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Ultimate Beginners Guide to Smoking Tobacco Pipes!

Sometimes it's challenging to get started in a new hobby. Not knowing how to properly smoke a pipe can cause frustration and make you loose interest in the hobby. We put this guide together to try and help you get started on the right track and make smoking a tobacco pipe an enjoyable experience!

 

Choosing your Tobacco Pipe

Briar, Corn Cob or Meerschaum

The first step for any new pipe smoker is to buy a pipe. Choosing what pipe is best for you can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these Four steps and choose the first pipes in your collection with ease.

1. Choose the material: Briar, Corn Cob or Meerschaum

2. Pick your shape. 

3. Decide whether or not you want a filter.

4. Decide how much you want to spend.

 

Choose the material: Briar, Corn Cob or Meerschaum

The first choice you will make is what material your pipe is constructed from.

The three most common materials used in the construction of tobacco pipes are briar wood, corn cobs, and meerschaum.


Briar Wood

Briar Wood

Briar is the most popular material used for crafting tobacco pipes. Most of the pipes you see in your local retailer or online are made from this unique wood. Briar comes from the roots of the Erica Arborea tree, primarily growing near the Mediterranean Sea. Due to it’s saltwater-tolerant growing conditions, briar is extremely durable, heat resistant and breathable.  Briar is porous on a microscopic level, which allows it to absorb the heat and oil produced by burning tobacco.  

 

Corn Cobs

Corn Cob Pipes

 

 Corncob, often shortened to cob, is the most affordable material. Corn cob pipes are made by drying out a cob of corn, drilling out the center, and attaching a stem. Smokers love cob pipes because they are inexpensive, easy to maintain, and culturally nostalgic.

 

 

 

Meerschaum

Meerschaum Block

Meerschaum is a material found in Turkey near the Black Sea. Authentic meerschaum is significantly more expensive than corn cob or briar. This is because meerschaum is a material that is easily carved. Most of the time meerschaum pipes have an intricate design, which puts them in the premium price category. Despite their expense, Meerschaum pipes are highly sought after. Pipes made from meerschaum smoke smooth and cool. They also tend to be lightweight.

 

 

Pick Your Shape

Pipe Shapes

 

Once you’ve chosen the material, it is time to decide what shape will work best for you.

 

There are many different ways to decide what shape to buy. Some smokers only want fat pipes, others only want skinny. Some enjoy long stemmed pipes, but others prefer the stem to be as short as possible. 

 

Some smokers just pick the shape that “speaks” to them at that moment.

 

There is no correct shape. Whatever you choose is “right” for you. However, a few guiding principles will help you get the most out of your early smoking experiences.

 

To see an intensive guide of pipe shape options, visit A Complete Guide to Tobacco Pipe Shapes.


Consider these four things when choosing the perfect pipe for you...

1. Chamber Shape and Size

2. Straight or Bent Stem

3. Smooth and Rustic Finished Pipes

4. Practical and Collectable Pipes

 

 

Chamber Shape and Size

 

The chamber is where the tobacco goes in a pipe. Understanding how the size and shape of the chamber affects your smoking experience in many ways.

 

The size of your chamber matters.

Chamber Shape and Size 

Simply put, the more tobacco you have the longer and stronger your smoke will be.

 

If you’re sitting down to smoke for a long time, a bowl with a large diameter or a deeper depth is preferable. If you just want the occasional short smoke, you don’t have time to take a long break at work, or you want to smoke multiple tobaccos in one sitting, you should stick with a smaller chamber.

 

As for the shape of the chamber, there are only a few variations.

 

Most pipes have a perfectly cylindrical chamber. But some pipes, such as a Dublin, have a conical chamber that tapers in diameter down the bowl. This usually speeds up the burning process and intensifies the flavor at the end of the smoke.


However, the shape of the bowl is not the only part of the pipe design that affects how the pipe smokes.

 

 

Straight or Bent Stem

Deciding between a straight or a bent stem is much more important than you might think. The choice is about more than aesthetics. Straight and bent stems perform in different ways.

 

Straight Stems - Have a classic look and feel. In addition, straight stems allow smoke to flow directly to the mouth, which could result in more intense flavor from your tobacco.

Straight Stems

Bent Stems - Are often beloved for comfort. The bend makes the pipe easier to clench in the jaw, hold in the hand and even light. A bent stem also assists in keeping moisture away from the mouth of the smoker.

Bent Stems

 

There are pros and cons of either stem choice. That’s why so many smokers have both in their collections. However, most pipe smokers tend to lean towards one type or the other.  The choice is yours. There is no right place to begin.

