Italian Flag InfoWell: Guides
Pipe Tobacco Frequently Asked Questions ©


On the page: Pipes Tobaccos Pipe Smoking Pipe Smoking Accessories

Please feel free to send me an e-mail if you have any questions, comments, suggestions.



Pipes

Back to Top




Tobaccos


[Back To Top]




Pipe Smoking

Back to Top




Pipe Smoking Accessories


Back to Top



Pipes


What materials are being used in making pipes?

Numerous. Almost countless. Man has tried all imaginable (and unimaginable) materials; even human bones were used when nothing else seemed more adequate! However, nowadays, the most popular and adequate material is the briar. This wood has proved to be relatively easy to work, extremely resistant to heat, and porous. It's also light in weight, esp. when it has been correctly cured. Another very popular material is meerschaum (seafoam) which is a mineral found only in Turkey. It's extremely absorbent and very light in weight; the problem with meerschaum is its fragility. Other less common materials include: clay, corncobs, porcelain, olive wood, cherry wood, and maple. An example of quite a rare material is the "morta", which is fossilized wood (currently being made by one pipe maker in France).

[Back To Top]



How can pipes be differentiated based on the making process?

Pipes are generally made either by machine or by hand.  Unlike other machine made objects, pipes made by machines always require a certain amount of hand work; for example, the application of colorings (tints)  is almost always done by hand, as well as the process of hiding and/or removing defects in the briar (fills/putties). Depending on the manufacturing facilities and the available machinery, the pieces of briar are placed on a lathe, where 12, 24, 36, etc., pieces are cut  simultaneously into a predetermined shape.

Hand-made pipes, on the other hand,  require a great amount of hand work (which varies from one pipe maker to the other) and usually a certain minimal amount of machine intervention.  Also, here machines may be used (and ARE often used) at certain stages of pipe making; for example, an electric drill is used to make the draught hole and the tobacco chamber.  A few pipe makers nowadays make their pipe with absolutely no electric saws or drills, just lying on their muscles and filing and sanding abilities.  A hand made pipe could take from one hour to a few days, depending on the method used, the maker's experience, the desired shape, etc.

The difference between hand made and machine made pipes is particularly (and justifiably) evident in the price of the end product.  While an average machine made pipe would cost around $80, an average hand made pipe would cost at least double that.

Apart from the (sort of) clear-cut distinction between machine and hand made pipes, there's another less known category: "Semi"-hand/machine made pipes.  Here the making process is divided into two distinct phases: the bowl is formed using a machine (like in the machine made pipes), and then the bowls are further refined using sand paper (and again, the coloring is applied by hand).  Unfortunately, and in a lot of cases, such pipes are stamped "Hand Made"  anyway, and sold as such.  It's impossible to detect the difference between a fully hand made pipe and a semi-hand made one (not that it is easy to distinguish a machine made pipe from a hand made one!).

[Back To Top]



What are the general forms that pipes come in?

A pipe is generally defined as straight or bent.  Bent pipes can be further described as "quarter-bent", "semi-bent" and "fully-bent".  See the answer to the following question to get example shapes in each of these categories.

[Back To Top]



What are the names of the most common classic shapes?

To render the answer more readable and comprehensible, I'll just give names of the most common classic shapes, without specifying which can be straight and/or bent (I'll say it only when I think a shape comes in only or mainly one form).  You may be already aware of the fact that with time, several shapes could (and do) stem from one basic shape.  For this reason, I'll list the basic models and in parentheses, I'll list other shapes that I think are based on the basic one (the basic shapes are given in order of their popularity): Billiard (Lovat, Canadian, Liverpool, Chimney/Stack), Apple (Globe), Bulldog (Squat Bulldog), Rhodesian, Pot, Dublin, Zulu, Horn (and/or Woodstock), Brandy, Hungarian/Oom Paul (only fully bent), Bullcap (usually only straight), Prince (usually 1/4 bent), and Calabash (only fully bent).

A very good reference booklet on the subject is "Briar Shapes and Styles-Pipe Line Guide No. 1", by Jacques P. Cole" (1985).

Note that examples of more than 90% of these shapes can be viewed on this site.

