Posts tagged ‘smoke’

A Movement to Pipes: It’s the Economy

A Movement to Pipes: It’s the Economy

Cigar smoking is a lifestyle commitment … and investment. Unless you’re smoking low-end cigars, your daily spend is at least $5 and could reasonably reach $10. If you truly go upscale, you’re looking at $20 a day or more, with boxes starting at $450. It becomes expensive quickly, and today, people are reconsidering how they use their “fun money.” Unsurprisingly, pipes are gaining popularity as a cost-effective smoking alternative without forcing you into the nasty world of cigarettes.

At first, pipe smoking appears to be pricey. To enter the world of briar, you could lay out hundreds of dollars – even thousands. And, since you can’t buy just one pipe, the cost multiplies. Once you get past the initial purchase, though, pipe smoking is quite affordable. Top pipe tobacco brands cost less than $15 a tin … roughly the cost of a cigar.

Like cigars, pipes range from garbage to entry level to high-end. Generally, quality follows price. A $5 corn cob is what you would expect, and hand-crafted Dunhills – which can sell for more than $1,000 – may be a bit much for someone testing the waters.


Gallery: Dunhill Pipe Dinner

A set table for Manhattan's pipe smokersDunhill's pipe stands, not available to the publicA closer look at the Dunhill pipe standThe guests gather for a meal and pipe discussionPipe smokers focus on the craft



I started with a $160 Savinelli, a machine-made pipe which smokes quite well. It was sufficient for experimenting with different pipe tobaccos and learning the rituals of packing, lighting, smoking and cleaning. For a bit more, you can start with a Radice pipe (which Law & Order SVU actor Richard Belzer enjoys), adding a touch of luxury even to a novice smoker.

The attraction of pipe smoking in this economic climate is the satisfaction f smoking without the high cost of cigars. a $200 pipe and a $10 tin of tobacco offers as much smoking time as a box of cigars at roughly the same price. But, when you buy that next tin of tobacco, you don’t have to buy another pipe. Even a $150 pipe is designed to last a lifetime.

After you select a pipe, you’re faced with a dizzying array of tobaccos from which to choose. It’s natural to worry that you’ll pull from the shelves that won’t suit you. Michael Bowman, the resident pipe expert at De La Concha, and the man who initiated me into pipe smoking, advises that mistakes aren’t a big deal. “If you buy a tobacco that you don’t like, you’ve only spent $10 or $11.” He continues, “Have you ever bought a cigar you don’t like? It’s the same amount.” He suggests that you give a tin that doesn’t agree with you to a pipe smoker, as goodwill is rarely forgotten.

Pipe smoking may be a substitute for cigars, but the experience is not the same. The feel, flavors and physical involvement are much different. If you wind up enjoying a pipe, it will become an alternative … and a less expensive one. For others, it may be a way to stem the outflow of cash for a bit, at least through the recession.

Whether pipes will work for you is, of course, a personal decision. The increase in pipe sales is showing that many cigar smokers are open to the possibility.

Windcaps / Windscreens

Windcaps, or windscreens as they’re sometimes known, are small cap-like devices for your pipe. They fit right over the bowl. They serve two primary purposes. If it’s windy, it keeps the embers from blowing out of your bowl and it slows down the airflow to the bowl, so your smoke doesn’t become very hot and burn fast.

windscreenThere’s four kinds of windscreens, but you’ll probably only want to know about two of them. The most common type of windcap looks like the image to the right. A round spring holds two clips to the interior of the pipe.

 WindcapThis is another type of windcap. To be honest, I’ve never actually seen one of these in person, but it looks pretty similar. I’d guess that there is a spring that holds the two buttons tight against the interior of the bowl. It would provide the same function as the windcap above.

 Butz-Choquin capped pipeButz-Choquin has a Rallye series of capped pipes. To be honest, I know nothing about this pipe other than it’s capped.

