How to Start Smoking a Pipe

Welcome to the pipe and all those flavours and aromas...

There is a very good article on the Pipes Digest on how to pack and light a pipe, but I'll add my own comments too since we all do it slightly differently and sometimes different descriptions will just click for different people. It took me about six months to get really good at packing my pipe—partly because several of my first pipes have fairly deep, narrow bowls, and these can be a little trickier. Many folks get the hang of it after just a few times, and sometimes even the first time!

The pipe
Understandably, you may not want to invest a lot in something you're not sure you're going to like or continue. However, if you can start off with a not-so-cheap pipe, so much the better. Some cheaper pipes do turn out to smoke quite well, but not all. Here, I'm speaking mainly of briar (wood) pipes, and am leaving meerschaum and clay pipes out of the discussion for now. Corncob pipes are also a good option if you just want to try pipe smoking—they are very inexpensive and require no breaking-in. They do lend a different taste to the smoke, a taste which I generally find more compatible with natural or the so-called English blends, than with the flavoured and sweetened blends.

Cheap pipes sometimes lead to bitter tastes and wet or hot smokes, but sometimes these effects are merely a result of a new briar not being broken-in. Before you blame your pipe, consider that the problem may be caused by your smoking technique or by overly moist or dry tobacco. With a bit of perseverance, you do get better at figuring out what is wrong if you have a smoke that isn't as enjoyable as it should be. If you're not sure, always smoke as slowly as possible, and that cures many pipe problems.

The tobacco
Tobacco choice is important. In my case, at first I wasn't trying the kinds of tobaccos that I would be likely to enjoy, but I had no way of really knowing that. I had always liked the aroma of the sweet-smelling tobaccos but I found they lacked something when I tried smoking them. I finally tried a couple of natural, English-style blends, despite warnings that these were for more serious, seasoned pipe smokers only. Surprisingly, these tobaccos provided the kind of taste experience I was somehow hoping for. Be forewarned though that natural or English-style blends don't usually have exactly the same degree of sweetness in their aroma, and that they're not for everyone. Only experimentation will help you figure out what you like and don't like. Trying new blends can be a lot of fun, but no matter what, always keep some of your favourite blend on hand in case your sampling doesn't go well!

There is a myriad of different pipe tobaccos available with different flavours and smoking qualities. However, you are not totally hopeless as to where to start—just take the plunge and enjoy. If you have a taste for sweets, why not start off with something commercial and easily available like Sail, Captain Black or Amphora, or ask your tobacconist for their recommendation. Some folks stick with these blends forever, but others find much pleasure in the elusive search that perfect tobacco.

If you have a taste for stronger or more bitter flavours in coffee, chocolate, tea or beer, you should try a light English blend as your first tobacco instead of a sweeter one. Better still, start with a pouch of each of the two types. Just don't smoke them in the same pipe if you can avoid it ... Smoking an English blend in a pipe used for aromatics often tastes rather weird, and vice-versa. Let your pipe take on the flavour of your tobacco for a while and then judge the tobacco. Of course, that doesn't mean that first impressions aren't lasting.... If you're smoking a fairly moist blend (like most flavoured tobaccos), be sure to pack your pipe looser than you would a drier, natural English blend.

Packing the tobacco in your pipe. If you've already smoked your pipe, cover up the bowl of the pipe and blow through the stem in case there are small bits of tobacco that are blocking the passage and which could clog your smoke.

I find that there are two key aspects to packing a pipe correctly. First, the tobacco should be only "somewhat" tight in the pipe—it should still be springy to the touch on the surface. Second, the pipe should be loosely in the bottom half of the pipe than at the top, so that it doesn't get too tight down there when you tamp it while smoking.

Start by taking a wad of tobacco that looks like it might be a bit more than enough to fill your pipe. If the tobacco seems really stuck together, fluff it up a bit before you do this. Hold your pipe over the pouch (or tin) so that the pouch catches the tobacco that falls while you're filling it. Push the tobacco in until the pipe is full and a bit of the tobacco is overflowing over the top of the pipe a bit. Don't cram it in tightly; just make sure the pipe is well-filled. Slowly and carefully fill the pipe as if you were trying to measure how much tobacco the pipe would hold under "average" circumstances, not how much you can cram in.

Your pipe should now have some (or a bunch of) tobacco sticking out of the top and may look like it needs a haircut. Pull most of this off, then take your pipe tool (a "tamper" available at your pipe shop) and *gently* push any loose ends down into the pipe. This way, your tobacco ends up a bit more tightly packed on the top than underneath, which is what you want. Touch the tobacco on top lightly with your thumb. It should feel somewhat springy.

Lighting your pipe
Put the pipe in your mouth and take a few puffs of the unlit tobacco. Not only should it taste good, but you shouldn't have to apply much suction to get air to pass through it. It should only give a little resistance, like drinking liquid through a straw. If you find that you have to draw hard on it, empty it out and start over— you have packed it a bit too tightly and it will not smoke well. Just pry it out slowly with your pipe tool.

Now, the fun part— lighting up!
Big wooden kitchen matches work well, as does a lighter. If you try to use small paper matches, you may end up frustrated and with burnt fingers... As soon as the sulfur burns off, pass the lit match across the surface slowly and puff slowly but firmly, just enough to draw the flame down into the tobacco. Try not to burn the rim of the pipe. You can puff deeply, but not too hard. Hold the smoke in your mouth, but try not to inhale it. Let the smoke puff out of your mouth as you take the next puff. It can take a good 10-20 seconds to get your pipe lit. The tobacco should fluff up a little, perhaps a lot. Now take your pipe tool and flatten out the surface of the scorched and fluffed-up tobacco so that you have a flat surface on the top of your tobacco again (don't apply much pressure).

You have just completed what is sometimes called the "false light." It is called "false" because it is now time to light your pipe again. Pass the flame around the top of the tobacco, swirling it slowly to get all of the tobacco on top lit (which you just flattened). As usual, puff slowly, just enough to bring the flame down into the tobacco. This may take another 10-20 seconds or so and generate a lot of ambient smoke, which you will probably enjoy. Now you're on your way... your pipe is lit. Take a slow deep puff every 5-15 seconds or so—more often if the pipe seems to be going out, less often if the pipe seems to be heating up a lot.. You can either hold the smoke in your mouth for a few seconds and just let it drift out and stop there, or you can take a puff, keep the smoke and the pipe stem in your mouth, then a few seconds later, take another puff, letting the previous puff escape into the air. Some smokers will swallow a small quantity of the smoke, which causes it to escape through the nose and look like you had inhaled it. But you didn't. Some pipe smokers actually inhale the smoke like cigarette smokers, but the smoke is very strong and this is not recommended.

If your pipe goes out while smoking, no big deal, just re-light—this is pretty normal. Especially at first, you may need to re-light frequently. It's always better for your piep to go out from time to time than to prevent it from going out by smoking it hot. Furthermore, there's no need to panic and re-light your pipe the second it goes out if you don't feel like it or if you're busy doing something. You can come back to a partially smoked pipe a few minutes later if that's more convenient. And if you're smoking a bent pipe, you can carefully put your lit pipe in your pocket when you enter a non-smoking establishment and it will self-extinguish rather quickly. Every 5 minutes or so, or more or less, tamp down the tobacco a little, just enough to crush the ashes on the surface and to make sure that the tobacco that is lit is touching itself and continues burning. You don't want to apply so much pressure that the tobacco underneath gets further packed.

As the tobacco burns further down, the pipe will heat up. It should get warm, but if the pipe starts to get hot to the touch, let it go out for a few minutes to cool down; you might be smoking it a bit too fast. Hot smoking can cause the tobacco to become bitter, in addition to being uncomfortable on the tongue. As well, it may create moisture build-up that is very unpleasant if drawn into the mouth (which is particularly easy to do if you are smoking a straight pipe).

If you are smoking a brand-new pipe, it will need to be broken in. Smoke only half bowls for a while (at least 10 times or so) until you start getting some carbon buildup on the lower sides of the pipe's bowl. Try to smoke to the bottom as much as possible to get this carbon cake built up and your pipe will smoke much better later. On the other hand, if at any time your pipe starts to taste nasty, stop. Pipe smoking is always supposed to be pleasant and there's no reason why it shouldn't always be so.

Practice makes perfect (or almost)...Enjoy!


Tobacco pipe smoking tips from Vega Smokes

The Proper Light
Here is a pipe lighting method that will help ensure an effortless smoke.
First, make sure that your tobacco is packed firmly at the very top and about 1/8" to 1/4" *below* the top of the bowl. By doing this you'll allow room for the tobacco to rise when you first light the tobacco and your bowl rims won't char and gather tars as fast as they would if you pack right to the very top. Next, light the tobacco in three stages. The first two lights, or "charring lights", play a key roll is how well the tobacco burns and stays lit. Take your match or lighter and slowing and evenly pass it over the top of the tobacco while gently drawing on the pipe. Once the top of the tobacco is charred or blackened, stop and let the smoldering embers of tobacco go out. Now take your tamper and tamp down the tobacco that has charred and risen from the first light. Repeat one more time or until there is a very fine layer of ash covering the entire bowl. Now you are ready for the final light. Carefully, slowly and evenly light the entire surface of the tobacco while drawing in. This method takes a little patience to perfect but it will pay off in a bowl of tobacco that burns much cooler, longer and more evenly than if you attempted to get your bowl lit with only one lighting.

Keeping Your Pipe Lit
There are many tricks that can be using to keep your tobacco burning without constant re-lighting. This little trick will take a little time to master but once you do it will become second nature and part of your smoking habit. The concept behind this method is similar to a bellows. When you sense that your pipes is going out, simply blow into the stem very gently. After a few gentle breaths into the pipe you'll notice that your tobacco will begin to smolder and re-ignite. Now partially cover your bowl with your thumb and take a couple of deep puffs. Your tobacco should once again be fully lit. Ideally, you should practice this technique the whole time you are smoking your pipe and not wait until it is about to go out. Master this technique and you'll be able to smoke your pipe all the way to the bottom without ever having to re-light!

Preparing Flake Style Tobacco
There are many ways to prepare flake style pipe tobacco (pressed and sliced) for smoking ... here are a few. First you'll need a good flake pipe. A good flake pipe has a narrow, deep bowl. Preferably 5/8" - 3/4" diameter x 1"+ deep. The most basis way prepare the slices is to put them in the palm of one hand and cover with the palm of your other hand and rub your hands together until the flakes break apart. This is called "rubbing out". Generally, the more you rub out a flake the more mellow it will be and less you rub out the flake the more intense the flavors will be....This is the whole flake method. First note in which direction the "grain" of the tobacco is going in the flake. Cut a piece or pieces of flake *against* (at 90 degrees) the grain and equal to the depth of your flake pipe. Take the entire flake of tobacco and roll it up into a fairly tight tube or roll. If done correctly the ends you have cut will be the *long* ends of the tube. The diameter of the roll of flake tobacco should be slightly less the diameter of the tobacco chamber of the pipe you will be smoking. If not, roll another piece of flake over the first. Place the roll into your pipe and press it down with a tamper with just enough force to flatten the top....Light as you normally would and enjoy!