[Back To Top]



What are the different finishes that pipes come in?

Generally, six (surprised?!): Smooth, Sandblasted, Rusticated, Carved, Smooth Black, and Painted.  Smooth means that the natural grain pattern of the briar remains unaltered; the difference could be in the tint used, from natural (slightly more yellow/orange than the natural color of the wood) up to dark red, for example.  Sandblasted pipes still show the natural grain of the wood, not as it was in natural but rather through exposing the pipe to an extremely strong jet of sand, which removes the weakest parts of the grain, leaving the hard ones "in relief".  The grain on Rusticated pipes, on the other hand, is no longer visible; the maker uses a tool (either a hand tool or an electric one) to basically render the surface "rugged".  Why?!  Usually because the pipe exhibits sandpits that are too big to be treated or hidden.  Carved pipes, which are the rarest of the lot, are pipes that have been formed into a particular shape or image, such as a face or a motif; carving is made exclusively by hand.  The smooth Black finish, on the other hand, is what it says: a pipe that has not been sandblasted, rusticated or carved, but has been colored black.  Apparently, here the grain is no longer visible; however, Stanwell used to produce such an evening pipe called then the "Silhouette", which upon very close inspection still showed part of the grain.  Finally, "Painted" is probably the lastest "fashion"; these are pipes that are literally painted with heavy colors that completely cover the briar grain (an example is the Butz Choquin Rhapsody pipe series, on sale on this site).

A note of caution:  "Carved",  in some parts of the world, primarily in the USA, stands for "Rusticated" and is used to describe both the "Rusticated" and the "Carved" in the sense they're used here.

[Back To Top]



What's grain?

Just like with wood, in general, where the number of rings indicates the age of the tree, the grain functions in the same way for the briar.  The harder and older a pipe of briar is, the tighter the "veins" on it are.  There are different patterns that can be found on a pipe: Straight Grain (the most sought-after and the most expensive), Bird's Eye (where the crossing of different "veins" creates what looks like little eyes of birds), Ring Grain (horizontal lines, which is the result of the maker's decision to cut the briar piece sideways), and Cross Grain (which is a mixture of different patterns).

[Back To Top]



What are the most common colors applied to pipes?

Generally, the less obtrusive (and more natural) a pipe is, the better and more expensive it is, since the pipe will grow darker with time and also breathe better.  Natural tints have alcohol as a base and are usually natural (as opposed to chemical); these tints are usually light orange, yellow, brown, etc.  Other less natural and more obtrusive colors, such as dark red or brown, are used, and are usually associated with machine made pipes as well as low-end hand made pipes.  "Painted" pipes are in a class of their own.)

[Back To Top]



What are the types of ornaments and accessories used in pipe making?

The imagination of pipe makers has no limits also in this area.  So many ornaments are being used in pipe making.  The most common are:  (1) bands/rings (varying in thickness and amount of hand work) of silver and gold, as well as non-precious metals, and (2) inserts of briar, bamboo, horn, bone, plastic, wood, etc.

A pipe could also be fitted with (3) a metal cover to protect the smoke and combustion from wind, and (4) chains to connect the mouthpiece and the shank/bowl.

It was the fashion in the 1970's, particularly in France, to apply a layer of leather to the outer walls of the bowl as well as the shank (dressing the pipe, i.e.).  (We're lucky not to be in the 1970s still!)

[Back To Top]



What are the names of the different parts of a pipe?

A pipe is (usually!) made up of three components: a bowl, a shank, and a mouthpiece.  The inside of the bowl, where the tobacco goes, is called the "tobacco chamber", the channel that conducts the smoke from the bowl to the shank and ultimately to the mouthpiece (and your mouth) is the "draught hole", and the little end part of the mouthpiece that enters into the shank is the "tenon" (also "peg", in the UK).  The story could just go on and on!

[Back To Top]



What advice can you give to someone who would like to buy his/her first pipe?

A pipe should be as light in weight as possible, and the smaller the better (not tiny, though).  A straight or 1/4 bent would be ideal, since more bent pipes require a bit more experience to keep the pipe "under control".