 Finally, some meerschaums come with decorative caps.  I don’t have a picture of one here, but the caps are usually attached to the pipe itself with a small chain.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, it rains enough to put out the tobacco in your pipe, so a regular pipe with a windcap like the first two I discussed here, is handy to keep the water out of your pipe if you smoke in the rain.

This is my windcap story: My wife and I walk the dogs along the beach at Dumas Bay in Washington state. Because it’s so breezy, I usually have to have a windcap or risk embers blown into my face. This is not a good thing. So I have one of those pipe windcaps with the round spring, like the first windcap described here. We go for a walk in January, and when I get home and fish my pipe and lighter out of my pocket, I realize I’ve lost the windcap.

Now, I’ll grant you I’m frugal. Okay, I’m tighter than paint on a wall, but I was upset I lost the windcap. It wasn’t much of a financial loss, about $3-$4, but still I don’t like losing things. With multiple head traumas in the past, I’m worried I’m going senile when I can’t find something. Digging through my pockets and tracking my steps through the driveway and house, I still couldn’t find it.

For the next week, every day I went for a walk on the beach, I’d look for it. It was ridiculous of course. The tides coming in and out would either bury or wash away anything that light. So I gave up on it, and went out and bought a new one.

 One day my wife walked the dogs on the beach without me. It was late March, two months after I had lost the windcap. She said, “Guess what I found?” No way, the windcap had washed back onto shore, and as she was walking along, she saw a glint in the sand. She walked over and saw the edge of the windcap and pulled it out.

It was rusty from the saltwater, but it was my windcap alright. I was so amazed, I put away my replacement windcap, and took a sander to take off as much of the rust as I could. I’ve become ridiculously fond of the miracle windcap that I won’t part with it willingly.

Of course, I could always lose it again.


Today we’re going to talk about tampers. A tamper is a pipe tool used to compress the tobacco as you smoke it. You do this to keep the tobacco burning, and to keep it burning cool. Without tamping, the tobacco may become too loose to continue burning, or the tobacco aerates enough to start burning hot, which makes for a hot smoke, and your pipe may crack from the heat. If you don’t think it’s possible, I ended up cracking three or four pipes when I first started smoking, and that gets expensive fast.

A tamper can be something as simple as a nail. In my case, it’s sometimes my pointing finger, which makes me walk around with smudges on my face. Nothing says “adult” like a face smudged with ashes. Fortunately, most of the time I do use a tamper. I get tired of my wife pointing out that my nose has a black smudge on it.

Czech ToolA tamper can be a tamper alone, or it can be part of a set of pipe tools. Usually your first tamper will be the three tool Czech gizmo. It has a poker, a tamper, and a small spoon. This remains my most used tool, as I can use the poker to loosen the tobacco if I’ve packed it too tight, the tamper to tamp of course, and the spoon thing to move around the tobacco in the bowl, like closer to the draw hole if necessary. I’m not sure what that spoon thing is actually meant to do, but that’s what I use it for.

Tampers can also be a collectible classy instrument, like high end pens. There are tampers made from exotic woods, pewter, formed steel; pretty much anything that can be made with a blunt end to tamp down the tobacco. These runs from the double digits, to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. I’ll add here that the Czech tool runs about $3 depending on where you get it. Back to the fancy tampers…

You can find tampers by just Googling them. My favorite tampers are from Catnip Hill Trading Company. The drawback is that they are pewter and soft, and can be broken if not handled carefully. I got the Calvinist pipe tamperCalvinist tamper as a humorous gift, and I ended up breaking the tamper. There’s no fixing it. Even if you melt the tamper pieces back together, it’s never as strong as the original. So these make good collectable tampers, unless you’re a careful person, or pick a thick tamper or short tamper unlikely to break. I told you I’m a klutz.

Again, I’ve been known to use anything at hand if I’ve misplaced my tamper, from my finger, bolts, the back end of pens, keys (they don’t work very well), multiple burnt matches, a thin lighter (not the smartest of things to do). I told you, I get desperate.