This is the "sandwich" method. Prepare the flakes in the same manner as you learned in the whole flake method except this time take two different types of flake and roll them together. The possibilities are endless. Try a Virginia flake and an English flake or a Virginia with an aromatic flake. You might want to tone down a strong flake that is overwhelming on it's own with a milder flake...Have Fun!

Should you dedicate a pipe for each type of tobacco ?
We hear this question often.
There are basically three different categories of pipe tobacco; aromatic, Virginia and English. Each has it's own characteristics. As each is smoked they will impart it's unique flavor into the porous briar and cake of the pipe they are smoked in. The more the given tobacco is smoked in the same pipe the more of it's flavor will linger behind. When a different type of tobacco is smoked it will be influenced by the tobacco previously smoked. This effect can last for the next 5 - 10 bowls and in extreme cases the pipe will have to be thoroughly cleaned to remove the previous flavors. A pipe that is used to smoke many different types and blends of tobacco will eventually become very bland tasting. If you have the luxury of several pipes it would be a good idea to dedicate a pipe or two to each type of tobacco to avoid tainting your smoking experience. There are some pipe smokers that will go so far as to dedicate a pipe for each brand of tobacco. While this may be extreme, it would be great to have at least 1 pipe dedicated to your absolute favorite tobacco blend. By doing so you'll experience the taste of the tobacco in it's purest form.

Top 5 Questions About Aging Pipe Tobacco
We receive many questions via email every day. One subject that usually has the most questions is "aging pipe tobacco". Aging pipe tobacco is a huge topic and could easily become the subject matter for a years worth of newsletters so we decided to compile the top 5 questions found in our Inbox.

1. Why should I age my pipe tobacco ?
There are as many reasons to age pipe tobacco as there are questions concerning how to. Here are just a few ....

Simply put, well aged and properly stored pipe tobacco will be the finest you will ever smoke.
We have all experienced the demise of one or more our favorite blends. Aging provides a hedge.
You will save a lot of money by buying now at current prices. The price of pipe tobacco is constantly rising due to manufacturing costs, the cost of raw tobacco and production increases and new taxes. Buy now and save later.
New laws are aimed at limiting and completely doing away with online tobacco sales that we now enjoy. Buying online is so threatened that if the current crop of laws pass we will no longer be able to make online purchases of tobacco with the next 12 - 24 months.

2. Which type of pipe tobacco benefits the most from aging ?
Virginia type tobaccos are decidedly the best prospects for aging followed by English style tobaccos. Aromatic pipe tobacco, in our experience, benefits little if any from the aging process.

3. Where should I store my aged tobacco ?
Your aged tobacco should be stored in the coolest and darkest place in your abode. Light and heat are the 2 biggest enemies of the aging process and should be avoided at all costs. Your storage area can be as simple as thick paper bags under your bed or spare closet to a dedicated, climate controlled room similar to a wine cellar and everything in between. Replicating the environment of a wine cellar would be the ideal scenario. Wine and pipe tobacco both thrive in the same temperature, conditions and humidity. Humidors designed for cigars, whether walk in or otherwise, generally are much too humid for pipe tobacco. Cigars need 70%+ humidity while pipe tobacco does well in 30 - 40% depending on the type of tobacco. Igloo type coolers work well for storing your aging pipe tobacco.

4. How long should I age my tobacco ?
The minimum length of time that you will notice any significant benefit of aging is 6 - 12 months. Your aging pipe tobacco will really start to improve at the 18 month mark and approach the sublime at about 36. After 36 months the aging process will slow a bit but will continue. We have found properly stored pipe tobacco as old as 30 years that is absolutely extraordinary. There is no such thing as over aging pipe tobacco as long as the tobacco is stored properly.

5. What should I store my aged tobacco in ?
There are many ways to store your aging tobacco.
If the tobacco came in a sealed tin simply mark the date on it and put it away in your "cellar". There are also many affordable tinning machines available for home use as well. A search for "tinning machines" on a major search engine like Google will reveal many choices. Mason jars and canning jars work well when sealed properly. Vacuum sealed bags are another option. Well sealed vacuum bags have an unprotected usable shelf life of about 18 +/- months. They will work very well for many years if the sealed bags are kept in a climate controlled environment such as a wine type cellar, humidor or another sealed container like an Igloo cooler. Well sealed bags also serve to press the tobacco which has benefits as well.

Pipe and Tobacco Combinations
Pipes can sometimes be very finicky when it comes to the kind and type of tobacco that it will burn well. It pays to try 2 or 3 bowls of a specific tobacco in a specific pipe and record how it smoked. Then try a different tobacco and take note of the results. Continue to experiment until you find a tobacco that burns cool, dry and clean. You'll find that a pipe will burn one specific tobacco better than anything else you might pack in it. You might also encounter the rare pipe that will burn most tobaccos equally well. Sometimes it comes down to engineering but often times it's inexplicable. As a rule of thumb tall narrow bowls burn flakes well and wide shallow bowls burn mixtures well. Wide bowls also tend to tame hot burning tobaccos due to the greater surface area. The shape of the bowl can make a difference to. Conical or V shaped bowls will do a better job of burning tobacco that is hard to keep lit or has a tendency to smoke wet and will intensify the flavors of the tobacco. Cylindrical bowls that have basically the same diameter from top to bottom will tend to burn a bit cooler and slower which will bring out the subtleties in the tobacco. As much as finding the right tobacco is a journey so is finding the magical combination of pipe and tobacco. Enjoy the ride!

Super Fast Tobacco Aging
Now that the warm weather has arrived (at least here in Vegas where it has been 105+) I'd like to share an aging trick that I discovered quite by accident. Take a tin of tobacco and place it on your dashboard in full sunlight or on a window sill in full sunlight. Leave it there for about 30 minutes +/-. Now take the tin inside and allow it to cool to room temperature. You'll find that your tobacco will now taste and smoke very similar to tobacco that has been aged about 6 - 12 months. Of course there's no substitute for properly aged tobacco but this is a great way to improve the smoking quality of just about any type of tobacco. This technique works especially well with Virginia style tobacco. If you'd like to try this with your favorite bulk tobacco simply use an old tin or small coffee can. Only do 2 - 4 ounces at a time...Enjoy!

Keeping Your Pipe Stems Shining Like New
First, we have to give credit where credit is due. This tip comes from the video "Total Pipe Care and Maintenance". We've all had our vulcanite rubber stems turn that nasty brown/green that happens over time. This is oxidization. Oxidization comes from the chemical reaction from the saliva in our mouths reacting with the vulcanite and from sunlight. This unsightly process can be slowed with a simple product that you most likely already have in your kitchen ... olive oil. This process is best done with a brand new stem or a stem that has been thoroughly cleaned. First, take the stem from the bowl. With your finger take a very small amount of olive oil and coat the outside surface of the stem. Allow the olive oil to penetrate for about 5 - 10 minutes. Now take a clean cotton rag and wipe off the excess. It's that simple! Here's why it works ......... If you look at a vulcanite stem under magnification you'd see that there are thousands, if not millions, of tiny pits in the surface, similar to an english muffin. This is normal. By applying the olive oil to the stem the microscopic pits get filled by the oil leaving less surface area on the stem for the oxidation to get a foot hold. You'll also want to keep your pipe out of sunlight, direct or otherwise, for any extended period of time.

Cake ... No, not the birthday kind ... the one in your pipes !
Cake, the layer of carbon the clings to the inner walls of your pipe bowls, is very important to a good smoke. It often determines whether your pipe will be a good smoker or a poor smoker. A good cake insulates the bowl, allows good air flow around the tobacco which promotes a clean, even burn and helps keep the tobacco lit, prevents bowl burn outs and keeps your pipes burning cool and dry. The ideal cake is about the thickness of a dime or a nickel (US). Any thicker than that and you run the risk of cracking your bowl. See this image. Cake needs to be of consistent thickness from the top of the bowl to the bottom and needs regular maintenance. The most important part of the pipe bowl that needs proper cake is the heel, the very bottom. Forming cake in the heel is also the most difficult place for cake to form due to the excess moisture that gathers there and the fact that most smokers don't smoke their pipes all the way to the bottom. Different tobaccos form different cakes at different speeds. Aromatic tobaccos tend to develop cake the fastest but is often the softest and most fragile. Virginia tobaccos produce cake somewhat slower but it tends to be much harder and more uniform. English style tobaccos, in general, are the slowest to form cake. The cake tends to be as hard as Virginia cake but a little more brittle. Cake also has the tendency to hold the flavor of the tobacco that formed it in the first place. In the next 2 articles in this series we'll cover how to properly start and build a cake and how to maintain and trim it when necessary.

Starting a cake in a new pipe or a recently refurbished pipe is very important. Doing so will lengthen the life of the pipe and you'll get more enjoyment from it. So how do we do it? Well, there are about as many theories on cake as there are stars in the sky but we'll discuss a method that has served us very well for many, many years. First take a thin pointy object such as a nail and lightly scratch the inside of the bowl. This gives the cake something to grab onto. Often bowl chambers are way to smooth. Skip this step if your bowl has a carbon coating. Next take a little honey and some very fine pipe ash and mix them together. Some use water or even scotch or whiskey but we've found that honey works best. Now take a pipe cleaner and place it in the pipe so it is extending into the bottom of the bowl. This is to prevent the mixture from plugging the airway. Apply the mixture lightly to the heel and bottom half of the bowl. Allow the pipe to sit overnight or until the mixture loses most of the sticky texture. Pack the bowl about half full and smoke it all the way to the bottom. This is very important. It is OK to allow the bowl to cool in between lights but make sure you finish the bowl in one sitting .... all the way to the bottom. If you have problems keeping the very last of the tobacco lit simply dump the ash and mix a tiny bit of fresh tobacco into what remains in the bowl. Don't empty the ash from the bowl until the bowl is back to room temperature. What happens is the honey carmelizes and gets the cake started very fast. Don't worry, the sweet flavor will go away by the second bowl. Next time you smoke the pipe you can fill it to the top and enjoy the whole bowl ... just make sure you smoke to the bottom, especially for the first few bowl. This will encourage cake to form in the very bottom of the bowl which is the most important place and also the place that is the hardest to cake.

Once you have developed a good cake in your pipe it is very important that you maintain it properly. If you don't, this is what could happen to your pipe - See this image. The proper cake is an even cake of equal thickness from the top of the bowl to the bottom. In order to achieve this even cake there are a few things you can do. First, always finish smoking your pipe. It is a bad habit to smoke just the top portion of the bowl. This causes a thicker cake on top than on bottom. A pipe like this will never smoke well. If the reason you are not smoking your pipes down to the bottom is because you are having problems keeping lit, then try emptying most of the ash and mix in a little fresh tobacco. Tamp down and relight. If your pipe doesn't have some serious design flaw this should take care of the problem. Second, use a tamper ... round if possible. Tamping scours the walls of the bowl and encourages an even, hard cake. Yes, using a tamper does slow down the development of cake but that will be a plus once you have a proper cake. Not tamping tends to cause a loose, flaky cake. Third, when you are finish smoking ... to the bottom of the bowl of course ... cover the bowl with the palm of your hand and give the pipe a couple of firm shakes. This will distribute much of the fine ash that is necessary for a good cake around the wall of the bowl. Also, let the pipe cool before cleaning out the remains or "dottle" because the cake is most vulnerable to damage when hot. In the next and final Part in this series we'll cover reaming and trimming your cake. Stay tuned!