So I advise you to choose a pipe that (in order of importance):

The golden rule is always go to a reputed tobacco shop and seek a professional's help.
[Back To Top]



Tobaccos


What are the names of the major blending pipe tobaccos?

Virginia (Bright, Red, Black), Burley, Latakia (Cypriot and Syrian), Kentucky, Maryland, Black Cavendish, Orientals, Turkish, Perique, etc.

[Back To Top]



What are the major tobacco growing countries?

The USA, China, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Cyprus, and Syria.

[Back To Top]



How are pipe tobaccos cured?

There are four major ways to cure (and dry) tobaccos:


[Back To Top]



Tobaccos come in many different types. What are they?

Tobaccos are normally divided into four types: English (with Latakia), Straight Virginia (possibly with Perique), Straight Burley, and Flavored Tobaccos (commonly known as "Aromatics").

A typical English Mixture has as its base one or more Virginias, Orientals/Turkish, Latakia, and possibly a bit of Perique.  Other tobaccos, such as Burley and Black Cavendish, have found their way in the "modern" English mixtures.  The word "English" is also used to describe tobaccos that contain no additives.  (For example, in the USA, this word is used to describe an additive-free tobacco, regardless of the ingredient tobaccos or the type of blend; i.e., it could be a blend with Latakia or a pressed Virginia.)

Straight Virginias are usually found in pressed form (Flakes, Slices, Curlies, Plugs, etc.).  These tobaccos are traditionally free of artificial flavorings; however, they can currently be found with slight to heavy "casing".

Straight Burley is an all-American tradition.  These blends have always been so highly appreciated by some American connoisseurs.  Unfortunately, in the minds of many smokers, Burley is associated with flavored tobaccos, which is not awlays true.  It's hard to find a natural all-Burley blend outside the USA.

"Flavored" is used here to refer to the so-called "Aromatics".  The former is preferred, simply because a tobacco is "aromatic" when it has a nice NATURAL aroma; if we insist on a word derived from "aroma" to describe flavored tobaccos, then it should be "aromaticized" (which means uninherently aromatic).  In the UK, as well as elsewhere, the word "Scented" is used to mean "Aromatic" (in the American sense) and "Flavored", as used here.
Tobaccos can be flavored with so many different agents, ranging from the 100% natural to the 100% artificial (i.e., chemical).  Among the most popular flavors used in pipe tobacco are: Vanilla, Fruits (peach, strawberry, etc.), and alcoholic beverages (such  as Whiskey, Cognac and Rum).

[Back To Top]



In what various forms is tobacco sold?

The final products you find in tobacco shops are divided:


[Back To Top]



Does color have an effect on the taste and strength of a tobacco?

Contrary to common belief, NOT, at least not always.  Black Cavendish is jet black and yet is pretty mild, and so is Latakia (which is actually mistakingly believed to be a strong tobacco).  A light brown Virginia is often a lot stronger than Latakia, for example.

However, within the same type of tobacco, let's say Virginia, usually a tobacco lighter in color is milder than a darker one.  The strength of a tobacco is usually determined by the amount of fermentation, but primarily by the type of leaf itself.

[Back To Top]



In what forms is pipe tobacco sold in a tobacco shop?

Here, we're talking about weight and type of "container".  The most common weight is 2oz/50g.  Some tobaccos are also availabe in double, far fewer in half, that quantity.

Tobaccos are generally sold in bulk (or  loose), in a plastic pouch, or in a tin.  Due to cost, weight, and size, tins are not as commonplace as pouches nowadays.  As for bulk/loose tobaccos, and depending on the shop, the desired quantity is usually sold in a transparent, plain, plastic pouch that can keep up to 50g of tobacco for a week (with about 3-4 pipefuls a day), with no risk (I'm not talking about capacity now, rather the functionality).  For bigger quantities, I recommend a jar that seals the tobacco in. The plastic pouch can be used for 50g at a time.

[Back To Top]



What are the different factors that a blender considers when making a new blend of tobacco?

Blending a good pipe tobacco is an extremely complicated process, and it requires talent, experience, and lots of patience.  Having in mind the kind of blend that is required, the blender should consider, among other things: the taste, color tones, aroma, combustibility, humidity, cut, and feel of each blending tobacco, and then the same aspects all over again to evaluate the final product before offering it on the market.  Good blends could take up to years to make and test before they land into your pipe.

