How do I chose my first pipe?

When selecting your first pipe, the best advice to follow is "Pick one you like." However, given the considerable range of materials, prices, and designs, more in-depth guidance follows.
While you're buying the pipe, pick up a package of pipe cleaners (the soft, cotton ones are best for most purposes), and a cheap "pipe tool" or "tamper"; you'll need them.


For your first pipe, you'd do well to select one made of briar, the pipe-making material most commonly used due to its durability, heat resistance, and pleasing appearance. Other materials such as claymeerschaum and porcelain are also used to make pipes, but these materials are fragile and lack the smoking characteristics and ease of use of briar. Corncob pipes are the least expensive option for a first pipe, and they are a viable alternative to briar that offers a predictable smoking experience whereas briar pipes vary considerably.

Shape and size

The shape of a pipe is entirely a matter of personal taste. Many pipe smokers prefer pipes that are bent, as they "hang" better, putting less strain on the teeth and jaw. Others prefer straight-stemmed pipes, predominately for aesthetic reasons and that it keeps the smoke out of the eyes, but also because it is easier to insert a pipe cleaner to absorb the condensate that occasionally collects in the shank while smoking.


Pipes range in price from a couple of dollars to several thousand; it is recommended that you spend a modest amount for your first pipe. By purchasing a moderately-priced pipe, you will not be out a large sum if you determine that pipe smoking isn't for you.


You should not be inhaling smoke when enjoying your pipe, so a filter is, in the opinion of many, superfluous. One major drawback to most filtering systems is that they tend to affect the taste of the tobacco—for the worse—if not kept meticulously clean.

How to I chose my tobacco?

As with selecting your first pipe, "Pick one you like". If you have had experience with only cigarettes and cigars, you're in for a real treat. The variety of pipe tobaccos is positively staggering, and the flavor of a blend is influenced not only by its component tobaccos, but also by myriad other factors such as the style of cut and the pipe used to smoke it. The only way to determine which sort of tobacco is right for you is to try a number of very different blends to decide which general type you like, and then proceed from there. Some of us are constantly searching for the perfect blend, affectionately known as "The Holy Grail."


"Drugstore" Tobaccos
Generally, you will be better off purchasing your tobacco from a tobacconist. Many of the commonly available blends found in discount stores or supermarkets are made from lower-quality tobacco, and the additives with which they are laced for preservation and "taste enhancement" alter the way the tobacco smokes, usually for the worse.

Faux Pipe Tobaccos (a relative term)
This is a new variety of "pipe" tobacco which has emerged recently (2009) in America, and possibly other countries. It is actually roll-your-own cigarette tobacco, which is being marketed as Premium Pipe Tobacco, to avoid the ridiculously, high taxes and regulatory requirements on cigarette tobacco.

Aromatics vs. non-aromatics
These are the two broadest subdivisions of pipe tobaccos. As a general rule, most beginning smokers tend to go for an "aromatic" tobacco, which has been "cased" or "topped" with flavorings such as vanilla, cherry, etc., while those converting from cigars or cigarettes often prefer a "non-aromatic" or "natural" tobacco.

A good aromatic tobacco is lightly topped or cased with natural flavorings. Aromatics tend to be more moist than non-aromatics due to these flavorings, which can lead to problems smoking them.

These are tobaccos that contain no flavored additives; in fact, a good non-aromatic blend will contain no additives whatsoever, other than perhaps a bit of water.

The moisture content of a tobacco affects the way it smokes and tastes; a tobacco that is too moist or too dry will not offer a pleasing smoke. One way to determine if your tobacco has the proper level of moisture is the "pinch test." Take a pinch of your tobacco and squeeze it tightly for a couple of seconds, then release it. If it immediately starts to "unravel," your tobacco is in good shape. If it stays in a tight clump, it is too wet. If it crumbles, it is too dry.

How do I begin using my pipe?

"Breaking in" your pipe

The process of "breaking in" a pipe serves two functions. First, any saps, resins, acids, stains, demons, or other nasty things that have remained in the briar are driven out. Second, and most importantly, a "cake"--the layer of charred residue that builds up inside the bowl as tobacco is smoked in it--is developed. This cake protects the bowl of the pipe from the heat of burning tobacco and prevents it from "burning out." It should be noted that most of the information in this section applies to briar pipes only. Most other pipes require no break in period, or at most a very brief one. Additionally, one should not allow a cake to build up in a meerschaum or clay pipe, as this could cause the bowl to crack.

"Packing" your pipe

A pipe must be packed properly to ensure a good smoke; unfortunately, learning to do this takes time and practice. In fact, the art of packing a pipe is the most difficult task associated with pipe smoking, and this can be very frustrating for the beginner. I suspect that most people who have given up on trying to learn to smoke a pipe did so primarily because they couldn't master packing a bowl quickly enough to suit them.

Lighting your pipe

Barring such bizarre contraptions as parabolic mirrors, lasers, and miniature blowtorches, there are three ways to light your pipe: with a match, with a butane lighter, or with a fluid lighter (e.g. a "Zippo").

Keeping your pipe lit

Don't be overly concerned if you have difficulty keeping your pipe lit at first. It is not unusual for even experienced smokers to have to re-light several times, especially toward the bottom of the bowl. Try to relax and enjoy yourself--that is the whole point, after all. You'll find it much easier to keep your pipe lit with practice.

How do I clean and maintain my pipe?


Your pipe should be cleaned after each smoke. To do this, first let the pipe cool and then scoop or dump out any ash and "dottle" (unburned tobacco that sometimes remains in the bottom of the bowl). Do not bang the pipe against a hard surface, as this may result in a cracked shank or broken stem.

"Tongue bite"

"Tongue bite," an intense burning sensation of the tongue, is an unpleasant side effect often experienced by the new pipe smoker (it is also experienced by non-newbies who take up the pipe again after a period of abstinence). While irritating, it will usually go away after a week or so of smoking.


This is caused by moisture collecting in the bottom of the bowl and/or in the shank or stem. Possible causes of "gurgle" are:

What's the difference between a Smoking Pipe and a Tobacco Pipe?

A Tobacco Pipe is made specifically for smoking tobacco, while a Smoking Pipe... well, you can smoke anything you like through a Smoking Pipe.

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