Now that you have slept on your desire to smoke a pipe, weighed the risks and consequences against the benefits and the urge, and decided to go ahead, it is time to pick the right pipe for you. This is the most important decision for a fledgling pipe-smoker, as picking a good pipe will help prepare you for the rest of your smoking life, while picking a bad one might scare you off for good. It is also a highly personal choice, as each pipe means different things to different people, and they are all unique. I cannot say what will be the best pipe for you, but I can show you the basic considerations, and help guide you on your way.
When buying that first pipe, or really any pipe, you first need to consider if you want to buy a new one or an estate one. New pipes are, obviously, brand new pipes that haven't been used before. You will get something that only you have owned, and you don't have to deal with initial cleaning, sanitation, or even the tint of previous tobacco. That said, they are harder to break in, and you can easily burn through one by improper smoking.
Estate pipes, on the other hand, are used pipes, either bought at an auction or purchased refurbished from a store. These pipes have their advantages and their disadvantages. For starters, you get a pipe that is broken in and ready to use. You can also get one that is far nicer, for the price, than a new one would be. On the other hand, when you get a pipe that has been used before you need to clean, ream, and sanitize it. It also might have tints of the old smoke, and even have some aesthetic issues from the previous owners.
The next decision you need to make is what material to choose. Bone, antler, amber, rock, apples, and practically everything else known to man has been used to make pipes in the past. However, most commonly, pipes are made using briar (a root), clay, corncob, or meerschaum (a volcanic rock).
Briar pipes are by far the most common, and probably the best for beginners. They are forgiving and easy to light, and they will not usually burn hot. Likewise, corncob pipes are cheap, easy to break in, and good for beginners. Clay and meerschaum pipes burn quickly, and require a lot of care. They are for the more advanced smoker.
A nice Ballerina-shaped briar pipe from Perry White Pipes.
Now that you have decided what type of pipe to buy, you need to actually find one. To do this, you need to consider three primary issues:
- The look and feel
- The quality
- The price
The Look and Feel
One of the most important aspects of a pipe is how it feels in your hands. When you go shopping, ask to hold the various pipes, and gauge how well you like them. The pipe should feel comfortable in your hand, and you should feel comfortable holding it. If the pipe is too big, too small, or just not right, you will not be happy with it. Though any new pipe will take some getting used to, it is very important to get one that feels natural to you right away.
Likewise, the look of a pipe is important. While you don't need the pipe to make you look cool (you already do), you want something that doesn't look stupid. There are hundreds of bends, stems, and bowls in existence, and they are all unique (these will be explained in a future article); this variability makes any given pipe look nice in some people's hands, but not in others. Take a friend with you, or look in a mirror, and imagine yourself smoking that pipe. Will it look good with you? Do you look natural with it? Is it a good fit? Once you have found that right pipe, life will be easier.
The quality of a pipe is obviously a factor in the decision to purchase it. If you get a badly made pipe, one with the stem not properly aligned, or one whose hole is drilled badly, then life will be hell for you. A pipe should be easy to smoke, function well, and last for generations. Cheap pipes are usually not well made, and you should consider that a factor. Frankly, if you go to a reputable dealer, they will usually carry only good pipes, and you should be able to get what you want.
A popular misconception is that you should get a cheap pipe for your first one. This is far from the truth. You should purchase a pipe in the middle range (say $100-$200 for briar) as it will most likely be well-made and easy to learn on. Your first pipe needs to be easy to use, or you will probably never smoke again.
Some rare pipes can cost tens of thousands of dollars, like this exquisitely carved meerschaum pipe.
Now that you know what to look for, it is time for you to go find that first pipe. Take your time, and look thoroughly at the selection in front of you. Go to various stores, look online, and actively judge each and every pipe. Don't be afraid to ask for help in forums, in the comment section of this article, or in any other online resource manned by pipe-smokers, as we are always happy to help. Additionally, store owners will usually help you pick a good pipe, even if it is low-cost, as a happy smoker will keep coming back. While you're picking out your first pipe, go ahead and purchase some wooden matches, your pipe tool, and some pipe cleaners – these will come in handy.
Remember, this is your pipe. Pick the one that you want.