[Back To Top]



Is there a particular type of tobacco most suitable for a newly born pipe smoker?
Here I can only give some buy-not's.  Do NOT buy:


It's hard to name one tobacco or one type of tobacco.  It all depends on the smoker(-to-be).  The best thing would be to ask a professional tobacconist and/or a pipe smoking friend (not that that always works!).  Alternatively, you can ask ME ;-)

[Back To Top]


 


What is Cavendish? Is it a tobacco?

Well, Cavendish is NOT a tobacco. It refers to tobaccos (Virginias) pressed, fermented, etc. and then cut and used in a blend, or, rarely, sold and smoked as it is. So "Cavendish" refers to a manufacturing process and not to a tobacco as it is found in nature. Now, the most common kind of Cavendish is Black Cavendish, which is usually jet black and is in little cube-like pieces; if you look carefully and closely, you can see it is a pressed tobacco. BC can be either flavored/sweetened during the pressing and fermenting process, or not; a common sweetening agent is molasses. So, if a blend has BC, you don't know whether it's flavored or natural. Apart from BC, other tobaccos (VAs) can be processed the same way and referred to as Cavendish. Unfortunately, and very often, the words "Ready Rubbed" and "Cavendish" are used interchangeable. I think they should be and remain distinct. An example of what is called Cavendish is Amphora Red (or Brown); if you look at Dunhill's Handblended "Ready Rubbed" #36166, you find that it's almost identical to the way "Cavendish" Amphora Red looks.

[Back To Top]



 

Why do tobaccos come in different forms, such as flake, plug, etc?

Most the "forms" are actually pressed tobaccos. Sailors started pressing their tobaccos so that it lasted longer during their long voyages. It was mainly for practical purposes. Also, pressed tobaccos were necessary for those to chew tobaccos. Plug would therefore seem to be the mother of pressed tobaccos. Also, miner used to take their twists when they were underground, since smoking was not allowed; they would then chew the tobaccos, keep the chew bits in their "hatband", and then smoke it in their pipes when they resurfaced. The flexibility of pressed tobaccos such as plugs and twists (ropes) offered the possibility of partaking tobacco use in different ways, based on the circumstances (by chewing it or by smoking it in a pipe). Flakes have always been less demanding in their preparation than plugs and twist; they grew in popularity. However, they were still too cumbersome (at least for some) and hence the manufacturers started "rubbing out" or "breaking" the flakes before packaging them, and then the "Ready Rubbed" and "Broken" tobaccos.

Pressed tobaccos are easier to conserve and slower (and cooler) to burn. 4 grams of a pressed tobacco would last (much) longer than 4g of a mixture. They all offered the smoker the liberty to prepare the tobaccos in the form and way he likes: In case of plugs, e.g., you decide how thick you want to slice the tobaccos, and then how coarsely you want to rub it out or break it.

So, why all these forms?

  1. 1. Innovation: Manufacturers always try to introduce something different.
  2. Personal preference: The smoker chooses form he likes best.
Imagine if we had tobaccos only in the form of mixtures. A lot of the fun would be missing, don't you think?
[Back To Top]



 

Is a Cavendish considered an Aromatic?

Cavendish refers to the way a tobacco has been processed (you do not grow Cavendish). It's a tobacco that has been exposed to moisturing agents, heat and pressure, and has accordingly been fermented. One variety, Black Cavendish, comes in two forms: Sweetened (with anything, from sugar to molasses to what have you) or natural (usually with water). Black Cavendish is generally used in and associated with flavored tobaccos (what you call "aromatics"), since: (1) it may carry a flavor in and by itself and/or can absorb flavoring agents within the blend easily.

Some of the most traditional and natural British tobaccos, including some Dunhill ones, contain Cavendish.

[Back To Top]



Pipe Smoking


What's the best way to fill a pipe with tobacco?

