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lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
I have not been smoking all that long. If you're interested, you can see the early part of my journey in this very subforum where I posted about my first dozen or so bowls, how things seemed to be improving, and a variety of topics being covered.

I've had a sort of breakthrough in pipe smoking that happened without me realizing. But, upon reflection when smoking a pipe recently, I realized I'm more comfortable holding a clench for extended periods of time. I've gotten breath smoking down pat. I'm smoking seemingly slower than ever and not needing an unnecessary amount of relights (which was in the dozens and now is down to half a dozen or sometimes less).

All of this led to me smoking a pipe mindlessly, reflecting on my journey as a pipe smoker and thinking about what I've learned. How could I quantify or explain it? What changed and why am I enjoying my smokes more than ever?

I thought it might be interesting to explore this as it might enhance my smoking techniques even further. Please understand this is just my personal opinion and experiences. Everyone's journey of pipe smoking will be unique to the individual. Do not be afraid to explore.

incoming wall of text
 

lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
  1. Don't be afraid of cuts. I was terrified of anything not ribbon cut at first. I thought certainly that things like flake must be for more experienced smokers. I do not find this to be true and would recommend everyone pick up some flake, coins, whatever piques your interest. Almost all tobacco can be rubbed into something like a ribbon cut. But, I also find that cuts like flake are easier to handle and provide a lot of flavor. I tend to fold and stuff 1/3 of the flake in the bottom half of the bowl and rub out another 1/3 of the flake for the other half of the bowl. I'll use whatever tiny bits and pieces or shake is left as kindling to top the bowl off. I've also been experimenting lately with reversing this. So, rubbed out flake in bottom 1/3 of bowl, fold and stuff the next 1/3 of bowl, and then tiny bits/pieces/shake on top as kindling. I've even tried rubbing the whole flake out which resulted in good smokes! You almost can't go wrong.
  2. Don't be afraid of Va's or VaPer's. I don't think most are afraid of aromatics. I do think some are afraid of Va's and VaPer's. I know I was worried about them smoking hot when I first started. My first ever smoke was english and then burley for this very reason. Now, this is not a bad idea as these do tend to smoke cooler. But, Va's and VaPer's are not as "hot" as you might believe. Try them out. They are often less bold but still quite complex in flavor. I bet you will enjoy!
  3. Don't be afraid of an estate pipe. My first pipe was an estate Dr Grabow Grand Duke purchased online. It was less than $15 with tax and shipping. Was I taking a chance? Sure. Are there better pipes than a $15 Grabow Estate that needed some work? Of course. But, if you're on a budget, I'd personally recommend buying one brand new MM corncob and one cheap estate briar that doesn't look too abused. You could likely "get in" for less than $30. It can be a little fun too if the estate needs a little work and you enjoy tinkering. You'll mess up and it won't be perfect. But, you won't care in due time as it's essentially a throwaway/beater pipe anyway. That being said, I still smoke my Grabow quite often and enjoy it immensely!
  4. Consider buying a pipe with a small chamber. I think some tend to shy away from this. I'm not saying that it's a bad idea to set a good chunk of time aside to enjoy a pipe. I find it quite meditative. But, most of my pipes last me 1.5-2 hours or more and they aren't massive chambers; in the Group 3-4 range. I recently got a very small Group 1-ish pipe (maybe smaller), a comoy second sunrise featherweight. And, it is quickly becoming a go to pipe for me as it allows me to smoke when I otherwise wouldn't have time. I'm not saying you can't pack half bowls or even set a bowl down and come back to it the next day. But, I find a small chamber provides a different experience and one that is worth exploring; especially for Va and VaPer flakes.
  5. Packing is actually kind of hard to screw up. I mean you really have to put some elbow grease into it to pack too tightly. And, I don't think there's such a thing as packing too loosely. Your intuition is likely correct. I believe that the bigger issue is tamping. Which leads me to...
  6. Tamping is a technique you must learn. It sounds simple. I believe it is not. It is something you will learn with experience. At first, I always thought I should be tamping the entire bowl "down". I've started to learn that tamping "inward" or toward the center works much better. It's almost like I tamp with more force on the edges only and barely tamp the center at all. Most of my pipes burn quicker in the center than the edges. And, pushing the edges into the center without packing the tobacco tighter has helped me avoid issues with pipes becoming "clogged". Only after I tamp "inward" do I ever ever so slightly "level" the ash on top. I also find that dumping the ash when there's only about a 1/4 bowl left helps burn the tobacco nearly all the way to the bottom. Around this point, I also start tamping at an angle as I near the bottom; kind of stacking the tobacco up near the draft hole. A tamping tool or nail is really necessary in my opinion to do all of this well. I'm sure with enough experience, you could get by with just a finger or never having to tamp at all.