Once your cake has built up to a point where it is thicker than a US nickel it is time to start reaming. Reaming is the process by which cake is cut down to the proper size. There are a few different tools that can be used. They can be seen here and we'll discuss them in a moment. For routine reaming you only need to cut the cake back to about the thickness of a US dime. Under normal circumstances you never want to cut the entire cake and expose the briar pipe walls. If you do remove the entire cake you will have to go through the process of breaking in the pipe all over again. There are times when you might want to remove the entire cake such as when you'd want to remove the cake because it is holding the flavors of a tobacco you no longer favor or you want to refurbish an estate pipe that you have just added to your collection. Always ream your pipe when it is at room temperature. When making the first pass with your chosen reamer adjust it so it barely touches the cake. This will round the cake to a uniform shape. Next continue to adjust the reamer to bite a little more. Each pass of the reamer should be very light taking only a little cake each time until the proper thick has been achieved. Never turn the reamer back and forth in the bowl. This can cause the cake to fracture. Turn in one direction only. Reaming is a bit of a messy process so it would be a good idea to ream over a garbage pail. The flat style reamers, such as the Brebbia model we stock, are inexpensive and do a great job of keeping cake in check in between more thorough reamings. They also are small enough to be carried in a pipe pouch. For more accurate reaming and thicker, harder cake a heavier duty reamer such as the Senior reamer is needed. This reamer makes short work of the most stubborn cake. It can be precisely adjusted and has the added benefit of a built in shank reaming tool for complete maintenance. You need to use care with the Senior reamer because it is capable of cutting cake very fast. You might be tempted to cut the cake in one pass, which this tool is totally capable of, but resist the temptation and cut the cake in several shallower passes ... your cake will thank you.

We hope you've enjoyed and learned from this four part series. We'll be during similar multi part maintenance lesson over the next few months. If you have a suggestion on a series you'd like to see feel free to email. Happy smoking, Team VegasSmokes

Keeping Your Bowl Rim Clean
A charred, sticky and caked bowl rim is nothing but an eyesore. There are a few things you can do to keep it looking good. For this article lets assume that your bowl rim is already clean or new. First, never pack your pipe all the way to the top. +/- 1/4" from the top is ideal depending on the overall depth of the tobacco chamber. This will allow room for the tobacco to expand when you light and still not touch the top and will keep you from putting the bowl rim in direct contact with flame. Second, take a little saliva and rub it on the bowl rim before you light. This will keep the flame from charring the briar. And last but not least, always clean your bowl rim when you are finished smoking your pipe. While the pipe is still warm apply saliva to the rim and wipe with a soft cloth or paper towel until clean. Saliva does an amazing job of breaking down and cleaning tobacco gum and tar. For more stubborn tar or pipes with a rusticated or burl rim an old toothbrush and saliva work wonders. I realized some of you might be put off by the use of saliva but give it a try and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Happy smoking!

The Right Pipe Cleaner For The Job
There are many things in life that are "one size fits all".
Unfortunately pipe cleaners are not one of those things. Pipe cleaners come in many sizes and styles. There are "regular", extra fluffy or absorbent, tapered, bristle and so called "churchwarden" pipe cleaners named for the extra long length. Regular pipe cleaners have been the bread and butter cleaner for a very long time. They are easy to find, fit just about any size pipe and do a very good job. Some pipe smokers use them exclusively. While they work well in most cases I wanted to take the time to expand your pipe cleaner horizons. Each of the other styles serve a more specific purpose which I'll cover briefly for your reading pleasure. Fluffy pipe cleaners are great for pipes with larger airways and passages. You should use them when you notice that a regular size pipe cleaner just isn't snug enough to do a thorough cleaning job. Don't force them down a stem if it feels too tight ... we've recovered many a broken off fluffy cleaner in folks prized pipes. Fluffy cleaners also work great in the airway of the briar bowl itself which tends to be drilled larger than the stem. Tapered pipe cleaners work well on pipe that have a lot of bend to them. They will normally glide down the stems of even the most sharply bent pipes. I know each of us has a pipe or two that might not take a regular pipe cleaner all the way from the button on the stem to the bottom of the bowl without separating the pipe ... perfect time to use the tapered cleaner. The bristle pipe cleaner is essentially a regular size pipe cleaner that has nylon bristle embedded along it's length. These are my favorites. They do a superb job of cleaning even the cruddiest of pipes while still maintaining good absorbency. Using bristle cleaners will allow you to go longer between through cleaning of your pipe and when you have to it'll be less of challenging job. Churchwarden or extra long pipe cleaners are the only way to go for your long stemmed pipes. They can also be economical for your regular length pipes because you can cut them in halve or even thirds. What ever you do, you owe it to yourself and your pipe smoking enjoyment to not skimp on pipe cleaners, don't use the ones that you find in arts and craft store and experiment with different types...Happy Smoking!

Top 5 Questions About Estate Pipes

1. What is an estate pipe ?
Simply put, it is a pipe that has been previously smoked or has been sitting unsmoked for several years for whatever reason.

2. Isn't smoking a pipe that someone else smoked unsanitary ?
My first response when asked this question is ..."You weren't the first person to eat off that fork either!". Of course that is presuming that the estate pipe in question has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized such as we and other reputable dealers do. I wouldn't put a pipe found at a garage sale or from a non pro dealer on eBay™ in my mouth either.

3. Can I save money buying an estate pipe rather than a new pipe ?
Generally speaking yes.
Most estate versions of currently produced pipes will be on average 25 - 50% less than the cost of the same pipe new depending on condition but there is no set rule. The exceptions would be famous pipes that are no longer in production like the awesome GBD Uniques of the 60s which can sell for hundreds more than they cost new, one of a kind high grades and certain rare years, grades or stampings. All of these would fall into the category of "collectibles".

4. I've heard estate pipes smoke better than new pipes. Is that true ?
Yes and no.
(How did you know I was going to say that) Pre-smoked pipes with even the most minute amount of cake will smoke well right from the start (unless it was just poorly engineered in the first place) simply because someone else has already started the "break in process" for you. It's also my experience that older, high quality unsmoked pipes, like say a 70s Charatan, will break in very fast and smoke well right from the get go. Some might claim that is due to older or better briar but to keep away from controversy I won't be so bold. Of course there are exceptions. Take the Italian made Ardor pipe. Brand new Ardor pipes smoke better at the beginning than some thoroughly cleaned and refurbished estate pipes and most other new pipes.

5. I found a box of old pipes in my grandfather's attic. How much are they worth ?
This is undoubtedly the toughest question I have to answer.
Some people don't like the answer and some even get insulted or heart broken. Old pipes have to have some type of pedigree to have value. Just because it is old matters little. We have literally hundreds of what I call "drug store" type pipes that are sitting in boxes that have been culled out to save 2 or 3 good pipes ... just can't bear to throw them out for some reason. Some are decades old. Some are slightly saleable but the cost of repair and refurbishing far out weights the resale value. Many, many times we have been brought old pipes that folks tell us are ivory and expect are valuable but turn out to be simple cookie cutter meerschaum pipes that just happen to be old. It's the same as if you had a box of old watches. Yes, the Rolex and even the Timex would have value but the RoLUX or Swatch with the scratch on the face is worthless regardless of age. It breaks my heart to tell someone that the 40 year old pipe that Grandpa smoked every holiday is worth, well ... nothing. But then again sometimes Grandpa smoked a 1917 Duke Street stamped Dunhill ... now we're talkin'.

Removing Dings, Scratches & Dents From Your Pipes
It's happened to all of us ... no matter how careful we are eventually even our most cherished pipes will suffer a ding, scratch or dent. You can remove most of these from your pipe with the following method. Just do it very carefully. First, take a pin and dip it in cool water. Touch it to the ding so that some water fills the ding and no more. Think of the ding as a swimming pool you are filling ... no matter how small. The water should be higher than the surface of the pipe. Let it soak in for a few minutes and apply again if necessary. Now take the tip another pin and heat it to red hot and touch it to JUST the water and not the briar. This takes a very steady hand. The water should steam off very fast and the ding should be gone. The whole procedure might take a try or two so be patient. If you put too much water and more than it takes to "fill the pool" you could cook off some of the finish. Not the end of the world if you do but you will have to rewax the pipe. I highly recommend that you try this method a few times on some "knock around" pipes until you get the hang of it.

Short Term Pipe Tobacco Storage
There has been much written on the subject of long term pipe tobacco storage but not much on short term so I though I'd take the time to address the subject. For the purposes of this discussion I'll be considering the storage of 4 ounces or less. In the past it was vogue to place apple slices, orange peels and other similar items in a pouch for the purposes of keep tobacco fresh ... this is not a good idea. The fruits will start to break down with heat and light and spoil your tobacco. You'll be smoking and handling all forms of bacteria and fungus, some visible and some not. An unpleasant thought at the least. Pouch humidifiers work so much better if kept clean. Distilled water works best and will lengthen the disk's life. How about the ziploc lock bags that we sometimes receive our pipe tobacco in? They are fine for a few days if kept sealed and out of direct light. If you live in a dry climate a pouch humidifier with be just what the doctor ordered ... so to speak. Leather and vinyl pipe tobacco pouches work much better as well as being more dignified. Make sure the one you select has a supple rubber or latex liner. The cheapy kind usually has a plastic liner that will eventually crack and split. In general roll up or snap type pouches work better than the zipper variety. The zippers on those let air pass and get just plain foul after a while. Keeping your tobacco in your pocket is OK for the very short term. Remember this .... when the temperature of tobacco rises so done the humidity. When the temperature falls so does the humidity. Yes, I can give you the scientific explaination but I'll save you the boredom for the sake of brevity. That being said, assuming your tobacco was at perfect humidity when you set out in the morning, it will become to too damp when left in your pocket or anywhere else above "room temp" for any length of time and will lead to a hot, wet smoke. All is not lost ... either lay out a bowl's worth of tobacco prior to smoking if convenient or simply pack the bowl about 10 - 15 minutes before your smoke break. Now what if your tobacco got cold and is now a bit on the dry side (again a hot smoke)? Almost a no brainer ... warm it up in your hand or pocket.

Getting Dumped ...
No, this isn't about getting your heart broken ... it's about keeping your pipe burning! Many have emailed and asked "While I'm smoking should I dump my ash or leave it in the pipe?" Thats easy ... Both. Through out most of your bowl having a layer of ash on top of the burning tobacco is a benefit. From the first light the ash that will develope will serve several functions.

Keeps the tobacco from burning too fast or too hot.
Keeps the tobacco burning evenly.
Helps promote a healthy cake inside the bowl.
Promotes a smoldering effect that enhances the subtle tobacco flavors.
Helps disperse your flame for even relights.
Many other good things. (Had to add that just in case I forgot anything)

So when do you dump?
When the ash gets so dense from tamping that it smothers the burning tobacco.
When you are having problems keeping the pipe lit ... assuming it is properly packed.
When it has become so thick or dense that you can no longer relight.
When you do have to dump, only dump about half of the ash then lightly tamp the ash back down and relight. Please be safe when dumping ash. Almost certainly a few hot tobacco embers will leave with the ash that could burn your favorite smoking jacket ... or worst.

