Give It a Rest

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G. L. Pease
Resting Your PipeWhen I was a kid, I remember reading about a car with two reverse gears. Why anyone would want to go fast backwards was puzzling, then, as it is now, but there it was. There are, of course, some heavy vehicles with two speeds backwards, and some tanks are so equipped, but it seems superfluous folly in a sport car which isn’t likely to move large amounts of earth, or require a quick retreat in the face of enemy shelling. Usually. Unless, I suppose, the driver is smoking a pipe whilst motoring through the hostile territory of militant antis performing the face waving dance of the hands, coughing overly dramatically and lobbing nasty epithets in his general direction.

After last month’s column, I’ve found myself wanting to back up in a spirited, second-reverse gear way, and take a left at the fork in the road to wind up at another view on the care and feeding of our treasured pipes. It’s not that I want to take back anything from last month; that was solid, and the "smoke the hell out of it" technique has breathed some new life into more than a few of my briars over the years. Recently, in fact, I’ve been through a few weeks of "persistence" with some persnickety pieces that had offered less than admirable performance, and am happy to report a pretty high rate of "conversion" resulting from the administration of a little protracted pipe torture.

But, there’s that other side of things, the side that is riddled with, if anything, even more controversy. What about the pipes that smoke great, that don’t require the pipe smoker’s version of the Spanish Inquisition (at least a Monty Pythonesque rendering of it, right up to and including our fanatical devotion to the Lady Nicotine, and the perils of the comfy chair), and are always at the ready to bring us smoking pleasure at a moment’s notice? What about them?

The question of the importance of "resting" a pipe comes up often in conversations with other pipesters, and especially on internet forums. Inevitably, the discussion will polarize, with one side insisting that it’s important to let your pipe sit in a proper rack for no less than a thousand-and-one nights, or it will somehow self-destruct, and the other side banging on their collective pulpit that pipes don’t need rest, that wood was wet for years before it was turned into a pipe, that they’ve been smoking the same pipe every day since Lincoln was shot, and nothing bad has come of it, and it’s the way their grandpappy did it.

Fact is, both sides have a point, so let’s have a look, and see if we can make some sense out of the whole thing. Before we do, it’s important to mention that in last month’s column, I was not advocating constant and continued impertinence towards your cherished briars. The whole idea, really, was to help get a troublesome pipe over a hump so it can coast down the other side with some grace. Once the hell-smoking phase has been accomplished, it’s a good idea to let it breathe a bit. But, what about those pipes that seem to smoke just fine? Do they really need rack-time to keep them tasting their best?

Rest Your Pipe or Not?Those who smoke their pipes seemingly non-stop without giving them much of a break present a valid argument. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They’ve been doing it like this for years, in many cases, and cannot see any reason to tamper with success. They’re content with what their pipes deliver, and, therefore, generally consider any additional complications in the process to be little more than a fussy nuisance. They ain’t having any, and think those who do are silly for it. Are they missing something? I’d generally be inclined to crawl out onto the thin end of the limb and say yes, but not without some evidence, which is precisely what I intended to gather some years ago when I embarked upon a little investigation. I grabbed a fistful of pipes, all well seasoned and flavourful smokers, and began to methodically treat them with what I thought of as measured abuse; all is fair in love and science. Over the period of a few months, I collected experiential evidence, smoking the same pipes several times a day for several days, then smoking others once a day for several weeks, never giving any pipe more than a day’s rest. During this time, I periodically rotated in other pipes in my normal way, to serve as a sort of baseline, to make sure my perceptions were not being skewed.

Some pipes fared better than others, showing less degradation from smoke to smoke, but in no instance was a given pipes last smoke as good, subjectively, as its first. Seemingly, this alone should be enough to support the idea that resting a pipe is a Good Thing.

In the first phase, I smoked the same pipe several times a day, cleaning carefully between bowls, and results came quite quickly. After the first bowl, subsequent bowls became increasingly harsh, sharp, acrid, less sweet, or hot, and subtle nuances of the tobaccos were lost, or severely attenuated. Considering the possibility that the result could be an artifact of palate fatigue, I’d periodically "reset" my sensory apparatus by smoking a pipe outside of the selection of torture testers, and in most cases, a wonderful smoke was delivered, so even given that it is probable that palate fatigue did enter the equation to some degree, it, alone, was not sufficient to fully explain the degradation of the smoke from these test pipes.

In the second phase, over a period of several weeks, I smoked a few pipes once or twice daily, again cleaning after each smoke, and allowing each a full day of rest between smokes. As expected, these pipes didn’t suffer nearly as much, though by the end of the first week, the effects of over-use was starting to be obvious in all of them, and in some, symptoms presented after just a few days. Again, there was a loss of sweetness, a degrading of the more subtle flavours, and an increasing harshness, sharpness, or acridity.