Sometimes I think I should make my own goofy tampers, out of wood or something metal. If you’ve made your own unusual tamper, I’d love to hear about them. It’d also be fun to hear about anything you’ve used as a tamper in desperation.

Paragon Wax For Pipes

A quick review of Paragon Wax for the Pipe.  I chose this product because it has a higher melting point than carnuba, it’s harder than carnuba, and it can be polished without using a buffing wheel. Also, it can be used on meerschaum.

You get 1 ounce for $10, which looks like a very small amount, but you don’t really need that much to do the job. You apply just enough to create a filmy glaze on your pipe, let dry, then hand buff.

I used a microfiber cloth to polish the pipes. The wax itself is a grainy texture when you apply it, and not recommended for rusticated bowls. I also wouldn’t use it for detailed, ornate meerschaum. They have another product, Halycon II for those.

I do use Arango Briar Pipe Wipe, so my briar pipes aren’t real dingy to start with. The Paragon Wax did a nice job of shining them up. I’m no expert, but they looked like they had a much stronger polish than what the Pipe Wipe left. I did have one pipe that I was really interested in. The finish had chipped and cracked away as it’s a favorite frequently used pipe, and I am a klutz. There, I said it. Klutz. I’m frighteningly familiar with the sound of a pipe bouncing off the ground. Anyway, while it did do a great job polishing the pipe, alas, the scars of battle remained on the pipe, and the damage to the finish looked about the same.

That brings me to my meerschaums. I have two smokers, and one decorative. I don’t touch the decorative, don’t ask me to, it’s my big skull pipe you’ll find elsewhere in this blog. One of the smokers is a Kirsten bulldog and the other a simple egg meerschaum. The Kirsten is charred from my many attempts to light the dang thing with a lighter instead of a match. The egg meerschaum was the victim of the Internet.

Here’s the explanation about the Internet thing: When I had smoked the egg meerschaum for a while, it didn’t seem like the meerschaum coloration process was happening fast enough. I’m a very impatient person. So digging on the ‘net, I found a couple of methods for accelerating the coloration process. While I won’t go into what I tried, I will tell you that I ended up completely removing the meerschaum’s finish. The surface was not glossy at all. If you’re a meerschaum user, you know what the finish of a new meerschaum should feel like. I don’t give a good description here, but let it be said that I did completely screw up the finish.

I bought the Paragon for the express purpose of trying it on my meerschaums. I tried the egg meerschaum first, following the directions. Yes, I RTFM’d this time. Anyway, almost immediately, an awful stain spread across the bowl. I flipped out, and took extremely, extremely fine grit sandpaper to the stain. I figured I had already ruined the bowl, it didn’t really matter. Once the stain was gone, I tried it again, and a new stain appeared. Again, I took some sandpaper to it. I did it a third time, and the same thing happened. Disgusted, I set the pipe aside.

I decided to try the Kirsten as I think it’s made of pressed meerschaum dust instead of carved meerschaum, so the meerschaum wouldn’t color anyway. Again, figuring it was a lost cause, I tried sanding the rim a little to take away the scorch marks. I applied the wax just to the rim of the pipe, waited, polished, and was surprised to see that the finish looked new. What I hadn’t removed with the sandpaper was still there, but the finish still looked like it had just been applied. Wow!

I happened to glance over at the egg meerschaum, and the ugly stain had vanished. What the heck?! I rubbed off the glaze, amazed to see how shiny the meerschaum became. The stain was gone, and while it didn’t look new, the finish look great. I decided to try applying a second coat to see what happened.

I put the wax on, and again, the pipe developed ugly stains. Then I watched the pipe, and the stains faded within a few minutes. I shined it up again, and it looked even better! I don’t know if the stain appeared appeared because of the near complete lack of finish or what, but it seems I had panicked hastily. Even the areas where I had sanded looked great.

I’ve applied numerous coats to my meerschaum and the finish has improved each time. And I might be wrong, but the coloration process looks like it’s accelerated a little. Maybe in drying, the glaze pulled the nicotine outwards. I don’t know, but like I said, knowing the complete disaster I had started with, I’ve been amazed with the results.

