A Shopping List for the New Pipe Smoker

By Russ Ouellette
One of the reasons cigar smokers cite for not trying a pipe is because of "all the stuff you have to carry around." Well, although there’s definitely more involved in smoking a pipe, it’s really not that much more than lugging around a cigar cutter and torch lighter. To simplify the shopping list for the newbie, we’ll only address the items that are necessities, and we’ll briefly look at additional items afterward.

Pipes – How many pipes should you have? My recommendation is this – however many bowls you smoke in a pipe on a given day, let the pipe rest for that many days – if you smoke two bowls on Monday, don’t use that pipe again until Wednesday. So, the number of pipes you own should be predicated by the frequency with which you smoke. If this seems fiscally irresponsible to you, remember that a corncob (for less than $10) can deliver a very good smoke without breaking the bank, so grab a couple to allow you to let your briars dry out properly.

Tobacco – There are no "rules" when it comes to tobacco, as you will like what suits your palette. Some people find their ambrosia, and smoke nothing but that one blend, day-in and day-out. In this case, things are simple- load a pouch with your favorite and go. Other folks will almost never smoke the same blend twice in a row, in which case there will be a lot more to tote around, but it’s not necessary to carry a couple of ounces of each blend.

Pouches/Cases – Some people look upon a car’s emergency kit as a jack and a spare tire. For those people, a ziplock bag of tobacco and a pipe in the shirt pocket is sufficient. But if you’re like a father putting together an automotive emergency kit for his daughter who’s heading off to college (including the emergency stove and a three day supply of food), you’ll probably want a pipe/tobacco combo pouch which might have room for some pipe cleaners, or, if you’re more ambitious, a fishing vest with all those pockets for multiple tobacco pouches and pipes. For the well organized, a well-made pipe bag, with space for a number of pipes, pouches and all your accoutrements will be ideal (around our shop they’re often called a "murse" or man-purse).

Shop Pipe Bags Here

Tools – My father never went anywhere without his favorite tamper- his right index finger. Since my nose is a rather critical one, I avoid this as the smell of burning flesh doesn’t blend well with Virginia/Perique smoke, in my humble opinion. That said, you don’t need to carry around a bunch of items; a simple pipe nail or 3 piece Czech tool will do the job very well. If you do all your pipe maintenance at home, then a pipe nail (scraper at one end, tamper on the other) or plain tamper will be perfect. But if you clean on the fly, the Czech tool or a folding pipe knife/tool will be a better bet, as it includes a pick for clearing the shank, or loosening up hardened dottle. (Find pipe tools here.)

Pipe Cleaners – I usually carry a half-dozen or so regular pipe cleaners to deal with moisture issues and to run through a pipe after finishing a bowl. If you’re carrying a pipe with a larger bore (larger, more open drafthole), you might want to bring along the extra absorbent cleaners. I would leave the bristled cleaners at home, as they’re better suited for a more thorough cleaning, which you would most likely want to do in your spare time.

Get Pipe Cleaners Here

Filters – If you use filters at all, you may want to change them with every use, or maybe after a few bowls. If you don’t change them with each smoke, leave the extras at home.

Many people who attend pipe shows come loaded for bear. They carry large, well-made and attractive leather bags with every imaginable item in stock. These people are serious and have everything they need in their kit. On the flip side was my father. He would lay out his roll-up pouch on the kitchen table (after he loaded up with tobacco) and place a few pipe cleaners across the inside of the pouch along with the stem and shank of the pipe, and then he would roll the pouch up and put it in his pocket – ready to go.

Now that I’ve covered what you need, let’s look at other items which you might want to keep around:

Polishes – A wax or oil-based polish for the wood part of the pipe is a good idea, as is a flannel or microfiber cloth for rubbing. I prefer to use an oil. When I want a complete shine-up, I prefer to use Carnauba wax and a buffer (being operated by someone who knows what they’re doing). For stems, there are mildly abrasive polishes. Some people even use toothpaste, baking soda or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (I’m not making this up).

Sweeteners – These are fluids used in cleaning the interior of the pipe that can reduce the sourness of a pipe that has become foul. How well they work is determined by how funky the pipe is before you use it. Liquors can also do the job.

Lighters – There are two basic types of pipe lighters- liquid fuel (Zippo or Nimrod type) and butane. Liquid fuel lighters have two major advantages versus the butane type- the fuel lasts longer between fill-ups and they are virtually windproof. Some look like regular Zippos with a different chimney and others look like an oversized nut and bolt (the Nimrod or Sportsman). The downside is that, even with the newer, low-odor fuels, there’s still a taste to the fuel that I don’t enjoy. Butane pipe lighters use a soft flame (normal orange flame, not like the pencil-point blue flame of a torch lighter) that will easily blow out in the wind, but the flame is usually angled to avoid burning yourself while lighting, and there’s minimal flavor and odor to the fuel. Some use a flint and sparkwheel to light the fuel, while others use a quartz mechanism to throw a spark. Even though they’re more of a pain, due to having to change the flint on occasion, I prefer the sparkwheel type, as they’re more reliable. Shop Pipe Lighters Here.

