Pipe Smoking 101

There is nothing quite so luxurious as smoking a pipe. It’s a James Bond; “shaken not stirred,” type statement. I know who I am and what I’m about, that I can state it casually. To me pipes are about an image, enjoyment, relaxation and fun. That’s why I smoke one, and that’s why I would recommend it to any man or woman that wants to try something new, something from a bygone age.

I started dreaming of smoking a pipe in the second year of our marriage. I would watch old Humphrey Bogart movies and Cary Grant films and the desire to know that time, to have Sean Connery’s accent, Cary Grants humor and Bogart’s sex appeal. But I settled for a pipe, and it was one of the greatest choices I’ve made.

The basic startup items for a novice pipe smoker are…

  • Pipe
  • Tobacco
  • Accessories to help with that first experience

I recommend buying a second hand pipe, or if you have a pipe smoker you know possibly borrowing or buying one from them. There are many advantages to buying used vs. new pipes as a beginner.

  • First, used pipes are already broken in, or tempered. A new pipe will need to be cared for more specifically and your flavor and quality of smoke can be affected if not done properly.
  • Secondly second hand pipes are cheaper, money isn’t the only consideration but it is one nonetheless, why spend $50 – $300 on a new pipe when you can pick up a used one for $10-$30 and determine if pipe smoking is right for you.

My first pipe was a second hand pipe from an antique shop; I still smoke it and love it today. Here are a few links to great places to purchase new and second hand pipes…

A few things to know when buying second hand pipes, these may seem obvious but need to be watched when picking out a good used pipe. None of the new pipes should have these defects and if they do, send it back immediately.

  • Cracks or large chips in the stem or bowl
  • Used or baked on tobacco in the bowl, this means that pipe was probably not well cared for and it may just need cleaning. But I find it nasty and unprofessional to sell a used pipe without cleaning it.
  • Broken or cracked stem, heavy bite marks or disfiguration of the stem
  • Finally, you should be able to pull the stem and bowl apart and look inside for cleanliness, a filter, and any cracks or broken edges

Not all pipes will have filters, neither of my two favorite pipes do. Other things to look for in a pipe are.

  • The fit, how it fits in your hand and how comfortable you feel with it in the smoking position
  • Style, this is completely up to you, I tend to like Dublin and Billiard shaped pipes see the image below from the Pipe Rack for shapes and styles
  • Draw, the pipe should have a good draw; which means a good flow of air when puffed

Again, pipes are a statement of who you are and what you like. So picking one is like picking a good hat or that perfect pair of boots it takes time and thought. But when you find it, it’s yours and only yours and you’ll tell stories about your first pipe and how you found it. Now that I’ve got you searching the Internet for pipes and defining your style, let’s talk tobacco.

The second key ingredient to a good smoke is your tobacco. This is one of those areas where a little trial and error comes in. Each person likes different flavors and different types of tobacco. From very rich dark flavors to light and fruity flavors tobacco is much to the taste and like of the smoker, so here are some basic types and descriptions for your reference in picking a tobacco, or tobacco blend. Keep in mind most tobacco you find in the shops is a blend of two or more of these tobaccos with possible additional flavors added.

  • Virginia: one of the basic tobacco types used in most blends, it ranges from a light yellow color to medium brown. The lighter colors tend to have a spicy flavor while the darker colors tend to have a deeper more complex taste.
  • Burley: the opposite of a Virginia in its oils and sugar ratio, being high oil low sugar. Burleys tend to have a nutty flavor.
  • Carolina: similar to a Virginia but not as rich, a more diluted tobacco.
  • Maryland: A mild tobacco, used often in blends.
  • Orientals/Turkish: A broad group of tobacco’s used to “spice up” a blend, and are often quite fragrant.
    This is a simple list there are others and some non-tobacco elements that are used as well. A great way to learn about tobaccos and to start to develop a personal preference is to try them out, spend time in your local tobacco shop talking to the owner and other pipe enthusiasts, you’ll learn a lot and possibly make a few friends in the process.

Smoking a pipe as I said before is making a statement, it’s about taking time to think and to listen and so don’t expect to smoke your first pipe in 10 minutes. Grab a beer or a manly cocktail, and settle down in your favorite chair, it’s time to enjoy your pipe.

