"I was very interested in purchasing a Pipe. When I came in I was overwhelmed by the selection. Paul (in Mesa) was a wealth of information and help. There are not many salesmen that are so passionate about a product but Paul is a true connoisseur of pipes. I am so glad I chose this store or my first purchase."
Pipe Smoker FAQ
What should I look for when selecting a pipe?
We think there is an ever-evolving aesthetic that takes place with every pipe smoker when it comes down to selecting a pipe. This has to do with things such as bent or straight, big or small, rough or smooth, weight, balance and grain. You want to be comfortable with your selection. How it looks and feels. If you don't like the finish or if the pipe feels bulky in the hand or mouth - guess what? Don't buy it! Your tobacconist may like a certain brand or a certain shape. But that does not mean it's for you. The criteria you use to make these determinations can be some of the same you use to buy a shirt, a watch, or a car. These simple little bits of information are your feelings, so go with them.
The longer you smoke a pipe the more your preferences will come out. Maybe there is something to the fact that a straight billiard is easier to pack than a pot. Maybe it is more comfortable and less in the way to smoke a bent pipe. Maybe a textured pipe, either sandblast or rusticated, has a better feel and seems to smoke cooler than a smooth pipe. A lot of these factors will be affected by experience and some will change over the years.
Pipes are wonderful because often they are beautiful and they are functional. A perfect medium for tasting tobacco. We think it is interesting how so many pipe smokers remember every aspect of a purchase, even those made years ago. They remember the where, when, and why. It is not often that the most expensive or the most "prestigious" pipe is the favorite in the collection. After looking at many pipes through the years, a collector comes to appreciate the rarity of a great straight grain or a cross grain; how to read the grain in a sandblast (it's not just a rough pipe); to know when the balance is perfect. Is this fun or what?
Over time some of your thoughts about pipes will change and some will become more important than others. My one warning would be: Don't substitute grain for green. Pipes are not pork bellies. So often, in any hobby, the initial enthusiasm and passion is lost for the sake of money. Items, specifically pipes, become commodities that are defined by what they are "worth" rather than by the joy they can bring. Remember what got you started and build on that.
How do I clean the oxidation or film from my pipe stem?
It always seems to be the mouthpiece (stem) that presents the most problems in the cleaning process. The best most economical substance we have found is "Soft Scrub" without Clorox. Remove the stem from the pipe and take a paper towel or soft cloth and add the "Soft Scrub". Now rub rub rub and you will lift the oxidation right out of the stem. You will need to replenish your rag until you remove all the discoloration. After this, you can take a clean, soft cloth and rub rub rub until you restore the original gloss to the stem.
When the process is complete, you can take your pipe to your local tobacconist and have them hit your stem with their buffing wheel. This will make the stem look like new.
As a preventative measure, you can wipe off your stem with a tissue or cloth as soon as you have finished your bowl. This will prevent any saliva build up on the stem and will do a lot to curtail the oxidation process.
Do you have any filter pipes?
This is a commonly asked question particularly from customers who have never purchased a pipe at a tobacco shop. Often in drug stores and discount stores they like to feature pipes that have some kind of filter or plumbing, as we like to call it. These pipes often are less expensive and have not been through any elaborate curing or drying process. We think the filter is really more for the pipe than for the smoker, since it will have a tendency to generate more moisture. So what is the purpose of the filter? We think there are very few redeeming qualities with such systems. The metal pieces often tend to hold moisture and give off more heat while the little paper inserts impart a foul taste to the tobacco. A good briar that does not have to be expensive, should take up any moisture that is generated from the smoke. In fact, most moisture problems have more to do with the way the pipe is packed than with the pipe itself. (See "How do I pack the pipe"). Therefore, a pipe without a filter, properly packed will smoke great and will provide the true taste of the tobacco. In Europe there are different standards for the sale of pipes and in many cases filters are required. Most of the European smokers we know just do away with whatever contraption that was initially in the pipe. There Are several lines marketed in the United States, Peterson, which has a built in drainage "system", and Savinelli, which uses balsawood inserts to trap moisture, that have been very well received and seem to be less invasive to the overall smoking quality of the pipe.
How do I pack the pipe?
This is a frequently asked question and is the most important aspect of pipe smoking. Regardless of the quality of the pipe or the tobacco, if the tobacco is not properly loaded into the pipe chamber, the result is a poor and frustrating smoke.
First, you want to begin by getting a feel for your tobacco; whether it is moist or dry (moist tobacco has the tendency to compress on itself) and to eliminate any sticks or hard bits. These erratics only will interrupt the even burning process and require more relighting. Pinch off or drop a small amount of tobacco into the bottom of the bowl. Depending on the size or the bowl, you want to establish 3 to 4 layers of these pinches. You want the tobacco to be loose at the bottom and more firm at the top. You can get away with this firmness at the top because when you perform your first light, the tobacco will expand. Lightly tamp and relight. The draw should be smooth and free. If it is airy, you have packed the pipe too loosely which will result in frequent relights. The most common error is to pack the pipe too firmly and this always leads to frequent relights and moisture problems.
If you think about this layering process, you can picture one layer burning into the next, slowly and evenly, aided by occasional tamping. One analogy we often use is building a fire in a fireplace. You start with kindling, newspaper, wood and matches. You would not dream of throwing it all in the hearth and expecting it to burn. You would constantly relight to no avail. But by carefully stacking the kindling with the newspaper underneath, you would achieve a fire that will burn up through the kindling to the wood placed on top. One source lights the other. You occasionally poke the fire in order to keep it going from one log to the next (tamping). Your end result is gray ash. The same gray ash you will have from a properly packed pipe. It is simply a combustion process.
Hopefully you can transfer these procedures to the pipe using the methods we have outlined above. Practice! Practice! Practice! This is indeed the key to a good smoke.