The Pipe Club of Lebanon
New to pipe smoking?
Not-so-new but in search of answers to this or that problem?
This is the place to look!
We will cover the nine essential skills of good pipe smoking, namely, choosing a pipe, choosing a tobacco, preparing the tobacco, filling the pipe, lighting the pipe, smoking, thinking, emptying the pipe, and cleaning the pipe.
1. Choosing a pipe
Choosing a pipe that suits your mood, the time of the day, and what you will be doing while smoking is important.
If you're nervous, take that old trusty pipe which smokes easily and which can withstand a few bites and some overheating. If you're calm and relaxed, you might want to explore possibilities so you can take a fairly new pipe or a pipe which has caused you trouble in the past. If you're in a meditative mood, why not take that big, heavy pipe which will force you to sit down and enjoy the calmer pleasures of life? If you're in an adventurous or sportive mood, then a light, straight pipe is recommended. You want to retain the use of both hands, so why bother with a heavy-weight pipe?
The time of the day also dictates, in a way, the choice of the pipe. In the morning, a medium-sized pipe, straight, to begin the day fully. In the afternoon, a light bent pipe with a good balance, and at night, either at home or at your friends', a heavy bent will finish the day in beauty.
What you will be doing while smoking will, of course, dictate the shape and weight of the pipe. The basic guideline is that if you want to use your hands, choose a light pipe: either a balanced bent (the bent Petersons are excellently balanced) or a straight billiard. If you're sitting comfortably, a heavy bent, fully resting in the palm of your hand, is a good choice.
2. Choosing a tobacco
Choosing a tobacco that suits your mood, the time of the day, and what you will be doing and where is important.
Choosing the appropriate tobacco is also important. Reflect on this: you are taking up your pipe and preparing to smoke for a period of time, ideally one hour or so (this, of course, varies with your smoking habits). This means that, for an hour or so, you will be burning the leaves of a plant which have been chosen, blended, prepared, flavoured, and put in a container with care, attention, and, sometimes, with love. Picking up any tobacco just because "it is there" is a barbarity. Take some time to read what is written on the container. What kind of mixture is it? Is it an English mixture, an aromatic, or a flake? Is it mainly burley, Cavendish, Virginia, Perique, Latakia, or something else? How does the tobacco look like? Is it light or dark? Dry or humid? What is the consistency when you pick some of it in your fingers? What does the aroma remind you of? Woods? Fruits? By just smelling it, are you also able to anticipate its taste? These and other questions will help make of pipe smoking "truly an intellectual exercise" where we, as pipe smokers, show that we are able to enjoy the finer things of life.
We also recommend that each pipe you own is "dedicated" to one kind of tobacco. We mean by "kind" that it is either an aromatic, an English mixture, or a flake. Of course, if you have a large collection of pipes, you can even go to the extent of dedicating a single tobacco brand to one pipe, which would be ideal. The idea behind this is simple: a pipe is a living object and, as such, "breathes" and "grows" with time, with the tobacco it is subjected to and, ideally, with you. Therefore, your pipe will, each time you fill it and apply fire to it, interact with a specific tobacco. With time, tobacco juices are "sucked" inside the wood and the pipe "bonds" with a specific tobacco. If you decide to try a different tobacco with the same pipe, remember that you need to smoke at least five pipe bowls for the pipe to "get acquainted" to the new tobacco and, therefore, to give you, the smoker, the full, (almost) exact aroma and flavour of the tobacco. This observation brings us to the interesting point that a new tobacco smoked for the first time seldom releases its true qualities. Patience is one of the many virtues of pipe smokers!
Another important point is that, given that the above is your usual practice (it becomes a second habit with experienced smokers), you will often find yourself wondering about which tobacco best suits your mood. Based on experience and on the personal chemistry of each pipe smoker, habits create associations between smells, aromas, and tastes, on the one hand, and moods and times of the day on the other hand. Simply put, with some practice you will find that an English mixture, for example, is just fine for those times when you're calmly sitting in your favourite armchair and reading, and that a heavy aromatic is for those moments when you feel sociable, outgoing, and in a talkative mood. And maybe your favourite Virginia flake is the best companion when you're outdoors with nature. Maybe in the morning your body and your mind demand to be awakened by a strong, spicy Latakia, and your afternoon is better spent with the sweet aromas of a fruity aromatic!
What we can learn from pipe smoking is this: a pipe and tobacco can attune us to our body, to our environment, to people around us (and to all other creatures, too!), to different times of the day and to different places. Cramped office rooms change us as do wide open spaces. A good pipe and good tobacco can make us more aware of these variations in our life.
