Knowing how to properly pack, light, and smoke a tobacco pipe isn’t something that happens overnight; it’s a learning process, with a whole bunch of curves. You won’t become an expert the first, second, third, of twentieth time. However, you’ll get a lot better, and whole lot more relaxed.
The first task to tackle in breaking in your new pipe. The most common wood used in tobacco pipe production happens to be very heat resistant, though it can be prone to burnouts, hot spots, and cracking if not handled correctly. You’ve probably seen older gentleman load up their pipe by dropping the pipe into a pouch of tobacco, jamming the bowl full with their thumb, filling it completely, and then lighting it–again, and again, and again.
Simply put, you shouldn’t have to light your bowl repeatedly as you smoke a single packed bowl. Simply stuffing a solid column of pipe tobacco into the bowl leaves very little air for the combustion, which results in a very hot and wet smoke, which in turn results in tongue bite: a sharp, stinging sensation on the tongue that makes the experience unpleasant.
The solution? Gravity. Sprinkle tobacco onto the bowl until it overflows slightly, and then tamper it down, gently, until it’s about halfway down into the bowl. Repeat this procedure until the tobacco is now at the top of the bowl. It should feel spongy to the touch. To test readiness, suck some air through the mouthpiece. The tobacco will be loose enough at the bottom to allow for ample combustion to take place without excessive re-lights and harsh inhales.
With either gas and flint lighter or matches–ideally wooden–approach the top of the bowl with the flame and draw air in through the stem. Don’t inhale the smoke; instead, draw it into your mouth and exhale it back out. Hover the flame above the tobacco in circular motions as you do this to ensure that the tobacco burns evenly by the time you do start to inhale.
Before you hit that point, however, let it die out. This process is known as charring, and it will ensure that any excess moisture is removed from the pipe tobacco prior to the actual smoke. How long exactly you should charr your bowl depends on your individual tastes and preferences for moisture concerning particular blends; it’s a learning process.
Gently tamper down the thin layer of ash using the tamper on your pipe tool and light the bowl the same way as before. This time, it should stay light. For good measure, give it some good puffs, but slow down quickly. The objective isn’t intense, quick smoke, but long, sustained, cool smoke. If you have to re-light a couple of times, that’s okay, but give it enough time to cool down before doing this. Certain types of pipes require more or less time than others.
A full bowl of pipe tobacco can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, or even longer. As you progress the bowl, the tastes should change, at least somewhat, as the oils inside further concentrate in the bottom of the bowl, and as you smoke more and more, you’ll learn to manipulate them in your favor without even thinking too much about it.