Thursday, November 22, 2012

Repairing Chips and Dents in Pipes

Can chips and dents in pipes be repaired?

Yes, most of these types of issues can be repaired. Such repair work is often referred to as a "fill" or "patch." Most commonly, the repair is done with a compound made of wood dust and various binders that help adhere the "putty" to the pipe.

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If you decide to go ahead with repairs, there are many expert craftsman with outstanding reputations for quality work. They should gladly provide a quote for such a repair. Depending on the extent of the damage and who does the work, the cost should be quite reasonable.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Lakeland" Tobaccos

What are "Lakeland" tobaccos?

I've never smoked any of them, but Lakeland tobaccos are produced by Samuel Gawith and come in a variety of different blends.

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Lakeland is a region in England where Samuel Gawith company produces pipe tobacco and snuff. Many of Gawith's original snuff products, and now many of their pipe tobacco blends, are known to have a distinct soapy or floral aroma. The aroma isn't overpowering, and most claim it doesn't really have any effect on the flavor of the smoke. It's just their signature smell, so as to speak.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pipe Filters and Health Risks

Do pipe filters and similar devices reduce health risks and make smoking safer?

First, let me be clear that I am not an expert on smoking related diseases or cancer prevention. As to what constitutes "high" risk versus "low" risk, I am simply not qualified to say. If you have particular health concerns about smoking, I recommend speaking to your doctor.

It's important to acknowledge that all forms of smoking and tobacco use involve certain risks and health hazards. However, even if all the risk cannot be eliminated, there are several things that smokers can do to reduce dangers. Reducing the frequency and duration of smoking, smoking milder tobaccos, and using filters can help. But just reducing risks doesn't mean pipe smoking is "healthy" or "good for you." (Ironically, the 1964 Surgeon General's report indicated that pipe smokers who did not inhale actually lived longer than non-smokers and those who did inhale lived about as long as non-smokers! Some speculate this is because pipe smoking helps relieve stress, which is an aid to overall health.)

Now on to the question about pipe filters and reducing health risks.

On the one hand, we could note that filters have done nothing to make cigarette smoking healthier. In fact, some evidence indicates that filters have caused more harm for cigarette smokers. This is because filters impede access to tar and nicotine, which will cause a habitual smoker to unconsciously draw more deeply in order to obtain what his body craves. Also, the filters can cause a false sense of safety, which makes people feel free to smoke more frequently. These things combine to actually produce greater health risks.

On the other hand, testing and practical experience do seem to indicate that certain risks associated with smoking can be reduced by using filters and other similar devices.

For example, the patented Savinelli balsa filtering system has been tested both by the EURATOM Research Center of Ispra (Italy) and by the CHEMICAL & ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY Inc. Research Center (USA) with very positive results: "..the filter has the ability to absorb 77% of the nicotine and 91% of the tar contained in tobacco without altering the flavour of same." Another great features of the Savinelli pipes with the filters system, is that the pipe can be smoked with or without the filter by using a simple converter or adapter tube that comes with each pipe.

As for the paper filters by companies such as Medico or Dr. Grabow, I have not seen any documentation or read any studies that present actual statistics or data. However, I can tell you that the paper filters work on the simple principle of breaking up the smoke as it passes through the filter. Nicotine, tar, and other irritants are trapped in the cellphane covered, absorbent paper (similar to the balsa wood in the Savinelli system. The fact that the filters turn brown (or darker) when used indicates that they are doing something. This is also true of the Denicool Pipe Crystals, which turn black during smoking demonstrating that they are absorbing some of the tar, nicotine, and juices produced during combustion of tobacco.

While smoking in any form is not healthy, it is fair to point out there are many things in life that are not good for us, but we still do them because we enjoy them. That's not a reason or excuse, of course, but simply an acknowledgement that all people take calculated risks throughout their lives. For example, eating at McDonald's can contribute to high cholesterol, obesity, and other serious health problems. Millions are addicted to coffee and drink it daily, even though the effects of caffeine (a stimulant) has adverse impact on health. Tens of thousands suffer from high blood pressure, but they still eat salt in high quantities, which dramatically increases various risks for cardio and vascular problems.

Having said all that, let me say again that I am no expert on these health issues. I try to stay informed so I can make reasonable decisions about my own practices. Where there are risks, I do whatever I can to minimize those risks, including using filters on many of my pipes. For those who find their consciences plagued about health concerns, I would suggest not smoking at all. Smoking is a pleasure to be savored, not something to force upon yourself if you have legitimate concerns. The bottom line is that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the choices we make.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is Your Tobacco Moist or Dry?

How can you tell if your tobacco is too wet or too dry?

Although not a very scientific approach, I recommend the "pinch test" as a simple method for determining whether or not your tobacco is too wet, too dry, or just right. Read more about moisture in tobacco pipe.

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1. Take a pinch of tobacco with your thumb and first two fingers. Squeeze it gently and then let it go.

