Thomas Person, a former software executive who worked with wood in his spare time, was getting deep into his new-found hobby of smoking premium cigars. He immersed himself in the subject, reading books, surfing websites, and he soon found himself intrigued by cedar spills, the thin strips of wood used to light a cigar in the most elegant of fashions. So he wanted to buy some—and found none. So he turned to his woodshop and decided that he was going to make some himself.
Person had worked for a company that was acquired by Adobe, and soon found himself without a job but with sufficient funds to allow himself to do what he wanted, rather than what he must. He turned his attentions to making a cedar spill.
The definition of spill as a small piece of wood or paper used to light a fire dates back to the 14th century. For cigars, lighting up with a cedar spill allows for slow, unhurried toasting of the cigar’s foot. Spills cannot light themselves—you light them with a match, lighter or even on the flame of a candle—then use the strip of wood to toast the foot of your cigar.
Person turned to the cedar sheets that come inside many cigar boxes. He split one into a workable spill, lit it, then began lighting his cigar. “The charcoal fell on my shirt,” he said. Unhappy with the result, he turned to a woodmill, and asked for veneers of Spanish cedar (a wood that’s actually a type of mahogany), the kind of wood used to make most cigar boxes and to line humidors. Spanish cedar has only a faint aroma, low moisture content, and does not have the strong aroma of aromatic cedar, which would ruin a smoke.
He enlisted his cigar smoking friends and began testing, from thinnest to thickest. After the thinnest sample burned like a fast fuse, nearly taking out his eyebrows, he turned to a safer and more scientific experiment, locking the wood in a vise before lighting them up.
“I called it burn testing,” he said. “I wanted something that looked neat, something that comes to a point.”
He settled on a strip that was far thinner than the sheets found in cigar boxes, then had them cut into a shape roughly 11 inches long, thicker at the end where it was to be held, and getting thinner and thinner, up to a rounded tip making it easy to light on a match, lighter or candle. His spill was ready.
Commonwealth Cedar Spills get their name from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where Person is based. The spills, which are patent pending, come “60 plus” to the box, which retails for $30. Each gives about 30 to 40 seconds of burn time, plenty of time to light your cigar.
Spills are elegant and fun to use, and take some time to get your cigar going, putting you in the mindset to relax and smoke. “It’s roast and toast,” he says. “Don’t scorch and torch.” They’re not for outdoors use, nor are they for those who are in a rush. And they can be a little messy. Take a look at this video we shot showing the proper technique of lighting up with a cedar spill.
The company can customize the spills with names, logos or sayings for an additional charge. They went on sale recently, and are presently in a small number of shops. For more information, visit cedarspills.com.