As with many aspects of pipe smoking, there are several methods.  I'll give here the one that is probably the most popular (I use it!).  Here it is in steps:
1.  Make sure that there are no little "foreign bodies", such as pieces of stem or wood, in the tobacco.
2.  Place enough tobacco into the bowl till it's overflowing.
3.  Press down the tobacco, with no pressure whatsoever at this stage (optional check the draw).
4.  Place enough tobacco into the bowl till it's overflowing (Repeat # 2).
5.  This time apply a bit of pressure to cause the first and the second layers of tobacco to make contact (optional check the draw).
6.  Place enough tobacco into the bowl till it's overflowing (Repeat # 2).
7.  Here apply more pressure than in #5
8.  Check the draw (a must, this time).  If it's fine, you're set; if not, empty the pipe and start over (you won't regret it).
9.  Optional, you may loosen up a bit the uppermost layer of tobacco so that it accepts the flame better. If there is still room after Step #7, the you can add just a bit  of loose tobacco.

The tobacco should be packed tightly enough to let the air go through with no difficulty and yet elastic.  It should feel springy when you press it in the bowl.  Good packing is the secret to enjoyable smoking.  Don't get impatient: Empty the pipe and start over as many times as needed to get it packed right.

[Back To Top]



What's the right way to light a pipe?

Lighting is always done in two steps: The first is to burn the uppermost layer of tobacco, and the second is to get you going, hopefully till the last shred of tobacco.  After having packed the pipe correctly (see the previous question), apply the flame in circular motion to the tobacco till it's burned; this is done while puffing rather fast and in succession.  Then, with a tamper (or your thumb!), break down the burned layer and press it down evenly and gently.  After that, apply another flame and this time you may apply it to the center of the tobacco or in circular motion, but puff slowly.  Once the whole upper layer is lit, stop and start drawing regularly and rhythmically.  And you're up for an enjoyable ride!
The first few minutes are crucial, since you need the flame, the tobacco, the pipe, and yourself to settle down.  Enjoy!

[Back To Top]



It's hard to keep a pipe lit. Is it all right to relight?

It's absolutely fine.  You can relight as many times as your patience and match box/lighter allow you.  You should worry about the pipe going out only when you're in a pipe smoking contest (and care about winning)!

[Back To Top]



How can I best clean my pipe? And how often should I do it?

Your pipe should be cleaned after each smoke, regardless whether you'll smoke it again right away or if you'll let it rest for a while.  After the pipe has cooled down, remove the mouthpiece (NEVER do this when the pipe is still hot, since this may seriously damage the fit between shank and mouthpiece).  Then run a clean pipe cleaner through the shank, with the thinner end head first, and then into the shank, with the thicker end head first. Repeat till the cleaner comes out as clean as it was before use.  It's a good idea to fold the cleaner and run it into the shank (try to go all the way if you can).  A word of wisdom, do NOT use cleaners sparingly.

The above is the daily cleaning.  It's a good idea to thoroughly clean your pipes every few months, depending on how many pipes you have and how often you smoke them. This time, you should wet the cleaner with an alcohol-based solution (they're available in tobacco shops).  (I advise against the use of alcoholic drinks, such as Cognac, unless you like to waste your money!)  Finally, run as many cleaners as needed, and then use a dry one.  Then, let the pipes dry for about 24 hours.

[Back To Top]



Why should I smoke a pipe instead of, say, cigarettes or cigars?
What else do you want to smoke?! <grin>