All the pipes were then given a little holiday, and allowed a couple week’s R&R before being smoked again. The good news here as that they didn’t seem the worse for wear. All the pipes came back to life in their full glory, and delivered the qualities I’d expected of them prior to this trial by fire. The conclusion that I have to draw from these results is that, yes, pipes need rest if they are to smoke at their best which is good news for those of us who need a good dose of rationalization to justify our periodic outbreaks of out of control PAD. I’m certainly not saying that it’s not possible to enjoy a pipe smoked several times each day, but it seems clear that a pipe treated this way will simply will not deliver its best.

This makes perfect sense, really, when we stop to think about the variety of tasks our pipes are asked to do. There’s the obvious aspect of their service as crucibles of smouldering weeds, keeping the embers in, and letting the smoke out in measured and controlled puffs, but, there’s something equally important going on between bowl and bit as the wood clings tenaciously to some of the byproducts of combustion. Moisture is absorbed into the porous structure of the briar, and heavier distillates and tars are deposited on the walls of the airway. (Every time we shove a pipe cleaner through the shank and pull out a dark, moist, tar-fouled mess, we should thank our pipe for this aspect of the job it performs so faithfully!) There are limits to how much it can take before those byproducts are no longer captured in the pipe, and are delivered in increasing quantities to the smoker’s delicate tongue. Additionally, some of those byproducts remain in the cake, and in the wood, and over time, through mysterious chemical changes, like oxidation, transform into more pleasant flavour producing molecules. This is part of the reason a well broken-in pipe tastes richer, fuller, sweeter than a virgin bowl.

Why Rest a Pipe?Just how significant is the difference wrought by time, and is it enough to warrant obsessing over rest-cycles and rotations? This depends on a few variables like the smoker’s expectations, tobacco choices, and, to some extent, the pipe. The first part is obvious. Different pipemen expect different things from their pipes, and there’s certainly sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that to some, the idea of pipes needing rest is fiddly nonsense. As for tobacco choices, stronger tobaccos deliver more flavour, and are likely less prone to the deleterious effects of a pipe that’s been over-smoked. More subtle tobaccos, on the other hand, can easily go south under the influence of an acrid pipe, enough so that the smoker not used to more delicate leaf might blame the blend for a less than stellar experience, when it might just be the result of the poor disposition of a tragically overworked pipe. The pipe itself, on the other hand, is probably the least variable part of the picture. In my little experiment, some pipes did perform better than others under the stress test, but all of them, eventually, succumbed to the briar equivalent of PTSD.

Palate fatigue is another factor. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of that "Bowl of No Return," after which, we can’t seem to taste much of anything. Sometimes, this is accompanied by the dreaded tongue-bite, but in other cases, it’s just a sort of general sensory numbness. Sometimes pipe smokers need a rest, too, which is why I often advocate the occasional day off. But, back to the subject.

To those who have always taken the "pipes need rest" chestnut to heart, none of this will likely be particularly illuminating, but conducting a little experiment for yourself, experiencing just what happens when you put the briar under this sort of pressure might prove interesting. For those who haven’t considered any benefit in the almost ubiquitous advice, I offer a challenge. Take one of your favourite, frequently smoked briars, smoke a bowl, take some notes, and then set it aside for a couple weeks. Then, smoke the pipe again, and compare and report your experience. We all benefit from the sharing of first-hand stories. Repeat the experiment a few times, and see if, just perhaps, some new doors open in your smoking enjoyment. And, for those of you who just want a little justification for adding a pipe or two to your collection, now you have it. It’s for the good of your existing pipes, in which you have a not-small investment after all. (For some reason, I don’t think significant others will put much stock in that one, but it’s worth adding to your arsenal of excuses, just in case.)
I submit that there’s a good case to be made for resting our pipes, and anything that brings us more pleasure in our puffing is worth a little extra effort. And, don’t we all need a couple more pipes, anyway?

Your turn.

Since 1999, Gregory L. Pease has been the principal alchemist behind the blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos. He’s been a passionate pipeman since his university days, having cut his pipe teeth at the now extinct Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California. Greg is also author of The Briar & Leaf Chronicles, a photographer, recovering computer scientist, sometimes chef, and creator of The Epicure’s Asylum.
See our interview with G. L. Pease here.

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28 Responses

  • Mr. Pease, another great article and you hit the nail on the head quite well, “And, don’t we all need a couple more pipes, anyway?”

  • I smoke a pipe sometime three times a day over a few day, mainly my Boswells, nothing bad has happened to them. other I have sitting around just in case i want a break or if I’m feeling a little English. All of them have gone trough the gauntlet of a few times a day over a few weeks. Leather tongue is the only side effect that i notice. Great article!

