Getting Started with Pipe Smoking

In the last week I’ve gotten a BUNCH of requests from readers and listeners for a primer and/or pointers on pipe smoking.  I’m no expert. I smoke what I like the way I like to. I’m very likely to be “wrong” about how I do this, but I enjoy the hobby and hope you will too.

To start, buy yourself a Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipe. Corn cob pipes have bad optics.  When you see one you probably think “hillbilly,” “corny,” or some such. Not so. Cobs smoke great.  They don’t require any seasoning or break in. They are inexpensive. They are durable. They taste almost entirely neutral. They are the perfect beginner pipe.  They aren’t bad for a lifetime either. In fact, my go to pipe is a Missouri Meerschaum Dagner Poker.  

Pickup some pipe cleaners and a tamper as well. 

For your first smoke I recommend Lane Limited’s blend, 1-Q.  It’s THE quintessential American aromatic tobacco. It’s comprised of Virginia and cavendish tobaccos.  The room note (how it smells to folks not smoking the pipe) is fantastic. It is “topped” with some aromatics that make it a delight.  You’ll taste notes of vanilla and caramel. It’s just good.  

Put loose tobacco in the bowl of your pipe.  With your fingers press the tobacco down FLUSH with the top of the bowl. DO NOT PUSH YOUR FINGER INTO THE BOWL.   Pipe tobacco must be packed much more loosely than beginners think. Add some more tobacco on top, push it down flush.  Do it again. Unless your pipe has a larger bowl this should be fine. WIth practice you’ll find out what’s just right for you and your pipe.

Use a match or a butane lighter to light your pipe.  Those torch type lighters people use for cigar lighting will damage your pipe.  Naphtha lighters make the pipe taste oily. Don’t use that stuff. While puffing lightly, light the entire top surface of the tobacco in your pipe by moving the lit match or lighter around in a circular motion.  Puff lightly until the pipe goes out. This first run at lighting the pipe is called the “char light” or the “false light.” You’ll note that the tobacco “fluffed up” and moved around as it burned. Use your tamper to TOUCH the ash on top and place it back in contact with the rest of the tobacco in the bowl.  Use just enough pressure to make the surface of the tobacco mostly flat again.  

Light the entire surface of the tobacco again.  

When puffing on your pipe, puff lightly.  The goal is to burn the tobacco as Cooley as possible so you can taste the tobacco, not the acrid ash.  Try inhaling through your nose as you puff on the pipe. This technique can help prevent puffing too harshly.  You don’t want to make clouds of smoke like a vaper. You just want to taste the smoke. Also, don’t inhale. Just take the smoke into your mouth.  WIth some practice you can expel some of the smoke through your sinuses. Some tobaccos are fantastic when “rehaled,” 1-Q is one of those IF you are smoking cool enough.   

Periodically, you’ll need to use your tamper to TOUCH the top of the tobacco to keep the burning tobacco in contact with the fuel tobacco below it.  Too much pressure will mess up your fuel/air mixture and make for a bad bowl. It’ll take some practice. You’ll get good at it.

You’ll probably have to light the pipe 2, 3, 4 times for a while.  I can now light a bowl of 1-Q in my Dagner poker and smoke the thing down to the “heel.”   The heel is where the “dottle” is. Dottle is the damp, fouled tobacco in the bottom of the bowl.   Sherlock Holmes, who was not a hobo, collected his dottle and let it dry on the mantle and made his morning smoke from it.  I don’t.  

Every 4-10 bowls, run a pipe cleaner through your pipe to keep it smoking sweet.

Smoke that 1-Q COOL lads.  Smoking at low temperature is the key.  Cigars taste like ash and suck because they are so hard to smoke cool.  Cigars also cost too damned much and take too long to smoke. Once you master packing your bowl, keeping the tobacco lit, etc., piping wins the tobacco war hands down.  Way more pleasant, economical, inoffensive to non-smokers, and tasty than other nicotine delivery substrates.

