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Filtered versus Unfiltered Pipes: Which is best for me?

Posted by Chris Holkins on

Filtered vs unfiltered

Pipe smoking is one of the most personal hobbies I know of. At the same time, most pipe smokers value community, friends and family, and the world of pipes and tobacco as much as they value their own pipe collection.

When you combine an individual hobby with community of diverse hobbyists, there are going to be a few minor disagreements. One of the most common controversial topics in the pipe community is whether to smoke a pipe with or without a filter.

Whether or not you should use a filter when smoking your pipe is a tough question. With the absolute plethora of pipes in the world, an abundance of different tobacco options, and the various types of filters available for use the question is a complex one. However, there are some basic principles of pipe smoking and filtered smoking that lend themselves to this discussion and will escort you as you decide which is right for you

Types of Pipe Filters

There are three common styles of pipe filters: pass-through filters, absorption filters, and condensers.

  • Pass-Through pipe filters are the most common style filter. These consist either of a thick cotton tube with a hollowed out center, such as the Dr. Grabow Pipe filters, or of a carbon filled canister style filter, such as the Vauen Pipe filter. The Pass-Through filter specializes in reducing the amount of nicotine and tar present in tobacco. The most prevalent complaint of Pass-Through filters is that because of their high absorption levels, using them inhibits the flavor of your pipe tobacco.
  • Absorption filters are another classic style of pipe filter. The most common form of an Absorption filter, by far, are the 6mm and 9mm Savinelli Balsa Wood insert filters. Absorption filters work by drying out and cooling off the smoke flow before it strikes the palate. Savinelli claims that this special wood takes out 77% of the nicotine and 91% of all other impurities. Unlike the Pass-Through filters, Absorption filters allow the smoke to flow directed in-between the bore and filter, thus allowing the smoke to contact a greater surface area for dispersing heat resulting in a cooler smoke.
  • Condensers are not at all similar to either of the other pipe filter types. Often called Stingers, Condensers are designed to stop moisture from entered the stem of your pipe. With a metal insert into the stem that has a small bore on the top, the Condenser keeps moisture from entering the stem of the pipe. The largest problem with condensers is that they make cleaning your pipe incredibly difficult.

Reasons to Smoke with a Pipe Filter

First and foremost, smoking a pipe with filter is without a doubt healthier. Especially when inhaling, having a filter absorb the excess tar and nicotine makes the hobby less dangerous. It is better for the pipe filter to be absorbing element, not your lungs.

Along with the absorption of this “junk”, pipe filters can reduce tongue bite drastically. Tongue bite is often caused by this “junk”, once it is mostly removed, tongue bite will decrease. However, it is important to frequently replace your filters, as per the instructions for each box. Neglecting to do so may negate the positive aspect and increases the severity of tongue bite.

One of the best reasons to smoke a pipe with a filter is if the pipe has a larger than average bore size in the bottom of the bowl. A larger bore makes it more likely that ash or small tobacco cuts will be drawn into the stem, and consequently, onto your tongue. The use of a filter offers the surety that these small ash particles will get caught in the filter, not in your mouth. Personally, I have found this very true of my Missouri Meerschaum cob pipes. The stem and bore have such a large circumference that inserting a filter greatly enhances my experience.

It isn’t just ash filters reduce. Filters block and absorb lavish amounts of moisture. This is incredibly beneficial for smokers who enjoy heavily cased and moist tobaccos. Smoking such a wet tobacco--especially in a straight or half-bent pipe--often means that spittle will collect in the stem. Pipe filters will near always negate this travesty of smoking.

Reasons to Smoke an Unfiltered Pipe

One the flip side, the super absorptive qualities of pipe filters can take away what pipe smokers really want from our tobacco: taste. Especially for those of us who do not inhale, filters really detract from many of the subtle exquisite tastes that we want. In order to get as much flavor as possible from your pipe, smoking without a filter is the way you want to go.

Another negative is that using pipe filters make is much more difficult to clean your pipe. You cannot run a pipe cleaner through your pipe while smoking and waiting too long to change the filter will actually gunk up your pipe pretty bad. When removing it to clean your pipe, it is like taking a disgusting kitchen sponge that you used to clean who knows what out of your pipe. It is not a pleasant experience. The only way I see to avoid this is to change your filters out with every bowl, but this doubles, if not triples the amount of money you must spend on pipe filters.

A used pipe filter should not sit in a pipe for more than 24 hours. The moisture and tar absorbed will not dry up. Neglecting to remove the filter will mean that you are giving your briar a chance to be affected by a wet sponge. Not something any collector wants to think about doing to one of their “babies”.

Should I use a Filter in my Pipe?

Here is my best, attorney-like answer: It depends.

No one can answer this question but you. Pipe smoking is such a personal hobby, your decision to use a filter or not should not be affected by others. It should be your decision.

Use this information and make a choice for yourself. Try them both. See what you prefer. That is the best advice I or anyone else can give you.

Chris Hopkins

Meet Chris Hopkins, a pipe blogger and former tobacconist. Chris worked for his first tobacco company at the age of 17 in Kentucky, then later as a tobacconist in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Chris currently operates an in- depth blog review of pipe tobacco and products at Pipe Tobacco Critique. He is currently a graduate student of theology at Kentucky Christian University and a minister in Winston Salem. Chris' passions include pipe blogging, movies, and cooking for his beautiful wife Emily.


Have you tried a filter in your favorite pipe? What do you think?

Leave us a comment in the box below. Begin a dialogue with us. I love to read about your adventures in pipe smoking!

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