A Beginner’s Guide to Pipe Smoking

Pipe smoking has been used by cultures all throughout the world, over many centuries, as part of sacred rituals, be they weddings, funerals, or the signing of treaties.  First introduced in the French court as medicinal, the hobby soon caught on for the simple relaxing pleasure it brought.  Tobacco came to be so valued that in colonial days you could pay your taxes in the state of Virginia in tobacco instead of money.  Here at the Gents Blog we often write about cigars.  In this article, we’ll share a few thoughts on getting started with smoking pipes, which is a great complement to smoking cigars.

What You’ll Need

Many pipes are made of briarwood, a wood renowned for its durability, heat resistance, and appearance.  A favorite for beginners, however, is a Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe.  It’s inexpensive and packs a bit of nostalgia with each pull.  A straight stem will sit the bowl a bit higher and keep smoke out of your face, but requires a bit more handling and positioning on your part.  A curved stem sits easy on the mouth and requires less handling.  As with many choices regarding smoking and tobacco, there is no “right” answer.

You’ll need something to light your pipe with.  The overwhelming favorite for many pipe smokers are longer pipe matches, but there are also some lighters specially designed for pipes.  A tamping tool, which you use to push down the tobacco into the chamber, is also worth having as well.

Beginners should trust their noses.  If you like the smell and feel of the tobacco, go for it.  An ounce or two will be plenty to get you started.


The most well-known technique is the “three-layer.”  Take your tobacco and drop it into the chamber until you’ve reached the top of the bowl.  Then tamp the tobacco down to about halfway down the chamber.  Repeat this two more times, each time tamping to the three quarters mark, then just below the top of the bowl.  The tobacco should be well-packed but also springy.  Take a pull to make sure that you’ve packed it well.  It should feel somewhere between pulling on a straw in an empty glass and on one in a thick milkshake.

You’ll give the pipe two lights to get it going.  The first will be to create a cake on the top which can then serve as a basis to cradle the second light.  On the first lighting, take shorter pulls and make sure the flame is taken in a circular motion around the bowl.  The top layer of tobacco should be charred and blackened.  Allow this to go out and then gently tamp it down into the bowl.  Then relight, this time taking longer, deeper pulls.  Depending on how well you have packed it and how big the bowl is, your pipe can last up to an hour or longer.

Don’t be disheartened if the pipe goes out — even often — in your first smokes.  Firstly, it’s an organic substance so if you don’t pull on it it will go out on its own.  Relighting it doesn’t ruin the flavor.  Secondly, as you learn to pack the pipe better relighting will become less of an issue.  Pipe smoking requires practice and patience, which given that it’s all about enjoying a good smoke, should go without saying!

Pipes, like cigars, are wonderful additions to conversations with friends.  Add a glass of your favorite spirit and you have the elements of a memorable evening.

Do you smoke pipes?  Would you consider doing so after reading this article?  Share your thoughts in the comments below to get 25% off any tobacco-related purchases at your next visit to one of our clubs.

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1 Comment

  1. Great article for a beginner, I’ve recently enjoyed some cigars and this sounds like a good time as well. Thanks Ben!

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