Pipe Smoking Tips     August 4th, 2009


By Bob Tate


When I first started smoking a pipe, I had no mentor to talk to and nobody to show me tips on how to make pipe smoking more enjoyable. I had to learn a lot on my own from reading, online message boards, asking questions at B&Ms, and experimenting. I thought that I would share some of the tips that I have acquired with all of you. Most of these tips are more for the beginners, but maybe a few of them will help out some of the more seasoned pipe smokers as well.

First let’s start at the beginning.

•Make sure that your pipe is cleaned from your previous smoke before loading and packing fresh tobacco.
Make sure that there is no old dottle (un-burnt tobacco and ash) blocking the draft hole that would prevent a good draw.

 •Use Less Tobacco Than You Think You Need
Here is one that most people might not think about and took me awhile to learn. It sounds pretty simple, but sometimes the simple things are overlooked.
I had a tendency to use too much tobacco when I was a beginner and tried to cram it all into the bowl. Using too much tobacco will cause for a tight pack making the tobacco hard to draw and will cause an un-pleasurable smoking experience. Use less tobacco when packing, you can always smoke another bowl if you want more.

•Pack Looser Than You Think You Need To
The rule of the thumb for packing is; when the draw feels like you are drinking liquid through a straw, it is about right. When I fill my pipe, I like to pack it a tad bit looser than that. It is easier to tighten the tobacco during smoking than it is to loosen it up.

•Always Check the Draw of the Pipe Before Lighting
If the draw is too tight, dump the bowl and start over. That way you won’t be wasting any tobacco. If you light the tobacco and then the draw is too tight, you will end up having to dump the bowl and wasting the tobacco because it has already started burning.

•Always leave at least 1/8 of an inch (I prefer closer to 1/4 of an inch) of space from the top of the tobacco to the rim.
This will allow for some rising of the tobacco when you light it without the burning tobacco touching the rim of the bowl. It will also allow you to focus the flame into the bowl onto the tobacco. Doing this will protect the rim of your pipe and keep it looking good for years to come.

•Perform a Charring Light
This one is kind of debatable, some people do it and some don’t. I have tried it both ways and I have always had better results by doing a charring light. A charring light is when you char the tobacco first before lighting it. To do this you place the flame onto the tobacco and take a couple of light puffs and stop. This will char the tobacco and allow for an even light across the surface of the tobacco. Then lightly tamp down the ashes, and I do mean lightly. Do not use any pressure. Let the weight of the tamper do the work, all you want to do is crush the ash and level off the surface of tobacco. I often get the best results when I perform 3 to 5 charring lights. I do this to get the whole surface of the tobacco charred. I then proceed to fully light the tobacco.

•Fully Light the Tobacco
To fully light the tobacco, take about 3 slow long puffs while the flame above the tobacco. You want to draw the flame down into the tobacco. Remove the flame and take about a 3 second break. Repeat this procedure until the entire surface of the tobacco is glowing red. I do it this way to avoid the tobacco from becoming too hot. Remember that overheating the pipe is the major cause of pipe damage. Don’t be in a rush to light it, take your time and keep it cool. You will enjoy the smoke much more. If the smoke is becoming hot, set the pipe down to cool and then re-light it.

•Tamp Less Frequently and With Less Pressure
When you tamp too often and with too much pressure, you are tightening the tobacco. This will cause the draw to get tighter and is one of the major causes for a less enjoyable smoke. If I have to re-light the pipe during smoking, I always try to light it without tamping. If it won’t light then I use the tamper and using no pressure, just the weight of the tamper, crush the ashes down and then re-light.
The only time that I use any pressure when tamping is if I have to tighten up the draw, and then I only use very light pressure.
Every so often you will have to level off the surface of the tobacco. When you do this, it will require a little pressure. Just make sure to use just enough pressure to get the job done. Always start light and apply more if needed.

These are a few of my tips and I hope that they will be useful for some of you and I hope that you will post some of your tips in the comments below.

Happy Puffing!




14 Responses to “Pipe Smoking Tips”

  1. Kevin said:

    Excellent tips Bob. I have to pay more attention to these:

    Use Less Tobacco Than You Think You Need
    Pack Looser Than You Think You Need To
    Always Check the Draw of the Pipe Before Lighting

  2. Kevin said:

    I just thought of another piece of advice.