3. Preparing the tobacco
Preparing the tobacco means deciding how fast or how slow your smoking session will be.
So you have decided which pipe to smoke and which tobacco to put in it. You still have to prepare the delicate leaves in order to get the most benefit (and pleasure) out of your smoking session. The rule is the following: the finer the tobacco cut, the faster it will burn and, unfortunately, the more nicotine your system will ingest. Since we want to maximize our smoking session while, at the same time, minimizing health hazards, we recommend keeping away from tobaccos which are too finely pre-cut. A fine tobacco is recognizable by almost flowing between your fingers, like sand.
Yet, a finer cut is preferable when the tobacco comes in thick shreds or in flakes. When faced with thick shreds, it is enough to untangle and, as it were, massage the tobacco until it reaches a size which can easily be filled in the pipe bowl. With flakes, we advise taking one or two flakes, putting them on the palm of one hand, then, with the other palm, rubbing the tobacco until it reaches the required consistency.
4. Filling the pipe
Filling the pipe properly is the single most decisive factor in your smoking session.
During pipe smoking competitions, more time is allotted to filling the pipe than to anything else. The reason is simple: how you fill your pipe will determine how your whole smoking session will be.
Fill it irregularly, and pockets of air between the tobacco will produce uneven smoking, gurgling sounds, and a fast and irregularly-spaced combustion. Fill it too loosely, and you will require quicker puffs to keep it lit, in addition to burning the tobacco too quickly. Fill it too tightly, and you will have to exert too much effort while drawing, in addition to having to relight more frequently.
From the above, it is clear that a pipe should be filled regularly, not too loosely, and not too tightly.
At the Pipe Club of Lebanon, we generally adopt the well-known three-step method, which will ensure that our pipes are correctly filled. Here it is:
Blow first in your pipe to make sure that it is free from obstructions.
Take a pinch of prepared tobacco and sprinkle it into the bowl, while tapping the side of the bowl with your finger.
When the tobacco has reached the rim of the bowl, use your finger to tamp the tobacco down the bowl, exerting SLIGHT pressure. This is called "the finger of a baby" tamp.
Take a second pinch of tobacco and, again, sprinkle until the tobacco reaches the rim of the bowl, without forgetting to tap the side of the pipe.
Use your finger to tamp the tobacco down the bowl, exerting MEDIUM pressure. This is called "the finger of a lady" tamp.
Repeat with a third pinch, then tamp the tobacco down the bowl, exerting STRONG pressure. This is called "the finger of a man" tamp.
Put your pipe in your mouth to test the draw: there should be some resistance. If it is too loose, apply more pressure with your finger or put more tobacco. If it is too tight, and you can draw only with difficulty, empty the bowl and repeat.
With practice, you will happily discover that your fingers will do the job for you!
5. Lighting the pipe
Lighting the pipe correctly ensures a homogenous burning.
Should you use matches or a lighter? Matches are the preferred means of lighting your pipe. Match flames are stronger than lighter flames, are more in conformity with the briar of the pipe (they are wood sticks), and impart no smell to the tobacco. A lighter is cleaner and less messy, but its flame is not as strong as that of matches. If you have both matches and a lighter, use matches.
Correctly lighting your pipe is important! First, good lighting keeps all the upper layer of tobacco burning homogenously and, second, it keeps combustion moving downwards in the bowl. In order to fill these two conditions, that is, in order to spread fire both horizontally and vertically, two things must be done:
Move your match in slow circles while drawing.
Make your draws as deep as possible.
Relighting is not a problem, as long as you don't have to do it too often. If your pipe has gone out for more than a few hours, it is preferable to stop smoking it.
One of the most difficult arts to master, the puff dictates how long and how trouble-free your session will be.
This is where things become problematic. Properly smoking a pipe is the most difficult process to teach, because this is where mechanical tips stop short. Preparing the tobacco, filling the pipe, lighting it, emptying it, and, finally, cleaning it, can all be more or less learned with some practice. But when it comes to smoking the pipe, smokers are left on their own. So many factors enter into play that it is next to impossible to advise as to the most correct course to follow. Smokers, physically, come in all shapes: they can be tall, medium, or short; fat, average, or thin; young or old; healthy or not; nervous or calm; and the list, of course, can go much further. Add to this the specific mood and constitution of the moment, and whether the smoker has just eaten or not, and, if yes, what. And whether the smoker is tired, or has a cold, or not. The combination is, quite interestingly, infinite.