  • Agreed, and good logic as well. I must admit, although I have over 50 pipes, there are a favoured 6 that I do smoke almost daily. Am I doing them harm? Probably, but they are my favs and regardless of how I say I shall give them tomorrow off, I just never do. My bad, but, smoking one of your favorites only adds to the joy of the smoke.

  • Another good read Mr. Pease. Still a green pipe smoker so I’m forever experimenting with the pipes I have. My turn you say? *turns smoking jacket inside out and pipe upside down* Let the games begin. 🙂

  • Since I took up the pipe over a decade ago I have always let my pipes rest. I never smoke the same pipe twice in a day,and always try to give the pipe a two day rest. I usually clean my pipes with everclear after 4-5 bowls to keep them fresh.

  • Greg, another great column. I have a couple questions, though. Would pipe resting matter as much with strong aromatics or over-the-counter blends that all have some flavoring added? I suspect many of the folks that smoke particular pipes over and over with little regard for rest or cake build-up are smoking blends that lack subtle tobacco flavor in favor of artificial flavorings. If you’re smoking cherry Cavendish, what difference does the condition of the briar make ?
    Also, you talk about tongue fatigue. While I am susceptible to tongue bite, I don’t really taste anything on my tongue from tobacco (that I’m aware of). I get everything from aroma, through my nose and sinuses (which is why I almost abandoned pipe smoking until I discovered retrohaling). Am I actually detecting flavors with my tongue that I’m not overtly aware of, or is it possible I just can’t “taste” tobacco?

  • When I was working in the Far East I had a limited rotation (7 pipes with me) and could get by for 2 weeks with pipe cleaners (and a bit of whisky) but when I got home and smoked the ones left in the rack the difference was obvious.
    Also, my work routine in UK was 2 pipes smoked alternately.
    For me there are few benefits to being retired – I’m sad enough to miss the buzz a lot – but one of them is constant access to the whole herd. It works much better to give them a rest.
    The only difficulty I have with the thesis is in prejudicing the idea of the pleasure of this pursuit by telling a new guy with 2 pipes that he’s not doing it right; he is – it’s just that it’s possible to grow into enhanced pleasure.

  • IMHO there is nothing finer than a clean, well rested pipe. I bring 5 or 6 pipes to the rig with me, usually 3 briars and 2 cobs. I stay out 21 days, and rotate the briars with the cobs, occasionally smoking the cobs back to back so that the briars can rest. After 3 weeks, I can tell when the briars have about had it. My pipes that stayed home are wonderful on my return.
    Thanks for your essay, thought provoking as always. Keep them coming!

  • You have enlightened me to the justification of PAD and also, TAD! You see, along with needing to rest my pipes a bit between smokes, and it ain’t rocket science why if I am looking to get the most I can get from a blend unless I just needs a NIC fix and a stout burley blend in anything will work. Along with needing another few pipes we are facing the palate fatigue you referred to. I have solution to palate fatigue. Here goes; as I go through my day tiring out my palate I see that it is necessary to graduate to stronger blends which means another couple few tins of different tobaccos so that as I tire the tobaccos I chose must be strronger each as I go along. Hence the need for a few more tins to accomodate my pastime without having to stop smoking for a while. I’m not sure my significant other will buy that one but I like it. Besides I place small orders of VA’s and JK reddi-rubbed and a latakia blend on paydays,(dayshift). They fall of Fridays for me and I have the benefit of Working alternate day and evening shifts every other week and I’m always home to get the mail, my package on 4×12 weeks! Neet huh?

  • I really enjoy these articles — as much for the style as the content. There is probably a point of diminishing returns on rest time. I rest a pipe 24 hrs. for every bowl smoked prior to the rest period. Thus, if circumstances necessitate working a pipe extra hard, it gets a correspondingly longer rest. But truth be known, I devote more thought, time and energy to planning my next meal than my next pipe. 🙂

  • There is no such thing as TAD, the whole point of smoking a pipe is that you have the freedom to choose what to enjoy, when you want to enjoy it. I don’t use my pipes often, but I do have many tobaccos on hand in glass jars.
    As for the topic of discussion, I prefer resting pipes just because it gets rid of the smell the longer you rest a pipe, rest one long enough and you can easily switch blends without getting much if any ghost from the previous one if you want to. I am starting to use certain pipes for certain blends now, however, I will not hesitate to use the same pipe twice in one day if I feel like it. The usual rest time on a pipe for me varies, my favorite ones get a rest time of a few days, my least favorite get rest times of weeks or even months sometimes.

