If you were to ask me “what the worst experience a pipe smoker can go through is” (besides destroying a beloved pipe), I would say having to dump out a bowl of unsmoked tobacco that isn’t properly smoking because of a bad pack.
Everyone hates it!
If you are not careful and intentional with every pack, then this may happen to you!
Many people (like me when I began this hobby) think that packing a pipe means nothing more than shoveling tobacco down the bowl and putting match after match to the pipe until it either lights or burns the top of the pipe. This is not true at all.
Packing a Pipe is an Art-Form.
There are many different parts of packing a pipe that are important. By following the steps listed in this blog, I guarantee that anyone struggling with lighting their pipe will start to have much more success and enjoy their hobby more ever before.
As you know, there is a multitude of tobacco to choose from!
Not only do different blends taste different, they also smoke a pack differently.
A couple of big differences you should know about are:
Moist tobacco which will need to be packed quite loose, for if it is too thick, the excessive moisture will prevent the flame from catching.
Dry tobacco which will need to be packed much tighter (this generally includes most english blends). The tobacco will go out to easily and not light the next layer of tobacco.
Before packing feel your tobacco and make a judgement call on how loose or tight you believe your bowl should be packed. Of course, if you do not experience success, change it up!
The Pack Matters.
The pack matters not only for the quality of the smoke, but for the health of your pipe.
The “cake” you acquire through weeks of smoking a new pipe is crucial to the health of your pipe. A cake that is too thin will keep the smoker from enjoying the full flavor of smoke. A cake that is too thick, more than 1.5 mm, can run the risk of expanding and cracking the bowl of your precious pipe.
By only smoking the top 1/3 of your bowl, you run the risk of building up too much cake in that one spot. And on top of that, it makes it more difficult to get an even cake on the rest of the pipe.
Checking the Flow
Through every step of the packing process, take the foot of the pipe in your mouth and draw.
Be sure that you have a good air flow.
If not, dump and restart. Much better to do this now than after lighting.
Pinch some tobacco in your fingers.
Simply drop tobacco into the pipe until it is about 1/3 full.
Do NOT push down the tobacco at this point.
Once again take some tobacco in your fingers. Put an equal amount of tobacco in for pack 2 as for pack 1.
The pipe will appear to be almost full.
Now you will want to poke the tobacco down the bowl. You should use the same amount of force you would use when casually poking someone.
Once again grab the tobacco. Fill up the remainder of the bowl.
You will poke this down with more force than before, but there should not be too much effort in the force.
Be careful not to have tobacco sticking up out of the top of the bowl at this point. Upon lighting the tobacco will expand and if the lit tobacco pokes out and is in contact with the rim of the pipe, then it will burn the exquisite finish that is key to the beauty and quality of your pipe.
I suggest using a match (although a pipe lighter is perfectly proper).
Hold the match slightly above the bowl, a couple millimeters, and take a long draw. A common mistake that pipe smokers make is they take very short draws when lighting a pipe. The longer the draw, the more the lit tobacco can spread. Tobacco only stays lit when being drawn. A good draw should last at least 3 seconds, but preferably 5.
Attempt to light the entire surface area of the bowl. Some of the outermost layers will not completely light, but that is to be expected.
Directly after the light, push down gingerly with a tamper. The purpose of this is to put the tobacco on top that expanded back down into the bowl.
After this, let the tobacco rest for about 30 seconds.
After the rest, repeat the lighting instructions from the 1st light, only without the tamper.
Now you are ready to smoke your pipe!
It is absolutely normal to relight your pipe once or twice through the smoke. Don’t feel as though you have packed a bowl poorly because you have to take another match to your pipe a couple of times.
There will also always be a small amount of unburnt tobacco in the bottom of the bowl. Of course, you can take a match and get every last cut lit, but at a point the smoke becomes too hot on the tongue. It is at this point I personally believe it isn’t worth the relight.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Packing a pipe is an art-form. It takes practice and persistence to perfect. If you have trouble lighting a pipe, try this method. If you have found a method that works for you, stick to it! All this offers is a way to experiment with different methods and as a resource to the novice.
If you have a question on packing or would like to make a suggestion to me, feel free to leave a comment. I will respond.