Leave It In or Pull It Out ?
Your pipe cleaner that is. One year ago someone emailed and asked whether or not it was a good idea to leave a pipe cleaner in the stem when you're through smoking. I answered according to what I had been taught ... NO. I've always listened to the pros and cons on the subject and formulated my own conclusion. After thinking about I came a the conclusion that I shouldn't be jumping to that conclusion. I decided to perform a somewhat controlled test. Here is how I did it.

-Two identical, new Savinelli Model 114 pipes were used. Both croos grained.
-Each was smoked three times a week for 1 year (3/03)
-Each rested 2 days between smoking.
-Each was cleaned with 4 pipe cleaners after smoking was complete.
-Each was thoroughly cleaned every 4 weeks.
-The same tobacco, Five Star Deluxe, was smoked exclusively.
-One was left to rest with a pipe cleaner in the stem and shank and one was not.
-Standard size and fluff pipe cleaners were used.

Here are my observations at the conclusion of the test. The pipe in which the cleaner was left in will be referred to as Pipe A. Pipe B is the pipe without.

-The shank of Pipe A is slightly darker than Pipe B leaving a slightly two toned appearance.
-Pipe A developed a slight gap between the shank and stem.
-Pipe A's shank expanded slightly larger than the stem.
-Pipe A had more pipe cleaner residue (stray fuzz) in it when thoroughly cleaned.
-Pipe B took longer to break in. I'm not sure if that had anything to do with the test.
-Pipe A took a few more cleaners for the once a month cleaning.
-After 1 year Pipe A is a little more ... well for lack of a better term, stinky.

So there you have it.
Pipe B, without the cleaner, faired better than Pipe A with. I am only going to guess why but I suspect that the pipe cleaner left in does more to keep the moisture trapped than it does to wick it out...Happy Smoking

Which is Cooler, Sandblasted or Smooth ?
I've heard many times in the past that sandblasted pipes smoke cooler than smooth pipes due to the greater surface area. After many years of taking this to be a somewhat statement I decided to put it to the test. Here's how I set up the test.

-Two identical, new Savinelli Model 316 pipes (one rustic/sandblast and one smooth matte) were used.
-Each was smoked ten times over a ten day period for the purpose of breaking them in.
-Gawith & Hoggarth Balkan Blend was used exclusively for break in and testing.
-Each was filled and packed to the top with an equal portion of tobacco for the test.
-Each was placed in a plastic folding pipe stand.
-Each was not moved from the pipe stand or touched during the test.
-Each was lit with 3 matches.
-Each received 1 full draw on the pipe every 30 seconds.
-Each was tamped every 10 draws.
-Test was conducted 10 minutes into the bowl.
-Bowl temperature was taken using a fine point metal probes attached to digital thermometers (identical models) that were placed on the right side of the bowl at the midway point and held tight to the bowl with the help of the plastic pipe stand.
-At 30 minutes both pipes were allowed to go out.

Here are my observations during the test...

-The rustic pipe was actually hotter during the first 10 minutes prior to "official testing".
-At the 10 minute point the rustic was 6 degrees hotter the the smooth.
-At 15 minutes the rustic was 4 degrees cooler.
-At 20 minutes the rustic was 2.5 degrees cooler.
-At 25 minutes the rustic was 3.5 degrees cooler.
-At 30 minutes the rustic was 4 degrees cooler.
-At 35 minutes (after the pipes went out) the rustic was 18 degrees cooler.

So there you have it.
The rustic pipe did indeed smoke cooler but I'd have to say that the few degrees during the first 30 minutes hardly constitutes a "cooler smoking pipe". I could not tell the difference. What I did notice was how fast the rustic pipe cooled down after the tobacco went out as compared to the smooth....Happy Smoking!

A Tobacco Blending Primer
We receive many emails asking questions on how to blend your own pipe tobacco. While we are admittedly not blending experts we do have many years of basic experience we'd like to share. This will be Part I in a 4 part series. For even more blending information visit TobaccoBlending.

When describing the act of "blending pipe tobacco" I'd have to break up the process into two categories, Hybrid and Raw Component blends. Hybrid blends are those that are composed of mixtures or flakes of existing tobaccos. For example ....4 parts Dunhill 965 and 1 part Esoterica Pembroke. Raw component blends are those composed of raw ingredients. For example ... 3 parts Red Virginia, 2 Parts Stoved Virginia and 1 part Turkish. You'll notice how I used the term *parts*. Parts are the easiest units of measure when you are first starting out. A part could be anything from an ounce to the contents of a measuring device of your choice. In the beginning please start by using small parts such as 1/2oz or tablespoons. The reason it is best to start small is because not all of the concoctions you'll come up with will be worthy of a second bowl. You want to enjoy and experiment without exposing to much of you favorite tobacco to your whims.

Some of you might be thinking .."Why should I blend my own tobacco?" Well, part is for the sheer fun of experimenting and the pride of having developed a blend that you and your pals truly enjoy. Even Bing had his own hybrid blend from drug store brand tobaccos. You'll find that blend on TobaccoBlending. Another reason is blending with a purpose or to solve a need or problem. Maybe you can't find a commercially blended tobacco with the amount of latakia you'd like or perhaps too much of one kind of tobacco irritates your throat. Here's an example from personal experience. My wife happens to dislike the smell of perique and latakia around the house ... I happen to love both. She loves the smell of aromatic tobaccos. What I ended up doing was taking McClellands 2050 (a slightly cased aromatic that she likes) and experimenting with proportions of latakia and perique. I continued to mix until she could no longer smell either and I could still taste them. The tobacco I love ended up being masked in the room aroma of a tobacco that she loves. I can smoke the two blends indoors now. Problem solved.
Being that we will be starting from a basic standpoint we'll first cover hybrid style blends. These are the easiest to successfully mix and there is a good chance that most of you already have some tobaccos around to start with. Here are some basic guidelines for hybrid blends to get you started.

-Record everything you do in a notebook for further reference.
-Record what you liked or didn't like about your creation. This will help tremedously when it comes to fine tuning.
-Record how it smoked. Did it constantly go out? Did it burn cleanly?
-Always smoke 2 or 3 bowls of your blends. The first or two bowl will most likely taste of the last tobacco that was smoked in that pipe.
-Smoke in a clay pipe for a purer tasting smoke. Briar can sometimes influence taste.
-Blend from one manufacturer's line. McClelland with McLelland, Gawith & Hoggarth with Gawith & Hoggarth ETC. You'll find that one tobacco from a specific manufacturer will readily blend with another.
-Blend like tobaccos. Flakes blend well with other flakes and mixtures with mixtures.
-Use less of a strong tobacco. Stronger tobaccos such as English and Balkan styles easily dominate ligher tobaccos. 1 part to 4 - 6 parts is a good starting point.
-Don't be afraid to mix a Virginia or English style with an aromatic tobacco for a change of pace.
-Most blends that you'll come up with will taste better if allowed to "marry" first before smoking. Simply seal the mix in a plastic bag with all the air squeezed out for a day or so ... or at least until your curiousity gets the better or you.

I hope you're now inspired to come up with you own private micro blend. Maybe even a blend worth of sharing ... the pipe smoking community will be richer for your efforts.

In Part I we discussed general rules of blending and some hybrid blending basics. In Part II we'll discuss Raw Component blends. Raw component blends are those composed of raw ingredients. For example ... 3 parts Red Virginia, 2 Parts Stoved Virginia and 1 part Turkish. These types of blends are more difficult to blend. With Hybrid blends you are expounding on existing blends and reaping the rewards of someone else's work. With raw component blends the work rests squarely on your shoulders. You'll need a clear direction and a healthy dose of imagination. The first thing to do is decide what type of blend you'd like to make. Next find a tobacco that you'd like to approximate or improve upon and smoke a few bowls of it. Write down what you like about it and see if you can discribe all the various flavors that the tobacco has that you enjoyed ... and those you didn't. If you don't take the time to do this you'll have a very "hit or miss" go at blending. Also look at the tobacco and see if you can indentify the components. You're not trying to reverse engineer the tobacco but simply getting a feel for it. Note the types of cuts that are used. Are they ribbon? cube? rough cut? Here are some basic guidelines that will help you get started.

-10% is a good starting point when using latakia. At about 40% the latakia will dominate all but the most robust Virginia tobaccos.
-5% is a good starting point when using perique. At about 15 - 20% the perique will dominate all but the most robust Virginia tobaccos.
-Virginias are an excellent base tobacco and mix fine amongst themselves.
-As a rule of thumb you'll find that the lighter the color of a Virginia tobacco the tangier the taste. Darker VA's tend to be richer and more pronouced. You'll also find them to be strong with more of a kick both in flavor and nicotine.
-Stoved Virginias add a mellowness to a blend as well as a mild raisin type flavor. They also slow down the rate at which the blend will burn. This is an important consideration. Don't over do it. Too much and you'll end up with a bland blend.
-Unflavored cavendish tobacco adds a certain smoothness and fullness as well as a smokiness ... both in terms of flavor and actual smoke.
-Turkish type condiment tobaccos tend to add a background hint of sweetness. They also add a lot of balance to a blend. Note that they will cause a blend to burn at a faster rate.
-Burley tobacco can also be a fine base for a blend. Note that burley tobaccos tend to be a bit on the strong side. They also tend to bite if too much is used. Rough cut burley burns quick. Cubed burley burns slowly. Burley also burns cleanly ... another important consideration.
-All components should be of the same moisture content. If not the drier tobaccos will leach the moisture and flavors out of the moister tobaccos. If some cases this will cause the blend to be very mono flavored.
-Allow all blends to marry for a day or two (longer if you have the patience)
-Record all that you do so you can fine tune.
-Smoke some of each variety of raw tobacco to get a sense of it's flavor and burning characteristics so you know what it's bringing to the table.

Now that you're becoming more familiar with the basic comcepts of tobacco blending it's time to turn our attention to tobacco processing proceedures. The basic categories of processing fall into the following classifications; mixing, cutting and pressing.

Mixing your new blends is a fairly straight forward process. We use two methods depending on the size of the batch. For smaller batches of 1 - 3 pounds we used a large stainless steel mixing bowl. They can be found at most restaurant supply houses. They're easy to clean with a little vodka and have the perfect shape for hand mixing. For larger batches simply dump the tobaccos into a large plastic garbage bag a give a good, hearty shake.

Cutting and prepping tobacco is ocassionally necessary. If you're mixing a flake style tobacco into your blend you'll want to "rub" it out first so it mixes well with the other tobaccos. If you don't, the blend won't have the consistency you'll desire. Simply take a handful of the flakes and rub them in the palms of your hands until they are fairly well broken up. There will be times you'll want to finely cut certain tobaccos. In some blends using tobaccos like perique and latakia you'll find that finely cutting them will enhance the blend. This is especially useful if you want these tobaccos to blend into the background rather than be pronouce. For this we like to use a small coffee mill. They can be found in most department stores. We bought ours at Bed Bath & Beyond ... $20 and it's lasted for years. Remember to clean it, after it's unplugged of course, with vodka to keep the blades and bowl clean. Don't overdo the cutting. If you grind the tobaccos to finely they will settle to the bottom.