  7. You think you're sipping, but you're not. I got so sick of people saying, "Smoke slow, then smoke slower, and then smoke slower than that. Now you're sipping." But, what can I say? They are right. This too comes with time and experience. But, let me note a few observations. Sipping obviously means not having huge billows of smoke. But, I was not getting huge billows. And, while I thought I was sipping I was not. My pipes were still getting warm, approaching hot. For the longest time, there was always a wisp (or more) of smoke coming from my tobacco chamber even when the pipe was not in my mouth. I've noticed that more recently my pipes rarely exhibit any sign that they're actually lit at all. And, I think this correlates to my pipes now smoking cool and me truly sipping.
  8. Clenching will come with time. I was never dead set on being a "clencher". I usually smoke in the comfort of my chair or sitting up in bed. So, I didn't mind holding the pipe. Clenching was awkward for a long time. Most times I tried it I ended up smoking hot and fast and drooling all over myself. I don't know when it happened, and I'm sure it just came with experience. But, I can clench comfortably now and smoke nice and slow without overheating the pipe. In fact, I tend to overheat my pipe more when I'm holding it now as I guess I get impatient holding the pipe. When it is in clench, I can forget it is there and things just sort of sync up with the rhythm of my breathing. Don't rush clenching or get frustrated with it. Just keep smoking whatever way provides the most enjoyment. And, techniques like clenching will come naturally on its own.
  9. Breath smoking, clenching, and retrohaling. This is one of my biggest revelations and one that will be most difficult to express. It is almost a combination of everything I've mentioned so far. There are many aspects that may need to be practiced before everything will click. For some, it may come naturally. For me, only parts of it seemed natural. I can't explain retrohaling, for example. It always came natural to me and I'm not sure how one might struggle with it. I have smoked just about everything but a pipe for 20-ish years now. So, I'm sure that has something to do with it. I do find breath smoking works best for me when clenching and retrohaling. I don't know why, but I think it has to do with forgetting you're even smoking a pipe. When I'm holding it in hand, I tend to smoke faster and overheat my pipe. And, retrohaling gives me more flavor and helps me sip rather than puff. But, back to the breath method; I do not recommend ever intentionally exhaling back through the pipe. I've seen some mention this and I think it only contributes to more heat and a loss of tobacco smoke going into your mouth. Most seem to recommend this to cool the smoke. The smoke will cool naturally if you are sipping slowly enough. So, don't worry about or try to force air back into the pipe. I found recently that when I'm not even trying to draw on the pipe, that's when my breath smoking cadence and technique is the best. Now, this concept of not drawing on the pipe is something I want to highlight. This caused me many troubles at first. I was trying so hard to not draw that I wasn't. So, it's not so much that you should consciously try to avoid drawing on the pipe. It's that you shouldn't think about drawing or not drawing at all. Just let things happen. Stick the pipe in your mouth, breath through your nose, and (in my opinion) if you're doing it right the smoke will find its way into your mouth most of the time. If the pipe is starting to die out, lightly pull on it consciously until you can go back to letting the smoke flow into your mouth naturally again. If the pipe goes out, just relight it! No harm no foul. Again, the draw of the breath method caused me a lot of confusion and issues for months. But, at some point it all just clicked. And, I think this coincided with me having smoked long enough to stop really thinking about it. I also find that "smoking slowly" is a little misleading when it comes to breath smoking. I think my cadence is actually somewhat fast. I retrohale maybe every 5-10 seconds. But, this is a very small amount of smoke coming out. So, it does not overheat my pipe because I'm "sipping" so lightly (ie; naturally, not even trying). If I actually draw on my pipe every 5-10 seconds, it would get too hot. It is this act of not drawing on the pipe that seems to keep the pipe cool. Another tip; I also noticed that if I go to retrohale and smoke comes out of the chamber, then my cadence is way too fast or my "natural draw" too hard. I focus at this point on slowing things down until there is no smoke coming out of the chamber on retrohale, and then go back to forgetting the pipe and enjoying the smoke.
 

lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
I realize this is a giant wall of text and don't expect most or really anyone to read through it. But, I want to try to contribute back to this community. And, it doesn't hurt that having to think about this stuff and writing it down helped me learn more about my own technique (and question some of it) as well!!
 

Sobrbiker

Lifer
Jan 7, 2023
2,316
28,267
Casa Grande, AZ
As a guy just over a year in, I concur.

Don’t be afraid of the journey, what you like will be what it is, many times not what you think you’d like.

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, but know many YouTubers are shooting for advertising bucks. No one wants to pay a guy for a fifteen second video that says “get a pipe, get some tobacco, put tobacco in pipe, light it and smoke it. Rinse, repeat.”

When I got my first horse at the age of 53, I fell into trying to learn all the horsemanship “methods” being pitched these days. I couldn’t help but think “we’re not too far removed from when having a horse was more commonplace than having a car is now, it can’t be too crazy” and started noting that the old guys that were dialed in all did the same simple things. The new riders want to learn all the high level stuff, and the great riders practice the fundamentals.
Smoking a pipe is very similar.

Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to go read my thread I started months ago sharing the same kind of “new guy to new guy stuff, if only to see how far my head was up my arse or if I still agree with what I wrote😉.
 

lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
Wow. Very well thought out and presented. For me it's a lot to comprehend. After 35 years of pipe smoking I never realized I do most of this. So it was good to read it from a newer smoker. The dash 10 of pipe smoking!
Thank you! I imagine it will be fun to come back to this post years from now and see how I used to think about things 😝
 

lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
As a guy just over a year in, I concur.

Don’t be afraid of the journey, what you like will be what it is, many times not what you think you’d like.

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, but know many YouTubers are shooting for advertising bucks. No one wants to pay a guy for a fifteen second video that says “get a pipe, get some tobacco, put tobacco in pipe, light it and smoke it. Rinse, repeat.”

When I got my first horse at the age of 53, I fell into trying to learn all the horsemanship “methods” being pitched these days. I couldn’t help but think “we’re not too far removed from when having a horse was more commonplace than having a car is now, it can’t be too crazy” and started noting that the old guys that were dialed in all did the same simple things. The new riders want to lear high level stuff, and the great riders practice the fundamentals.
Smoking a pipe is very similar.

Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to go read my thread I started months ago sharing the same kind of “new guy to new guy stuff, if only to see how far my head was up my arse or if I still agree with what I wrote😉.
You posted this as I was replying to another comment and you read my mind! 🤣 It'll be fun to look back on this someone in the future.

And I agree with your sentiment entirely. I was so caught up on what people were telling me to do and not to do. Just explore and learn. This was my experience and it may help someone. But, keep smoking in whatever way you enjoy it, don't be afraid to try new things, and with time you'll be a pro!
 

