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How to smoke a pipe, Part 6: Developing cake on a tobacco pipe

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pipe toolsDeveloping a proper cake inside the bowl of your new tobacco pipe is a critical step in ensuring your pipe lasts for years to come. This can be one of the most frustrating parts of learning to smoke a pipe--knowing when you have just the right thickness and developing it in the first place.

Why develop cake on your pipe

The purpose of building the cake (breaking in, if you will) your new pipes is to create a barrier around the entire bowl chamber. Cake refers to the carbon deposits that are left behind by the smoked tobacco. These carbon deposits insulate the chamber and keep the briar from charring.

In addition to protecting the chamber, cake helps make your smoking experience sweeter. This happens because the carbon is actually formed from the sugars in the tobacco. The carbon deposits blend with some of the flavor of the briar, resulting in a mellow smoke.

How to develop cake

Developing Cake

To develop the initial cake, you’ll need to smoke it a little differently than normal. Learning how to do this properly takes time and patience. Follow these steps carefully:

  1. Fill the bowl a quarter full with tobacco. It is important to do this, to give the carbon room to form evenly.
  2. Light the partial bowl evenly. Take your first draw, then tamp with your tamper and do your second light.
  3. Smoke the bowl slowly and completely. Take your time, even more so than usual, with this smoke. Draw slowly and methodically. It will help you form an even cake. Make sure to smoke the whole bowl, all the way to the bottom. Developing cake at the bottom of the bowl is the hardest.
  4. Continue this process for 3-5 smokes. Then, follow the process with a half-bowl a few times, than three quarters a few times. By increasing the amount of tobacco in the bowl gradually, over time, you’ll build a more even cake, from bottom to top, inside the chamber. It will take most pipes at least a dozen smokes to begin forming a nice cake and we’ve seen some take much longer.

Maintaining the proper cake

Once the cake is developed in your new tobacco pipe, you’ll need to make sure not to allow the cake to become too thick. When this happens, the cake begins to expand outward as it cools and can break your pipe.

Aim to keep the carbon build up to about 1.5 mm (1/6th of an inch), but don’t get your ruler out! Think about the thickness of a dime, that’s about how thick your cake should be.

Carefully scraping, or “trimming” the cake with a pipe tool or blunt knife will help keep the build up even and at its proper thickness. This should be done with extreme care, as it’s all too easy to scrape off too much or damage the pipe.

Developing cake on a smoking pipe is an area where new smokers tend to obsess. We recommend you follow these guidelines carefully, but don’t become overly cautious or obsessive. Remember, your goal is to ENJOY your pipe. 

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