PREFATORY NOTICE: The use of a pipe tamper is never required in this method, other than as an aid to prevent blooming embers from overflowing the chamber at the beginning of a smoke or to extinguish the ember at the end of a smoke. The use of a tamper tends to choke off the airflow, causing the tobacco to burn slower, causes it to burn hotter and to lose the subtle tobacco nuances that a well aerated draw provides.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
CATCHING THE FLAME - When applying the GENTLE PUFF, one will eventually notice that the flame will begin to noticeably "dip" or "reach" toward the surface of the tobacco concomitant with an increase in draw resistance and smoke volume. The onset of a pronounced dip indicates that a CORE EMBER is beginning to form. This "dipping" is a good sign, as it indicates that a significant amount of tobacco is beginning to ignite which is increasing the resistance of the draw. This resistance is what increases the ability of puffing to cause the flame to "dip". Depending upon the tobacco, the cut and the pipe configuration, the dip exhibited during the CATCHING OF THE FLAME may not always be equivalently vigorous. As such, paying careful attention to the FULLNESS AND RESISTANCE of the DRAW (see below) is significantly more important than is monitoring the vigorousness of the flame's dip.
CORE EMBER - Also called the "fire platform", this is the dense coal of burning tobacco that forms at the center of the tobacco chamber. It burns down towards the heel while simultaneously drying and distilling the flavor volatiles from the tobaccos circumferentially encircling it.
FULL AND RESISTANT DRAW - That point at which the CORE EMBER is fully lit and self-sustaining, when the draw of the pipe changes from thin and airy to one in which requires extremely minimal draw-force to produce a steady stream of smoke and which provides an increased resistance (a backdraft) during the draw.
BELLOWS PUFFING - Puffing which moves rapid bursts of air, alternating in short-period intervals, between drawing air through the stem and releasing back through the stem in the opposite direction. This acts as a "bellows" which stokes the ember.
RADIAL DENSITY - A desirable condition of the unlit tobacco load in which the central core of the tobacco pack possesses sufficient density to support a CORE EMBER. It is analogous to a well bunched and rolled cigar or cigarette and stands in contrast to a flabbily-rolled and chaotically bunched examples.
SLUDGE CAKE - The soft, gummy and tarry residue that collects at the heel of a pipe, particularly seen with in pipes whose owners chronically overcompress the tobacco load by overtamping. The choked airflow causes moist tars to settle in the pipe's nether regions. This gummy layer is often mistaken for the chimerical “heel cake”.
PREPARING THE TOBACCO
Many tobaccos are not sold in the most optimal form for easy smoking. If necessary, do not be afraid to further manipulate, crush, roll, bend, rub, or chop your tobacco. Without more extensive preparation, cuts that are very broad, very long and stringy, or irregularly chunky may make it difficult to achieve the RADIAL DENSITY necessary to sustain a CORE EMBER. There are many factors involved here, but do not be afraid to process the cut further, if necessary (making sure to take into account the diameter of the chamber of the pipe which one intends to use). Do not over-process the tobacco into too-small of pieces, since vibrancy of flavor is dependent on adequate airflow through the tobacco pack.
The moisture content of the tobacco is not a particularly demanding factor in smoking. Bone dry tobaccos can be successfully smoked, as long as they can be essentially gravity-fed into the chamber (such as cube-cuts). Cuts that require manipulation to stuff into the bowl (such as ribbon-cuts) should be pliable ("workable").
LOADING THE PIPE
This is a relatively easy step. No exotic techniques are needed. Add tobacco to about the halfway point. Alternate blowing and drawing through stem, until airway is clear and stays clear after numerous draws. If a blockage occurs, just keep alternating blowing and drawing until the chunks are cleared from the airway. If necessary, unload the tobacco into your palm, blow through the stem to clean the airway, and start again.
After the pipe is halfway loaded and the draw remains unobstructed, continue loading the pipe until no more tobacco will enter the chamber under moderate (i.e. "reasonable") force. Add tobaccos until the tobacco is no longer amenable to descending into the chamber under reasonable pressure. Brush away excess tobacco until the pack is level with the rim.
MATCHING TOBACCO TO CHAMBER GAUGE
The general rule is that the looser or fluffier the cut (the greater the volume taken by a given weight of tobacco), the wider should be the chamber.
Attempting to put a loose and wide cut mixtures in a narrow chamber can often result in an unsatisfactory experience, as it will be difficult to impossible to form a central core of the RADIAL DENSITY necessary to make a self-sustaining ember.
