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How to smoke a tobacco pipe, Part 1: Proper Pipe Rotation

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There is a plethora of advice, most of it contradictory, on how to smoke a pipe. In this new series, we’ll give you ours. Follow it, disagree with it, share it...we’ll take it all, but would prefer that you smoke a big bowl with it.

Proper pipe rotation is a particularly heated topic. Some long-time tobacco pipe smokers use the same pipe all day every day. Other smokers rotate two or three pipes. Some pipe enthusiasts have large collections and only smoke the same tobacco pipe every few weeks.

We think you can break it down in three ways, but we’ll get there in a minute, first…

What is pipe rotation anyway?

Most pipe smoking enthusiasts agree that a briar tobacco pipe needs to rest in order to keep it in good condition and ensure the pipe lasts for years to come. To accommodate this need--and just because it’s fun--a collection of smoking pipes is needed. Pipe rotation refers to how often the smoker changes pipes.

Why do briar pipes need to rest?

When a briar pipe is filled with tobacco and smoked several things happen to it that can change the pipe’s structure. Keep in mind, Meerschaum pipes do not need the rest time of briar.

First, the bowl heats from the burning tobacco. Then, the stem heats from the hot smoke. When wood is heated to high temperatures, we all know what happens--it burns! If a pipe isn’t allowed to cool fully between smokes, holes can form in the bowl. In addition, the pipe can develop cracks and will begin to smell sour if it isn’t allowed to cool between smokes.

The problem with moisture in your pipe

Pipe Rotation

Tobacco typically contains 10-14% moisture--if the smoking conditions are good. The moisture causes steam to pass through the pipe with the smoke. For this reason, the pipe becomes “sour” and have an unpleasant aftertaste without proper time to cool. If you’re pipe ever has a distinctive sour odor, don’t smoke it! Let it rest for a day or two.

Four schools of thought on pipe rotation

There are four basic areas of thought on how frequently tobacco pipes should be rotated. Take a look at each one and, based on your smoking habits and a little trial and error, you should be able to choose which works best for you.

Rest the pipe for at least a week

Spend a few minutes researching pipe rotation and you’re likely to come across the term Seven Day Set. This refers to the idea that a true aficionado will have at least seven pipes, one for each day of the week. For example, Falcon Tobacco Pipes, has long marketed their interchangeable bowls as a less expensive way to collect a set.

A full seven day rest has the benefit of ensuring your pipe is completely cool and dry before it is used again. However, there are obvious drawbacks. For new smokers, acquiring seven quality pipes is a fairly decent investment and if you only own one or two, waiting a whole week to smoke a bowl again isn’t a pleasant thought!

Rest the pipe for a day

Most modern smokers follow this rule of thumb, give the pipe 24 hours to rest and unless the bowl is especially thick, you’re probably in the clear. This allows for at least one bowl per day or a smaller rotation of two or three pipes. Especially if most of your pipes are factory-made, you’re likely to be safe and satisfied following this school of thought.

It depends on how you smoke it

Some tobacco pipe collectors believe that the way you smoke your pipe (wet vs. dry and how hot you draw), what type of tobacco you’re smoking (wet vs. dry) and the grade of the briar all make a difference in how often smoking pipe can be used. We think these factors probably make all the difference, but it’s difficult for a new smoker or even an intermediate one to sort out all these grey areas to come up with a good rotation strategy. As you learn your own smoking habits, this strategy may work for you.

Do whatever you want

If you’re smoking an affordable factory pipe like Dr. Grabow or Yello Bole, as long as you’re not getting an unpleasant sour taste, you can smoke it whenever you want. We know many thirty or forty year veterans of the smoking pipe hobby who smoke the same pipe four or five times a day and like it just find.

Ultimately, pipe rotation is largely based on your own preferences and the type of tobacco pipes you smoke. A little trial and error will help you develop a pipe rotation strategy perfect for your collection.

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