How to smoke a pipe - Pipes

After picking up my pipes after many years not smoking (while my kids grew up), my son, now old enough and at university, started to take a puff or two with me while relaxing on our stoep.

Eventually he took one of my older pipes....and to make a long story short, I gave hcal01him a pipe and a Zippo for his birthday. This led to numerous "HowTo" questions. During this "initiation", I was asked by him and his student friends questions like, "how do I pack the pipe? Why can't I get it right like you? Why doesn't it want to light, what kind of pipe".... etc. Of course old pipe smokers know that it comes through trial and error and many years of experience. When we "learned" how to smoke a pipe, there was no YouTube "HowTo's", blogs and forums. We had to work these things out, and occasionally we took the courage to ask a Tobacconist a "stupid" question.

But seriously though, we are in the 21st century so we can distribute this valuable information amongst each other and help people how to smoke a pipe. And therefore the following series of posts and YouTube videos will address pipes, tobacco, blends, maintaining a pipe, cleaning, packing, cake forming and whatever one would need to know how to smoke a pipe..

Your first Pipe (Video here)

First thing to know how to smoke a pipe is the pipe! What pipe to buy? Well, although many people don't want to spend too much on something that they might not like after all, the "catch-22" is that you will probably not like pipe smoking if you buy a cheapie. Cheap pipes often does not smoke nice. Therefore, if you are serious, I would suggest that you do at least go for a medium priced pipe. Hard to find I must say - from the last few shops I've visited, I could only see cheaper range pipes and was quite disappointed with the quality and line of pipes available to the pipe smoker. Here are a few suggestions for a good starting pipe :



  • Savinelli Punto Furo (first fire). Savineli is Italian made pipes and are known as very good pipes. The Punto Furo are, as the name suggests, not the high end pipe with the beginner in mind. You're safe - this will not be classified as a "cheapie".
  • Peterson's well known Standard pipe. They are all good pipes. The standard has a smallish bowl which I think will suit a beginner. Peterson is also known for their p-lip stem which is their way of preventing tobacco fluids reaching your mouth.
  • Keyser; known to South Africans as very sturdy strong pipe, able to withstand the harshest of conditions. Apparently Keyser pipes are English made pipes specifically made for the South African market during the 1900's and beyond. Its probably safe to say that all farmers who smoke(d), had a Keyser and often only a Keyser.

These options will cost you between R500 and R900 (between $45 - $90). The Falcon range of pipes are excellent value for money. They are good pipes and won't empty your bank account.

Pipes Peterson


Packing your pipe (Video here)

There are many YouTube videos which will show you many different techniques. I also have already written a post and YouTube video on this topic. So just for completeness, I will repeat it here. Let me start by saying that I found myself using more than one method - it all depends on the pipe and the jar / bag / pouch. There is no right or wrong way; its all about what works for you. The end result is what you need to achieve; and that is: a nice evenly packed pipe;

  • not too light that, when you draw on the pipe, it feels as if nothing has been packed in the bowl;pipe smoking tradition keyser pipe shapes
  • not too dense that, when you draw on the pipe, you barely get a flow. It shouldn't give your neck and mouth muscles a strain :-)

Also, when you light your pipe, you want to get an even ash-forming burn around your bowl; not one half un-smoked tobacco and the other half ash down to the bottom of the bowl. This is what comes over years of experience and through trial and error; be patient. After years I still get a pack that "didn't work". So lets looks at some "methods":

