Steve's Pipe Smoking Page



Breaking in a new pipe

A new pipe requires proper breaking in to avoid damage. With normal smoking, a layer of carbon gradually builds up in the tobacco chamber. This layer protects the briar against the heat of the burning tobacco like firebrick in a wood stove.

This is the method you will read on most sites. Before first filling your new pipe, apply a thin layer of honey (some use water) to the entire tobacco chamber with your finger. Its high sugar content will hasten the desired build-up of carbon.

I have read on the forum that using water mixed with tobacco ash to make a paste works well this seems sensible and this is the method I am using.

Some recommend filling your pipe half for the first few smokes to start building the cake forming to the bottom of the bowl. Filling the pipe to the top will work just the same as long as it is smoked as gently as possible. Pay close attention to avoid overheating your pipe.

Filling your pipe

A bowl of tobacco that burns evenly without going out can only be obtained by careful packing.

Pack the tobacco into the bowl in thirds. First fill the bowl to the top loosely, then gently press it down to about half full leaving plenty of spring in the tobacco. Repeat this procedure, pressing more firmly in the upper two thirds of the bowl. There should be some spring left when the bowl is full. The draw should be consistent and steady. If the tobacco is not packed tightly enough, it will burn too quickly, overheating the pipe and likely burning your tongue (tongue bite) . Empty the bowl and repack it using a more firm pack and vise versa for a bowl to tightly packed.

I do not fill my pipe completely so when lighting I will not chance burn the top of the bowl.

Lighting your pipe

Carefully apply the flame in a circular motion over the whole surface of the tobacco while taking long slow puffs. Completely light the top portion of the tobacco, being sure to keep the pipe bowl upright. Tamp down the burning embers gently into the unburned portion of the tobacco. At this point re-lighting is necessary to get a thorough and even burn of your tobacco. If your pipe happens to extinguish, we suggest gently tamping down any ash before relighting.

Smoking your pipe

Smoke your pipe gently and evenly. Puffing too vigorously will burn your tongue and may cause damage to the bowl from overheating. If the bowl becomes too hot, let your pipe go out and cool off before re-lighting. If your pipe appears to be going out, place two fingers over the top of the bowl while you draw. This will help localize the draft, reviving the smoke.

Avoiding Pipe Burnout

One of the least common, but often irreparable problems of the pipe is the dreaded Burnout. Nothing is more disheartening to a smoker than to finally find the shape and finish that caught your eye, spend the time to properly break the pipe in only to have a hole burn through on the bowl. What causes the demise of a carefully crafted smoking instrument and what can be done to prevent it?

As you may already be aware, briar pipes are made from a root burl of the White Heath Tree (erica arborea) of which the best is found in the rough terrain surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This burl is one of the hardest woods known because it is subjected to one of the harshest terrains and must be very hardy to survive. Like any natural product, however, the briar can develop imperfections during its growth. Premiere pipe wood is over 75 years old and that is an awful long period of time to remain absolutely perfect. Most flaws such as sand pits (where sand becomes imbedded in the wood) or cracks that develop during curing are discovered during the manufacturing and finishing stages and those bowls are sold as seconds or discarded. Sometimes, a flaw is hidden so deep in the wood that it is not detected when the pipe is being made. This leaves a soft spot that may burn through rather than develop a cake. those bowls are sold as seconds or discarded. Sometimes, a flaw is hidden so deep in the wood that it is not detected when the pipe is being made. This leaves a soft spot that may burn through rather than develop a cake. Burnouts can be spotted early in a smoking pipe’s life by the development of an area darkening more quickly than the rest of the bowl. This dark patch indicates that the heat from the burning tobacco is coming through more intensely in that one spot. If this happens early enough, the pipe can be replaced. If it is not caught in time, the result will be a black hole that cannot be remedied by warranty or repair. All that is left is a somber burial in the backyard beside the leg lamp and the mighty oak.

Some precautions against these horrid burnouts are.

Break in your pipe gently. Many people smoke their pipe from the get go like it is a furnace designed to heat a 4 cubic meter area. Smoke the first dozen or so bowls slowly, not letting the bowl heat up too much. If you cannot hold it against your cheek (your choice of cheek), than you are risking burnout. Stop smoking the pipe and let it cool.

