Wednesday, January 24, 2018


On a forum for pipe smokers, a newcomer asked for recommendations on pipe smoking kits for beginners. I did not say what I really wanted to say, namely that such things are pretty damned horrible, and more gimmick than substance. The Danes are the worst offenders because they also provide "filtering crystals" or similar crap.

Buy a pipe of decent quality that feels right in the hand and looks like something which two or three years from now you'll still be pleased to own. Avoid extroverted shapes, instead go for something fuddy-duddy. Also get a tamper (three piece tool), a packet of cleaners, and for experimentation, two or three pouches of a 'house' tobacco, those being mostly the bulk blends from big manufacturers that tobacco shops purchase in five pound bags, repackage with their own label, and pretend that a tribe of enslaved natives they keep in the backroom laboriously make for them.
One decent Virginia and Perique blend.
One decent Balkan.

[Lane, Scandinavian Tobacco, MacBarens, Sutliff, Peter Stokkebye, McClelland, and Cornell & Diehl all sell in bulk to the trade, among others.]

Virginia-Perique mixtures (including flakes, spun cuts, and pure Virginia nothing else) must be smoked slow, on the cusp of going out. Do not heat them up. You can set the pipe aside for a while and relight later, there will be scant flavour degradation. They are subtle, and need thoughtfulness.
If hot-boxed, they'll bite like a weasel.

Balkans are great fun to blow through an entire bowl at a sitting, but the more often you relight the more they taste like a tire fire; only fill up as much as you intend to finish.

Do not smoke aromatics. They burn hot and wet, and there's all kinds of crap in them that should not be added to decent leaf.

Cruise junk shops for pipes that aren't Kaywoodie or Dr. Grabow, which seem to be in decent shape under the gunk. Then read up on cleaning pipes (alcohol, salt cure, buffing, etcetera), plus re-topping (if the rim is banged or worn). Always look up the brands on Pipepedia. When cleaning up used clunkers, fill the heat fissures that become apparent after reaming out the excess carbon with pipe mud (I use a solution of whisky, finely ground soot and carbon, plus a lesser amount of sugar, thinly applied, multiple layers; it has to 'flow'), and above all keep edges sharp -- rims, lines, corners, bevels. You will be surprised at how many pipes will come back from the dead.

If you smoke one or two bowls a day, you will soon need four or five pipes. The initial outlay may seem much, especially if the baby needs diapers and the kid wants a car, but factored over time it will not be extraordinary. If you bought a Savinelli or Peterson for two to four hundred dollars, consider that for a five year period that would only be less than a quarter a day. The same applies if you're only experimenting to see whether you like the past-time, even for only a year or two, at one hundred to two hundred dollars for a half-way decent briar.

But you will need several. Briar needs to rest, the complex chemicals that are deposited in the carbon layer need to break down and dissipate, the moisture created by combustion must have a chance to dry out.

Dunhills, Charatans, or Comoy Blue Ribands will set you back quite a bit. Keep your eyes open, though, because they will become worth it if you continue.

Look at lots of pipe-porn: photos, shape charts, pictures of satisfied people with a pipe in their mouths, old advertising material, pamphlets, close-ups of woodgrain ..... this will, without you even realizing it, sharpen your eye and help form your tastes in shapes and brands.

Try to smoke a bowl all the way down, but don't get neurotic about it; the most common heat fissure is the little crack that can develop near the air hole when constantly relighting to smoke that last little bit at the bottom.
It's better to discard a few soggy shreds of unsmoked tobacco instead.

The past-time should be enjoyable; put the pipe down if it isn't.
If necessary, clean out the bowl and let it rest.

The hardest thing is finding relatives who will put up with your eccentricity. There will always be that prissy Chinese American office manager who says "oh don't light that, we have some cigarettes that the last junior filing clerk left, and go sit over near the blue-print machine with all the other weirdoes". Or someone who will offer you tofu jerky to chew on (it's broccoli flavoured) so you wean yourself of a dependency on the evil people in Big Tobacco.
Avoid gyms and healthclubs. They frown on smoking.
Above all, purchase an umbrella.


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