  • One method is to use your index finger while holding your pipe in your hand and while dipping in the tobacco, scraping with your index finger the tobacco into the bowl; stamp from time to time with your index finger.....and continue until full.pipe smoking packing a pipe
  • Another method is to take a pinch of tobacco from the tin/bag/pouch and push it in the bowl of your pipe. Compress between every pinch until you are satisfied its full.
  • Another would be to hold your pipe sideways in your hand and scrape the tobacco with your thumb into the bowl, pressing down and repeat until full. The nice thing of using your thumb is: your thumb often matches the bowl size for an even press down.
  • The Frank method was developed by a German, Achim Frank. The best is to look at his video. Basically, you drizzle a bit of tobacco down the bowl of your pipe, kind of as a bottom loose layer. Then, take a chunk f tobacco between your thumb and index fingers; form it lightly like a plug and then work the tobacco into the bowl with your thumb(s), all around the pipe until you get your tobacco evenly packed in the bowl. He's video can be seen here. Jim Murray has a step-by-step instruction of this method here.
  • The "three-layer" method: you can use any of the top methods of getting tobacco in the bowl. The "three-layer" method simply means that you fill-press, fill-press, fill-press until you get a nice even springy pack. With other words, put a pinch of tobacco in the bowl; lightly press it; take another pinch and fill the bowl, again lightly pipe packingcompress it and then the last final pinch which you compress firmly down in the bowl. If its not springy, its too tight; if you can press it down the bowl, its too loose.
  • The "Air-pocket" method. I don't use this method but basically you get the amount of tobacco in your hand, form a plug and then force the tobacco in the bowl BUT, not too the bottom. The whole point of this method is the air-pocket being created at the bottom of your bowl.
  • Other variations exists (like the palm pack or the gravity pack, all indicating how the tobacco gets into the bowl) but they basically all follow these methods of getting tobacco into your bowl and lightly compress it until it reaches the correct consistency.

Again I don't care so much about the exact theory behind the packing; I just enjoy packing my pipe, compressing it to my liking, light and smoke. Some smokers like the theory; others just do it. It will all depend on you.  

Carbon / Cake forming (Video here)

You've bought your first pipe. If you bought it new (second hand pipes are called estate pipes), it needs to be "smoked in". Smoking-in can be described like running in a a new car, or breaking-in a wild horse. Smoking in your pipe, or breaking-in your pipe is the process of building a layer of carbon (aka cake) in the bowl of your pipe. Remember, you are breaking in a pipegoing to smoke tobacco in that small little chamber and as a beginner, you are probably going to pull that thing to piping hot temperatures. The briar pipe needs to be protected to such heat (just as your newly bought car needs to be run-in before taking it to the race track). Although there are many smokers who prefers a specific method of building cake / building carbon, I just believe .... keep on smoking; eventually your pipe will have a layer of carbon formed. But, with that said I need to add these precautions in the early days of your pipe:

  1. Never smoke it too hot. If you feel your pipe is getting "too hot to handle", sit it down and let it rest. Its often good to start of with 2 pipes so that you can continue, if you wish, with the other pipe. A how to smoke a pipesecond pipe will also allow for the layer-forming cake to rest.
  2. Try start smoking smaller bowls. What I mean with this is, one tends to fill a pipe up to the ream and smoke. It may happen that you do not finish that bowl to the bottom. In these circumstances the carbon layer will only be forming at the top to the middle of the bowl, often leaving the bottom still exposed to the "raw" wood. To fix this,its a good idea to vary your first few bowls - start with a small bowl, then maybe a full bowl, another day a half bowl etc.; just to make sure that you spread the carbon layer building process across the whole depth of the bowl. Or if you wish, make sure that you finish each full bowl right down to the ashes!
  3. After say 12 or so bowls, you will see a proper carbon layer has formed and from there, you can continue smoking as you wish (the "too hot to handle" rule still applies though). Don't let your carbon layer develop so thick that you can't pack your pipe anymore I've seen such cases. To prevent that, every once in awhile you can "trim" your carbon layer with the knife part of your tamper-tool or a reamer.  


breaking in a pipe

There are many different opinions on packing your pipe and cake forming and how technical / scientific you should address it. There is no right or wrong answers here - it will all depend on your liking. Whether you want to meticulously follow a precise procedure and packing method to build your cake, and keep it the thickness of a coin/dime by regularly reaming; OR whether you just pack and light and never worry about the cake - that is all up to you. Its all about enjoyment! As long as you keep to the "too hot to handle" rule, your pipes will give you years of pleasure. How to smoke a pipe, part 1 Pipes. The next post will be all about tobacco. How to smoke a pipe, part 2 Tobaccos.   References:


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