dipped in melted sulfur. These ignited readily only if touched to an existing ember, and were used (before the advent of tobacco pipes) mainly to convey fire from a hearth or brazier to a candle or oil lamp. Once the foul-smelling sulfur had burnt off, these could be used to light one's pipe.

"Self-lighting matches" hailed from the late 1840s, and worked pretty much as do modern matches. When first out, though, these "Lucifer Matches" cost around $5 a box (adjusted for buying power, about $50!) so they did not become common until the period of the Civil War. The Diamond Match Company came out with the modern sort of match, then called the "Drunkard's Match" or "Safety Match" around 1882; these had the lower half of the stick soaked in salt so that the wood wouldn't burn past the midpoint. This is the common style, now.

The true "Safety Match" of that era, however, was a match that would not light unless the tip was struck against a special ignitor strip. Previously, matches could--and often did--ignite in one's pocket, making the heavy metal "match safe" an equally-common personal accessory . . . it wouldn't prevent accidental ignition, but at least it contained the blaze! Nowdays, the match-head contains a chemical that will ignite when introduced to a second chemical in the striker-strip, with ground glass in the striker assisting the action.

Presently, we have matches with paper, plastic and wood "sticks," packaged in books or boxes. Any of these will do the job, so long as the smoker is patient, and allows the chemical ignitor or head to burn away completely, so that the smoker down't pollute the tobacco with the caustic fumes.

"Gas" lighters, in the sense of general use, are those refillable or disposable models using liquified compressed butane, propane or other combustable "gas." These are generally efficient, convenient, cause no objectionable taste to be imparted to the tobacco, and can be inexpensive. There are many styles with two, three or more gas jets, producing soldering-hot levels of heat and are billed to reliably light a smoke on the most windy "back Nine."

I don't have much need for these "pocket blow-torches," since I never really wanted to try to catch a smoke in the teeth of a gale! But, that's merely a personal observation. On a more practical note, the multi-flame models are somewhat more inclined to also ignite one's beard or brows, while also running out of fuel much sooner than a 33-cent disposable "plastic match."

Liquid-fueled lighters, such as the old Ronson Nimrod, the Zippo pipe lighters, and a host of other lighters hailing from Austria to Zimbabwe, all use either naptha or a related light petrochemical fuel. Some, however, also work well if fueled with pure alcohol; and in fact, several "spirit-fueled" models have been made and marketed. I had an Austrian lighter that was sold in a kit, along with a tiny alcohol-fueled "mountain stove," as the stove's ignitor! Generally speaking, petrochemical-fueled lighters often impart a "lighter-fluid taste" to the tobacco-- in the opinion of many. Many people use such lighters, though, and evidently have grown used to the taste of the fuel.

OTHER METHODS: As I'd taught "woodcraft" to Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H kids, and others, I'm familiar with the "pre-match methods" of making fire . . . lens, flint-and-steel, fire-piston, stick-friction, and so forth. The first written account of making fire in such a fashion in the New World comes from 1605, in what's now Rhode Island, in the journal of one "John Breton." His account involved use of a "Minerall stone" struck upon a flat "Emeric stone;" presumably flint-and-steel. While a skilled person, on a clear day, with luck, can "fetch forth fire" in under a minute, the insightful comment by Charles Dickens in the 1800s is also appropriate: "On a damp day, with luck, one might get a light in half an hour."

A lens is very convenient on a clear sunny day, and people have been using the sun shining through rounded crystal (quartz) lenses to make fire for thousands of years. I used to light my pipe with a lens-lidded tinderbox, at Scout Camp-- using the lens on sunny days, and resorting to the flint-and-steel at other times. Admittedly, though, these are more properly called novelties! A "modern man" has a plethora of matches and lighters at his disposal, and is far less likely to be considered "odd" if he merely "strikes a light!"

I hope this has been an entertaining and informative essay, by a retired editor and amateur historian . . . .

Sigmund F. Kerns

Sigmund, this is a fantastic article! Thanks very much for posting it here. I think it may deserve a separate page linked too from the main topic. I will work on that. Thanks again for your contribution, and all the best! Yours in pipes, Scott --sethile 10:05, 31 October 2008 (CDT)

Is it really a good idea for a new pipe smoker to start with briar? Corncob bowls may be a bit smaller, but that's not necessarily a bad thing to the new smoker. And, to be brutally honest, clay/meer and cob smoke *better* than briar in many respects. I do own a couple of nice briars and smoke 'em every day, but it really does seem to be a material more appropriate for intermediate/advanced smokers. They're high maintenance, fussy pieces that take quite a long time to break in. (And you can only smoke them once a day!) 18:29, 2 June 2010 (UTC)

I think it's a great idea to start with a briar pipe, but you're right to point out that it's not the only option. I started with briar, and most pipe smokers I know have. I remember being a little intimidated by the idea of needing to be careful while breaking in my first pipe, but I have since found that the need for that was a little over wrought in my case. A pre-smoked or "Estate" briar pipe that has been cleaned and sanitized is also a good option.
For me the best smoking pipes are briar. Not all of them are, of course--they do vary. The last new briar pipe I smoked was great from the first bowl, and I did not do anything different than my usual smoke in terms of break in. It did have a bowl coating, but I've had others smoke great from the first bowl without one. Also, on a newer pipe, I've gotten away with smoking it more than once a day with no ill effects, although that is not my preference. It's not a bad thing for a new pipe smoker to have to wait for a pipe to rest between bowls either. The tongue and the pipe will both benefit, and it gives time to build up some anticipation too! To each his own, but I don't find briar pipes fussy at all. Still, they are not the only option, and may not be the best option for many smokers. One of the many wonderful things about the world of pipe smoking is all the options. Part of the fun is discovering what you enjoy most and refining the experience. --sethile 20:03, 2 June 2010 (UTC)

Clogs and stem removal

The article says:

Sometimes while smoking, the tiny smoke hole in the tobacco chamber may become clogged with tobacco, especially after tamping, and even though you can draw on the pipe, you can't get much smoke. Assuming there is tobacco remaining to be smoked, just remove the tip, and then clear the smoke hole with the reamer tool, a thin steel rod, and then relight the pipe."

This seems to suggest removing the stem from a hot, or at least warm, pipe! Even this article later cautions strongly against ever doing this, as does everything else I've ever read on the topic. I've had good luck before running a pipe cleaner down the stem, and in an emergency I probably wouldn't hesitate to pull the stem from my Nørding - which has a very stout shank, but otherwise, unless this happened while I was first lighting the pipe, I'd run a pipe cleaner down the stem, set the pipe down, and leave it till it was fully cooled. I see this as just another reason to have more pipes.

--Doug 18:58, 12 August 2010 (UTC)