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Cutting and Lighting

The best way to cut and light your cigar.
The Editors
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01


New cigar smokers learn early on about the importance of a good cut. An improper cut will ruin the cigar, causing the end to split or the wrapper to unravel. So, especially if you're conscious of how much you're spending on your cigars, you'll want to pay careful attention to cutting them properly.

Regardless of the method, the goal in cutting a cigar is to create an ample opening through which to smoke, without damaging the cigar's construction. Too small a cut and the cigar won't draw; too wide a cut and the cigar will fall apart. On most cigars, a good rule of thumb is to make the cut about one-sixteenth of an inch from the cigar's head. But if you don't have a ruler handy, simply look for the cigar's shoulder -- the place where the cap of the cigar straightens out -- and cut the cigar there.

The other popular method of cutting is to make a wedge in the shape of a V in the end of a cigar. While this kind of cut makes it easy to draw on the cigar, it can have its drawbacks: sometimes the draw is too easy, making the smoke burn hot. Additionally, this kind of cut may not be for you if you tend to chomp on your cigars -- chewing on a cigar can make the wedge collapse, closing off the draw and making smoking impossible.


There are several styles of cutters on the market today, each designed to provide the smoker with the smoothest cut possible, while minimizing the possibility of damaging the cigar. Most cigar smokers have several cutters, which often can fit easily in a pocket, while some aficionados own larger, sturdier machines that sit atop a desk.

Obviously, you already have a cutter on you right now: your teeth. But this method has its drawbacks. First, it's difficult to see exactly where you're biting into the cigar, making it more likely you'll damage it. Second, your teeth aren't nearly as sharp as the blade on a commercial cutter. And third, you're likely to wind up with a wad of wet tobacco in your mouth.

Knives, conversely, are very sharp, but cutting a cigar effectively with a knife requires a surgeon's cutting stroke: too slow or too unsteady a cut will certainly destroy your cigar. But if you do choose to cut your cigars this way, make sure not to use any oils when cleaning your knife -- the residues can wind up on the cigar, corrupting its flavor.

Piercers, sometimes called lances, also present challenges. Piercing the cigar too deeply can create a tunnel in the center of the cigar, causing it to burn hot. Additionally, the opening created by these cutters has two significant tradeoffs: 1) the cigar may not draw evenly, preventing the smoker from reaping the full flavor of the blend; 2) nicotine and tars build up around the opening of a cigar, so using a piercer will cause a concentration of these chemicals near the smoker's mouth.

Guillotine cutters, whether single- or double-bladed, are some of the best options for cutting a cigar. They make an even cut across the cigar's head, providing an ample opening without the drawbacks associated with other cutters.

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