Dense, compressed tobaccos (such as a broken flake or cube cut) paired with into an excessively wide gauge chamber can create an overly dense CORE with an overwhelmingly aggressive flavor.
Though there are no hard and fast ways to gauge the optimal chamber gauges for a particular tobacco other than experience, these basic rules provides the baseline.
Assuming proper tobacco preparation and pipe packing, the lighting of a pipe is rather simple, in principle. Firstly, the flame is held close to the surface of the tobacco while lighting until a small ember, sufficient to smolder to a certain degree, is produced. Secondly, the flame is then held a bit above the tobacco while lighting so that heat (rather than the direct flame) can cause this ember to grow and expand outward (toward the chamber walls) until it reaches the diameter necessary to attain a FULL AND RESISTANT DRAW.
It may be helpful to imagine the smoking process as if broken down into distinct steps:
- Using gentle, rhythmic puffing, bring the flame into contact with the top center of the pack. Continue until the flame begins to make a slight, visible "dip", wisps of smoke begin to emit from the mouthpiece, and the draw exhibits greater RESISTANCE. Test the draw by gently puffing and repeat STEP 1 when the draw loses resistance, becoming thin and airy. NEVER increase the force of the puffing, as heavier draws do not improve ignition and serve only to increase bite and bitterness. The goal is to light the pipe quickly and efficiently but, yet, methodically and gently. Working quickly and decisively whilst never succumbing to the temptation to increase one's puffing force is the best way to accomplish this.
As one repeats the above step, an obvious "CATCH" will manifest as the draw starts to become more FULL AND RESISTANT and the smoke volume increases. This demonstrates that a CORE EMBER is beginning to form. Try moving to Step 2.
NOTE: As this step progresses, one will need to slightly "walk" the flame over the surface of the pack in order to light the CORE. Using circular/spiral motions, "walk" the flame in slight circles around the central hub of the pack's surface. Since the ember begins its formation in the center of the pack and subsequently increases radially toward the chamber walls, this technique is particularly important when dealing with progressively wider chambers which have much more surface area outlying around the central core.
- After the draw has achieved a modicum of resistance, beginning BELLOWS PUFFING (see GLOSSARY OF TERMS above) to move air though the pipe in order to stoke the CORE EMBER. When the ember seems fully stoked, try moving to a more relaxed, normal puffing/sipping rhythm. If, instead, the FULL AND RESISTANT DRAW seems to sustain itself but, then, returns to a thin and airy draw, resume BELLOWS PUFFING to re-stoke the ember, or if that does not work, return to Step 1.
NOTE: If the ember is very close to full ignition, it can often be "tweaked" (per Step 3 below) into reignition by holding the flame some distance above the top of the pack and allowing the heat to do the work. If this does not effect reignition, simply apply the flame as is normal for Step 1.
One can know that the pipe is well-lit if maintaining a FULL AND RESISTANT draw with satisfying smoke volume requires effortless puffing. If this is not the case, then simply repeat Steps 1, 2 or 3 (whichever applies) until the ember is properly lit.
- After the pipe has burned pleasantly for awhile, it will more than likely go out (or more accurately, the draw will become thin and airy rather than FULL AND RESISTANT). When this happens, initiate BELLOWS PUFFING to stoke the ember. If this does not work, then gently "tweak" the ember into reignition by allowing simple heat, rather than direct flame, to do the work. Simply hold the flame slightly above the rim of the chamber whilst gently puffing. Do this only for a couple of seconds. Test the draw and see if the pipe has reignited. If not, repeat this step until the pipe reignites or else one comes to the realization that the tobacco has burned to the heel.
During regular smoking, use only relaxed and gentle puffing/sipping. If the pipe won't stay lit in this way, then it won't stay lit, period. This does not mean that the drawing cadence should be excessively intermittent, since such a cadence can allow the CORE EMBER to lose its smoldering intensity.
NOTE: By no means should one attempt to draw the flame deep into the chamber. Even during relights, when the "lower regions" of the tobacco need to be reignited, the energy is provided by convective heat and not by direct flame.
- When the pipe has burned down to its termination, there will always be a plug of moist dottle. This is normal. The moist dottle will comprise about one-third of the total chamber volume. Above this will be a core of ash along with a spectrum of leaf which has been blackened, darkened, and dried to various degrees. Do not be tempted to smoke every last shred of tobacco.
