A Question of Proper Cake Thickness

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Briar Lee

Part of the Furniture Now
Sep 4, 2021
Humansville Missouri
Over fifty years ago I learned from many sources, the proper thickness of cake to leave in a briar pipe, was—

“About the thickness of a dime”

Any pipe smoker who’s broken in a briar pipe (other than a Lee) finds that an unpleasant, but necessary chore. Eventually the cake builds up, and the pipe needs reamed.

I used to ream carbon cake from my pipe bowls to “about the thickness of a dime” but for the last 20 years or so I do not.

I have so many pipes I rotate that each one builds carbon very slowly.

As a habit I smoke one bowl, per pipe, and then each night clean four or five pipes utterly and completely with 190 proof Everclear and a twisted paper towel soaked in Everclear inside the bowl.

Usually little cake accumulates, but if any does I’ll whittle it back down a bit with a sharp pocketknife to my new cake standards:

“As little thickness of cake as possible without seeing bare briar”

Another way of saying it is:

“Leave only a smidgen of cake, no more, no less.”

I also apply olive oil to briar and stem and polish with a paper towel, on a regular basis.

Used pipes I buy from eBay are always reamed to bare briar and given a smidgen of cake, no more, no less, and lots of olive oil polishings until they look shiny.

What’s your rule, for proper cake thickness?
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Reactions: CoffeeAndBourbon
Jun 25, 2021
As you say. as little thickness of cake as possible without seeing bare Briar.

My method is, after each bowl to scrape out with a piece of split bamboo, then take off the stem, dip a pipe cleaner in filtered water, clean the stem and draught hole, then wet the other end and work it round the bowl, and then wipe out with a paper towel twice.
I find this keeps the pipe fresh, and the cake to a minimum.

I never use alcohol because I find it makes the pipe taste sour.


Feb 21, 2013
A minority of Forums members, like me, don't build cake, but scoop out the ash and then scour the bowl with a paper towel. This retains a carbon layer, but maintains the diameter of the chamber at approximately its new width. I don't need to own a reamer, and especially for new pipe smokers, this avoids the damage they can do learning to use one. You can kill a good briar pipe in short order by overzealous reaming. I know building cake is a customary joy of pipe smoking for many; just know that it is not necessary.

Briar Lee

Part of the Furniture Now
Sep 4, 2021
Humansville Missouri
A point of order here:

When you say no cake do you mean bare briar, all brown where you can see the grain?

That’s what I do to old pipes with any cake whatsoever, all the way down to the bottom of the bowl.

When I say leave a smidgen of cake, it’s a matter of microns, just enough to no longer see bare briar.

I scrub out nearly all the true cake after each smoke with a paper towel and alcohol.

It’s actually more of a black tobacco oil residue that won’t scrub out, is what I leave.

I still want to taste a tiny taste of briar, but never burning briar, if you can follow me.

But yes, I can see a very thin cake, and sometimes remove dottle from it.

It serves to protect that good briar just under it, is what I think, nothing else.


May 26, 2012
Sarasota Florida
I smoke one bowl in any of my pipes. I then clean the piss out of that pipe with pipe cleaners. Bristle and fluffy and once in a great while they will get the Everclear bath. All of my pipes except one smoke Virginia, Virginia/Perique, Virginia Burley/Kentucky flakes, plugs and rope. These tobaccos build a nice hard cake that doesn't flake. It also makes the pipe smoke cooler and drier and more flavorful for me.
Over 20 years ago someone told me to do this and I have no idea why the dimes thickness is the standard but I choose to follow this dogma.


Part of the Furniture Now
Sep 1, 2021
Romney, WV
After every smoke I lightly scrap the sides of the bowl with my small "old timer" knife. I want the sides of the bowl to have carbon to reduce heat and absorb moisture, but not enough to collect much on the sides. I want the pores of the briar to be closed, but not much more. Most of my pipes have the same bowl depth and capacity as when they were acquired.