Prepping Tobacco for Smoking

There are lots of different methods for packing a pipe, far too many to list or even consider. Most have merit, but all solid ones revolve around two chief principles that are needed for any packing method to work properly. Firstly, you have to make sure the tobacco at the bottom of your bowl allows for free airflow—lest you be unable to smoke at all. Secondly, the tobacco must be packed firmly enough to remain lit throughout the course of your smoke. 

It you find yourself re-lighting the tobacco occasionally throughout each bowl, that’s okay. However, it should never be so frequent that it feels like a nuisance or a distraction from the smoking experience.

One common method for ensuring prime smoking is the “three-layer” method. It’s not the only method for keep a pipe lit and cool, but it does seem like the most reliable and widespread.

It starts by gravity-feeding the pipe. Sprinkle tobacco into the chamber until it overflows a bit, and then press the tobacco down until it’s compressed to about the halfway point of the bowl. Repeat the process of feeding and compressing until it’s the bowl is about two-thirds full, but not too tightly to be smoked. You can test the readiness by drawing on the stem. The resistance should be similar to that of sucking a beverage through a straw. If it feels like you’re sipping from an empty glass, you’ve packed the bowl too loosely, and you’ll have to start again. If it feels like a thick milkshake—if it requires any effort at all, really—you’ve packed your bowl too tightly. Again, if that’s the case, just start over.

Once you’ve got a good drag going, light the tobacco in circular motions to assure that it’s burning evenly. Although you may wish to use a match while smoking—the classical authentic method—it’s best for beginners to use a lighter, as this is far less likely to burn you as you wave it around. Puff firmly and steadily; you should see the tobacco rise up immediately—a phenomenon known as “charring light.” When that happens, tamp the tobacco down and relight. At that point, the pipe should stay lit until you’ve finished the bowl. You may have to relight it once or twice, which can be avoided by diligently repeating the tamping movement whenever you begin to notice the draw loosening up, which it will.

For a new smoker, all this can be a little daunting, paying attention to all these things can feel like a drag (no pun intended) when you’re trying to relax. Remember, though, that all this will become muscle memory and habit, and that you’ll it will become quite automatic as you use your pipe more and more.

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