Pressing your blend is a great way to marry and refine the flavors of the tobaccos and give the mix a head start in the aging process. We have a custom hydraulic press for our needs but you need not get that complicated for small batches. There are several ways you can press. You can use a Food Saver type vacuum sealer. They do a great job of compressing the tobacco. If you take a small flat piece of wood and press the bag down while the air is being drawn out you'll be amazed at the press you'll achieve. Let sit for at least a week ... longer if you can bear the wait. Another simple method is to forcefully hand press the tobacco into a wide mouth mason type canning jar and seal it. If you really want to pack it in take a large dowl or piece of closet pole and smash it down real good. Careful not to break the jar. Keep the jar out of sunlight while you wait for the magic to happen.

In this final part we'll be discussing casing, flavoring and infusing your tobacco blends. Why would you want to do any of the aforementioned proceedures? Simple ... added and different flavors.

Casing is the process by which tobacco is top coated with a flavoring. This process is commonly associated with aromatic tobaccos. Such flavors range from the most subtle vanillas to apples and strong spices. Not all casings need be sweet and gooey. Here are a few guidelines:

-Use your stainless steel mixing bowl and clean it with vodka when finished.
-Use a little flavoring at a time. Allow time for the casing to adhere rather than run the risk of over moistening your blend.
-Use a spray bottle for even coverage.
-Don't use any flavoring that is perishible.
-Case small amounts of tobacco first before committing.
-Always allow at least a day or so before smoking.
-Try the following; wine, cognac, beer, honey, liquers, extracts, etc. Let your imagination run wild.

Flavoring or "spicing" your tobacco is very simple. We mostly use powdery type flavoring agents. They include the following: nasal snuff, various spices, cocoa powder, dried and powdered condiment tobaccos such as perique and latakia, dehydrated and powdered fruits and more. Again, use your imagination. Please, nothing you wouldn't want in your lungs in the first place. A little goes a long way. Simply spinkle and mix so the flavoring adheres to the tobacco.

Infusing tobacco provides the richest and longest lasting flavors. The process is easy to do. First place your tobacco in your mixing bowl and weight it on your scale. Note the weight. For an example let say 16 ounces (1 lb.). Now set the tobacco aside or let it sit on the scale while it dries out. Exposed to air all tobacco will lose moisture. Do not try to accelerate the process with heat or sunlight as that will only damage the tobacco. Once the tobacco has dried to the proper weight it's time to infuse. There is no set weight I can prescribe. You'll have to experiment but as a rule of thumb 1 - 3 ounces. Spray your flavoring on the dried tobacco until it reaches it's original weight. If you let the tobacco dry by 2 ounces then you will be using 2 ounces of flavoring. You are reintroducing the moisture that was lost but this time it is flavored and will infuse the tobacco. Lightly spray the flavor a little at a time and very lightly toss. You don't want to apply any pressure or roughness to the mixing process due to the dryness of the tobacco. Once the tobacco is back up to it's original weight and well mixed let it sit for about an hour and add more flavor if there is any further evaporation. Let set a spell before smoking. You can use any of the above mentioned flavors to infuse. My personal favorite is port wine.

How Many Pipes Should Be In Your Rotation ?
This is a question that is presented to us on a regular basis.
The answer has to be based on several variables such as the following;

-How often do you smoke?
-What type of tobacco do you smoke?
-Does your smoking style lend itself more towards ending up with a somewhat dry or wet pipe?
-Do you smoke the same tobacco all day?

As a general rule you should allow at least 1 to 2 hours for your pipe to rest after you finish smoking. This allows enough time for your pipe to properly cool down and dry out ... for the most part. The time of tobacco you smoke plays a role too. Aromatic tobacco burns slightly wetter and tends to cause a pipe to retain moisture longer. Virginias tend to burn cleaner and drier and sometimes the pipe can be put back in action in as little as 30 - 45 minutes. If you are accustomed to smoking your pipe enough to conflict with these suggested times then you should be using 2 or more pipes in your daily rotation. If you are a "wet" smoker or have a few cherished pipes that matter to smoker a tad on the wet side than you should also be using 2 or more pipes in your daily rotation. As discussed in a previous newsletter, it is best to dedicate a pipe for each type of tobacco that you smoke. So, if you smoke more than one type of tobacco during the coarse of the day than you'll need to add more pipes into your daily rotation. Each pipe in your rotation should have the minimum of 2 days off after being used for the day and cleaned every 5 - 10 bowls depending on the tobacco smoked and your smoking habits.

So let's do the math ... well let's not and say we did and sum up with the following general rules of thumb; If you smoke on a daily basis and have a good pipe cleaning and care schedule established the bare minimum amount of pipes in your rotation should be no less than 3. 7 would be the ideal minimum and would ensure well rested, fresh pipes and spread out your time spent cleaning. What's right for you? Simply take these suggested minimum rotations and factor in the four questions above. Me? I'm a minimum 21 kinda guy. I smoke 3 types of tobacco each day and keep my pipes dedicated within reason. Aromatic in the morn, VA mid day and a smooth English blend in the evenings. I also like to let my pipes rest for a week and set aside one night a week for cleaning. Yup, 21 for me but I always find an excuse for more.
Happy Smoking!

Is Pipe Smoking Gaining In Popularity ?
These days it seems that all tobacco use is so heavily frowned upon by "society". Is it possible that pipe smoking is actually on the rise? The answer is yes.Industry studies support this. There are several reasons for this.

-The 90s saw a huge cigar boom. Many of those that learned to enjoy cigars are now turning to pipes. Spurned by the over pricing and poor quality brought on by the boom and the intangability of the actual cigars themselves, folks have discovered a wonderful alternative in pipes.
-With the right tobacco, pipe smoke envokes the fondest memories in most people ... even those opposed to smoking. How many times have you heard how your pipe smoke reminded someone of Grandpa?
-Pipe smoking is economical. Even if you smoking the finest tobacco money can buy, a bowlful cost pennys.
-Smoking a pipe causes one to relax and reflect.
-There are currently thousands of tobaccos to choose from.
-The abilility to blend ones own pipe tobacco.
-The selection of pipes available today is mind boggling. Whether you're a collector of a specific year, shape or brand or simply looking for the most bang for your buck ... you're in luck. The possiblities are now endless.
-Even as brick and mortar pipe shops close routinely, the internet has been an excellent resource for pipe smokers world wide.
-Cigarette smokers are crossing over to our healthier form of tobacco consumption.
-Fellowship...For the most part pipe smokers are good, decent and kind people. Pipe smokers tend to develop healthy, long term bonds with one another. You can never have enough friends!

Now before we drop our guard and start feeling too warm and fuzzy there is a couple of things to think about. One major concern to pipe smokers world wide are all the proposed bans on the shipment of pipe tobacco. This would put a huge damper on those who order online. Read more HERE. Also, the recent rash of laws banning smoking in public and private places throughout the country should be a concern to us all. So what can we do? Simple. Get involved, vote, stay informed, support your local pipe shops and for pete's sake ... proudly smoke your pipe in public as much as possible. Happy Smoking!

How To Re-hydrate Pipe Tobacco
We've all had it happen ... reach for that tobacco you've been craving and it's dry as a bone. Who came up with that expression anyway? First we'll cover what Not to do.

-Do not use apple slices or other fruit. You'll run the risk of mold and gumming up your bowl.
-Do not leave it in the bath while you shower. Although this does work your tobacco will pick up the perfumes of bath soaps and shampoo.
-Do not use tap water.

-Be gentle with the dry tobacco or you'll end up with a pile of dust even if you rehydrate correctly.
-Mix 1 teaspoon of white vinegar in 1 quart of water. Distilled water is best.
-Spread out the dry tobacco in a flat glass or stainless steel bowl or tray.
-Lightly spray the tobacco with the prepared water. Start with very little.
-Cover the tobacco with a lid or plastic wrap so the water adsorbs rather than evaporates....Repeat if necessary
-Once back to the correct moisture level allow the tobacco to sit for a day before smoking.
If done correctly and patiently your tobacco with be almost as good as new.
Happy Smoking!

The Proper Light Revisited
The number one question we receive after all these years remains "What is the proper way to light my pipe?". While there is no perfect way there are a few recommended ways. I wrote an article on the subject over a year ago but I thought it was worth covering once again. This time, with thanks to our friends at Pipevideos, you'll get to see the technique in action. Sit back, grab your pipe and some tobacco and enjoy this following video .... Click Here to view
Please note that this video is designed for high speed internet connections but with a bit of patience it can be viewed by all.

Seasonal Pipe Tobacco
Do certain pipe tobaccos lend themselves to different seasons or times of the year? I think so. Now that the cooler weather has finally arrived I find myself smoking more blends with latakia such as English or Balkan style blends. For me, these blends seem some what richer and more complex especially when smoked outside in the cool air of autumn. I can taste flavors that are almost undetectable while smoking during the warmer months. The smoke is heavier and less wispy in the thin air and lingers longer. That rich, thick smoke brings about a certain feeling of satisfaction and has a calming effect. Perfect for watching the leaves change colors and seeing mother nature and father time work their collective wonders. The warm pipe bowl is a comfort in my hand and gives me a sense of well being knowing that all is right in the world in that small place and time.

During the Holidays I find myself guided towards tasty aromatic blends. They remind me of the past, my Grandfather, traditions and the sweet peacefulness that comes during these special times of the year. They also help our friends and loved ones remember us just as we remember the enticing tobacco smells of those that came before us. There is simply nothing quite like the cozy feeling of a room filled with wonderful pipe smoke, a home cooked feast and those we care about .....

Long Term Tobacco Storage
In a previous article we cover short term storage. In this article we'll discuss longer term storage. You might ask "Why store tobacco for the long term?" The answers are as varied as the tobaccos themselves but include the following ...

-Most pipe tobaccos improve with proper aging.
-The cost of tobacco will continue to rise. Buy now and save ... I admit, that sounded rather late night infommercial didn't it. ;].
-On a yearly basis wonderful tobacco blend are disappearing. Cost of production, lack of demand, companies bought and sold and lack of proper leave have all been blamed but the result is the same ... your favorite tobacco might be discountinued without notice.

Here are a few simple ideas for your long term storage needs:

-Store out of direct and indirect light.
-Store in a cool place such as a basement or cellar. Do not allow to freeze. If you do not have a basement store your tobacco on or close to the floor. It's generally the coolest place in your house or apt.
-Label all tobacco with date and tobacco name. Keep info in a book for reference.
-Buy one to smoke and one to store.
-Bulk tobacco can be vacuum sealed with a foodsaver type sealer. Some say that vacuuming removes to much air which slows the aging process. Actually a household model does not have the capacity to remove all the air. However we but recommend pressing the manual seal button before the vacuum is 100% complete. Also note that the household grade bags will transfer air over time. Commercial grade vacuum bags can be found at most professional packaging supply houses. These bags are much thick and better but still will transfer air in time. We have noted shelf life of 2 - 3 years. To extend that time store vacuum sealed bags in another sealed container such as a cooler. We vacuum and store in a walk in humidor and have tobaccos well over 12 years old.
-Bulk tobacco can also be stored in mason jars. As an added bonus you can press the tobacco quite nicely into the jar and enhance the aging process ... just don't over do it. The foodsaver type sealers have an attachment that seals mason jars. You can also seal the jars by dropping them quickly in hot water until you see the lid turn concave.
-Tinned tobacco can be stored in the packaging in which they were purchased if you follow a few precautions. Avoid stacking tins in very damp areas ... they will corrode in time. Don't stack the tins on bare concrete ... can also be damp and much colder than the surrounding air. Place the tins on wood shelves if possible. Better yet, instead of tossing those old kitchen cabinets mount a few in your "tobacco cellar" for storage.
-Open tins or tins in very damp areas can be stored in large iglo type coolers providing they seal well of course. You could also vacuum seal them.

