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How to smoke a pipe, Part 3: How to light your pipe and keep it burning

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There is a trunk or two full of advice, most of it bumping heads, on how to smoke a tobacco pipe. In this new series, we’ll give you our thoughts. Follow it, share yours, pass it on if you like. We can’t wait to read your comments. Part 1 covered pipe rotation, Part 2 covered cleaning your pipe...Now on to lighting (or maybe we’re backwards)...

How to light your pipe

How to light a tobacco pipe

Lighting a pipe--and keeping it that way--can be tricky. We know, we’ve all been new pipe smokers at some point. In fact, keeping your pipe smoking evenly, without relighting, is so interesting to smoking enthusiasts that contests are run around the world to compete over who does it best. That being said, even the most experienced pipe smokers have to relight sometimes, so don’t worry too much!

Start with the right fire

The type of fire matters when lighting a bowl of tobacco. Choose wisely!

Types of fire for lighting a bowl

There are three types of fire to light your pipe with. We’re still hoping for lasers, but until then, matches, butane lighters and fluid lighters will have to do. Matches are the most common choice.

One word of caution, cigarette and candle lighters do not work well for pipes because they burn too hot and have a larger flame that could damage the bowl of the pipe.


Matches are the most common choice. To use a match, simply strike it and hold it until the sulfur is burned (usually about one count). Then, bring the match to the surface of the tobacco and gently puff through the mouthpiece while moving the fire around the filled bowl in a lazy circle.

Fluid Lighters

The lighter you’re most likely to think of when imagining a fluid lighter is the famous Zippo brand. These lighters hold up well and are the most reliable, in pretty much any weather. However, be careful! These lighters may char the rim of your pipe bowl or give your tobacco an unpleasant taste.

Butane Lighters

Butane lighters are an attractive and convenient way to keep your fire with you wherever you go. Unlike fluid lighters, the risk of hurting your tobacco’s flavor is much lower. Using a butane light specifically designed for pipes, like a Sillems Old Boy, will help you avoid burning your fingers and keep the flame right where you want it. A butane lighter may be a bit of an investment, but it’s a pipe smoking accessory you’ll have for the rest of your days (maybe even your children’s days).

Once you’ve chosen your fire source, it’s time to…

Light your pipeHow to light your pipe

The best way to ensure your pipe stays lit as much as possible is to light it correctly out the gate. Most tobacco pipe smokers will light their pipe twice.

First Light, Charring Light

The first light, called the Charring Light, is done with a gentle circle of fire at the top of the tobacco applied in a lazy circle, while puffing gently at the mouthpiece. This light will char the top of the tobacco, hence it’s name. Once the tobacco is lit, it’s time for the second phase:

Second Light

Once the first char is achieved, tamp the tobacco down gently and repeat the lighting step. As you become a more experienced smoker, you will learn to sometimes go through a whole bowl of tobacco with just these two lighting.

Keeping your pipe lit


When you’re smoking a bowl, ash residue forms at the top of the tobacco. This residue requires occasional gently tamping down with your pipe tamper. Gently use the blunted in to push down the tobacco as evenly as possible.

A word on smoking pace

The rhythm of your smoking is permont to your experience. As a new smoker, don’t become disheartened. It takes practice and patience to get the pace just right and no two smokers do it exactly the same way.

In general, your goal is to take a puff often enough to keep your tobacco lit, but slowly enough to keep the smoke fairly cool. Smoking hot will cause the dreaded tongue bite and could damage the bowl of the pipe. As a litmus test, hold your pipe by the bowl. If your fingers are too hot, slow down. It’s always better to relight than to smoke too hot.

Learning how to properly light and pace your puffs takes practice and experimentation. Don’t get discouraged if your first few dozen smokes require dozens of relighting or cooling stops. Just like anything else worth doing, you’ll improve with practice.

What is your routine for lighting a bowl of tobacco? How has it changed over the years? We’d appreciate it if you shared your ritual in the comments below! 

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