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Picking Your First Pipe

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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

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.

The Price

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.

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About Robert M. Barga

  • http://pipesmagazine.com Kevin Godbee

    That’s a very helpful post on choosing your first pipe. It is a great point that you should get a half way decent pipe when you start. A bad pipe will give you a bad experience and you may never know the real enjoyment of a pipe.

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    Thank you Kevin, that means a lot coming from another pipe writer

    please come back and check my other articles as they are publuished, or subscribe to the series’ RSS feed

  • http://pipedia.org/index.php?title=Main_Page Jamie

    While corncob pipes might be cheaper, they are not good for starters. They burn too quickly and new users will not adapt to new pipes

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    That depends, is the intent to learn how to smoke all pipes or to get started and learn to love pipe smoke?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    ughhhh…disgusting! I hate to be rude, (Not really, sometimes I love to be rude, especially when I was so good and ignored your first article.) but what kind of person spends his time encouraging non-smokers to smoke?

    Don’t you have something like TV or the sports channel or anything else to occupy yourself with?

    You don’t have to answer this post. It’s just a statement of scorn. It needs no response.

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    Cindy,
    I strive to help people who want to smoke smoke, and give them the best experience they can have. I have already given them the info about harm so they already know that. If they still want to smoke, why shouldn’t I help them out?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Bob,

    /my rudeness

    Nicotine is one of the most highly addictive drugs there is. People, once addicted, will sometimes keep smoking even though they are dying from it. I know people dying from it. Unless you are a hermit, I’m sure you know or know of people dying from it.

    It’s more addictive and far more deadly than heroine.

    Does your mother know this is what you choose to do with your time? Justify encouraging people to choose death? If that isn’t enough to say to you, I am at a loss.

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    Quick question, why does everybody assume that Bob is the proper way to shorten Robert? Random people call me that instead of Robert and I have never understood it.
    /minirant

    I disagree with the more addictive than heroin part. My mother is perfectly content with what I do in my free time. Furthermore, as an adult, she has absolutely no control over me.

    Cindy, I am not telling them what to do, I am merely saying that if you wish to smoke, here is what you should know. It is like reviewing brandies, if you wish to drink, these are the best.

    As a parting shot, Salt is more addictive than smoking AND kills more

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    As I have the oddest feeling that you know either myself or my mother, I decided to ask her what she thought:

    “Tell her that ‘you are an adult and it is legal’, but I reserve the right to lecture you at any point”.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Sorry Robert. I have no idea whatsoever why anyone would call a Robert, ‘Bob’ for short. I thought I invented that.

    Your mom sounds very cool. I like her already. You, however, I am sending back to analogy school!

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    Your position is clear, if it can kill, then we must stop people from using it. Aside from the clear deviation from your libertarian position, this is illogical when you consider that anything can kill

    that said, I never understood why people automatically assume that a short name is better

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Robert?

    One: There is no analogy between a nutrient, which one’s body requires for survival, and tobacco.

    Two: My position is obviously not very clear if that is what you think it is.

    Three: Who said people call you Bob because they think it’s ‘better’?

    Final analysis: You make an awful lot of presumptions and odd analogies that don’t work very well, but seem to serve you as rationalizations.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Prediction: You would do well as a car salesperson.

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    have a great day cindy

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Thanks, I just might, the sun is out for a moment.

  • http://pipedia.org/index.php?title=Main_Page Jamie

    Even if the attempt is to learn just how to love a pipe, the fact that corncob doesn’t burn through as easily, and can be kept lit and doesn’t require a cake, will mean that they learn bad practices.
    All starting smokers should use briar

  • http://whalertly.blogspot.com Robert M. Barga

    I strongly disagree. In fact, I believe that CC is better to start with as it gets the person the full flavor right away, and thus allows them to start expierencing it with little drawbacks

  • Wes

    Miss Cindy,
    Why are you reading articles about picking out pipes when you clearly have no interst in smoking one? Everyone else that chose to research how to pick out a pipe thinks your an idiot for wasting your time with something that you obviously don’t understand and that your time would be better served standing in front of gas stations lecturing people that buy cigarettes and smokeless tobacco instead of wasting your time annoying Robert who is only trying to help people who are interested in a pipe. Find a better way to waste your time I’m quite sure Robert has not persuaded anyone to smoke a pipe that has not already decided they want to.

  • http://rwrightphotography.blogspot.com/ Rob

    My first pipe was a basket briar from a tobac shop in Atlanta. I also got some black Cavendish tobacco. The tobacco and pipe smoked horribly! It was hot and I couldn’t keep it lit for anything. I nearly, gave up my pipe, but I bought another better pipe and some English tobacco… after that I was hooked! I even went back and have been using my first pipe and it’s much better than I originally thought, just had to find the right kind of tobacco for it.

  • Igor

    I smoked pipes for years when I was at University, and occasionally therafter, finally quitting absolutely, cold turkey, when my children came to live with me. I never inhaled, so it was easy.

    After extensive experimentation I found that the best pipe was briar, in an apple shape. IMO the apple shape is easy to light by virtue of the thin upper lip, and holds heat well by virtue of the large heel. Any curved stem will have a tendency to condense moisture and gurgle.

    I ended up with an apple for each day of the week, for rotation, and the best were Comoys. A nice collection, but when I found my children coming back to live with me I didn’t hesitate a moment to throw all the apparatus and pipes into the trash because I simply didn’t want the kids to be in a smoking environment.

    A few months ago, out of curiosity, I cruised the pipe vendors and found several Comoy estate apples at reasonable prices, and I would recommend them.

  • Cody

    Hi, Robert thanks for the article it was a real good read actually. But I was just wondering I’m thinking of getting my first pipe hence the article. But I have a semi low budget around the hundred dollar range. And I wasn’t thinking tobacco or weed (No jumping to conclusions) As for what I’m smoking it would be Kava Kava

  • http://estatepipes.co.uk/ Estate Pipes

    A good article for those wanting to enter the hobby of pipe smoking. I read Igor’s comment a few down the page and whilst I admired his reasoning to protect his children from pipe smoking, I was dismayed that he threw his pipes in the bin. He went on to say that he has seen some nice Comoy estate pipes. I would like to have seen Igor pass his pipes over to the estate pipe market to continue to be enjoyed by other pipe enthusiasts, especially such gems as Comoy apple shape pipes.

    The picture shows an example of what a nicely restored estate pipe can offer a new smoker.