And herein lies the mystery, and the pleasure, of the lore of the pipe. Each smoke is unique, peculiar to the moment, indicating, with perfect precision, what "goes on" in the smoker's whole setup.
But, if asked to give the most basic tips as to how to make our smoking session satisfactory, we would say the following:
Concentrate on the smoking process or, at least, be aware of it.
Use your tamper to lightly tamp down the ash which forms on top of your tobacco.
Realize that each pipe and each tobacco have different, purely personal, ways of being smoked.
Realize that your state of mind and your current physical makeup at the moment of smoking are decisive elements.
Pipe smoking is properly an intellectual exercise!
Some smokers like to read while smoking, others like to listen to music, others like to watch TV, others enjoy sharing in some heated discussions, still others reserve their pipe smoking session for silent meditation. The important thing to observe is that a pipe, tobacco, and smoking should deserve our respect and attention. Smoking should not be an idle occupation but the vehicle for intellectual development.
The variations, as in many other things related to pipe smoking, are infinite, and we are thankful for that. Pipe smoking is truly a unique activity which, though it appears, from the outside, to be almost uniformly practiced, is in fact only a matrix through which a variety of experimentations in sight, in touch, in smells, in colours, in tastes, and in feelings and thoughts are experienced.
Need we say more on why "Pipe smoking is properly an intellectual exercise"?
8. Emptying a pipe
Good emptying habits will maximize the life of your pipe.
Some beginners--and some not-quite-beginners as well--empty their pipes by thumping them or banging them on walls, on their heels, or on whatever hard surface they can find, thus making sure that their pipe will not remain with them for long.
Not only is holding a pipe by its stem and banging it on a hard surface the best way to break it or to dent it with ugly scratches, it is also a sure-fire sign of disrespect. We, at the Pipe Club of Lebanon, believe that a pipe is a lifelong companion which, if treated well, will give us many years of satisfaction and joy. We can at least show our appreciation by caring for our pipes and treating them with respect and dignity.
Using your "pipe-friend" or any other pointed instrument, gently remove, with a turning movement, the ashes or the remaining tobacco from the bowl and simply turn the bowl upside down to empty its contents. Repeat as necessary. Blowing through the mouthpiece ensures that nothing is left trapped inside.
Simple, silent, clean, and "pipe-friendly"!
9. Cleaning a pipe
Good cleaning habits not only keep your pipe free from unwanted tastes but also shows respect for your pipe.
There are some smokers who seldom clean their pipes. Some others (an exception, fortunately!) never clean their pipes, just adding more tobacco on top of the remaining ashes, gunk, and tar. Needless to say, this is a barbarous and disgusting habit.
If you have read so far, you should know that keeping your pipe clean is a good thing for you and for your pipe. It shows a clean and disciplined mind which can find time in a busy world like ours to clean a seemingly insignificant thing like a pipe. It shows commitment to finish what we have begun, and it gives us a sense of completion in an otherwise messy or altogether meaningless world. It shows respect to the pipe who has given us satisfaction, and, by extension, it teaches us to show respect for others who have helped us. In other words, observing a pipe smoker cleaning a pipe is sometimes the surer way to discover their habits in daily life!
Use pipe cleaners in order to clean the bowl and the mouthpiece in the following manner:
After you have emptied your pipe and after you have blown inside the mouthpiece, take a pipe cleaner and insert it through the mouthpiece until it reaches the hole in the bowl. Some pipes, especially the bent ones, require you to similarly bend the pipe cleaner before insertion.
Once you see the tip of the pipe cleaner showing through the hole in the bowl, apply an in-and-out movement to properly clean the mouthpiece and the shank. Repeat, if needed, with a new pipe cleaner until satisfied that no more tar and gunk is left.
Blow again to remove any debris.
Take another pipe cleaner, fold it in half, and insert the folded end into the bowl. With a circular movement, clean the walls and base of the bowl. For big pipes, bend two pipe cleaners at the same time.
Blow again to remove any debris.
Take a piece of soft cloth and clean the mouthpiece, the shank, and the bowl, applying extra cleaning pressure on the rim of the bowl.
Keep your pipe in the open air for a day or two (the wood must "breathe" after the smoking process).
After a quick external cleaning, put your pipe in a place away from direct sunlight, preferably in its box (direct sunlight or, for that matter, any direct light, will, with time, turn your beautiful black mouthpieces, if they are made of vulcanite, into a disgusting yellowish-greenish colour).