Follow these simple steps and you'll have an ever improving stash of fine tobacco for years to come.
Happy Smoking!

What is a "Balanced" Pipe ?
I'm sure most of you have heard the term balance used to describe various pipes. We've also used this term so I thought I'd take some time to further explain the meaning and it's usage in relation to pipes. There are to distinct types of balance. One is the physical balance of a pipe and the other is the aesthetic balance. Physical balance is important because it related directly to how the pipe feels in the mouth and hand. A well balanced pipe is comfortable and exerts little pressure on the teeth while an unbalanced pipe can be pure drudgery. This aspect of balance is designed into the pipe ... or not. Often the shape, size and length of the stem plays the biggest role in proper balance. Once the shape and size of the bowl is determined a skilled pipe carver fits a stem to it that will properly counter balance the load and weight of the bowl and add to the enjoyment of smoking that pipe. Some carvers do this consciencely and some carvers do this without much thought relying on their many years of experience. I've found this to be the case with many "high grade" pipes over the years. It should also be mentioned that what one pipe smoker finds to be of proper balance the next might not. Just as several people who take a size 10 shoe might not all find the same shoe comfortable. Here is a quick and accurate test to determine a pipe's relative balance. Take the pipe stem between your first and middle fingers approximating the same distance where your teeth would be. Let the pipe hang naturally between your fingers. Before trying this with new pipes first do this with pipes you already have and you find to be the most comfortable. This will set a base for you to judge other pipes. You'll soon discover your personal balance point. In Part Two of this pipe smoking tip we'll cover aesthetic balance. Until then ... Happy Smoking!

In Part II we'll discuss more of the aesthetic aspects. The most obvious kind of aesthetic balance is the grain of the pipe. As a general rule of thumb grain should flow with or accentuate the shape of the bowl. Straight grain should be just that ... straight around the circumference of the entire bowl. The straight grain should end in bird'seye or rough burl on the bowl rim and bird'seye that is well centered on the bowl heel. Flame grain flows across a pipe bowl at +/- 45 degrees and should end in centered bird'seye or rough burl on the front and back of the bowl. Cross grain should be more or less horizontal on opposing sides of the bowl. It should be even and equally proportioned in relation to the opposing side. Between the cross grain should be equally well centered bird'seye grain. The bowl rim, if trimmed flat, should exhibit straight grain running in the same direction as the cross grain. The same basic generalities also apply to a bowl that has been sand blasted. To help you visualize these grain patterns and how they should be balanced please click the links below ....

-Straight Grain 1
-Straight Grain 2
-Straight Grain 3
-Flame Grain 1
-Flame Grain 2
-Cross Grain 1
-Cross Grain 2
-Sand Blast Flame Grain/Ring Grain 1
-Sand Blast Flame Grain/Ring Grain 2

As you can see the pipe maker combined the shape with the grain and/or vise versa in every example. It takes great skill to achieve such results but when that perfect combination comes to fruition it's a wonder to behold.

There are also many intangible qualities that can be defined as balance. It a long established fact that there exists a Golden Rule of proportion. Builders, architects, painters, sculpters and other artisans have used this rule for centuries. Pipe carvers do as well. In it's highest level the application of the rule is done without conscience thought. It is felt in the hands and seen in the eyes. This aspect of pipe balance can also be very subjective. The way a pipe flows, ubruptly ends, tapers and turns call out to our subconscieous creative minds. Sometimes a pipe can appear to one person as art in it's highest form and to another a hunk of wood. Pipe carvers who have achieved the highest level of balance in their craft, in my opinion, appeal to the broadest number pipe enthuseists ... regardless of budget :). Here are some pipes that have called to me other the years...


Fixing an Improperly Drilled Airway
If you've bought more than a few pipes in your pipe smoking life then you've probably seen a mis-drilled pipe bowl. The most common type of mis-drilling is where the airway into the bottom of the bowl is higher than the actual bowl bottom. Sometimes this is slight and sometimes severe. Typically this can been seen on less expensive pipes of all makes. The problem with this is that it usually leads to a wet smoking pipe that gurgles and rarely burn the tobacco all the way to the bottom. Fortunately there is an fast and easy way to fix this problem and best of all it cost nothing but time.

Here is the fix:
First take some cool, completely burned pipe ash and with the back end of a spoon crush the ash to a fine powder. Next take about a 1/2 teaspoon of honey and begin to mix in the powdered pipe ash until the mix has a slightly grainy texture. Now take a pipe cleaner and insert it into the bowl's airway until it barely peeks into the bowl. This will keep the mix from blocking the airway. Put the pipe in a stable pipe stand and begin to drizzle the ash mix into the bowl bottom. Be very careful not to get any of the mix on the pipe itself. Start slowing with just a little bit. Allow the mix to settle and level out. Should more be needed add it sparingly a little at time until the mixture becomes flush with the bottom of the airway hole. Set the pipe aside for a day or two to allow the mix to harden. Finally load the pipe halfway and smoke the bowl all the way to the bottom. Tamp while smoking but do not dump the pipe ash when you are finished. Allow the ash and bowl to cool before removing the ash. This and the next few bowls will cure and harden the ash mix. You'll then have a bowl that will smoke dry as it should. Happy Smoking!

A Serious Topic - Pending Tobacco Bans
This issue will be a departure from our usual pipe related tips. We'd like to take a moment to discuss the effort in the US and worldwide to ban the sale and eventually the use of tobacco. Tobacco sales have been plagued by potential legislative bans for years. The brief cigar craze slowed the effort but now the movement has unprecedented momentum. Every day we hear of cities, both large and small, that have passed smoking bans. This is a trend that will not stop nor will it be reversed. Of the most concern to us here at VegasSmokes and to our customers is the recent talk of banning online tobacco sales. This has been attempted for the past few years on many levels without much success until recently. In the past few weeks several states began to enforce the ban of online cigarette sales. Also, after much pressure the credit card companies by way of various gateway processing companies began to enforce a ban on the use of their credit cards for the purchase of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco online. While this had an instantaneous effect on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco we as pipe smokers will also be effected. The rules and laws are so loosely written that only minor revision, if at all, is required to ban online tobacco sales. In much the same way online gaming was and is effectively controlled by credit card company enforcement so will be the fate of online tobacco sales. Most all credit card processing companies no longer accept accounts that deal in online tobacco sales. The ones that do get a premium. Existing accounts such as ours have been put on notice as to how fine a line we are on. We also now have to use expensive and time costly age verification services for every order we process.

So what does this all mean?
Well, a few years or even months ago I would have suggested writing to our elected officials but it is our belief that that time has passed. We've always known that once the credit card angle was invoked there would not be much we as pipe smokers could do. At the risk of sounding self serving I must say the following. The time is nearer than you think to asses how much you smoke on a monthly or yearly basis and times that by how many months or years you plan to continue to enjoy your pipes. There are plenty of articles and how tos in the newsletter archive on aging and long terms storage so you can get prepared. I've been diligently putting away tobacco for the past few years and I personally will not be effected if and when tobacco becomes contraband. We carry only a few of the many lines of great pipe tobacco available at low prices so you can stock up. Being our selection is relatively small compared to what can be had we also suggest looking for other tobaccos at your local brick and mortar tobacco shops. While it might cost a buck or two more than an online purchase you'll be helping and supporting those who are truly on the front lines of the anti-tobacco trend. Pleasant smokes.

Which is better, matches or lighter ?
This is a question that appears in our Inbox very frequently. Unfortunately there isn't one easy answer. Below is a brief list of the Pros and Cons of both so the individual reader can decide what is best for them. For the record ... please don't use a torch type butane lighter.

Matches Lighter Pros
-A relaxing, almost ritualistic approach to pipe lighting.
-Less of an intense rush of heat when lighting and relighting.
-With all the recent banning and even confiscation of lighters on airlines, matches are a safe, disposable alternative.
-Costs next to nothing.

Lighter Pros
-Provides a very even light.
-Reduces scorching on the bowl rim.
-Instills pride of ownership and a degree of elegance to the pipe lighting experience.
-Lights flake tobaccos with ease.
-Able to light tobacco in the deepest of bowl.

Matches Cons
-The use of matches produces addition waste to dispose of.
-Not conducive to outdoor use except on the calmest of days.
-Difficult to light tobacco remains in the bottom of your bowl.
-Sulfur stinks.

Lighter Cons
-Initial and on going costs (flints, wicks & fuel).
-Banned on most airline flights.
-Some say they can taste the fuel (applies mostly to zippo type lighters).

Changing Weather, Changing Tastes
Now that summer is finally here, most of us have stored our winter clothes and have dug out our Bermuda shorts and flip flops. Similarly, some have put away their winter blends and are now enjoying their summer blends. Are you one of these folks? I am. Temperature tends to effect the flavor of certain blends. The heat of summer will make hotter burning blends even hotter and "heavier" blends such as dense latakias and aromatics even heavier. Some might enjoy this while others might not. Lighter blends such as Virginias and lightly cased Virginias such as Stokebye Luxury Twist make for wonderful summer smoking. The gentle flavors that were barely detectable to the tastebuds and nose in the thin air of winter suddenly become quite pronounced in summer.

The summer heat, as with all things summer, will also cause a tendency to smoke a little slower. This also bring out flavors and scents that go unnoticed during the colder months. Pipe selection can also play a part in your summer pipe smoking enjoyment. While some might say that thinner walled pipes will smoke cooler due to great heat dispersion ... I disagree. It's a pipe not a radiator on a '68 Chevy :) I frequently smoke my pipes in the 110+ degree desert weather and can tell you will great confidence that a thicker walled pipe smokes just a bit cooler in heat. I don't know why but that has been my experience. I've also found that tobacco that is slightly drier than that which you'd smoke in winter months will burn cooler, cleaner and more flavorfully (is that a word?) in the summer months. So join me in kicking off the summer solstice with the fresh, cool smoke of one of your favorite summer time blends.
Happy Smoking!

Pipe Cleaning Solvents
We receive many emails asking what is the best solvent to use for cleaning a pipe. The word best is very subjective but I'll answer the question here to the best of my ability. Once you've smoked your pipe more than 5 times it is generally time to run pipe cleaners through the stem and shank with some type of solvent. This will keep the pipe fresh and prevent the briar from absorbing the foul tasting and smelling moisture that is generated by smoking. There are a few properties that a good cleaning solvent should have. It should have the ability to break down tobacco tar and resins, have the ability to sterilize, be fast drying, high in alcohol content, non toxic, impart minimal taste and be gentle on the briar, stem material and pipe finish. That's a tall order but not impossible. Here are the common solvents we hear folks using with a bit of commentary to help you make up your mind as to which is right for you.

