The Art and Science of Smoking

Smoking a pipe is such a common custom today that we tend to forget it is both an art and a science developed over four centuries.

It is an art in that a pipe is smoked for pleasure and pleasure only. It is a science in that the pipe bowl is a small furnace which, like any other furnace, must be properly fueled, fired, and cleaned in order to operate at its best. Unless these techniques are mas­tered, the smoker will find little joy in the use of his pipe.

Smoking in its earliest days was recognized as an art, and no man was considered a gentleman until he could smoke properly. Tutors and professors of smoking appeared on the scene, who, for a price, would teach the novice the fundamentals and mysteries of the art. The complete course began with a history of smoking, and included the technique of inhaling through the nose. The course ended when the student had mastered the skill of blowing smoke rings in the air.

The gentleman of fashion smoked at all times and at all places, in the theater as well as on the street. He carried in his pockets a complete smoking kit—a tobacco box, a pair of tongs for lighting his pipe with a burning coal, and a tobacco stopper for pressing the fired leaves firmly into his pipe bowl—all elaborately wrought of expensive materials. His pipe, however, was the same clay pipe smoked by common laborers and poor men in general.

Perhaps the most interesting time for the avid pipe smoker came during the Victorian period. The nineteenth-century gen­tleman would have to retire to a special smoking-room, don a smoking-cap and jacket to protect his hair and clothes from the vile odor of tobacco, and puff away until interrupted by the ladies of the house. If there was no smoking-room, he would have to smoke secretly by his bedroom fireplace, surreptitiously blowing the smoke up the chimney so that no offensive odor would remain.

Fortunately, the modern smoker can enjoy a pipeful either in private or in public. Moreover, he’ll always have a pleasant smoke if he is familiar with the art and science of smoking—-breaking in, filling, lighting up, and cleaning the pipe.

Many a man who is attracted to pipe smoking gives up the practice after a few days because he finds little pleasure in his pipe. He finds that his tongue feels burned and is bitter-tasting, that the bowl becomes too hot to hold, or that the pipe will not stay lit. As a result, the would-be pipe smoker gives up in disgust, and the fraternity of pipe smokers has lost a friend. The fledgling smoker simply failed to realize that a pipe must be broken in and smoked properly before it will yield an enjoyable smoke.

To derive maximum pleasure and satisfaction from a pipe, the new smoker should follow a few important but simple steps:

  1. The first step in breaking in a new pipe is to moisten the inside of the bowl with a little water applied with the finger. This will permit the carbon, formed by the burning of the tobacco, to cling to the walls of the briar and act as insulation against the heat of the first light-up. If the inside of the bowl has been precharred (or caked) by the pipe maker, however, this step should be eliminated.
  2. Next, fill the bowl about one-half full of good tobacco. Fill the pipe gradually, tamping down each layer of tobacco firmly with the finger.
  3. Now light the pipe evenly all around. Igniting the tobacco will cause it to rise up slightly in the bowl. Tamp down the tobacco with a metal tamper and relight evenly once again. If the bowl is packed correctly, you will have no trouble in keeping the tobacco lit.
  4. It is extremely important to smoke the first few bowlfuls slowly. Indeed, it is always best to puff patiently away, no matter how well your pipe is broken in.

Form proper habits of filling and smoking your pipe from the moment you purchase it. Smoke the pipe slowly until the tobacco is burned down to the very bottom of the bowl. This not only prevents overheating, but also forms an even, protective cake on the walls of the bowl.

After smoking a few pipefuls, gently remove the ash or “dottle” from the bottom of the bowl with a pipe-smoker’s “spoon.” Be careful not to damage the thin, newly-formed cake. Now fill the bowl about three-quarter full and smoke it. Gradually increase the amount of tobacco until you have filled the bowl to the top. You’ll find that your pipe will have gained that treasured posses­sion—a regular, even cake from the bottom to the top of the bowl.

The cake is an accumulation of porous carbon, which fulfills two important functions: the carbon acts as a protective coating that helps prevent “burn-out,” and is largely responsible for the sweetness of the smoke. It also blends into the smoke the flavor of genuine briar. This combined effect gives a pipe the mellow flavor which pipe-smokers always strive to achieve. The carbon cake should be developed slowly and evenly, and should form a uniformly thick lining on the pipe bowl. If your pipe is properly filled but still goes out occasionally while being smoked, it may be because you’ve packed the tobacco too tightly.

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