Once you’ve smoked that two ounces of Lane 1-Q, buy 5 more ounces of it, another cob pipe, AND a tin of Peterson’s Early Morning Pipe.  This is a mild and wonderful English tobacco.  English tobaccos don’t have anything added to the tobacco at all.  Aromatics can use casings or toppings like honey, rum, vanilla, cherry, or just about anything.  It used to be against the law to add anything to tobacco for sale in England, because of this any non-aromatic, non-topped tobacco blends are now called “English.”

EMP was made by Dunhill for decades and was discontinued recently.  I was pissed. Luckily, Peterson has picked up the recipe and now you can have it. I was very happy.  You should be too. It’s a blend of Oriental, Virginia, and Latakia tobaccos. This tobacco is VERY different from the 1-Q.  I think it’s the quintessential, if not mild, English.  

Virginia tobaccos are bright, grassy, and sometimes hay like.

Orientals are sun-cured, mild and low in vitamin N, nicotine.

Latakia is smoke cured.  It is literally cured with smoke.  It’s strong, smoky and flavorful.  

Load up your new pipe with some Early Morning Pipe. You are using a new pipe because your old one is “ghosted” with the flavor of the aromatic.  You don’t want to ruin that with an English, or have your English ruined by that. So, dedicate a pipe to each type of tobacco. You’ll be glad you did. Light it up.

Latakia is the thing that you are tasting in the EMP that is so different from the 1-Q.  I like it very much.  

Lane 1-Q is my everyday tobacco, but i delve into other blends form time to time for some variety.  Most snobs will tell you that the grown ups are into the English, Irish, Oriental, and other blends more, but I don’t care.   I love the caramel and vanilla of the first puff of 1-Q. I love the cedar notes later in a nice cool bowl.  

I do enjoy the leather notes, tannin, and other flavors in the EMP.  

Most say it’s a good idea to rest a pipe for 24 hours after you’ve had it in service.  They get hot and wet, so it’s good to let them dry out and rest. So, If you intend to take care of your equipment, you’ll need several pipes. You’ll want some pipes made from Italian briar wood. Briars. Briars I love: Peterson System pipes, Savinelli, GBD, and Chacom.  I also have an old drugstore Kaywoodie that I’ve had for 30 years and wouldn’t trade for. You’ll find good pipes are easier to keep lit, good wood can impart a nice flavor, and they are just nice to have.  

There are many, many blends out there, more tobacco varieties, more pipes, infinite choice, good people, and pleasant moments ahead of you. 

Send me some tobacco reviews.

Happy piping.

2 thoughts on “Getting Started with Pipe Smoking”

  1. Matthew 'Merrill'

    Enjoyed the intro.
    I’ve been smoking a pipe for a while, ‘wrong’ I’m sure. But I enjoy it.
    I have a pipe I bought brand new for English tobacco and an estate pipe off eBay for aromatics. I’m working through a tin of Cult Blood Red Moon at the moment. Very sweet with a strong cherry note.
    My favorite time to smoke is when I’m reading or watching the cars slide down the mountain from my deck.

  2. Great stuff! My corn cob is my second favorite to the Gandalf pipe. The longer the stem the cooler the smoke? Any down side to longer pipes other than being slightly unwieldy?

    There is something about smoking a pipe that relieves anxiety, at least for me. It seems to slow down the traffic in the attic.

    I’ve been smoking that abominable dottle instead of tossing it, a correction will be made. Tobacco isn’t so expensive that I need to worry about wasting that last bit.

    Thoughts about the method where you push the smoke out through the pipe? It seems to stay lit longer and is nice for multitasking but I suspect it might be causing larger dottles.

    Favorite tobacco so far is the Lane LL-7. I seem to be able to get great flavor beyond the first few buffs.

    Thanks for writing this! I always like seeing the pursuit of excellence in the realm of the doing.

    I would also highly recommend anyone try this out. It’s one of those things you should put some genuine effort into before you die. It’s right up there with milking a cow.

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