Coreios

Lifer
Sep 23, 2022
1,624
2,685
41
United States Of America
You should be careful of estate pipes. Do your research before hand and learn to spot burn outs, hairline cracks, and suspicious things. Like low quality pictures, 2 pictures of the pipe showing the same side between other pics to trick the mind. I want to see inside the bowl, under softie bits, and stamps that should be there, as well as material used listed and size. I once bought a Wellington on eBay that looked huge no size listed. The bowl barely holds 2 peas stacked. Ask questions and see how much the same pipe is (selling for) not posted for. Their a lot a no name artist who are very talented but don't be fooled by a Chinese knock off. And a lot of pipes that look trashed are easy to restore.
 

lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
You should be careful of estate pipes. Do your research before hand and learn to spot burn outs, hairline cracks, and suspicious things. Like low quality pictures, 2 pictures of the pipe showing the same side between other pics to trick the mind. I want to see inside the bowl, under softie bits, and stamps that should be there, as well as material used listed and size. I once bought a Wellington on eBay that looked huge no size listed. The bowl barely holds 2 peas stacked. Ask questions and see how much the same pipe is (selling for) not posted for. Their a lot a no name artist who are very talented but don't be fooled by a Chinese knock off. And a lot of pipes that look trashed are easy to restore.
I definitely agree with all of this! I was just trying to not strike fear in a newcomers heart 😝 There are MANY good estate pipes out there. And, some can be had for next to nothing.

But, always ask questions if you have them and don't be afraid to request more pictures or measurements.
 
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Coreios

Lifer
Sep 23, 2022
1,624
2,685
41
United States Of America
I definitely agree with all of this! I was just trying to not strike fear in a newcomers heart 😝 There are MANY good estate pipes out there. And, some can be had for next to nothing.

But, always ask questions if you have them and don't be afraid to request more pictures or measurements.
Yeah I love estate pipes. Biggest problem I run into is people cleaning them and don't know how. I hate fighting a bleach ghost. lol When I find a dirty one I prefer it.
 

Sigmund

Lifer
Sep 17, 2023
1,474
12,509
France
That is a post that should get a sticky!

Its great and Ive found all of it to be true. Im fairly new back to the pipe and thats a great post. The tamping section is really important and key if you get sick of relighting every 30 seconds. Learning to feed the fire is key...even more than drying tobacco.

Also dont be afraid to post questions. You might get a coupld of semi snarky responses but on the whole your questions will be answered. Its a really helpful site. Take what they tell you and then experiment.
 

lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
That is a post that should get a sticky!

Its great and Ive found all of it to be true. Im fairly new back to the pipe and thats a great post. The tamping section is really important and key if you get sick of relighting every 30 seconds. Learning to feed the fire is key...even more than drying tobacco.

Also dont be afraid to post questions. You might get a coupld of semi snarky responses but on the whole your questions will be answered. Its a really helpful site. Take what they tell you and then experiment.
Appreciate your kind words!! It's interesting to hear that others have found similar things along their journey.

I agree about the tamping too. I think it might be the most understated part of pipe smoking. I was trying to just barely level the ash on top. But, this resulted in a tunnel down the center of the chamber, difficult relights, and the pipe going out constantly. Frustrated, I'd just push the whole chamber down and ruin the draw. It is just my opinion, but I think it's okay to use a little bit of force when tamping if you angle the tamper and only do it on the edges. And, it's less of a downward force and more of an inward force. But, just to reiterate, do not push down with any force on the center of the chamber with your tamper. That will tighten everything up which is probably not what you want.

Experience
100% !! 😁 It was an interesting exercise to reflect on my experience and put pen to paper so to speak.
 
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lithicus

Starting to Get Obsessed
Sep 9, 2023
127
807
Pennsylvania
Another: don't pull out your stem while the pipe is still hot unless you have a military mount.
I can hardly believe I didn't think to include this! A definite no no and I still get nervous removing the stem on my military mounts 😝 But, I have to on my Peterson as the system traps moisture. The first time I smoked out of that pipe (my first ever system pipe) I dumped the ash without removing the stem and found a mess when I went to disassemble and run pipe cleaners through it 😅
 
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El Capitán

Lifer
Jun 5, 2022
1,177
4,845
34
Newberry, Indiana
I can hardly believe I didn't think to include this! A definite no no and I still get nervous removing the stem on my military mounts 😝 But, I have to on my Peterson as the system traps moisture. The first time I smoked out of that pipe (my first ever system pipe) I dumped the ash without removing the stem and found a mess when I went to disassemble and run pipe cleaners through it 😅
Just remember that is what the military mount is made for.
 
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