 

Smooth and Rustic Finished Pipes

Rustic FinishSmooth Finish

You have most likely noticed a plethora of pipe shapes, styles, materials, and finishes by now. And it may be a bit overwhelming. While most aspects of the pipes construction directly, or indirectly, affect the pipes performance, not all do.

 

To be honest the finish of a pipe has no legitimate stakes in the pipes performance. Some say it makes a cooler smoke, but we couldn't verify that it actually does. The choice between a smooth, rustic, sandblasted, or other custom finished pipe will not affect your pipe smoking experience at all at the beginning. The choice between them is your’s to make.

 

Practical and Collectable Pipes

 

Something you should keep in mind is what exactly you plan to be doing with your pipe.

 

Are you going to be smoking it while mowing the yard?
Will you pull it out at a friend’s barbecue?
Or will this pipe of yours only be for special occasions?


Our point is simply that you may not want to mow the yard while smoking an artisan pipe that cost a few hundred dollars.

 

We suggest that new pipe smokers start with a moderately priced pipe--perhaps a pipe that costs between $25-50. As you fall in love with the hobby you may want to expand you collection to include more expensive pipes.

 

To Filter or Not to Filter

To Filter or Not to Filter 

In the United States most tobacco pipe smokers prefer unfiltered pipes, but in many European countries only filtered pipes are available. So what gives? Is one better than the other?

 

Well, it depends on who you ask.


Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to use a filter:

 

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. 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. However, because they absorb so much moisture, it greatly reduces the odds of contracting tongue bite. There are two types of pass-through filters:
    • A thick cotton tube with a hollowed out center, such as the Dr. Grabow Pipe filters,

    • Or a carbon-filled canister style filter, such as the Vauen Pipe filter.

 

  • Absorption filters are another classic pipe filter style. The most common form of an Absorption filter, by far, are the 6mm and 9mm Savinelli Balsa Wood filters. Absorption filters work by drying out and cooling off the smoke flow before it strikes the palate. 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 different from the other pipe filter types. Often called Stingers, Condensers are designed to stop moisture from entering the stem of your pipe. They consist of  a metal insert in the stem that has a small bore on the top.  The Condenser is believed to keep moisture from entering the stem of the pipe. The largest problem with condensers is that they make cleaning your pipe incredibly difficult.

 

Why to Smoke with a Filter

1. Smoking a filtered pipe is believed to be healthier than an unfiltered pipe. The idea behind using a filter is that the carbon, paper or balsa will absorb excess tar and nicotine. This is thought to make the risk to the smoker’s lungs smaller, especially if you inhale. There are very few studies that look at pipe smoking in particular--most are concerned with cigarettes and cigars--which means we do not know for certain if this hypothesis is correct.

 

2. Beyond the possible health benefits, pipe filters can reduce tongue bite drastically. Tongue bite is often caused by the “junk” that filters absorb. However, it is important to frequently replace your filters, as per the instructions for each box. Neglecting to do so may negate the positive aspects of the filter and increases the severity of tongue bite.

 

3. A filter is a useful tool for a pipe with a larger than average draft hole 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 catches these small particles in the filter, not in your mouth.

 

4. 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 help to negate this issue.

 

5. Filters help control draw. Some pipe smokers find that they smoke too quickly and with too much force. The natural resistance a filter adds to the draw helps slow down the smoke, keeping it cooler and more flavorful.

 

Why to Smoke Without a Filter

The popularity of filterless tobacco pipes in the USA happens because smoking without a filter has many experiential advantages.  The super absorptive qualities of pipe filters can take away what pipe smokers really want from the tobacco: taste.

 

 

Especially for smokers who do not inhale, some feel that the filter detracts from the taste. Using a filter can make cleaning your pipe more difficult. You cannot run a pipe cleaner through your pipe while smoking, which means you must wait until the end of your smoke--after the pipe is cool--to take it apart, remove the filter and clean it properly. In addition, leaving the filter in for too long can cause major gunk build up in your pipe. 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”.

 

Using filters properly is the only way to use them and some smokers see this as a large additional expense, better spent on new tobacco blends. In the USA, a filter will run between .20-.30 a piece, which can add up over time.

 

Should You use a Filter?

Here is our 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 we, or anyone else, can give you.

 

 

Much To Spend

Pipe Cost

The cost of a pipe varies wildly. It is easy to find and order a corn cob pipe for less than ten dollars. Two clicks later you could find a briar pipe for over $1,000.

 

So what should you do? Start low or shop for the best?