2. If it stays together in a clump for more than a second or two, it is too wet and needs to be dried before smoking.

3. If you let go of the pinched tobacco and the clump falls apart or expands loosely, it is about just right.

4. If it feels crunchy or crispy and will not pack at all into a clump, it is too dry and needs to be rehydrated before smoking.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pipe Tobacco Moisture Level

What is the ideal moisture level for pipe tobacco? Or does it really matter?

Unlike cigars, which experts agree should be kept within a humidity range of 68 to 75 percent, pipe tobacco isn't so easily pegged. The difficulty is due to the wide range of tobacco types and blends, the smoking qualities of different pipes, and even the different preferences of individual smokers.

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Even though it is difficult to identify a universal moisture level for pipe tobacco, most pipe smokers agree that when tobacco gets too dry or too wet, it is less enjoyable to smoke.

When tobacco is overly dry, it has a tendency to burn too easily and quickly. This produces an excessively hot smoke, which reduces the flavors and can create uncomfortable temperatures in the mouth. Although less common, a pipe that is burning too hot can also lead to burnout or other damage.

Conversely, when tobacco is too moist, it burns poorly and the pipe goes out frequently. This often causes the smoker to puff harder and draw deeper, which is a sure-fire recipe for tongue bite. The excess moisture can also cause a pipe to gurgle (a bubbling sound caused by moisture buildup in the shank and/or stem). Excess moisture, just like excessive dryness, also diminishes the flavor or taste of the tobacco.

As I mentioned above, the various types of tobacco and different blends may require varying levels of moisture for an optimum smoking experience. So you'll probably have to do some experimenting to find the right combination of factors for your own personal habits and pipes. But finding a balance that avoids either extreme of too dry or too moist is worth the trial and error.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Filling a Pipe

Are you having difficulty packing or filling your bowl using the Three-Layer Method? I can offer some suggestions and advice.

This is truly one of the most difficult things for new pipe smokers to learn. But on the other hand, let me encourage you not to be overly concerned with getting it perfectly. It is something that you will learn with practice and your skills will improve over time.

Please also keep in mind that the "Three-Layer Method", although an excellent way to fill your pipe, is not the only way it can be done. There are several other methods that are equally valid and useful. So if you're having trouble with the Three-Layer Method, perhaps you should try one of the other techniques, such as the "Frank Method" or "Air-Pocket Method".

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It's also important to note that each type of tobacco cut (cube, ribbon, flake, etc.) requires a slightly different method for packing the bowl in order to burn properly. Furthermore, each pipe will also have its own unique characteristics that affect precisely how the bowl should be filled. And lastly, every individual smoker has their own style for smoking that may require attention when preparing a pipe to smoke.

Since filling the bowl with tobacco involves several tactile matters (packing firmness, testing the draw, etc.), it is very difficult to convey the precise details in writing, but here are some general tips that may be helpful:
  • The goal of properly filling the bowl is to keep the tobacco steadily burning during the smoke and to ensure the draw is smooth and easy. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Rough cube cuts should be packed firmly.
  • Flake cuts should be packed with medium firmness.
  • Ribbon, shag, or mixed cuts should be packed with a firmness that leaves a slight "springiness" or "mushiness" to the tobacco.
  • If your pipe continually goes out, you may have packed your bowl too tightly. This doesn't allow enough air flow to keep combustion occurring.
  • If you get lots of tongue bite or your pipe burns too hotly, you may have packed your bowl too loosely. This allows too much air flow and causes the tobacco to burn more rapidly than is desirable.
  • When smoking, remember to puff or "sip" the pipe in a slow, gentle manner. Do not puff frantically or forcefully.
Finally, remember that pipe smoking is often called the "art of patience." While it's not rocket science, it does take a while to develop the basic skills and ability to appreciate the various aspects of the hobby. It may take some time and practice, but if you stick with it, you will learn to enjoy and even cherish this rich, peaceful art.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pipe Tobacco Expiration Date

How long will tobacco keep? Does it have an "expiration date"?

Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" answer. There are many factors that affect the shelf life of tobacco: type of tobacco, type of storage container, climate, etc.

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In theory, if properly stored in airtight containers, out of direct sunlight, tobacco can be successfully stored for a great many years. Some tobaccos, however, do not age well and may not maintain their desirable flavor over time.

Of course, sealed tins will keep longer than open tins. But in most situations, if you have good quality storage containers, you shouldn't have any trouble storing even opened tobacco for months at a time or longer.

If you are concerned about keeping your tobacco fresh, I would definitely invest in some good bail jars or something similar. (You may want to read my brief comments about tobacco storage at the links provided above.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thoughts on Churchwarden Pipes

Why I love churchwarden pipes

I love churchwarden pipes. There's something wonderful about the long, slender stem that adds a real touch of grace and style to the pipe. A finely-crafted churchwarden is a beautiful pipe indeed.

          A churchwarden pipe from my own collection.