Pack your bowl properly and light it evenly. The tobacco should be firm, and yet retain some spring when pressed. Lighting should be done in a two-stage process. A charring light is completed by moving, in a circular motion, a wooden match or butane (NEVER A TORCH) flame over the tobacco. You should be drawing the flame into the tobacco by a gently puffing five to six times. Tamp down the ash and repeat the lighting a second time. With an even light, the tobacco will not over heat one side of the bowl reducing the risk of the black hole.

Avoid smoking where there is going to be a breeze. Unknown to many pipe smokers is the fact that when there is a breeze over top of the bowl, it actually increases the combustion of the tobacco much the same as a bellows would in a blacksmith’s fire. This causes a corresponding rise in temperature that contributes to burnout. This can be avoided by using a pipe cover that covers the tobacco chamber and reduces the breeze. Simply, it is not a good idea not to smoke outside when it is windy.

Be careful when you ream out the cake in your pipe. The cake acts like a firewall between the heat of the burning tobacco and the wood surface of briar. The cake should be at least the thickness of a dime or 1 – 2mm. If the cake gets uneven, then the heat comes through unevenly. Conversely, when the cake gets too thick, then the bowl could crack allowing the heat to have direct contact with the inside of the briar. The reaming tool itself could also dig into the wood causing a spot where the combustion would cause further damage. The catchword here is ‘Caution’. Watch your cake and do not ream zealously.

Keep in mind that most pipe manufacturers will no longer guarantee their pipes past three months. Burnout threats may happen so watch out for the signs. Above all, smoke gently and respect your pipe. Treat it well, and you will be able to leave it to your Grandchildren (freshened it first).

Pipe makers’ various woods

This was a very interesting post on the forum that I though would get lost there so I added it here. It is a great read for pipe making enthusiasts!

Posted by Mike Leverette at the smokers forums

On several of the forum’s post, pipes of different woods have been mentioned, applewood, rosewood, ebony, etc. Among the many woods I have used for making pipes, besides the ever popular Briar wood (Erica arborea), are various tree woods, such as:
1. Maple (Acer) – Maple has been used for many years here in the States and I have used both Sugar and Red Maples. Some of these get pretty hard for my hand tools but still makes a nice pipe.
2. Cherry (Prunus) – Well everyone is familiar with Cherrywood pipes, so I will just say that Cherry allows one to carve some great figurals.
3. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) – Other than briar, this is the wood I like to work with for its workability and excellent finishes one can achieve. Black Walnut does have rather large pores that allows tobacco juices to reach the exterior fairly rapid.
4. Oak (Quercus) – Most American oaks are what I call brittle, they split to easily when making a cut and like Black Walnut, but only more so, it has large pores. Thus I am not to crazy about it for pipes.
5. Olive (Olea) – Great wood for pipes. Back in the early seventies, I decided to go into the pipe making business and looked around for an unusual wood to catch peoples interest until I could build up a stock of my briars. I thought of Olive wood and checked many tobacconists but none who I was familiar with had never heard of Olive wood pipes. Yes this could be it so I wrote several countries for suppliers of Olive wood, Greece, Israel, etc and never received an answer. Two years later all of the tobacconists, whom I had check with before, were carrying Olive wood pipes from both Greece and Israel. Oh well, At least I gave them some ideas.
6. Rosewood (Dalbergia) – I think this is a good wood for pipes.
7. Manzanita (Arctostaphylia manzanita) – Here in the States this wood was used during the Second World War. I have ordered this wood from two different suppliers and as of yet I have not received one that did not have many drying cracks, certainly not a piece large enough for a pipe.
8. Hickory (Carya) – It is okay but I do not like to use it.
9. Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) – Since their leaves are poisonous, I am leery of making pipes from this one though it like Manzanita was used quite a bit for pipes during the war years.
10. Mahogany (Swietenia mahogani) – Mahogany is a rapid growing tree and as such sucks up many gallons of water a day along with a quantity of silica particles, so though I have made pipes from Mahogany I am leery of it as well, you know silicosis. Of course if you do not inhale ---!
I have never used bog oak simply because I have never tried obtaining any. I do like Trevors Morta (bog oak) pipes.
Well how about it pipe makers, what are some of the woods you use?




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