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The Basics of the Smoking Pipe

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Some say potato, some say potauto, some like it hot, some like it cold, and some say cigar, while others say smoking pipe. Yes, it’s true: no matter how much this notion affects the cigar lover’s ego – as connoisseurs everywhere calmly tell their Henry Clays that it’s going to be alright – some people prefer their tobacco packed different ways.

It’s a bit of a misconception, the popularity of smoking pipes. With cigarettes and cigars inundating the tobacco market, many of us unfairly equate a pipe with Sherlock Holmes. But, to do so is a little too elementary. Smoking pipes actually have a colorful history and a prevalent present.

Appearing on the party scene during ancient times, pipes were used as far back as 500 BC when they were packed full of leaves so smokers could inhale their fumes. The Romans, the Greeks, and those of German, Celtic, and Nordic ancestry used a smoking pipe at one time or another. In the 16th century, tobacco was introduced to Europe and the Americas and with that, came the smoking pipe. Prior to the arrival of Europeans to the Old World, Native Americans packed a pipe to pack a punch. From here, tobacco use and tobacco pipes filtered out to all kinds of place.

Pipe smoking can be a bit of a high maintenance smoke when compared to cigars and cigarettes. Not only does it require more accessories – a pipe, a pipe tool, pipe cleaners, and, occasionally, a brooch – but it also requires more technique. Like a cigar, the smoke isn’t actually inhaled, but unlike a cigar, pipes typically have to be relit quite a bit, this is particularly true when the smoker goes too slow. On the flip side, smoking too quickly can cause too much moisture and an unpleasant sensation on the smoker’s tongue, an affliction known as pipe tongue.

The types of smoking pipe vary greatly: some are simple and some are exquisite, purchased more as a collector’s item than a tobacco tool. The most common types include the following:

Briar Pipe: Most of the pipes on today’s market are made from briar wood. A multitalented wood, briar has both a natural resistance to fire and a keen ability to absorb moisture. Reigning from the Mediterranean region, briar is often cut into two different blocks: ebauchon and plateaux. While both are used to make wonderful pipes, some people prefer plateaux, believing that it has superior graining.

Corncob Pipe: Yes, it’s hard to hear this term without breaking out into a verse of “a button nose and two eyes made out of coal” but corncob pipes go well beyond Frosty the Snowman. Made of maize, these types of pipes are generally inexpensive, but they still get the job done. Unlike briar pipes, corncob pipes do not require a break-in period. This make this ideal for beginners. They are also ideal for people who enjoy a variety of different tasting tobacco: using a different corn cob pipe to smoke different tobacco prevents the carryover of flavor from a pipe that has already been used.

Meerchaum: A mineral that hails from Turkey, Merrchaum is good for pipe making because of its plasticity. Known as flexible, it certainly doesn’t mind being carved into odd and decorative shapes. Prior to briar wood pipes making their way into the spotlight, meerchaum pipes were highly popular. The pipes are light in tint and in weight, absorbent, and ever changing in color: as they are used they go from white to golden. These factors allow them to be the most unique of smoking pipes.

Hookah: As Alice in Wonderland will attest, these types of pipes are a favorite among caterpillars. Hookahs are water pipes of middle Eastern origin. They are often used to smoke both cannabis (naughty, naughty) and shisha tobacco. With Hookah’s, the water filters the smoke and cools it in the process. Lemon juice, milk, and ice are sometimes added to the water while honey, and fruit flavors are often added to the tobacco. This makes for a flavorful smoke.

Clay: Move over Play-do, the clay used for making smoking pipes is fine and white. Clay smoking pipes can be of low and high quality. The low quality ones often bring unsolicited flavors into the smoke while the high quality ones are hand made and provide the only truly pure smoke. Clay pipes burn extremely hot, so they are hard for beginners to use…at least not without wearing oven mitts.

So, there you have it: the basics. Whether cigar and cigarette lovers like it or not, this type of smoke is here to stay: there’s simply no point in asking it to pipe down.

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About Jenn Jordan