Breaking In a New Pipe

Breaking In a New Pipe

If you’ve never broken in a new pipe, and you’re curious as to how it should be done, take note: This is one of those controversial subjects that will elicit a lot of different opinions. Particulars aside, all you need is some common sense.

Firstly, know how to pack a new pipe. It’s not like packing an old one; you have to do things a little differently. Many people suggest beginning with half a bowl and then, with each subsequent bowl, gradually increasing the amount of tobacco, until the pipe is being filled completely. The idea here is that you’ll slowly make your way to the bottom, creating a natural protective cake—a layer of ash and dottle—that will effectively insulate your entire chamber. 

There are some problems with that approach, though, the biggest being that most people don’t burn through an entire bowl at once. (Nor should they, really!) Further, this technique often causes stiff carbon buildup within the pipe’s shank. People rarely smoke that far down, meaning there’s not much need for a cake in the first place. Instead of filling your pipe completely early on, you can smoke normally, but slowly, during the first dozen or so bowls.

Another common issue with pipe break-ins is the chamber: Should you treat it with fluids like honey, saliva, or some store-bought solution? Again, this ritual revolves around the protective cake; again, it’s not necessary for most. It’s not so easy to expedite the development of the carbon layer; often, it just results in a soft, crumbly cake. This can actually have a negative effect, because the carbon can fall out in chunks, leaving certain spots where heat cannot hit the wood. No one wants a spotty bowl. If it’s going to look older, it might as well have that appearance all-around.

For some pipes, you should never allow cake accumulation. An example are meerschaum pipes; these should be smoked normally from start to finish.

For some other pipes, there is a point at which cake becomes so thick, the briar must be reamed. Otherwise, you wind up with cracks, since cake expands at a different rate than the wood to which it is bound.

Lastly, if your pipe has an uncoated, stained chamber, try wiping out the inside with liquor a couple of times before even smoking it. Stains can seal wood, which results in sticky carbon. Alcohol does a good job removing the residue, and unlike rubbing or denatured alcohol, it won’t leave a yucky taste in the pipe.

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