Monday, September 22, 2008

How to: Smoke a Pipe. Prima Pars

Because a primer on pipe smoking is not so easy to come by, because it may be useful to you, Dear Reader, but mostly because it amuses me, I reproduce below the slightly-edited for some semblance of clarity first of two pieces of private correspondence on the topic.

But do not fret if certain sections are not so clear. It was, after all, private, and only half of the discussion is here. The other correspondent, if it helps to know, is English.

For a superlative meditation on pipe smoking, I refer you to Poo, Tobacco, and the Wisdom of Burt Bacharach.

Pipe Tobacco! Now there's a topic worth discussing.

Many packs will designate themselves "aromatic" or "English," or that's how they do it here. For all I know, you there will be calling it "French" or "Italian" or "Bangladeshi". English doesn't smell so nice, but is said to taste better. Aromatic is said not to taste as good, but is the smell people think of when they think of pipe tobacco. The theory of it is to get one balanced between English and aromatic for your preference, to make it smell nice for your curious onlookers, and taste nice for you.

I smoke aromatic. I don't notice a difference with the taste and besides, the smell of the lovely billows is mostly what I'm in it for anyway. That, and the pleasant head-rush I sometimes get. Mostly I buy buttered rum, sometimes whisky. I've never had cherry or vanilla, although I like the smell of vanilla. How it smells in the pack unlit is a good indication of how it will smell burning.

Keeping it lit. Pack it well. Not too tight. Springy. Fill it a pinch at a time. Keep the pipe in the pouch as you fill, so you don't lose it all on the ground. Pack down each pinch, but don't push hard. It should still be loose enough that you could compact it a lot more, but so there's not any great empty spaces. Springy like, I dunno, the pad of your thumb. If you pack it too tight, it's just harder to light.

To light it, hold the match an eighth of an inch over the surface of the tobacco and draw through it. The flame is pulled down into the tobacco when you draw. Use wooden matches and out of the wind. Move the match around over the surface in a little circle as you draw, so you light the whole top. It'll make an impressive amount of smoke at first, but don't be fooled. It might not be lit yet.

When it goes out you have to tamp it down again before you relight.

You keep it lit by smoking evenly, draw at a pace, longish draws or repeated quick puff puff puffs. If it's going out too much for your liking, smoke faster. Also, a little trick is to cup your hand over the top to close off the top of the pipe, and draw through that. This causes a harder draft, since the air's got to get through the little amount of space not sealed off by your palm. The harder draft fans the coal, and gets it going hotter.

Alternately, some pipe smokers become quite used to lighting repeatedly. If it gets uncomfortably hot for your hand, you're smoking too fast and risking a burnout hole in the pipe.

The black goo that forms around the bowl of the pipe is a good thing. Don't scrape it all off, but keep it thin. I was going to say as thick as a dime. You don't have dimes. Maybe half or a little more than half as thick as a penny.

If your pipe gurgles as you are drawing, it's because you're drooling down the stem as you smoke. They sell tiny wire baskets to put in the bottom to keep the tobacco out of your drool, but why not just try not drooling instead? It's gross.

1 comment:

Mark said...

The views on the smell of pipe smoke seems to fall into two camps, you either really like it or really hate it, nobody ever says "oh it was quite nice". Unfortunately for pipe smokers it has become completely anti-social.