Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tamping and lighting

Another post for new pipe smokers.

So once you've gotten your pipe packed more or less properly, what about lighting it?

According to the absolute gospel of pipe smoking, you should first perform the false light, or charring light. This is done only to char the tobacco evenly all across the top. You allow this to extinguish, lightly tamp the charred leaf even, and then perform the first real light, after which you smoke the pipe all the way down without any further lights.

This is a great theory, but necessary only if you are taking part in a pipe smoking contest.

Yes, there are pipe smoking contests, and the winner is the one who comes in last. The object in such a contest is to be the last one with his pipe still burning. Only two lights are allowed, and the second light must be performed within one minute of the first light. I think that's how it works, anyway. All contestants are issued identical pipes and tobacco with which to load it, so everyone starts out the same.

But back to the real world. Often, after performing the first light, the unburned but heated tobacco near the top will expand quite a lot, and "sprangle" (a word I read on alt.smokers.pipes once, and liked, so I'll use it again) upward and outward. This all needs to be tamped back in so you have an even surface. But don't worry about performing a perfect false light. I do a lot of pipe smoking while driving home from work, and I want to get it pretty near perfect to minimize re-lights while I'm driving. Sometimes I'll do two or three false lights followed by appropriate tamping before I get it just the way I want it.

The important thing is to get the tobacco even all the way across the top, and to evenly and thoroughly light the entire surface.

If you feel the fire beginning to go out during the smoke, do not try to fan it back to life by bellowing air in and out of the bowl. This will cause a hot spot in the tobacco, and cause it to burn unevenly. Just lightly tamp the ash flat and re-light, making sure to light it evenly across the entire surface of the tobacco just like the first time.

How many times to re-light? As many times as you need to finish the bowl, or until you get tired of it and decide to quit. I remember someone on a.s.p once flatly declared that "if you're re-lighting more than five times during a smoke, you will burn out your pipe." I laughed out loud at this, and my reply to him was, "if that's true, then I would have burned out about 150 pipes by now." That was several years ago. I'm sure I'm up to 500 or 600 pipes by now.

On a related topic, if you feel that your pipe is getting to hot, just stop. Let the fire extinguish and allow the pipe to cool. Once it cools, you can always re-light it. A rule of thumb for checking the heat of the pipe is to place the bowl against your cheek. If it's so hot that you can't keep it there for more than a few seconds, it's too hot. Of course, if you find your fingers getting too hot, then that's a good indication that you're smoking too hot, also. This is something I have to always watch myself for, because I tend to be an aggressive puffer. I love to have thick wreaths of smoke floating about me, and sometimes I generate too much heat.

I would also like to add that you shouldn't have to "suck" your pipe. If you feel like you are "sucking" the air, then you probably packed it too tightly, or there may be a leaf or some ash (or excess cake) blocking the air passage. You can loosen the pack with the pick from your pipe tool, or a nail or anything similar to that, if necessary. The movement of the air through the pipe is better described as a "draw" than a "suck." You should be able to draw all the air your pipe needs by slowly drawing your tongue back.

I have a few other things to say about packing and smoking, but I'll save them for another post.

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