In the future, I’ll address some of the other things you might want to add to your wish list, but for now, this should keep your bank account from getting too full.


Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe and www.pipesandcigars.com in Albany, NY. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm and Friday from 1 pm to 5 pm.

See our interview with Russ Ouellette Here


15 Responses

  • Great article Russ. Easy to read and understand the simple needs of the new pipeman. I’ll print it and let the wife find it for some good ideas for stocking stuffing items.

  • jcsnaps has the right idea for this time of the year! This article is a real service to the novice; and I’m a bit surprised, but it addresses a fairly common question.
    I will admit, however, that when I started smoking, a pipe cleaner was the only “accessory”. I used a finger to tamp down the ash too! Not so bad once a callus develops. You had to be a really determined to smoke a pipe back then.
    Even now, though, the trusty pipe nail is about all one really needs in the way od doodads.

  • Great article that will help a lot of beginners know what they will need to carry when smoking away from home.
    I agree that cigar smokers are a little delusional about how much stuff you have to carry to smoke a pipe. It pretty much equates with what you need to carry to smoke cigars; especially if you have a pipe pouch. Everything is pretty much contained in the pouch.
    If you break it down it looks something like this:
    Cigar Cutter = Pipe Tool (Pipe Tool is much smaller than a cutter)
    Lighter = Lighter
    Cigars = Pipe Tobacco
    So the only extra things that you are carrying is a pipe and a couple of cleaners. The cleaners don’t take up much room at all and you can put them in with the tobacco so you don’t have them flopping around on their own.
    Some cigar smokers will say “Even if you put everything in a pipe pouch, you still have to carry around the pouch”. Well, most cigar smokers carry around a cigar case to protect their stogies, so it is the same thing.
    I would recommend getting a pipe pouch that has room for 2 pipes, a tobacco pouch, and a pocket or two for accessories such as pipe cleaners or filters (if you use them). That way everything is contained in one area and it will protect your pipe(s) when you are not smoking it.
    They don’t take up much room and most of them come with a strap that you can put around your wrist to keep your hands free. My pouch is about 7 1/2 inches long, 4 1/2 inches wide, and 2 1/2 inches deep; not big at all and only slightly larger than a cigar case.

  • Dear Russ:
    There’s some great lighters “Jobon” that are made specifically for pipes
    that contain all the tools one needs and can be purchased on Ebay for $18.00 with free shipping. The lighters work equally well for cigar smokers as well. I hate having to carry an arsenal of pipe tools around with me and have been really pleased with carrying just my pipe(s), tobacco, and a Jobon.
    Stephen Spring

  • Thanks Russ. For me, one of the enjoyable aspects of Pipe
    smoking is getting to play with the gizmos that are available.
    I can lug a lot of stuff around, or I can bring just the basics.
    Either way, it’s good.

  • Agree on the very cogent article, Russ. I have a saying that others use and that is K.I.S.S, keep it simple stupid!!
    Russ is a real blessing to the pipe world. He is a great guy who will spend lots of time answering any of your questions. He is very knowledgeable about pipe smoking and the tobacs that we fire up and understands blending. Hearth and Home blends are some of the best in the world.
    Keep on the cutting edge, Russ
    Dr Bob

  • Excellent article. I am one of those who tends to carry everything but the kitchen sink LOL.

  • Nice article, particularly for the pipe-greenhorns!
    If you are serious about pipes and pipe smoking you can´t skimp on your equipment 🙂
    Anyway, you´ll spend much money for the best smoking mixtures.
    Cool and dry smoke my fellows.

  • I smoke tea in a pipe. I took it up to experiment with ways to dry my sinuses as I suffered from chronic, lasting [weeks sometimes] headaches and after many scans and tests my doctors had no suggestions.
    I learned that in WWII tea was sometimes mixed with tobacco to make the ration go further, and non-smoker actors have used tea for effect. I tried various commonly available teas and herbs in various mixtures. I do not inhale the smoke into my lungs, but sometimes – during particularly bad sinusitis attacks – I blow it out through my nose to speed the effects. I have been using tea in this way for over a year. I can confirm that the mild dry smoke from good quality loose leaf tea does help, especially if you mix it with a little nettle tea. It does not seem to be at all addictive as I can go a week or more without wanting to smoke it, and then only one or two pipes in a day. I have not felt any euphoric effects from it.
    If you wanted to smoke something as a substitute for tobacco – either for theatrical effect – or to have the familiarity of the smoking ritual while you give up tobacco – I’d recomend tea, particularly quality Assam tea.