    When your pipe starts to go out, instead of trying to re-light with a flame, do a gentle tamping and then see if you can get it going just by puffing on it.

    I used to have the habit of reapplying the flame when it was almost out. Now I have learned that I can usually get it going again by giving it a gentle tamp and several short quick puffs just like when you light your pipe in the beginning.

    I find this gives a cooler, sweeter smoke. Applying the flame too much gets it too hot and can turn it bitter.

  3. phage74 said:

    On the same note, instead of relighting when the pipe seems to be going out, the pick can be used to gently stir the tobacco. This distributes the flame throughout the tobacco and also helps bring some of the unburnt tobacco deeper in the bottom towards the surface where it can burn. Often, with proper tamping and stirring as i near the bottom, I can smoke a bowl with only one light (not counting the false light).

  4. python said:

    Good tips added guys!

  5. Curious said:

    I recently had two tins of pipe tobacco sent to me via mail and when I received them from the postman and unpacked them they were hot to the touch (I’m in the south.) I guess the mail truck had no air conditioning or they were in the sun for a period in transit. Do you think heat would have damaged the tobacco in transit? The odor of the tobacco was also strongly eminating from the tin. Is tobacco that has been overheated good to keep or smoke? Is it damaged in some way? Any help would be appreciated.

  6. python said:


    That will not harm the tobacco at all. If anything, it will only affect how it ages. Some people actually heat their tins up in the sun on purpose. It is a form of stoving the tobacco. I have never done it, but others have said that they had good experiences doing it.

    Please visit our forums here: http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/
    You can get some good info and ask any other questions you may have to help you better enjoy the pipe.

  7. Curious said:

    Thanks Python. I was worried the tobacco may start rotting or get moldy if overheated in the tin. I want to keep it a while.

  8. juozapas said:

    I am a rather new pipe enthusiast, but I have discovered that the less I fiddle with the pipe tobacco, the better are my results. Also, if an “ash head” puffs up, I use my damper tool like a knife and just slice the top off in one swoop. Then I sit back, and enjoy for the next half hour !!

  9. sagar said:

    Thank you so much for your valuable tips.Can you please tell me how do I avoid the moisture during smoking pipe?It is coming through the stem and gives me a bad taste in my tongue.

  10. Bob said:

    To avoid excessive moisture during smoking, you can try to dry out the tobacco some before loading it into the pipe. Just lay some of the tobacco out on a plate or paper towel for awhile to dry it out before smoking.
    Sometimes the engineering of the pipe can cause moisture to build up while you are smoking. To handle this, just use a pipe cleaner while you are smoking. Insert the pipe cleaner down the stem to absorb the moisture. Do not remove the stem from the pipe while the pipe is warm.

  11. loneredtree said:

    In order to keep the pipe cleaner from going into the tobacco in the bottom of the bowl, I place the cleaner along the outside of the shank-stem making sure that the tip of the cleaner is short of the bowl. I then bend the pipe cleaner 90 degrees at the tip of the stem. When I put the cleaner into the stem it stops short of going into the heel of the chamber.

  12. loneredtree said:

    You do not want to insert the pipe cleaner to far and into the tobacco in the bottom of the bowl(the heel). I place the pipe cleaner along side the stem with the tip next to the place where the bowl meets the shank. A 90 degree bend is made in the cleaner at the end of the stem. When the cleaner is inserted into the pipe, it stops short of the heel and does not take any tobacco back with it when withdrawn.

  13. bill said:

    I have close to 35 pipes in my collection.I have pipes dedicated to aromatics and to English blends obviously,should I have pipes dedicated to Burley blends and Va. blends as well.Thanks.

  14. Jess said:

    Enjoyed the article, Bob. Thanks. the primary “lesson” I came away with from reading this article is that I need to give more attention to the “charring” process. I have only done it once. I shall experiment with perhaps three times and see how that affects my smoke.

    I still am undecided over burning the bowl clear down to ash, as the last part I begin to taste ash and it is not pleasant, but I don’t like seeing a dampness at the bottom of the bowl after a smoke. Does anyone have any idea how many pipe smokers smoke it clear to the very bottom to an ash, or tossing it as soon as the ash taste begins to dominate?



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