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Pipe Smoking: An Age Old Tradition

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One of the things this site is known for is men’s style and grooming. Also, last year someone posted an article on cigar smoking. While cigar smoking is a good way to enjoy tobacco, I personally prefer a good old fashioned pipe. I like to keep my hobbies as cheap as possible, so for the most part I prefer a corn cob pipe, made by Missouri Meerschaum. Why that particular brand? Quality. It’s not something you find very much these days. And while they are $10 or less, like that famous French pocketknife, they are well made. Most sites or other pipe smokers will tell you to get a $40 briar pipe to start with. Well, that’s all well and good, but I cringe at the thought of spending that much on something to start a hobby. If you wanted to learn guitar, you wouldn’t start off with a $2,000 Gibson Les Paul, would you? Corn cobs do have certain advantages over a briar or even a meerschaum pipe.

1. Price: They are much, much cheaper than a briar or meerschaum.
2. Cool-Smoking: While the bowl itself will burn hot, the smoke itself stays rather cool, unless of course you hotbox it.
3. No Cross-Over: If you smoke a briar, you have to dedicate it to one specific type of tobacco, i.e., Cherry, Captain Black, Borkum Riff. If you smoke Orlik Golden Sliced out of a briar dedicated to Boswell’s Christmas Cookie, it’s going to taste very bad. However, if you smoke Orlik then Boswell’s out of a corn cob, no cross-over, due to the cob being non-porous.
4. Great for Beginners: Like I mentioned, when you start a hobby, you don’t want to spend too much, because you’re not really sure if you’ll enjoy it. It’s better to be out $5 than $50 when starting a hobby.
There are also other elements to it as well. Take, for instance, the tobacco. Most pipe smokers tend to steer clear of “drugstore” brands, such as Prince Albert, Captain Black, Borkum Riff, Carter Hall, Walnut, and Mixture No. 79. I always liked the drugstore brands. One of the great things about pipe smoking is that there are SEVERAL different types of tobacco to try and experiment with. You will find a favorite. But the fun is trying other brands, other flavors, etc.
Pipe tobacco falls into three different categories: Aromatic, the stuff that smells great; Non-aromatic, basically the piper’s version of a cigarette; and English blends, the strongest tobacco available. There are also different cuts to become familiar with as well. You have coarse and fine cut, which looks like typical tobacco; flake, which resembles beef jerky: it’s one of my favorites, because it stays moist and burns slow; plug, which is basically a cake of pipe tobacco that you have to shave down to smoke. I use a Swiss Army Knife, which is sharp and sturdy. You really need a sharp, sturdy when dealing with plug and rope tobacco; and rope tobacco, which resembles a thick, braided rope. Using the sharp and sturdy knife, you cut off coin-sized pieces.
There is also the matter of how to light it and what pipe tools to use. I use a Bic lighter, which works extremely well. I tried matches at one point, but they will burn you if you’re not paying attention. And as far as pipe tools, I use either the 3-in-1 or Czech tools, as they include a tamper, pick, and reamer, and are usually $10 or less; however, you can get them free with certain offers. have great starter packs, which include a Czech tool, a pipe, tobacco, pipe cleaners, a cork knocker, and so on. They have a Corn in the USA sampler, which includes three Missouri Meerschaum pipes, 4 oz. of Hearth & Home tobacco. They also have pipe tools for good prices. As far as cleaners, you can get them at Walgreens or CVS, but also have a pipe cleaner sampler.
And the best way to build up your tobacco is to not only get the drugstore brands mentioned, but search for free samples. has free samples of your choice, as does You can also check with a local tobacconist, who may also have free samples for you to try.
Happy Smoking


11 thoughts on “Pipe Smoking: An Age Old Tradition”

  1. How do I know if my great grandfather s pipe has any value ? Its a (Dr MANDSFIELD Superior french Briar ) made in France and it has a (M) on it aswel

  2. Bad breath, yellow teeth, tongue like leather and compromised taste buds, air pollution and some nifty oral cancers all should indicate avoiding a starter package for this hobby. I recommend a banjo instead!

  3. I have actually been a non smoker for many years, but I used to smoke pipes. The comment about corn cob pipes being non-porous is not true.
    The crossover effect spoken of, lasts for one or two smokes only, and does not mean that a briar must be dedicated to one tobacco forever afterward. The idea that unscented pipe tobaccos are like cigarettes to smoke is amusing, as there are strong unscented pipe tobaccos.
    It is like saying that Gauloise cigarettes are just like Marlboros, because they are cigarettes too.

  4. I can see what he means by non-aromatics being a piper’s version of a cigarette. There are some non-aromatics I enjoy, some I don’t care for. The whole thing with pipe smoking is that everyone is opinionated and knows more than everybody else. nothing wrong with a cob. They are non-pourous, considering you can smoke whatever tobacco you want from them. isn’t that why experienced pipers keep them on hand? for trying new tobaccos, for that very reason? While it wasn’t the best or most informed article, there is no reason to get angry over anything that was written. All the other pipe articles I’ve read always seem to contradict each other anyway.

  5. Also, Missouri Meers are OK, and have the added advantage that they don’t need as much rest between smokes as a briar. That said, I never cared for them, because the chambers tend to be small, and they taste pretty bad if you overheat them at all.
    An alternative would be any number of estate pipes out there. Used Bjarne, Savinelli, GBD, and others can be found at quite reasonable prices. I haven’t bought a pipe in years ,but I think I once got a pair of Bjarnes on the bay for under 40 bucks shipped, and they were fantastic smokers.

