A fine tobacco pipe can feel like an extension of your person. It’s an accessory more important than a watch or pen; something we like to have close by even if we’re not lighting a bowl at the moment. Protecting that investment is obviously essential. Just like you wouldn’t leave your laptop lying around outside or your journal exposed to the elements, so must the piper take protective steps to ensure their tobacco pipes don’t fall prey to damage. We’ve compiled a list of 11 scenarios that can turn a fine tobacco pipe designed to last for a lifetime into a compromised mess that’s fallen from its former glory. Read on, become aware, and guard your pipes like the premium smoking instruments they are.
1. A Hot Car
For the pipe friends in Alaska, Michigan, the Northeast, and the like, this one may not apply, but for everyone else, take heed. Summer weather, or any swelter, is an anathema to acrylic stems specifically. The car ride to and from work is made infinitely more pleasurable with a bowl on the way. We’d never deprive you of this wind-down pleasure, but we will take the opportunity to issue a word of caution. When you’ve just arrived and are in a hurry, grabbing your briefcase and lint-rolling your sportscoat and cuing up your Bluetooth headphones for a soundtrack for the walk to the office to finish that podcast, the rush can sometimes result in oversight. The last thing you want to do is leave a fine pipe unattended in car. When it’s 90 degrees outside, the inside of a car can reach a whopping 124 degrees after 30 minutes. It’s why you never leave your dog inside and why bacteria can grow so quickly on groceries. Take caution to put away your pipe first of all, then cell phone, then check your wallet, and then grab your briefcase. Covering your bases is pipe care at its best.
2. Smoking a Pipe to Sourness
Pipes are made to burn, and they perform that task masterfully. But a smoking pipe is only as good as its owner, and a single pipe too often taken up without proper rest and sufficient cleaning means a compromised smoke. If you’ve ever lit a bowl that tastes great for your first couple of puffs but quickly devolves into a nasty flavor with chemical overtones, you’re in the dreaded sour pipe terrain. The good news here is there’s a way out of the mess and a way to salvage your pipe. Pursue your normal cleaning routines but add the extra step of disassembling your pipe at the right time (more on this in a minute) and running a pipe cleaner dipped in Everclear or whiskey through the mortise and tenon. Also, pick up a pipe reamer to clean out some of that legacy cake for those pipes you’ve had a while. Then, give your pipe an extra thorough rest, run a bristled cleaner through once more for good measure, and see if that pipe isn’t smoking to your specifications once again.
3. Cleaning While Smoking
The virtues of cleaning your pipe have been previously extolled, but there’s one additional (and essential) step here, and that’s time. Many pipers advocate for running a cleaner through the stem mid smoke. This cleans out inevitable moisture that drips into the stem and takes care of any ash or small bits of char that may have lodged in the draught hole. While this is a benign and useful cleaning activity, the danger comes by undertaking a more comprehensive cleaning while the bowl is still hot. As heat causes the tenon (the part of the stem that plugs-in to shank) to become slightly more pliable, removing the stem and reinserting it can cause an undesirable, warped fit. In the worst cases, your shank can even crack, resulting in a quick trip to the pipe graveyard. An easy thing to safeguard against, simply wait until your pipe has fully cooled before removing your stem for those necessary deeper cleanings. As the Good Book says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “everything is beautiful in its time.”
4. Keeping ‘em Outside
Nothing beats a home smoking lounge, also known as your porch. This site of personal luxury has no doubt been designed for your maximal comfort, with the good chair, and a blanket for cool evenings, and stereo, and maybe even a nearby fridge with your favorite beverage and highball glasses to match. Your personal smoking section gets our stamp of approval, but we would be remiss in our obligations if we didn’t mention the dangers the elements can pose to your smoking instruments. Pair a sudden Colorado snowstorm with a little bit of wind, and that sturdy seasonal Peterson is covered with an inch of frost (resulting at minimum in a discolored acrylic stem). Heavy winds in West Texas can tip over the ashtray and send a premium Eltang to the concrete for an undesirable gouge. Sunlight over the porch’s lip in Arizona can bake a stem into oblivion. Indulge the outside but don’t forget that extra step of bringing your star players back into the locker room after the game.
5. A Scoring Light
There are many methods of lighting your tobacco pipe. From the soft wispy flame of a Zippo Pipe lighter to wooden matches to a cedarspill to a Bic if you’re in a jam, you’ll ultimately light with what you carry on your person; with what’s accessible. Still, all lighting methods are not created equal when it comes to your pipe. While a given briar carries some obvious resilience to flame, certain lighting instruments can pose more danger to your pipe than others. For example, a butane lighter, perfect for cigars, provides one of these dangers when issuing your charring light. Because of the heat of a butane flame, which fires at 77 degrees Fahrenheit but burns at temperatures close to 3,578 degrees depending on its interaction with the surrounding environment, there’s risk of misapplying the heat and directly contacting the rim of the bowl. While it’s not the end of the world, avoid this contact if possible for aesthetic reasons. A well-broken in pipe with a bit of patina is a thing of beauty, but best to let this happen naturally rather than through a misdirected light that scorches your briar. Opting for a softer flame is one safeguard against these unforeseen marrings, as is general caution if you’re using a butane lighter.
