With the Seattle summer quickly approaching, I’m getting a lot more of the itch to smoke a bit of pipe outdoors. The question I get the most, besides “can you take that thing elsewhere?” is “how does one properly smoke a pipe?”

It seems easy, but there are some basic accoutrement and process to make the experience more enjoyable.

First thing one needs is a quality pipe. Don’t skimp. Should be about $100 or more. I wouldn’t personally spend more than $150. I don’t care that it’s made out of rare burlwood from an extinct rainforest. Well, I do care, but I don’t care about smoking out of it. If it’s made of corn or plastic you are doing it wrong.

Second is the tobacco. It’s pretty much about personal taste. I tend towards vanilla and sometimes something a bit more smoky. One can buy tobacco at almost all tobacco shops, usually shops that also cater in cigars.

Third, a good tamper is essential. A tamper is a little metal, or sometimes wooden device that has a flat end, a long pointy piece, called the poker, and a little spoon. The tamper is important unless you like your finger tips to be blackend, hardened, dirty-looking, like an old sailor or somebody.

Lastly, an incendiary device, such as a lighter is needed. Lighters are tricky. I would avoid 7-11 lighters with naked women on the side. They taste like cheap fuel and make you look like a rookie. A solid butane lighter would be good…but for the professional touch, it’s best to use matches.

Take a pinch of tobacco and push it down into the pipe. Semi-firmly line the bottom of the pipe with it. Don’t pack too tight, it’ll clog you up worse than Aunt Linda’s Christmas fruitcake.

Next, put in another pinch, this time packed looser than the first. Each pinch should be packed into the pipe looser than the subsequent pinch, until at the top it should be fairly loose.

Even it off so there’s not a mound of tobacco off the top, and use your match on it’s side to light the tobacco. This is the priming, and not really lighting the pipe…so get the top lit, and then with the tamper, even it out a bit off the top. Then take another match and light it again. This time light it evenly around the entire corona of the pipe. You should get a strong draw.

While you’re smoking your pipe, the tobacco on the top will become loose and burnt. It’s supposed to, and you have to use the tamper to pad down the tobacco to an even line again. Again, not too tight, or it’ll clog up and make a problem with the draw.
You could use your finger if you are that aforementioned 40 year navy tough guy who likes a blackened and burnt index finger.

Okay, here’s the pro’s versus bro’s tip: Don’t smoke it all the way to the bottom. It gets a little ashy and acidic, similar to cigars. To that with either shows you are 1) really cheap, or 2) a rookie.

3/4 of the way done, take the poker end of the tamper set and scrape out the loose remaining tobacco. Dump it in a safe receptacle. If you want to refill and go another pipe, by all means do so. You are a crazy and manly pipe smoking fool, and ain’t no one gonna tell you can’t. Everything in moderation, I like to say.

When you are completely done, get some pipe cleaners and disconnect the neck of the pipe. Run the pipe cleaner through the bowl and the neck/stem to clean out residue. When you’ve sufficiently cleaned it out, blow through the pipe to clear out any remaining residue. Make /sure/ not to /suck/ in, or you might get a mouth full of black death tobacco paste. No bueno. And you thought pipe cleaners were for making stick men.

On the political side, pipes smell a HELL of a lot better than cigars, and night and day fragrance to their nasty cousins: the cigarette. I’ve always said, the best way to scare off a pretty bird is to smoke a cigar. For some reason they don’t mind cigarettes or pipes. Just something to keep in mind when you’re down in vegas with a Chick-Deterrent hanging on your lips.

Last thing…cigar smokers and pipe smokers tend not to mix well. Just something of which to be aware. Cigar smokers tend to be power broker types who congregate and discuss sports, women and Ducati’s. Pipe smokers tend to be either hipsters (God forbid), or men who are more interested in NPR, Sonny Rollins, and the literature best seller list. Okay, not always. I like both. Write to me with questions.