A Czech pipe tool
Beginner’s Series 1: Packing and Lighting your Pipe
To the new and solitary pipe smoker, few things may impede full enjoyment of your pipe as much as an incorrectly packed pipe. Certainly there was a time when a man could count on learning from his father, grandfather or even a trusted friend, but nowadays, for many, the local lineage of pipe smokers has long been broken. I can recall my first bowl, jammed with as much tobacco as I could fit, giving my pipe the draw of a milkshake. Attempts with less tobacco (and consequently no tamping) led to a fickle pipe, switching rapidly between being exceptionally hot and being extinguished. After half a pouch worth of failure I gave in and humbly queried my tobacconist about the matter. All in all packing a pipe is easy, but you must be prepared.
Here’s what you need: your pipe (of course), tobacco (again, of course), matches and a pipe tool/tamper. The pipe tool or tamper is something that might easily be forgotten by a beginner. If you don’t have one a flat pen cap or a wide nail head may do.
Here is how to do it:
Sprinkling the tobacco, fill your bowl to the top
“Tamp” or press the tobacco down with the tamper until it fills half the bowl. The tobacco should feel somewhat springy
Sprinkle fill the bowl again to the top. Tamp again until it the bowl is at about 2/3 capacity
Sprinkle a bit of tobacco on top. Don’t worry if it sticks out of the bowl.
Take a test draw on the pipe. It should feel about like sucking water from a straw
Now you are ready to light! But there is a bit more to it than that
Light a match and move it over the surface of the tobacco while taking slow, steady inward draws on the pipe stem
When the tobacco is lit, let it go out (sorry!). This is called the false light, and it serves the important purpose of removing some moisture from the tobacco, creating an initial “toast”, and making a “bed” for the real light. The net effect is making it so your pipe stays lit more easily.
GENTLY tamp the tobacco down to the level it was at before the light (it will expand in lighting)
Light again and you’re ready to smoke!
You may need to relight your pipe several times over the course of smoking, especially at first. Additionally, I would suggest “maintenance tamps” on your pipe. This is a gentle tamp to keep your draw level (the perceived amount of force to suck in through the pipe) consistent, as it will get easier to draw as the tobacco burns. Maintenance tamps help to insulate your ember (keeping your pipe lit) and prevent o much air flow, keeping your pipe cooler.
I am aware that there are many other ways to light a pipe, but this is what I have found works for me (many will concur with this method in general as well).
Next on beginner pipe tips selecting a pipe! Your first pipe might be a corncob, a “basket briar” or something from a yard sale, but where do you go from there?
Feel free to come to me with any questions. Happy smoking!