Tamping your way to better smokes

I received the following question on the Contact form from a fellow pipe smoker who is experiencing some problems.

…sometimes when smoking, the smoke I am drawing starts to get thinner and the flavor tastes ashy. I imagine that the ember is not igniting more tobacco than the ash on top. I have read other recommendations from people who say they gently stir up the top most layer of the ash and dump it out, leaving the ember and tobacco behind. Is this a standard practice? I try this, but I find I have to do it far too often or it doesn’t really remove the ash taste. I keep my pipe pretty clean, so i don’t think it is a dirty pipe causing this. Is there something I am doing wrong, am I not tamping properly, etc?

I believe what you are experiencing is a problem that tamping will solve right away. The only hitch is that tamping is something that is easy to do wrong. If you tamp too hard or too often you cause more problems. If you don’t tamp often enough you’ll leave the problem unsolved. Your timing needs to be right too. The time to tamp is right before you notice you need it.

Tampers are one of the most important tools a pipe smoker has, right up there with fire and pipe cleaners. (more…)

Four Questions: Filters, Pipe Thickness, Burping, and Updates

Here are four questions I have received recently.

Is it normal when starting to smoke pipe to constantly feel a burping sensation accompanied by a soreness in the chest? I’ve been a heavy cigarette smoker for 15 years and never had that.

As I always say, I don’t give medical advice, see a professional about that. Even when I just tell you about my personal experience, that should not be considered authoritative in any way.

First off, just because something is normal does not mean it should be welcome. Its normal to feel a burning sensation when you stick your hand in the fire–that doesn’t mean its okay to stick your hand in the fire.

In general, pipe smoking should not be painful or uncomfortable in any way. If it were, I wouldn’t do it. If it is, something is wrong. Let any kind of pain or discomfort be your cue to make changes. Pipe smoking should be enjoyable.

The burping sensation sounds vaguely like a possible reaction to nicotine, but that makes no sense if you have been desensitized to nicotine by cigarette smoking. My best guess about the soreness in your chest is you are inhaling the smoke. That may also explain the burping sensation. I do not know.

Pipe smoke need not be inhaled to enjoy it. I would even go as far as saying it is not intended to be inhaled. A few pipe smokers do inhale or partly inhale, but normally pipe smokers do not inhale, they puff. Save your lungs and enjoy your pipe – don’t inhale.

If I am looking for a pipe that will absorb moisture and help to burn cool do I want a pipe that has thick walls or thin walls?

I do not believe it matters that much. Briar does absorb moisture but not enough that the thickness of the walls will make a difference in how the pipe smokes.

The same is true for heat. Yes, briar does transfer heat but no matter how thick the walls are or how large or long the pipe is, you can still smoke the pipe too hot or wet.

Two things will impact the smoke a lot more in terms of moisture and heat: how you smoke the pipe and the pipe’s engineering.

When I say “engineering” I mean how the pipe is drilled and fitted. The diameter and shape of the chamber, the diameter of the airway and whether it is free from obstructions and interruptions go a long way towards how dry and cool the pipe smokes. There are too many variables to go into here but when the combination is right the pipe won’t smoke hot and won’t develop moisture in the stem like a pipe with internal flaws will.

Smoking cadence, how you fill the tobacco, and other factors surrounding the way you smoke also impact the quality of the smoke. Puff too fast and too hard and the pipe will burn hot even if its the size of a sledge hammer.

I suggest selecting a pipe by a maker you trust and then pick one that appeals to you for the way it looks.
Personally I like pipes with thicker walls but this preference has more to do with how it feels in my hand.

How do you feel about filtered pipes?

Many of the pipes I smoke regularly came fitted for filters but the first thing I did was take them out and discard them. I do not use filters in any of my pipes, I prefer the way the tobacco smoke and draw feels without them. I also insist on being able to run a pipe cleaner through the stem any time I like during the smoke.

How did I determine that I prefer not using a filter? I tried smoking with them and tried smoking without them. That is the best way to find out if you like them yourself.

A lot of pipe smokers swear by them–that’s why so many pipes are made to take them. Like so many other things with this hobby, it really comes down to personal preference.

I subscribed to the updates but I never receive any emails. Is something wrong?

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is I don’t spam your inbox with a lot of emails – you only receive a message from my site when I feel there’s something important or the site is updated.

The bad news is I don’t post that often these days. Hopefully that will change. I have some other projects which you will learn about here at some point that I spend time on. Hopefully the reviews and articles will begin arriving more frequently.

Great questions. I appreciate the opportunity to answer them. I also welcome other points of view. If you have another answer to any of the above questions please post it in the comments below.

Are all brands created equal?

Here is another question from Seth who basically asks “are some brands better than others?”
My question is there a brand that one should look out for that is better than the rest depending on what type one is looking for? Are all pipe tobacco brands created equal?
Yes and no. Taste, especially when it comes to tobacco, is a highly subjective thing. What tastes great to one pipe smoker is rubbish to the next.
I do believe some manufacturers of tobacco take more time and effort to obtain better leaf and have greater knowledge and resources to know what to do with it. There are blenders who are like artists (or even mad scientists) creating brilliant new blends. There are also foil bags and plastic buckets.
You’ll find smokers that enjoy either of these types of brands and often both. I used to love eating in great restaurants but often all that sounded good was a plate lunch or a fast food burger. I believe that’s how it is with pipe tobacco too.
So, to answer your question: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Its just like women. Not all tobaccos are born with equal quality of features but each is just as susceptible to being loved and appreciated once found by the right man.
What do you think? Please chime in on the comments below.

Does nicotine content effect flavor?

I try to answer every question and comment I receive and I’ve realized this writing actually cuts into the time I would or could spend adding fresh content to this blog. Another reason I don’t post as often is that I might be fresh out of ideas when I have the time to write.

This morning as I was reading this email from one of SPT’s readers it occurred to me I could answer these questions right here and solve a whole bunch of problems at once. Welcome to the first post of a new section of Questions and Answers.

I’m still trying to decide on whether to include names of people who contact me privately and figure just a first name can’t hurt. If you send me a question and want either less or more information specify such in your contact email.

Without further ado, here is a question from Seth to kick this off:

In one of your videos you did a review for a tobacco (i cant remember the name but it was in a yellow tin) it was a burley. You said it had a high nicotine content. I was always under the impression that the same amount of nicotine was in all tobacco (being an amateur and all.) So my question is does nicotine effect anything such as flavor?

First off, I would say nicotine does effect flavor, at least in a roundabout indirect way. In most cases its more a matter of correlation than causation. Let me explain: Tobaccos that have been processed in such a way that most of the nicotine is removed are also missing tobacco flavor. Those heavily processed industrial bulk blends your tobacconist wants you to smell come to mind. The tobacco in those have basically had the life (and nicotine) boiled out of them. They may not taste lighter and flatter because they don’t have nicotine, but they taste that way for the same reasons they don’t have nicotine.

The nicotine itself probably does have some sort of flavor all its own but not enough to perceive under normal pipe smoking conditions.

Effectively what all this means is yes, blends with more nicotine will taste different than ones without. And not, nicotine content is not consistent across all blends in the tin or varieties of the leaf right out of the ground.

I hope that answers your question. Everyone is encouraged to help out with the answers in the comments below.