But they're also a real pleasure to smoke. Because of their length, they cannot be held by mouth alone; you must hold the pipe. For this reason, they are absolutely perfect for relaxing in a comfortable chair while reading a good book, chatting with friends, or watching TV.

Some believe the long stem also helps the pipe to smoke cooler. This is because the smoke travels farther before it reaches your tongue/mouth and has an opportunity to cool a bit. Like all pipes, if smoked improperly, even a churchwarden will fry your tongue. But all things being equal, they provide a cool, comfortable, and flavorable smoke (with any pipe, a cool smoke = more flavor.

Due to the extra work and material involved in crafting the stem, most new churchwarden pipes sell for over $100. Of course, depending on the maker and style of the bowl, they can be much more expensive than that. You may be able to find a churchwarden estate pipe, but in my experience, they are harder to locate. Also beware of estate churchwardens that haven't been properly cared for. Because of the cooling effect of the long, slender stems, tar buildup is often more pronounced in churchwarden pipes. If not regularly and thoroughly cleaned, the stem can become very nasty, and because of the length, they can be difficult to clean and sanitize.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Storage Containers for Pipe Tobacco

What is the recommended storage container for pipe tobacco?

You're probably finding out that the little zip lock baggies, folder over pouches, and even the tins in which tobacco is sold simply do not keep tobacco fresh for very long.

There are various approaches to tobacco storage and "cellaring", i.e., the long term storage of tobacco. I won't go into great detail here, other than to say that the best way to store tobacco depends on a number factors, such as tobacco type, desired length/time of storage, and financial considerations, i.e., how much you can afford to spend. Here are some basic thoughts and recommendations for you.

Short-Term Storage

Inexpensive plastic containers, such as Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Ziplock Reusable are easy to obtain and work acceptably for short-term storage. However, plastics and acrylics often have a "chemical" odor that can affect the tobacco over time. If the container has a strange odor, it will likely impart an unpleasant smell or taste to your tobacco. Also, these materials do not trap odors as well and can leave your home/room smelling like tobacco. That may not be a bad thing, but others in the home may not approve!

Long-Term Storage

In light of this, glass is the best material for storing tobacco. Jars made of glass are a bit more expensive, but they are definitely the preferred choice. They impart no odors or tastes to the tobacco, they are not air-permeable, and they are easily washed and reused.

Of course, an air tight seal is desirable. Air acts with moisture to create mold, mildew and other nasty funk. The best jars for an air tight seal are probably "bail jars". These jars typically have a rubber or silicon gasket and a metal clasp that locks down to seal the lid. Unfortunately, bail jars can be quite expensive. Occasionally one can find them on sale for very reasonable prices. I recently purchased some excellent glass bail jars for $2.49 (small size) and $3.99 (large size) each. But either way, it is an investment in protecting your tobacco, which can be quite expensive itself.

Mid-Term Storage

If bail jars are simply too expensive, the next best thing for every day storage, but not necessarily for long term storage, are the standard glass jars often found in stores like Walmart, Kmart, etc. These "push top" jars are made of glass and have plastic or silicone flanges on the lid that create a seal when pushed on. They're nearly air tight (but not perfectly so) and do a great job keeping tobacco fresh for many months. These are the types of jars that I use for much of my current tobacco rotation. They're available in a variety of sizes and are very reasonably priced, ranging from $2.00 to $8.00 depending on size.

Some also like to use standard Mason jars for storing tobacco. These jars are made of glass and have screw-on lids with a gasket seal. These can also work quite well, but the small openings can make it awkward to reach the tobacco.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Smoking Entire Pipe Bowl to The Bottom

Should I smoke the entire bowl all the way to the bottom?

I was having a conversation with a fellow pipe smoker yesterday and the "smoking a pipe to the bottom" matter came up. I've had this conversation with many pipe smokers, and there are several arguments on both sides of the chasm. My approach is a relaxed one, but if you feel like you have to do burn your tobacco to the bottom, here is a way to do it: smoking pipe to the bottom. But if you want my take on it, please keep reading.

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Some insist that all the tobacco MUST be burned to ash all the way to the bottom of the bowl. Others, like myself, are content to smoke the pipe until it is no longer pleasant or enjoyable (or until I run out of time!). If that means I burn every bit of tobacco to a fine gray ash, excellent. But if I stop while the bowl still has tobacco remaining, so be it.

Since there are good and practical reasons to stop a pipe at any given stage of the smoke, I tend not to establish hard and fast rules about such things. I realize this more relaxed approach frustrates some who desire a clear-cut, check-list type of approach. But it fits very well with my own philosophy about pipe smoking. For me, the pipe is a peaceful, relaxing pleasure to be savored and not a burdensome task to be completed according to a bunch of rules.

Of course, there are some practices that should be avoided and others that are worth learning and perfecting. But as I often say, there is no "right" or "wrong" method for enjoying your pipe. Simply do what works for you and brings you the most pleasure from the hobby.