21 Apr 2014
Following my articles on why I smoke a pipe, tools of the trade, and beginner pipe blends, today I tackle two very important topics: how to pack your pipe, and how to avoid the infamous “tongue burn.” Thankfully, there are simple solutions that will help you with both.
To start, we’ll talk about packing a pipe. Now while tobacco comes in all different types of forms (ropes, flakes, plugs, coins, etc.), we are going to talk about those more difficult types in their own specific articles. For now, the first step for you to pack your pipe will be to make sure all of your tobacco looks ribbon/shag cut. This is a really easy process. Just pick up the tobacco you want to smoke, assuming it isn’t already ribbon cut, and rub it between your thumb and fingers. The harder you rub, the finer a product you’ll produce.
Once all of the tobacco is prepared, make sure it’s dry enough to smoke. For a general rule of thumb, tobacco right out of the tin (or out of a jar if you’re aging it) couldn’t be hurt to leave out on a paper plate for 30 minutes to an hour. What I normally do if I know I’m going to be smoking is to just pop the tin, leave it open for a few hours until the tobacco is nice and dry, and then seal it back up. The tobacco should not only feel dry to the touch, but it should feel room temperature.
If your tobacco feels dry but a little cool, there’s some moisture in it still. Smoking tobacco that’s too wet will make you draw on the pipe more, and this will produce a hotter flame (more oxygen). That hot flame is what burns your tongue. Also, smoking a really wet tobacco can produce “gurgle,” which is, for lack of a better term, spit and flavorings that accumulate at the bottom of your pipe, which you’ll then bubble up and smoke. To state the obvious, you do not want this to happen.
Now that your tobacco is dry, we’re going to use the three-step method for filling a pipe. It’s really simple, and surprisingly effective. Step one, pinch the tobacco in between your thumb and fingers and drizzle it into the pipe bowl until it’s full. Do not push it down, just fill the bowl. Once it’s full, press down lightly until the bowl is about 50% packed. Use a tamp or pipe nail to make this easier.
Step two, repeat the process, and push down a little firmer till the bowl is about 75% full. Step three, one more time, repeat the process, and push down till the tobacco is just under the rim of the bowl. After that, just apply flame and your pipe should be good to go.
When packed like this, you should be able to avoid tongue bite. The other ways tongue bite can occur are by packing too loosely, pulling more oxygen in, and stoking the flame when you draw on it—or by packing too tightly, causing you to draw too hard and, again, stoking the flame too high.
This is not the only way to pack, but it’ll get you off on the right foot. Like I said, I’ll cover a few ways to pack odder-shaped tobacco in the future, but if you’re dying for information now, there are a lot of good videos out there. Let me know if this method works for you in the comments. Next time we’ll discuss cake: what it is, how to get it, and some fun myths about it. For now, I’ll leave you with a pro tip: If you must smoke some pipe tobacco now but it’s too moist, put it on top of your computer or cable box for about five minutes on a paper towel/plate. It’s like microwaving tobacco!
photo credit: Flickr