So you’ve spent some money on a reasonable pipe and you’ve even enjoyed smoking it a few times. It’s relaxing isn’t it? You can sit back and let your thoughts wander or you can focus on one particular problem and work your way through it while you enjoy that special taste that only comes with a fine tobacco in an equally fine pipe.
But have you stopped to think about cleaning your pipe?
You certainly should have thought about it if you want to go on enjoying that special taste for your pipe is like any fine piece of equipment … it needs some maintenance now and again to ensure that it goes on working at it’s best for you.
Some experts suggest that the maintenance of your pipe should start before the very first smoke and continue on after each and every time you use it. Others suggest that you don’t have to be quite that diligent but that you do need to do some cleaning of your pipe at frequent intervals.
But everyone agrees that a pipe should be cleaned regularly otherwise the pleasure of smoking it will soon disappear as the taste changes and you struggle to keep the tobacco alight.
So what do you actually need to clean in a pipe? The most regular cleaning needs to done on the inside of the stem; the bowl also needs to be cleaned but certainly not as frequently as the stem. And finally the outside of the pipe also needs some attention.
Cleaning the stem
To clean the interior of the stem all you will need is a pipe cleaner … you know, one of those thin cleaners that you can slide through the stem to keep it free of deposits and any ash that may have been drawn up the stem. Push the cleaner towards the bowl so that any deposits can then be emptied out.
Be prepared to use more than one pipe cleaner to clean the stem and keep on changing them till the tip of the cleaner is clean when it appears in the bottom of the bowl.
For a more thorough clean you can remove the stem but never do that while the pipe is warm. Wait until the pipe has completely cooled before removing the stem otherwise you run the risk of damaging your pipe.
Cleaning the bowl
Of course after every use the loose ash and dottle should be cleaned out. Allow the pipe to cool and then, covering the top of the bowl with a finger, gently shake the pipe to dislodge the residue and distribute some of the ash around the sides of the bowl.
Empty out the loose residue and leave the remaining ash inside the bowl to form what we call ‘the cake’. The cake is a combination of carbonized ash and tobacco and it’s something that will occur in every pipe.
Thoroughly cleaning the bowl is only necessary when the build-up of cake around the inside of the bowl has grown beyond about one-sixteenth of an inch. Keep an eye on it and when the build-up has reached that point it’s time to clean the bowl.
To clean the bowl you will need a pipe reamer. I can recall my grandfather using a small-bladed pocket knife to clean the bowl on his old pipe but that’s not something I would recommend these days because it is so easy to misjudge the amount of pressure you are applying and before you know it you have cut into the wood of the bowl itself.
Instead, you should use a pipe reamer … available from any tobacconist … and be prepared to work slowly to remove the built up residue. Don’t aim to cut big chunks of residue out of the bowl … instead shave it evenly and never clean right down to the bare wood. A little residue left in the pipe is not a bad thing because it will act as an insulator between your pipe and the burning tobacco and actually extend the life of your pipe.
Cleaning the exterior
You may notice a blackening beginning to appear around the edge of the bowl and perhaps a build-up of residue around the mouthpiece. That’s perfectly normal and cleaning these areas is really very simple.
The blackening around the edge of the bowl can occur when you’re not careful with your light-up procedure and you char the edge of the bowl with your match. Cleaning this is as simple as adding a little saliva to part of a pipe cleaner and rubbing the charred section with it until the black discoloration has been removed.
The same cleaning technique can be used to remove any residue that may have formed around the mouthpiece.
For a more thorough cleaning of your pipe there are commercial cleaners available and your tobacconist will be able to recommend the best brand to use with your pipe.
If you are going to clean your pipe thoroughly make sure you give yourself plenty of time to complete the task. Don’t be afraid to use a number of pipe cleaners to get the job done.
At first you might find that the ritual of cleaning your pipe is tedious and time-consuming but you’re actually working towards preserving something that provides you with a great deal of pleasure. Before long the tedium will disappear and you will enjoy looking after your pipe almost as much as you enjoy smoking it.