We would never recommend a beginner start with a pipe that costs thousands (or even hundreds) of dollars. But knowing which end of the range you should begin on comes down to a few simple questions:
 

 

 

How will You Smoke?

A better way to phrase this is, “where will you smoke?”

 

It is important  to know the setting in which you will be smoking. If you plan to immediately joining a pipe club, where smokers take pride in their quality pieces, then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend a bit more money on a higher grade briar or meerschaum pipe.


But if you plan on just filling up your pipe with whatever tobacco you can find, and want to smoke while fishing, biking, or some other outdoor hobby, a trusty cob or low grade briar pipe will do nicely.

 

Factory or Artisan Grade?

 

For our purposes, think of factory pipes as brands that are produced on a mass scale, like Vauen or Peterson. . Most tobacco pipes fall under this category.

 

An artisan grade pipe is a one-of-a-kind creation made by the hands of a pipe carver. Artisan pipes come from both large brands (like the Savinelli Autograph Series) and small one-person shops (like OWL Pipes).

 

 

Typically, artisan grade pipes tend to have a steeper price point than factory pipes. If you are just looking to smoke a factory pipe will do you nicely. However, if you desire to jump headfirst into pipe collecting, like many smokers do, a more affordable artisan pipe would be a good choice for you.

 

Suggested Price Ranges for Pipes

 

This section is not intended as an absolute model for pipe buying. Rather, use this as a basic guide for weeding out how much you should begin spending on a pipe.

 

  • Basic Cob - A decent corn cob pipe, like a Missouri Meerschaum brand pipe, should cost between $10 and $25, depending on the type you choose.
  • Low Grade Briar - An affordable briar pipe would range somewhere between $25-75.
  • Intermediate Pipe - A moderate briar pipe, or low grade meerschaum, could range anywhere from $80-200.
  • High Grade Pipe - For more of a strong-willed briar pipe, artisan grade pipe, or pure meerschaum pipe, you should expect to pay  $300 and up.

 

 

Creating a Pipe Rotation

Pipe rotation refers to how often the smoker changes pipes. Most pipe smoking enthusiasts agree that a briar 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 a collection of smoking pipes is needed.


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.

In our opinion there are four different ways you can build your pipe collection to accommodate your rotation. But first, we will explain why you probably should have more than one pipe.

1. Let the Pipe Rest for at least a Week

2. Rest the Pipe for a Day

3. It depends on your smoking style

4. Do Whatever you Want

 

Why do briar pipes need to rest?

Several things happen to a pipe when it’s smoked which change the pipe’s structure.


First, the bowl of the pipe heats from the burning tobacco inside of it. As the smoke moves through the stem, the stem begins to heat as well. . When wood is heated to high temperatures, we all know what happens--it burns! That is why Meerschaum pipes do not need the rest time of briar--they aren’t made of wood.

 

If a briar 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.


Tobacco contains 10-14% moisture when smoking conditions are optimal. This moisture causes steam to pass through the pipe with the smoke, and the pipe will “sour” without proper time to cool. If you’re pipe ever has a distinctive sour odor, don’t smoke it! Let it sit for a couple of days.

 

One: Let the Pipe Rest for at least a Week

The term 7-Day Set comes up often in the pipe world. This refers to the long-standing rule that an aficionado will have at least seven pipes, one for each day of the week.

A full seven day rest ensures that your pipe is completely dried out before reuse.. However, there are obvious drawbacks. Acquiring seven quality pipes can be a fairly large  investment. If you only own one or two, waiting a whole week to smoke a bowl again can be a distressing thought.

 

Two: Rest the Pipe for a Day

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

 

Three: It depends on your smoking style

 

Some tobacco pipe collectors believe that your personal style should determine how often you rotate your pipes. Ask yourself the following questions:

 

How wet do you smoke?
How hot do you draw, are you a puffer or a sipper?
Do you smoke tobaccos that are on the wet side, or on the dry side?
How high quality is the briar your pipe is made from?

The hypothesis believed by those who follow this method is that your style will either lessen or extend the time a pipe needs to sit. However, most beginners probably can’t answer these questions. We suggest skipping this method until you’ve become comfortable with your own smoking habits and tried a variety of pipes and tobaccos.

 

Four: Do Whatever you Want

As long as you’re not getting an unpleasant sour taste, you can smoke your favorite pipe whenever you want.


We know many 30 or 40 year veterans of the hobby who smoke the same pipe four or five times a day and like it just fine.

Pipe rotation is largely based on your own preferences and the type of tobacco pipes you smoke. It takes patience to figure out a rotation. Choose the method that you feel comfortable with and adjust your practice as you develop a style which works for you.

 

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