6. An Unprotected Carry
We advocate for having a pipe at the ready at all times. Nothing beats a porch smoke with a friend or an accommodating host with a backyard set of chairs and a chilled bottle of wine. Carry a pipe or two with you, yes, but do so with a measure of preparation. You wouldn’t send precious jewels into the world without proper protection and nor should you pack a pipe for the road haphazardly. If you’re in the habit of carrying a briefcase or a satchel, you may have pockets that can accommodate a pipe tobacco tin and pipe and a couple of cleaners. Otherwise, be sure to invest in some kind of travel case. This will keep all of your goods in one place, especially if you’re packing up after a couple of beverages and more prone to leaving things behind.
7. Keep ‘em to Yourself
The old adage of “sharing is caring” is true many life circumstances. Share your sandwich and your pickup truck if a friend is moving. But when it comes to your pipes, choke up on the reins. Not only is the thing in your mouth, it’s now beholden to the habits of whoever is holding the tobacco pipe. The dents, the poor lights, the chomping of the stem, even clumsiness—you don’t want that for a favorite pipe. If you are of a generous spirit, consider carrying a spare (and we’ll trust you to clean it after its use from your uncouth friends). In this way, you’ll spread the good cheer of piping for any newbies who want to try out the art while still preserving your more sacred instruments for personal use.
8. Beware the Back Pocket
If you’re running out the door, if you’re wrestling to unlock the car door while carrying your coffee mug and an armful of bags, or if you’re just an absentminded professor type (and many pipers are), it can be an easy step to find the nearest storage for your pipe. And a back pocket is often that place. And then you plop down in the seat, anticipating that smoke while you drive to work, and then crunch. It’s an awful feeling. An awful sound. The briar has likely survived but the victim is the stem. While stems can be fashioned anew (check with your local tobacconist for their resources) this is a situation no one wants to face. The best practice is an FBI style pat down before you sit down. That way you’ll locate all your essential cargo: keys, wallet, cell phone, and of course, where your pipe is currently resting. Trust us – it’s worth it.
9. Chomping the Stem
Every piper knows the relaxing properties of smoking a pipe, but there are enemies that threaten not only your tongue but the very pipe itself: speed & stress. When psychology spins its wheels, when it’s tax season, when the boss is unrelenting, the pressures of life can interfere with a good smoke. Many pipers also love the feel of a pipe nestled in their mouth even if it isn’t lit. It’s a reminder we’ll be back and lighting up soon and enjoying the full measure of our creature comforts. But take caution here that your smoking technique is proportionate to your emotional state and that you’re taking care of your pipe. Biting down too hard on vulcanite or acrylic stems in moments of stress—say when you’re smoking on the road and someone cuts you off or you’re particularly engrossed in a favorite show that’s kicking it up a notch—can be fatal. Some pipers opt for a small rubber mouthpiece that sits at the end of the stem and provides an extra bit of protection. While a bit clunky in the mouth at first, if you’ve made a habit of really gnawing on your stems, consider this a worthy option.
Tobacco Pipe Tip Grips
10. Losing its Luster!
Even though pipes, with their hearty briar and morta, are resilient to a degree—they do manage flame afterall—that doesn’t mean the instrument isn’t without its weak spots. We’ve already covered the dangers that can befall a stem through heat and clumsiness, but your bowl is another site of potential damage. From the oils on your skin to the nicks and dings that come from everyday carry to plain and simple age, before you know it a beautiful pipe begins showing undesirable wear and tear. While many pipers love a bit of patina on their pipes, proper attention should still be paid to upkeep. As part of your cleaning ritual, periodically incorporate pipe polish to restore your briar and it’ll shine as pretty as a brand new nickel. A buffing rag or bandana can make for a quick and easy restoration. Other products don’t require the buffing step, just the simple application, and in fifteen minutes tops your pipe looks good as new.
And One Bonus: Letting them Sit for Too Long!
Last but not least, the biggest way to ruin a good pipe is to let it go unsmoked! While resting a pipe is obviously essential, and if you’ve read this far you’re likely indulging in our favorite ritual on the regular, this step applies most of all to the ancillary pipes in your collection. Everyone has their favored pipes they gravitate toward. That’s understandable but be sure to pay keen attention to the expanse of your collection; all those pipes were once upon a time your true love. Don’t let these old flames gather dust. Keep them in fighting shape by putting them in the ring here and there and running a bowl or two.
The quality of your smoke exists in proportion to the quality of your pipes; that and fine tobacco of course. Fight the good fight by doing your duty as caretaker and keep those pipes protected, shielded from the elements, stored well, cleaned, and polished. A fine pipe is like an old trusted friend; you put in the work for the relationship and it’s here for the long haul.
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