Step 1. Filling the bowl of the pipe. This is the hardest part, but has the most affect on the rest of your smoking experience. Fill the bowl loosely with tobacco and press or pack it lightly with the tamper. The tobacco should compress half way down the bowl. Fill again to the top and pack with the tamper once again, more firmly this time. Now the bowl of your pipe is about ¾ full of tobacco. Finally top of the pipe with a last layer of tobacco and pack it with the tamper, there should only be a small space between the top of the bowl and the tobacco.

Step 2. Testing the pack. Put the pipe to your mouth and draw through it as if smoking. Don’t light the pipe yet. If the air is flowing freely through the tobacco and pipe then your pack is ready to light. If the air is not flowing freely and it’s difficult to draw on the pipe then empty your pipe and re-pack using less pressure with each tamping this time.

Step 3. To light your pipe, use a wooden match or pipe lighter. I like matches, they have a style that I enjoy, more old fashioned. But a lighter works just as well. If using a match let it burn for a second after striking to let the sulphur burn away. Then gently draw on the pipe while moving the match in a circular motion over the surface of the tobacco. You want an even and complete lighting of the top layer of tobacco. Some will tell you to let this first lighting go out, they call this the false light. When breaking in a pipe I follow this rule, but on my older pipes I often get a good light and just let it smolder for a moment, then start puffing.

Step 4. Smoking your pipe is leisurely, and slow. Slow steady puffs, this is not a race it’s a casual stroll with friends. A good comment to make here is that tobacco smoke similar to cigar smoke is not to be inhaled like a cigarette. These tobaccos are stronger and blended more for flavor and enjoyment, so bring the smoke into your mouth taste it, like wine rolling it on your tongue and then release it into the air.

Smoking your pipe should take 30-45 minutes at least, and enjoying it should add even a little more time. So don’t hurry the worst thing a beginner pipe smoker does is smoke 3 bowl full’s of tobacco in an hour and wonder why your head is hurting and your tongue is burning. Slow and steady is the proper and most enjoyable way to smoke a pipe.


  • The pipe is going to go out, especially as your getting started and learning the feel of packing and lighting. You’ll get halfway through a bowl and realize your just sucking air, not a problem follow step 3 and keep going.
  • The pipe get’s too hot for your hand, let it go out, and give it a second relight and keep smoking.
  • If the pipe starts getting wet, or gurgling, you start to get tobacco juice in your mouth or any combination of these means that there is too much moisture in the stem of the pipe. Take a pipe cleaner and run it into the stem and let is draw out the moisture for a second or two. Try and keep your mouth dry while smoking to keep this from happening.
  • When finished smoking, let the pipe cool before cleaning. Never “knock” a pipe out into your hand or on a hard surface. This can lead to stress fractures in the pipe bowl and stem, which will affect the draw and eventually may crack the pipe completely, rendering it unusable.

I hope this helps those who might be interested in smoking a pipe to get started, and for others maybe it was just a fun read. I’m by no means an expert in pipes or tobacco’s and smoking is something I enjoy but it’s not for everyone. So here are a list of links that helped me get started and which informed this post and it’s images.

Let me know your smoking stories and any advice that you would like to add for the new smoker in the comments below.

From the Farm

Pipe Image via The Pipe Rack

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About cale:

A student of life, with a degree in architectural design. I have a passion to see design change our world for better, and to grow the worlds greatest garden!

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3 Responses to “Pipe Smoking 101”
  1. Linwood Hines

    I enjoyed your posting! And, agree with you on the pipe – its pleasures, its luxury. You might mention to your readers that there is a place to see many, many pipes – and to be able to sample lots of tobaccos, get advice, etc. – it is at the Conclave Of Richmond Pipe Smokers (CORPS) 29th annual Pipe Smokers Celebration & Exposition, in Richmond, VA 11-13 October 2013! more info will be on our web site soon! or inquire by email at: or see our FB page (search for the Conclave of Richmond Pipe Smokers)! Thank you!

  2. Doug Wilson

    Thanks for generously sharing your knowledge and experience. I have just recently returned to pipe smoking after having begun the practice in college (1960′s). Now, with the time and leisure to smoke a pipe again, I find it to provide great enjoyment.
    BTW, I was a graphic designer and worked for a number of architects and design firms for 30+ years. Carry on.

    • 02.09.2015


      Thanks so much for the kind words. I continue to enjoy the pipe and love the luxury of just having a bowl. If you’re ever in OKC you should look up ‘Tobacco Exchange’. They have a lounge in the back where you can try out tobaccos and cigars. Let me know and I’ll try and meet you there, have a chat about architecture and design over the bowl or two of tobacco.


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