Pipe smoking offers numerous advantages.  Let me give you some of them:
Health:  The rule is NEVER inhale the smoke.  There are no studies that have even vaguely proved that pipe smoking (when done with moderation and without inhaling) is dangerous for your health (let alone the health of the people around you).  Actually, there are studies that show that the average life span of a pipe smoker is greater than that of non-smokers!  To take it a step further, insurance companies in some European countries insure pipe smokers and consider them non-smokers.
Not all smoke in the air:  Unlike other forms of smoking, at the end of a smoke, you're not empty-handed.  Your pipe is there with you, ready to give endless hours of pure pleasure.
Wide choice:  You have access to an incredible array of pipes, tobaccos and other smoke-related items.  If you take tobacco alone, you can try a new today every single day of your life (if your pocket allows it, of course).  A new tobacco is always a new adventure and experience.
Cost:  I can argue that pipe smoking is the most economical way to enjoy the weed.  With a few pipes you can remain a pipe smoker for life.  With 50g of tobacco, you can smoke for an average of 20 hours.  Normally, the price of an average packet of cigarettes will buy you enough tobacco for 5-7 days.
Social acceptance:  Pipe tobacco smoke in general seems to be more readily tolerated and accepted (if not even praised) by non-smokers.  Added to this is the image of pipe smokers: Calm, contemplative, reserved, and thoughtful people.  Apart from laws and restrictions in public places, if  non-smokers had to have smoke around them, in most cases, they would opt for pipe tobacco smoke.
Pipe smoking in and by itself:  It's well known among pipe smokers, as well as their wives/husbands and friends, that pipe smoking helps the smoker to relax and even think more clearly.  Imagine the "calm" smoke rings rise from your pipe while you're sipping on a glass of your favorite drink, reading a book or talking to your companions and maybe even listening to music!  No wonder pipe smoker live longer!

[Back To Top]


 

What are the most common problems associated with pipe smoking? And how can one overcome them?

Especially people who are new to pipe smoking may encounter some problems that may render pipe smoking less attractive or pleasant.  While it's hard to give you a clear-cut approach to solving these problems, you might find the following of help.
Tongue bite.
Most likely causes: Tobacco is too dry/You're smoking too fast/Tobacco is not packed right.
Pipe smokes too hot.
Most likely causes:  Pipe is varnished (it doesn't breathe well)/Tobacco is too dry/You're smoking too fast
Pipe smokes too wet.
Most likely causes:  Tobacco is too moist/Pipe is not clean enough/You produce too much saliva (esp. if you're smoking a bent pipe).
Nausea.
Most likely causes: Tobacco is too strong and/or you're smoking it on an empty stomach
Pipe goes out too frequently.
Most likely causes:  Tobacco is not packed correctly/You're too nervous (or concentrating on other activities)

Enjoyable pipe smoking is the result of experience and patience.  Hang in there, and you'll never regret it.  The rule is: when you have a certain problem, try and change pipes, tobaccos, smoking techniques and other variables; this way you may be able to figure out the real cause of the problem and then eliminate it.

[Back To Top]


 

I always insert a cleaner in a pipe after a smoke and leave it overnight. Do you recommend that?

  1. Inserting a cleaner in a just smoked pipe and leaving it overnight helps absorb the moisture in both mouthpiece and shank.
  2. NOT inserting a cleaner in a just smoked pipe and leaving it overnight lets the air circulate into and out of the pipe.
Which one? Whichever works for you.
[Back To Top]


 

I have a new pipe that I'm very much enjoying. So far I have smoked it once a day, every day. I won't ruin it smoking one bowl in it every day, will I?

I personally believe in the second. (However, inserting a cleaner and taking it out after each smoke, then letting the pipe air, with no obstruction, could be yet a better option than either of the two above.)

No, you will not. Now, each pipe is different, though all have limits. You will have to live with the pipe for a while to get to know its limits. If you smoke it once a day, and it always smokes clean and dry, then go ahead and do it. Just make sure you clean it thoroughly and let it air well. I assume when you say once a day, you're not talking about 11 PM on Monday, and then 7 AM on Tuesday ;-)

I think it is a great pity when one has the urge to smoke a particular pipe at a given moment but declines because it's not time for it (I'm not against rotation per se, though).

[Back To Top]




Pipe Smoking Accessories


What tools are needed to smoke a pipe?

The most basic tools are: A pipe and tobacco (both are usually necessary!), matches/lighter, a pipe tool, and a packet of pipe cleaners.  I advise NOT to start with only pipe and tobacco (some people do). A pipe tool is important; it's a little, cheap, metal piece with three "arms": One is spoon-like you use to scoop the tobacco with, another is a simple 'rod" you poke the tobacco with or run through the shank when there's something lying in there, and the third is an arm with a flat, circular piece that you use to tamp (press) the tobacco with during the smoke.  Cleaners are equally important, unless you intend to smoke only once and then throw away the pipe or you're planning on smoking the pipe repeatedly without cleaning it, till you hate the day you decided to give the pipe a try!

[Back To Top]




  -