NOTE: Though it is possible, through increasingly-regular BELLOWS PUFFING and more forceful sipping, to keep the ember smoldering and thus, to keep a certain resistance in the draw, this is not without its drawbacks. The smoke is significantly hotter while the smoke volume is significantly lower (too much high-velocity air moving over too anemic a smoldering ember), and only a marginal decrease in the amount of dottle is effected.
In brief, the manipulations involved in the smoking process may be summated as:
- INITIAL LIGHTING ("Sparking the Ember")
- BELLOWS PUFFING ("Stoking the Ember")
- SMOKING ("Sipping the Ember")
- RELIGHTING ("Kickstarting the Ember")
REGULAR POST-PIPE MAINTENANCE
If the forgoing smoking technique is religiously adhered, very little SLUDGE CAKE will build up in the chamber and in the draught airway of the pipe. Cleaning will, thus, be very minimal. Use of pipe cleaners will be amazingly rare and disassembling of a pipe will be sporadic, at best. One should easily be able to put 100, if not two or three hundred, bowls through a pipe before it needs a complete cleaning. The resultant reduction in the use of pipe cleaners is very beneficent, since there will be no fuzz to collect along the pipe’s draught airway. A pipe cleaner need only be employed during that rare event of a draught airway clogged with a chunk ot tobacco.
- Gently run the flat, knife-like edge of the tamper spoon along the top half of the walls of the chamber to remove any gritty carbonized bits.
- Blow through either the stem or through the chamber in order to expel any moisture that may have collected in the pipe’s airway. Remember to cover the opposite end of the airway in order to avoid spraying moisture and stray tobacco bits everywhere.
- Wipe off the bit-end of the stem to remove any saliva or residue, particularly if the stem is made of a material sensitive to moisture, such as ebonite, vulcanite, or animal horn. Unless the stem is made from a non-oxidizing material such as acrylic, quickly wipe it (and any other oxidizable materials, such as ferrules) down with either a professional stem oil or with the oil rubbed from one’s forehead, in order to retard oxidation.
- Once in a while (this is not necessary after every single smoke), run your pinky finger into the chamber and rub the chamber walls to abrade off any SLUDGE CAKE (soft, tarry residue). This process will cause the small amount of tars that have collected to “pill”, after which, they can then be easily rubbed out of the chamber.
Afterwards, blow once more through the pipe in order to expel any last drops of moisture.
When the above method is followed, reaming of the chamber (a procedure easily hazardous to the briar wood) will become unnecessary. As well, the removal of tars from the heel will reduce residual “ghost flavors" from previously smoked tobaccos.
If the chamber is too narrow for one’s finger to be able to make it to the heel of the chamber (a common occurrence with tall chambers of very narrow gauges), then there is an easy remedy. Cut off, lengthwise, a thin strip (about 1/2-inch wide) of a common, green kitchen scratch pad (one not treated with a cleaning agent). At one of the far ends of the strip, poke the spoon end of a standard nail tamper (or a long, small-headed carpenter’s nail if the chamber to be cleaned, regardless of gauge, is more than 2.5” deep) through the fabric. Push the nail all the way through until the fabric rests against the underside of the head of the nail. Wrap the dangling end of the strip around the exposed side of the head of the nail and up along the shaft of the nail until one can grasp both the pointed end of the nail as well as the strip between one’s thumb and forefinger. Then insert this device headfirst into the chamber. Utilizing the pressure provided by the pipe nail, use the green fabric to gently abrade and remove any SLUDGE CAKE from the lower half of the chamber.
INTERMITTENT POST-PIPE MAINTENANCE
When the pipe is, finally, in need of disassembling, a quick use of a bristle cleaner (or shank brush) is all one will need to clean the shank. Use a cleaner, folded in half, to clean out the mortise. There is no need to use alcohol when cleaning a pipe, especially the stummel of a briarwood or meerschaum pipe. It is pointless, at best; deleterious, at worst.
Unless the stem is of an exotic and delicate material such as horn or amber (in which case, never use alcohol), one may, if one insists, use a standard pipe cleaner which has been dipped in alcohol to clean it. However, do not shirk from exclusively using dry pipe cleaners, since a micro-thin layer of tarry residue may be beneficial to vulcanite/ebonite stems, sealing the material from the effects of oxidation (sulphuric/rubbery taints) and, thus, preserving the smokestream from said taints.