-Rubbing Alcohol - cleans very well and has excellent sterilization properties. Can over dry the briar which could in extreme case crack the shank.
-Consumable Spirits - Wine is out. Vodka is an excellent choice in the 90+ proof, non flavored variety. Dark spirits such as whiskey and scotch work well but tend to leave a distinct flavor behind. If you happen to like the taste that might be a plus.
-Water - Doesn't break down pipe gunk all that well and will swell the briar.
-Thinners and such - Under no circumstances should you use paint thinner, naptha, zippo lighter fluid or any such toxic liquids to clean your pipe.
-Commercially Prepared Solvents - such as the one found on this page are formulated to have the properties listed above. Some are better than others. The one we sell is the best I've used. The downside? ... costs more per ounce than 100 proof vodka which works almost as well.

One last thing ... be very careful with any of the solvents listed above. Some are flammable and all can strip the finish from your pipe if you are not careful.
Happy Smoking!

'Tis the Season
... to evaluate clean and my pipes. Yours too? For years now I've set down with all my pipes in front of me the week before Thanksgiving. It's my way, my tradition but it serves a purpose. First, it reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for ... after all, any more than 7 pipes is abundance and truly a blessing. Once I've gathered my pipes I pick out which pipes I'll smoke when. You know ... the special pipes for special occasions. This year I'm going with an English pipe theme. Dunhills for Thanksgiving, Comoy's for decorating, (those who have seen pics of my house know the Griswald's ain't got nothing on me), Charatans for Christmas and GDB Uniques for New Years. I also pick the tobacco I'll smoke in them.

Sometimes the choice is based on my own tastes and sometimes to help set the mood for others. I have fond memories of my grandfather smoking his pipe tobacco during the holidays and I know my loved ones have grown fond of mine. Once those pipes are set aside and cleaned if necessary I look over the whole collection. Are there any pipes I haven't smoked much in the past 12 months? Why? Have my tastes changed? Nothing worst than a neglected pipe. Time to cull if any of my pipes have fallen out of favor. I'll clean them and sell, trade or give them away. At the same time I'll make plans to replace them. Hmmmm, what should I get myself this year? I've been good Santa. Right? Next I set out my winter pipes and put up my summer pipes.

My winter selection consists mostly of thicker bowled sand blasted and rusticated pipes. Most of them are dedicated to English style tobaccos and American style aromatics. Next comes a very thorough cleaning of all my everyday pipes ... and I mean thorough. Maybe 10 - 15 minutes each until pipe cleaners come out as clean as they went in. Why? Well, with all the shipping, packing and partying over the next few weeks this might be my last chance other than routine use of pipe cleaners. It's this simple tradition that officially starts the holiday season for me and in turn my family. Now where is that Nat King Cole CD?

Winter Smoking
One of my favorite times of the year to smoke my pipe is the winter season. The cool, crisp air brings out favors in tobacco that we never experience during the warmer months of the year. The warmest of the bowl in my hand also warms my heart. A recent winter smoking experience also prompted me to write a few precautionary word about smoking pipes outdoors in the cold weather. Cold air and hot pipes do not mix!

-Whilest walking my dog and enjoying a pipe I tapped out my ashes on palm of my hand (yes I knew better but I was absorbed in the moment). What happened next? You guessed it ... I was packing my pipe up and shipping to our pipe repair person for a new stem. The tenon snapped with less pressure than it would take to snap a toothpick.
-Briar pipes also have the tendency to seperate from their stems in cold weather. This is especially true for military style bit that a push fit in place. There is nothing worse than chasing your pipe bowl as it bounces it's way along the pavement.
-Blustery winter winds can cause a pipe bowl to burn out. Be careful when lighting and smoking. Wind rushing across your bowl will act like a bellows and super heat the tobacco inside causing burnouts.
Follow these simple winter precautions and you'll enjoy mishap free winter smoking.

Spring Smoking
Finally, spring is in the air. It's this time of year when a lot of my focus is directed outdoor. My property and house needs much attention, the cars could use a thorough detailing, the grill is looking a little shabby and what's that green stuff in the pool? Gotta work on that to-do list first then I can turn my attention to real outdoor activities such as BBQs with friends and family, fishing and the occasional round of golf when the web site chores are done. One thing comes to my mind when thinking about all the exciting and not so exciting things that I'll start doing this weekend ... my venerable yard pipes and getting to smoke all the tobacco I desire (even the "stinky stuff" as my family calls it) without concern for who might be offended. With the enjoyment of a wonderful holiday season with many guests and winter temperatures confining my smoking to indoors, I found myself smoking mostly blends that others found to be pleasant and acceptable. Don't get me wrong, I loved smoking those tasty aromatic blends that harken back to Grampa but it's now time to hit my taste buds with something with a bit of punch. A rich, deep, dark English blend with lots and lots of Latakia is on the menu this weekend and there will be no one, not even a spring squirrel, to complain or pass a disapproving glance. Might even mix in some ground up cigar leaf just for good measure. I mentioned yard pipes. What are yard pipes you might ask. My yard pipes are generally lower grade pipes such as Savinelli budget pipes or Brindisi in price range and style. Some are higher end pipes that have seen a few better days.

All of my yard pipes have 3 things in common. First, they all are very comfortable with a lot of bent pipes that hang in my mouth well. Being that I need both hands to do my chores, they must be very comfortable to clench with minimal effort. I fit many of them with rubber soft bits that slide over the stem end. These are great additions for a no hands yard pipe. Second, they are all some of the best smoking pipes I have. That may sound strange based on the fact that I have many high grade pipes in my collection but it's true. My yard pipes smoke great. They have too. While doing my chores that last thing I want to be doing is messing with a pipe that won't stay lit. If the pipe won't stay lit and needs more attention than the task at hand it's not a yard pipe. The last common thread amongst my yard pipes is the fact that they are mostly thick walled with big bowls and durable stems. These characteristics lend themselves well to a yard pipe. The big bowl mean I can puff away for an hour or so without having to reload. The thick walls, stem and tenon are great for absorbing the inevitable bounce off the driveway. Once I tried putting a tiny eye screw into a yard pipe with a string through it which hung around my neck. All I got for my effort was a few really bad blisters on my chest. Ouch!

Summer Smoking
I'm rather used to smoking in the extreme summer heat but it seems we're in the midst of a country wide heat wave so I thought I'd take a little time this month to offer some tips that might help you get more enjoyment from your pipes as the mercury rises.

-The first thing that comes to mind is tobacco choice. Try to smoke tobaccos that you know from experience to burn a bit on the dry side. This is especially important if it is humid as well as hot.
-Burning pipe tobacco creates steam...This is one of the reasons why wet tobacco tends to "bite". Wet tobacco also has less flavor as the steam masks the tastes while cooking your taste buds. Excessive seasonal humidity adds to this problem. What I do to help matters is pre dry a day or twos worth of tobacco overnight in the driest part of my house. I'm not talking crispy dry but dry enough to where the tobacco burns correctly on a hot humid dry. A little trial and error will be necessary but you will be rewarded for your effort.
-As for choice of pipes … there is really no right or wrong. There are two schools of thought. Some think that smoking a thinner wall pipe helps to dissipate heat better. Others think a thicker wall pipe is better because the last thing you want on a blistering day is to be holding a red-hot pipe. You'll just have to try each and report back. Myself? I'm in the latter camp.
-Lastly, take a look at THIS previous article. You'll discover how to take advantage of the blazing heat to rapid age and improve just about any tobacco...

The Future of Pipe Smoking
As we get older there comes a time when some of us "seasoned" pipe smokers should start to think about the future of our wonderful past time. Some of us have enjoyed the fine art of pipe smoking for many moons now and maybe it's time to give something back to ensure that the rich history of pipe smoking and collecting is carried on to future generations. This will be our legacy.

Passing on our past time has never been more difficult. Our children and grand children are being taught that smoking is evil, demonizing all smokers in the process, our smoking liberties are under constant attack and those we think they know better than we do as individuals seems at times to have the upper hand. And then there are the taxes geared towards not only separating us from our money but also from the joys of pipe smoking.

Here are a few ways we can make a difference:
Many of us, including myself, had early examples. We were lucky enough to have pipe smokers in our families. We watched as our elders enjoyed their pipes, filling the air with smells and memories that to this day "take us back". My grandfather didn't get ties for Christmas, he got a pipe. I recall when I got to the age where he would ask me to bring him a pipe ... to be able to handle his pipes was like a right of passage. He never encouraged me to smoke at such a young age but he did teach me how to handle things with respect, how to respect my elders while in the process of coming of age, about tradition and the importance of family and the times spent together. Most of these things were taught with the smell of Half & Half in the air. This is his legacy. This will be mine as well.

For those us who were exposed to the same experiences growing up ... we should count ourselves lucky. Many of today's youth will never have such memories and examples. It's up to us to past these things on. I'm not suggesting that we sit our youth down and lecture them while blowing smoke in their faces. No. We should give them an example for them to aspire to and if the the gentlemanly (or womanly) art of relaxing with a pipe happens to be part of the example then we have fostered a time honored tradition.

Many of you recall, as young men, how difficult it was to make the transition from smoking your pipes in private to smoking them in public was. We exposed ourselves to uncomfortability, stares and maybe even ridicule. I know of many mature pipe smokers that still do not venture out in public with a pipe. Most of us overcame the awkwardness of being a young man with a pipe and some have not. Seems each generation is more concerned with "cool" than the generation before. Therefore, let's abandon some of our stodgy ways and bring a little "cool" back to pipe smoking. As an exercise in personal growth and in the interest of preserving our past time I vow to be seen in public with a pipe as much as possible ... won't you join me. Let's not be arrogant about it in a "I'm smoking my pipe so tough beans on you" kind of way. I'm talking about showing the world that pipe smoking is inherently sophisticated and civilized ... and cool. Might also be a good idea to leave the heavy and pungent blends at home when you're out strutting your stuff.

Young people who take up pipe smoking are the life blood of our hobby. If not for new people taking up the pipe the art of pipe smoking would simply fade away taking with it the great carvers, pipe shops and haunts we take for granted. Introducing interested people to pipe smoking is a great way to keep the hobby alive while forging new friendships and rediscovering our own passions. Joining pipe clubs and helping others while hanging around the pipe shop are great ways to breathe new life into our hobby. Taking a new pipe smoker under wing is very rewarding and will help insure that the pleasure of the pipe will be around for generations to come.

Choosing a Pipe
We receive well over 100 emails each day. Most are junk but some are quite relevant. In this newsletter issue we've decided that answer a few publicly because we thought that many people could benefit from the replies. Here goes;

Q: I'm a relatively new pipe smoker. .... how much should I spend on a pipe ? Rich S.

