Breaking In a Variety of Smoking Pipes

I’ve written about new pipe break-in a number of times, but this time I’m not only going to address how to do so, but also that different pipe materials change the break-in procedure. Please remember that the following is just the personal opinion of a delusional mind; your mileage may vary.

Breaking In Briar Pipes

Pipe Gft Set PacksFirstly, whether a pipe is pre-carboned or not has no effect on my break-in process. I treat both types the same, and have never had a problem. Secondly, I strongly disagree with using anything to accelerate the build-up of a cake. I do not use honey, saliva, pizza sauce or any other concoction to get the carbon to stick to the chamber. Generally, when something is used to speed up the process, the cake is soft and crumbly, and when it needs to be reamed back, chunks will break off, leaving the chamber walls vulnerable to heat and a possible burnout.

As to my method, it is the simplest procedure you will ever hear- pack the bowl as you normally would, and smoke the pipe. That’s it…period. Why don’t I recommend the half-bowl and a gradual build-up to a full bowl? Because that’s not the way you normally smoke, so why do it? The reason people recommend the half-bowl break-in is so you can smoke to the bottom of the bowl so the heel gets carboned to protect it. Do you usually smoke to the bottom? If so, you can smoke to the bottom with a full bowl, can’t you? If you don’t smoke to the bottom, what do you need the cake to protect against? With a briar, in my opinion, there’s only one break-in rule: Smoke slowly. Keeping the temperature as low as possible during the initial smokes in a new pipe is the real, and only, rule of break-in. I’ve used this method for over 30 years and have never had a problem.

Special Note on Peterson Pipe Break In

Peterson 2012 Series St. Patrick's Day PipesThere’s one kind of pipe, though, that requires a different approach. Peterson pipes are usually dip-stained, which means that the chamber has a coating of stain, and that will make break-in a lot more difficult. To solve the problem, take your brand-new Peterson and dampen a paper towel with liquor (just don’t use anything sweet) and wipe out the chamber. Let the pipe sit for at least an hour and repeat the process. I usually do it about four or five times. You’ll notice the stain coming off on the towel, and the pipe should then carbon up the same as a natural-finish pipe.

Breaking In a Meerschaum Pipe

Meerschaum Smoking PipesMeers are even easier to break in than briars because you don’t want to build a cake. After each bowl in a meerschaum, wipe it out with a cloth or paper towel. The reason to avoid a cake is because the expansion of the cake could possibly crack the meerschaum. If you include the coloring process as being part of break-in, I would just smoke the pipe normally and handle the pipe by the stem (to avoid having your fingerprints visible). If you want to accelerate the coloring, just blow the smoke onto the pipe as you smoke it.

Breaking In a Pipe made from Synthetics

Pipes made of synthetic materials (The Pipe, some Yello-Bole and Medico pipes) don’t really break in, per se (even if the Yello-Boles do capture some ash and appear to cake up), so no special steps are required.

Breaking In Pipes Carved from Other Woods

There are a number of pipes made of fruit woods (lemon, olive, pear, cherry, apricot among others). I use the same break-in method as I do for briars, but I try to keep the temperature even lower, if possible, as some of them are not quite as heat-resistant as briar.

Breaking In Corn Cob Pipes

Corn Cob Smoking PipesCobs don’t break-in, really, they just become seasoned and will taste better after a few bowls. Although it is possible to build a cake in a cob, it’s very difficult, and the pipe will eventually burn out or fall apart, so it’s an effort in futility.

These are my “rules” for new pipe break-in. If you have a question, just leave a comment and I’ll address it. Thanks for reading.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.