How to Properly Smoke a Pipe

Enjoy the autumn weather with a comfortable chair and a good smoke.

Autumn's traditionally the time of year to burn fallen leaves. But since it's bad for the air and one hell of a fire hazard, we like to stick to burning tobacco.

If you want to settle into a deck chair with a pipe yourself, there are a few things you've got to learn to do it properly: how to choose and store tobacco, how to pack and light the stuff, and how to clean your pipe once you're finished.

Choose Your Tobacco Wisely

First, look around the shop you're in. If you can also buy socks and Mountain Dew, or if the tobacco is sold in five-pound bags with labels like “Very Cherry,” leave. If you see shelves of glass jars, each filled with different hues of shaved tobacco, you're in the right place.

There are two main types of tobacco: aromatic and nonaromatic. Aromatics are sweeter, and tend to be where most smokers start. Then you can move on to the stronger English blends, and then maybe to straight Virginia tobacco. Smell a few jars and when one strikes your fancy, that’s the train to ride. Only buy one or two ounces at a time until you find something you really like to smoke -- tobacco has a long shelf life, and you only smoke a little at a time.

Store It Well

Once you start buying larger quantities, it's important to store the stuff correctly. If properly stored, the tobacco will improve over time as flavors blend together.

The best bet is to use mason jars with lids and rubber gaskets. Wash and dry the jar to get rid of any factory residue, put your tobacco in, put the gasket on, and close it tightly. Other than that, the tobacco takes care of itself.

Two things you shouldn’t do: store tobacco in direct sunlight, or store pipe tobacco with cigars. Both will suck the moisture (and therefore the flavor) right out.

Packing It Properly

This part is going to take a bit of practice. If the tobacco is too loose, the flame won’t spread through the chamber. If it’s too tight, the airflow won't carry the smoke. The best way to avoid both is the three layer method.

Get rid of any big chunks in your tobacco, then take a pinch and sprinkle the stuff into your pipe, filling it to the top. Then use a tamp (or any blunt object) to compress it to about two-thirds of the way down. It should be springy, like a bed of ferns. Put it to your lips and draw. Any resistance? If so, dump it and start over.

Sprinkle to the top again, and tamp down to just over half of the bowl. You might feel a little resistance on your draw this time, but not too much. Now sprinkle another layer so it crests the bowl - like a little bush on top of your pipe. Tamp it down level with the bowl opening. Drawing this time should feel like sucking on a straw.

Light Up

Now that you’ve built a beautiful tobacco layer cake, it’s time to light. Lighters burn too hot and they can char the edge of your bowl, so you're gonna want to use a match. Move it in a circular motion around the tobacco on top; some of it will light and curl up. That's called the charring light. Let it go out.

Now light another match and draw on the pipe slowly. Get a nice little bed of embers in there. Go too long between puffs and it'll go out, but you don't want to be a locomotive, either, since you’ll burn your mouth and maybe your pipe. Settle in. Enjoy it.

Clean Your Pipe

Yes, pipe cleaners are for more than just making caterpillars in second grade. After letting your pipe cool, use a pipe scraper to dislodge any residue (called dottle) in the bottom of the bowl. Put your hand over the opening and shake it gently to evenly distribute residue and build up a good cake, which helps protect the wood. Dump out any extra dottle.

Now put a clean pipe cleaner through the mouthpiece into the stem, so you can just see it peek out in the bowl. Repeat with fresh cleaners until they come out without residue. Then moisten one of them and clean off the mouthpiece so it doesn’t get sour. Repeat every time you smoke, and wait a couple days before smoking the same pipe again so the material doesn’t heat up too frequently.

Now all you need are some leatherbound books and a velvet jacket.

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