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For Pipe Lovers

Richard Carleton Hacker
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 2)

Cigar smokers will identify with the ritualistic procedure of lighting a pipe, which is best reserved for those quiet moments when you have the time to indulge yourself. First, if it is a new pipe, wipe a very slight coating of honey on the inside of the tobacco chamber. This will help the virgin briar produce a charred "cake" much faster. This cake is what helps insulate the wood from your tobacco and is part of the secret of avoiding tongue bite, the most common malady affecting both new and experienced pipemen. The other part of the secret is in the way you load your pipe. In essence, you are rolling your own cigar, for the way you fill your pipe will affect the way it is going to smoke. There are as many ways to load a pipe as there are "experts," but here is my method, one that I have successfully been using and passing on to others for more than 30 years.

First, trickle in enough tobacco to loosely fill your pipe bowl to the top. Tap the bowl to settle the tobacco. Then, with your finger or a tamper, gently push down until the tobacco compresses into a light, "springy" sensation. Repeat this process two or three times, until your pipe is filled to a point just below the top of the bowl. If you leave any tobacco overflowing, it will eventually burn the rim.

Now, using a wooden match or a butane flame (as with a cigar, paper matches or fluid-type lighters will impart a foreign taste to your tobacco), slowly walk the flame over the top of the tobacco, gently puffing on your pipe while you cover the entire area with the flame. Then tamp this burnt tobacco down gently. What you have done is create a "charring light," which prepares the tobacco for its true baptism of fire. Now you are ready to smoke. With a new flame, light the tobacco again, this time puffing on the pipe and drawing the fire down into the bowl. Now sit back, relax, and gently sip the smoke, as you would a fine Cognac. From time to time your pipe may go out. This is perfectly natural. Simply relight; it just takes a couple of puffs and an occasional gentle tamp on the tobacco to keep it compressed. Because heat produces condensation, and rid we tend to salivate when relaxing, it pays to keep a package of pipe cleaners handy. Simply thrust one down the airhole of your pipe whenever necessary, withdraw it, and get rid of the thing before anyone sees it. The fireplace is best.

Once you have entered the realm of the pipe smoker, you will find that you are in good company. Most great thinkers, writers and philosophers were pipe smokers: Byron, Tennyson, Emerson, Sandburg, Kipling, Twain, Einstein ... the list would make a great gathering for any hostess with an "A" party. But the image of the pipeman continues even today. Actors such as Jack Lemmon, Ted Shackelford, Jameneson Parker, and William Conrad are dedicated pipe smokers. So, too, are Hollywood producer Aaron Spelling, news commentator Walter Cronkite and musician Chet Atkins. Ironically, some of today's biggest megastars are ardent devotees of the pipe, but many of them insist on not being identified because of antismoking paranoia on the part of their agents or managers. Perhaps their agents and managers should start smoking pipes.

The image of a pipe smoker has always been one of an intelligent and honorable man. In fact, until John Mitchell was dishonored by Watergate, there never was a major crime committed by a pipe smoker. So fill your glass and then your pipe, place another log on the fire, and settle back with briar in hand. Let the aromatic clouds of smoke slowly drift upward, like the many thoughts and cares of the day, dispersing in the hidden eddies of the room. It is a time to contemplate, to be at peace with yourself and the world. This is the true pleasure of the pipe, a relaxing and not-too-distant deviation from our cigar. It is a sublime moment that the nonsmoker will never know, and we are all the more richer in that knowledge.

Richard Carleton Hacker is the author of The Ultimate Cigar Book.

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