A: There are several factors to consider when purchasing a pipe as a new smoker. The first, and probably the most obvious, is a function of your individual financial situation. $100 for some is a lot of money and for others not. Secondly, what brought you to pipe smoking? Cigars? Quitting cigarettes? Curiosity? What I'm getting at is ... might this be a fad or is it something you are willing to put the time into? Lastly, do you plan on smoking mainly outdoors or in the comfort of any easy chair? Based on your thoughts about what I've posed to you, here are our recommendations;
Buy the most pipe you can afford at this time. Whatever you do, do not buy a cheap drug store type pipe. They simply do not smoke very well and will give you a bad first impression of pipe smoking in general. The smoking quality of pipes does increase as the cost of the pipe increases until you get to the $100 - $150 range. After that you start to pay for the aesthetic qualities of the pipe. There are some great smoking $40 pipes on our web site such as the Savinelli Budget Pipes and the Brindisi line. A step up from there would be the main line Savinelli, Brebbia and Stanwell. When selecting a pipe I believe pride of ownership plays a role as well. Also remember to leave a little room in your budget for a decent tamper and tobacco pouch. These two items will greatly enhance your smoking pleasure. As to why I asked where you'll be smoking your pipe for the most part ... the answer is simple. If you plan on doing a lot of smoking outdoors, while working in the yard and such, you might what to consider a rusticated pipe. The wear and tear of being outdoors will be far less noticeable on a pipe with a rough finish. Rusticated pipes generally cost less than smooth pipes. If you'll be smoking mostly indoors treat yourself to a smooth, polished pipe with as nice a grain pattern as you can find in your price range. As you sit and enjoy your pipe indoors you'll find that your senses will come alive. Smell, taste and touch all play a role. With a handsome pipe even sight becomes a pleasure.

Q: I'm interested in buying my first pipe. Should I get a bent style pipe or straight ? Malcom T.

A: Pipes are like shoes in many respects. What is attractive and comfortable to one person might be all wrong for another. From a technical stand point, here are a few considerations. Straight pipes tend to burn a little more evenly, cleanly and perhaps even a little cooler. The trade off is that holding it firmly in your teeth requires much more effort than a bent pipe due to basic leverage. If you tire of holding it in your teeth you'll need a free hand to hold it.

Also, those of us who, over the course of time, have traded in our natural teeth for the man made kind might not have an easy time with larger straight pipes. I find straight pipes with saddle stems to be the most comfortable ... but that's me. Bent pipes are much easier to hold in your mouth and do not exert nearly as much leverage as a straight pipe. They also allow the smoker to catch an occasional whiff of their own tobacco directly from the bowl.

Most people find them much easier to light and keep lit because you can see more of what your doing. The downside? When holding a bent pipe in your mouth over an extended period of time saliva tends to run down the stem causing moisture in the bowl which leads to a hot, gurgling pipe. Some less expensive bent pipes will not pass a pipe cleaner through without taking the stem off. That's OK when the bowl is cool but a major no-no when the bowl is hot. All the best, VegasSmokes

Q: I'd like to purchase a pipe as a gift for my husband. I see straight ones and ones with a bend. Which do most people prefer ? Janet M.

A: My first recommendation is to sneak a peek at your husband's existing pipes and see what shape most are. As far as which shape is the most popular, we sell about 3 - 4 bent pipes for every one straight for the past 10 years. You really can't go wrong with either ... as gifts for men go, pipes are so much better than ties. :) I gift certificate might not be a bad idea either.

A Stem Primer
The topic of this newsletter is stems. Sounds simple enough but pipe smokers sometimes tend to take them for granted. We focus on our briar and tend to think of our stems as strictly the "business" end of our beautiful briars. While there is truth to that, stems provide different functionality and can also be things of beauty in their own right. This article is not intended to cover the subject of stems in detail. A book could be written on the subject; this is a primer and food for thought.

Stems come in many forms, shapes and materials. The varieties found on inexpensive pipes are generally molded from lower grade plastics. The burrs and molding seams are simply buffed to produce a smooth finish. This stem type is the least durable and attractive but is adequate for their intended purpose.

The next production method is turned and fraise duplicated models. These stems can be either one-offs done by small carvers, mass produced in a factory setting and everything in between. Some large pipe producers do this in house while others purchase stems from outside venders and concentrate on briar and fitting. This level of stem production can be of a very high quality given the technology used in modern facilities. Most stems of this grade would fall into the average to above average quality. The most common materials used for this method are vulcanite and Lucite. Vulcanite is a softer, more forgiving material. It can be buffed to an high luster, turned into a myriad of shapes including some of the more delicate styles and provides a very comfortable smoking experience.

The downside the fact that vulcanite will discolor and scale with time, use and sun exposure. The discoloration and scaling can be cleaned but it does require skill and time. Lucite can be crafted into many shapes, is very long lasting, can be had in a huge assortment of colors and color combinations and requires almost none of the maintenance associated with vulcanite but they are hard.

The last production method is the one-off hand carved. This method is used on many high grade pipes by many high end pipe carvers. The pipe carver will put just as much artistic flare and expertise into a stem as they do a briar bowl. These stems can be a feast for the eyes, gentle on the mouth and add to the finish product rather than being just a utilitarian part of a pipe. The hand carved or "cut" stem is made from a blank of high grade material such as ebonite. Ebonite has all the positive properties of vulcanite with the durability of Lucite. It polishes to an extremely deep lustre and holds it's finish with minimal care for quite some time. It is also quite expensive as stem material goes. The blank can be turned on a lathe to produce the intial shape and diameter but is mostly shaped using hand tools such as files, rasps and sandpaper.

No matter what kind of stems you have or tend to be drawn to, with a little care and elbow grease they will serve you well for years to come.

The RTDA Show
For those of you not familiar will the RTDA it stands for Retail Tobacco Dealers Association. It's the tobacco industries' premier trade association. Each summer the RTDA picks some horribly hot and/or humid location such as Vegas or San Antonio to hold a huge trade show and convention. The who's who, the who isn't and the who wants to be all show up with their finest wares and latest creations in an attempt to get us retailers to place uncomfortably larger orders than we had in mind. They ply us with free some free samples and open bars in the process. It usually doesn't require too much arm twisting.

Proper Moisture Content for Pipe Tobacco
Pipe tobacco differs from other tobacco products when it comes to moisture content. For cigars, the perfect moisture content is approximately 70 - 73 RH (relative humidity) @ 72°. This is generally too damp for pipe tobacco. While I'm on the subject let me address the matter of storing pipe tobacco in your cigar humidor. Simply put, it's a very bad idea.

Besides the fact that a cigar humidor is too damp, pipe tobacco will impart a taste to the cigars they are stored with and vise versa. Also, if the pipe tobacco is placed against the humidor's cedar lining it will badly stain it. Pipe tobacco is best kept between 45 and 60 RH. I know this seems like a large range but it does cover the vast types of pipe tobacco. Different styles of pipe tobacco require different RH. Here is a rule of thumb to finding the right RH for each tobacco type you smoke.

-Tobacco that is too moist will be hard to light, burn wet (which will cause your pipe to gurgle), lack flavor and it will burn very hot due to the excess moisture being converted to steam.
-Tobacco that is too dry will burn fast, hot and have a straw-like quality to the taste.

So here is the assignment:
Experiment will each type of tobacco that you smoke. First, smoke it in the same condition as you bought it. (Don't assume that because the tobacco shipped with a certain moisture content that is the correct content.) Note how it smoked. Work your way down in dryness and continue to note how the tobacco smokes. Once you have determined the best moisture content for each of your tobaccos try to replicate the RH in your temporary and long term storage. If all this sounds like a lot of work, you're right, it is but you will be rewarded with a much better smoking experience. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules. What might be perfect for me might be too dry for you.

Two last thoughts on the subject:
-Temperature effects RH. As temperature rising so does RH. As temperature lowers so does RH.
-Some manufacturers use things like propylene glycol (mostly found in aromatics but can be found elsewhere) and pectin to regulate RH and enhance shelf life. These tobaccos tend to be more difficult to control the RH. Personally, I try to avoid them anyway.

It's Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is often overlooked as it seems at times as simply a jumping off point for Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza (forgive me if I left someone's holiday of choice from this short list :) ). In my mind Thanksgiving is one of most, if not the most, personal holiday.

When I was a boy Thanksgiving consisted of the entire, and I mean entire, family gathering at my grandparents house. I recall a never ending flow of food, so of which wasn't exactly suited for a child's pallet. Come on, how many youngsters really appreciate antipasti. I remember laughing, hugging, kissing, the kitchen looking like a beehive of Italian women, football, passionate "debates" and of course Grandpa smoking Half & Half in his pipe. There was one part of Thanksgiving I did not look forward to at all. Just as dinner was about to be served, he'd take his usual place at the head of the table, stand and have each person under his roof tell everyone what they were thankful for. I'd be at one of the many kiddie tables sweating my turn.

As I got older I even started rehearsing days in advance only to forget what I was going to say. This forced payment for a nice turkey dinner that Grandpa extracted from his guests seemed to last forever. What a drag. I recall people crying, laughing and even arguing as family members and friends got things off their chests. Being so young I did not understand the power of the therapy Grandpa was providing. One year, as I got older and and closer to the grown up table, it was my turn to stand (yes he made everyone stand) and he asked me what I was thankful for. I just said the first thing that came to my mind ... I said "You". He looked at me and I looked at him and we both welled up with tears. It was at that moment that he knew that I knew what he was up to all those years.

Grandpa is gone and I have a my own tribe over which I preside from the head of the table. I keep the tradition alive. Maybe someday I'll hear that same simple word ... "You".

At this moment, looking back over the close of VegasSmokes 9th successful year, if you were to ask me what I was thankful for the answer would be very simple ... each and every one of ... "You".

Winter Pipe Care
Smoking a pipe in the cold weather brings with it a few problems that we don't have to think about in warmer weather. Here are some ideas to keep your winter smoking pleasant a problem free.

-Be extra careful with your stems when smoking outdoors. Stem material can become very brittle from the cold and break easily. Do not separate the stem from it's bowl until the pipe is back indoor and acclimated to the warmer temperature. Try not to clench the stem too hard either. Pressure that would be normal in moderate temperatures can crack a cold stem.
-The fit between the stem and bowl will fluctuate when it is exposed to constant and rapid changes of temperature. The tenon may also loosen. Don't buff or try to correct the problem right away. Stop using the pipe and store it indoors for a few days to see if the situation will correct itself.
-Cold air changes the flavor of tobacco and can effect the way we smoke. Cool smoke has more flavor but cold smoke tends to lack flavor making us want to puff harder. This causes tongue bite and bowl overheating. An inexpensive windcap can solve this problem.
-Winter wind can also be a pipe smoker's enemy. Besides the flying ash, wind causes a variety of problems. Pipes are harder to light so we end up burning the rims of our bowls. Try lighting while sheltered or use your coat as a wind break. Also try to use a lighter with a directional flame. I wet the bowl rim with a little saliva prior to lighting. Sounds a bit nasty but it does work. Wind whipping across the bowl top can also cause the pipe to burn it's sidewalls. You'll never notice until it's too late because you can't feel the excess heat. Again, a simple windcap can solve this problem.
-Find a pipe or two that fairs well in cold weather. Outdoor smoking in cold temperatures is not the time to be smoking your rare Dunhill. It's the time for a solid, rugged pipe with thick walls and a durable stem. These types of pipes are available and, as a plus, tend to be the least expensive.

So you see, with a little common sense and wisdom, not even Jack Frost himself can keep us from enjoying our pipes outdoors on a cold winter's day.


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