So that’s my experience with Paragon Wax.

I’d post pictures of the pipe, but I don’t have a good “before” picture so it’d be kind of pointless. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Pipe Stuff

I thought I’d tell you about some of my pipe stuff. When you start smoking a pipe, it seems pretty straightforward. You need a pipe and tobacco. Well, you have to light the thing, but you can’t use an ordinary lighter, unless you want to singe the hell out of your pipe. So you’re going to need matches or a special lighter. I have one pipe that absolutely demands matches, so I carry “strike anywhere” matches in a waterproof match container. For the rest of them…well, I have a Zippo I’ve been carrying around since 1983. I hated to shelve it, so I bought a pipe insert for it. It’s like a regular lighter insert, but instead of an open flame at the top, there’s a “cage” at the top, with holes in the side. To light a pipe, you turn the Zippo on it’s side. I could buy a specialty butane lighter, but I’m mentally challenged when it comes to filling up butane lighters. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t fill them properly.

Okay, that’s everything. A pipe, something to light it, and tobacco. A little more than you wanted to spend, but that’s alright. After smoking for a while, you find that the pipe stops drawing correctly, and starts smoking hot. Some research, and you discover you need a pipe tamper. There’s custom tampers that cost a fortune, so you settle on the Czech tamper that’s indispensable, and it seems like everyone who smokes a pipe has owned one at one time at or another.

So now you have your pipe, something to light it, tobacco, and a tamper. The tamper doesn’t cost much, maybe $3 or $4 bucks, but it’s a little more than you wanted to spend. That’s alright. Oh, wait, you need something to clean your pipe. Pipe cleaners. Yeah, that’s it. The wiry things you haven’t seen since you were in grade school art class, making little pipe cleaner men. They’re not much, but you’re going to need a lot of them.

Now you have your pipe, something to light it, tobacco, tamper, and a bunch of pipe cleaners. Not much more than you wanted to spend, but that’s alright. You notice your pipe starts tasting funny, so you get pipe sweetener. This is a disinfectant and cleaner you use with a pipe cleaner, to run through your pipe stem. Wow, that tastes much better, even thought it means you’re now using more pipe cleaners. Better get more.

Pipe, something to light it, tobacco, tamper, more pipe cleaners, and pipe sweetener. Okay, that’ll be it for a while. After a bit, you start thinking about a nicer way to store your tobacco than in the bag it came in. I buy bulk, so my tobacco comes in a plain plastic bag. So you decide to buy a tobacco jar. These are air-tight and tinted so direct light doesn’t affect the tobacco.

Pipe, something to light it, tobacco, tamper, pipe cleaners, pipe sweetener, and a tobacco jar. This stuff is starting to take up some room. Better clear off a corner of your desk to make room for it. Time goes by, and somehow, without you doing a single thing, another pipe mysteriously shows up. And another. And another. So now you need someplace to keep these pipes, so you buy a pipe rack.

Now you own pipes, something to light them, tobacco, tamper, pipe cleaners, pipe sweetener, a tobacco jar, and a pipe rack. This has become a lot more expensive than you originally thought. Not that you’re complaining, just a little surprised when you reflect on it.

More pipe stuff begins to show up. A tobacco shredder for when you go through a flake tobacco phase. Shank brushes. Pipe spray, briar wipe, wax, polishing cloths. More pipes. Another pipe rack. Another thing to light your pipes. Cork knockers. The cake inside becomes too thick, so you get a reamer. You start custom making pipe stuff. Salt and alcohol, use to leach tar and tobacco out of your pipes. A sawed off toothbrush to scrub out your meerschaums. Better clean out a shelf to store all this stuff on. Q-tips, portable pipe stands. Wind cap. Somewhere to keep all the bags that your pipes came in.

Okay, so now you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on pipe stuff. Hey, at least pipe tobacco is cheaper than cigarettes. Another two or three years, and you’ll eventually offset your cost. Unless there’s more pipe stuff to buy.