  6. I agree with the others that the comparison of unflavored tobacco to cigarettes is WAY off base. While there is some decent flavored tobacco out there, an awful lot of is is cheap tobacco topped with horrific artificial flavoring. There is a huge variation in flavor in in unflavored tobaccos, depending on type of leaf and processing.

  7. You could learn a lot about pipes and pipe tobacco at the world’s long running (29 years) celebration & exposition of pipe smoking, in Richmond, VA! October 12-13 2013. There you will find tobacco blenders, pipe makers including corn cobs (our pipe of choice for the annual pipe smoking contest)! Infact, there will be pipe smokers, pipe makers, pipe collectors and tobacconists from all over the world attending! Get more info at And, yes, DO try matured Virginia and English tobaccos that Doc mentioned – you will find an entire world of taste delights!

  8. Since we are offering counterpoints, I’ll throw in my two cents. While I have never been a fan of cobs (even the MM line) I agree starting here can give one an idea whether pipe smoking might be for them. I have seen some recent MM pipes that look far better than the ones I used so many years ago. A few cob lovers on B&B said (to my surprise) their cobs have lasted for years.
    Similarly picking up a couple basket pipes (or even a $20-$30 Grabow in a pinch) should also suffice as a starting point. These won’t be the pipes you smoke should you decide pipe smoking is for you–but they are fine to start with. Who really gives a damn about longevity when you don’t even know if you will like the experience? Back in the 70’s when I started smoking a pipe I was careful about picking a decent basket pipe. Sometime I got very nice pipes with some minor surface imperfections (which do not affect how the pipe smokes).
    But I think the biggest mistake some make is to use one pipe over and over without giving it a proper rest. I was never a really big pipe smoker and I found I had to have several pipes. I found pipes to be a bit hit-and-miss on whether they ended up being something I wanted in my rotation. And while a better (and costlier) pipe had a better chance of being one I liked to smoke, it was far from a guarantee. I ended up smoking cigars more often and the pipe less, until I just eventually stopped with the pipe.
    If I were to start back up, I would look to maximize my budget by trying to get several pipes (at least three). Blowing the budget on one nice pipe is too big a gamble and is likely to be over-smoked if it is the only pipe on the shelf. Estate sales are a good way to find quality older pipes (but they take a bit of work to restore) and you can look around for pipes with small imperfections on sale. A good smoke shop should be able to help you find the best bang for the buck and might even offer you a discount on a quality pipe that has been on the shelf too long.
    Anyway, just some thoughts.

  9. To offer a counterpoint, English blends are very cool smoking in comparison to aromatics (most of which taste nothing like they smell). Most aromatics, in particular the drugstore varieties as well as those produced by Lane, contain humectants such as Propylene Glycol, in addition to other flavoring agents that encourage the tobacco to burn hotter. If you like good black coffee, a peaty Islay scotch, a well-hopped I.P.A., or prefer dark chocolate to milk, you may also enjoy the flavor profiles of Latakia. They aren’t similar, but clearly you aren’t intimidated by flavor.
    To your claims about cobs, I have no idea where you heard that they were “non-porous”. Why do you think they are so light? A corncob is the bic-disposable of pipe smoking. It has its place, but for me they are only suitable for pairing with aviator glasses, a WWII helmet, and a bathrobe. Corncobs burn out over time, where a quality briar or actual meerschaum will last a lifetime (barring a clumsy drop on a hard surface). You don’t need to spend $300-1,000 on a high grade briar to enjoy pipe smoking. In that way, it’s similar to buying a $500 badger. Kudos if you can, but typically you aren’t getting much more than what a $100 brush provides. Good pipes can be had for under $100. I would avoid the $30-40 basket pipes, as many times they have putty fills which make them hotter and less durable. Stanwell are good starter pipes, as well as some entry level Nordings (if you can find them). Gepetto is a brand that was the minor league equivalent to Ser Jacopo, using more modest briar to train apprentice carvers. Prices are accordingly more budget friendly.
    The best way to learn about pipes is sadly getting harder to access. If you think brick and mortar wetshaving shops are rare, try finding a good pipe shop that you can smoke in, while sitting and listening to the collective wisdom of its wizened clientele. I learned most of what I know from Bob Gaddis in Houston, and ended up working for Michael Butera as a warehouse manager for several years. Priceless pipe smoking grad school!

  10. I would not categorize non-aromatics as the “piper’s version of the cigarette”. That gives those blends seriously short-shrift. Non-aromatics, primarily based on Virginia tobaccos (a variety, not a location), can have a wide range of flavors and aromas independent of any added toppings. It’s slightly insulting to many fine blends of bright, matured, stoved, pressed, and fire-cured tobaccos to dismiss them as just a cigarette in a pipe. Flavors can range from bright, sweet and fresh fruit, to rich, stewed fruit, and savory notes. Compare and contrast, say, Wessex Gold VA flake with its grassy, sweet, hay-like aromas to McConnell’s Red Virginia with its malty, mature fruit flavors, and McClelland Dark Star’s meaty, stewed, cooked sweet-tart profile. All primarily straight Virginia with different cures and treatments for completely different flavors. Not to mention the Virginia/Perique blends (talk about strong tobaccos…) and blends with Oriental/Turkish and Kentucky Burley (Orlick Dark Strong Kentucky and the late lamented Edgeworth Flake come to mind).
    English blends are also not necessarily the strongest tobaccos. Since they classically contain Latakia, a leaf cured over pine smoke with an assertive resinous flavor, they *can* be strongly-flavored yet still mild smoking. They can also be monstrously huge with stoved leaf and loads of Latakia (Esoterica Penzance, for instance).

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