  • A pipe turned sour needs to be accomodated just as a woman who turned sour. Is it worth the time to sweeten it by all means necessary including working it even under the most unsatisfying uses hoping it returns or do you instead choose the sweet, steady smoker? Is it worth using fine tobacco better suited to a steady smoker until it may or not decide to be a bit less sour a bit less pouting?
    Simply put, my favorite pipes never let me down while the less than adequate ones usually do and perhaps in my situation it is more of a Psychological thing since once anything lets me down I suspect it will always do so!

  • Another great missive from the Lord Of The Leaf. I would be interested in the results if you could do the same study with meers.

  • Nice job Greg. So good I read it again! When I first get a new pipe I’ll tend to not give it a rest. Soon the romance fades and the new pipe settles into a normal rotation. A break of a week or two for a pipe always yields a most enjoyable smoke for me. At some point the siren song of the briar will call again and the cycle repeats.

  • Thanks Greg! Interesting as always.
    (In my opinion) tobacco tastes best when smoked from a cool, dry pipe. But, it still tastes fine from a pipe smoked a few times a day, and rested now and then. I recommend that any pipeman interested in the subject should emulate your testing method and come to their own conclusions.

  • I recently had surgery and a short dose of post-surgery antibiotics. The meds wreaked havoc on my GI system, but more problematic, I seem to have developed a tongue that is highly prone to tongue bite. Not good news for a pipe smoker. I have been using a solution of baking soda and water to lavage my mouth several times a day and that seems to help, but I am still plagued by tongue bite. Some pipes are slightly easier on the tongue than others. I usually smoke one pipe per day and afterward, clean it thoroughly with Everclear – stem and shank, then let it rest for at least 5 days. I do run a pipe cleaner through the pipe whenever needed throughout the day or between bowls – whichever comes first. I am going to try smoking a “new” pipe every bowl for a few days based on some of the comments and see if that might help. This not something I have ever tried so it’s worth a go. Great article and any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Brother alan123, if, and it sounds like you are, smoking one pipe a day several times a day that may well be an issue with tongue bite along with your meds playing havoc with you. It’s been my expoerience that smoking one pipe all day definitely will lead to your smoke becoming acrid and maybe enough to BITE you. If you have an assortment of pipes, by all means get to know them all by frequenting their service.

  • Thanks, Tony. I am going to load another pipe right now. I have PAD, so I do not have a shortage of pipes 🙂 I’ll let you know if that does the trick.

  • @alan123 Another thing that might help your tongue is to avoid burleys for a while. I have a few burleys that I love but they bite like a rabid dog. If you’re not smoking burley, try switching to it to see if it agrees with your medicated tongue better.

  • Thanks, bgbarcus. The tobacco that I have smoked for the last two years is my local store’s equivalent of Dunhill 965 (their English Blend). I buy a pound and add 2 more ounces of straight Latakia. I believe that the blend is mostly Virginias and Latakia and perhaps a bit of Burley….but I could be wrong. I have not changed tobaccos before or since this issue started. The only other change I have made is that I quit using smokeless tobacco about 2 months ago. It does seem that my problem with tongue bite began sometime after quitting the smokeless. I know that I am puffing my pipes a little more than before quitting the smokeless, but no more than an additional bowl a day. I am truly stumped and bummed. I have smoked a pipe off and on for 35 years and do not want to give it up, but my tongue is fairly painful and has pretty deep fissures in it – sorry, that may be too much info. I do appreciate your suggestions and I apologize for veering the discussion off of pipe rotation – I truly found Greg’s piece quite interesting and informative.

  • I never smoke a given pipe more than once a day. I get tired of looking at the same pipe over and over.

  • I’ve found that giving a pipe a rest will always result in a better smoke. I smoke at least 6 pipes twice a day and then let them rest for about a week at least before I smoke them again.
    I will smoke a new pipe more often until it’s broken in and then I let it rest longer.

  • I am unpredictable when it comes to resting my pipes. Sometimes I rotate after one smoke, other times after two or three days if I forget which I picked up the previous day. But I am a big fan of running pipe cleaners through them at the first hint of moisture building up. That seems to prevent off flavors for at least one day of use (not much helps by the third straight day).

  • Great article, Greg. I smoke 5 to 10 bowls a day, using 3 to 4 pipes per day, cleaning between each smoke. The pipes are then racked for at least a week’s rest. I have about 40 pipes in rotation, so it works out fine. Primarily Latakia forward blends. Of course, a new pipe will tend to get more attention during breaking in, and may not receive the same amount of rest initially. But after it’s first reaming, it’ll experience a decent rack rest like the others. I find a clean, dry pipe, with a thin, well trimmed cake, will produce the finest smoke.