There’s no one right way to smoke a pipe, but we all commonly do things that either reduce our enjoyment or shorten the lifespan of our pipes. Let’s take a look at some routine mistakes we tend to make.
Lighting improperly- This is one area that can decrease one’s enjoyment and harm the pipe at the same time. The most common error is to touch the flame directly to the tobacco. This lets the tobacco become too hot, which changes the flavor and also helps to build up that char or crust on the crest of the bowl. Just let the flame hover above the top of the tobacco and use long, gentle draws rather than short, quick puffs for the best taste. Also, some people like using torch lighters to light up because of the windproof aspect, but it’s not a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, a torch has a minimum temperature of 1700 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas a match has a flame that’s about 650 to 700 degrees and a soft butane flame is about 800. The high temperature really distorts the flavor of the tobacco. Also a torch flame hitting the same spot in the chamber can easily cause a burnout of the pipe. That may be acceptable with a corncob, but not with a $250 briar. Just avoid torch lighters for pipes. I’d rather deal with the bit of taste from a Zippo pipe lighter to get wind resistance than to fry a good pipe.
Infrequent cleaning- Routine cleaning consists of running pipe cleaner down the stem and shank after finishing a bowl, but many pipe smokers don’t do it. This allows juices to be absorbed by the briar and after a while, the pipe can get sour. Wiping the stem down with something like Obsidian Stem Oil, olive oil or petroleum jelly can help avoid oxidation, but few people do it (myself included). Reaming a pipe when the cake gets as thick as a nickel will help avoid damage.
Taking a pipe apart while warm- This is commonly done, but it’s a bad practice. If the pipe is warm (or hot) when disassembling, the tenon can stretch and become thinner, leading to a loose stem. Always let the pipe cool before pulling the stem out.
Removing the stem improperly- A lot of people will twist the stem from the button end or middle, but the safest way is to grip it with the last three fingers while keeping the thumb and index fingers on the shank. This way the stem will be pulled out straighter so angular pressure won’t crack or break the tenon.
Packing too tightly/loosely- This is where a lot of pipe smokers give up on the hobby. Tightly packed pipes go out frequently and cause puffing too often/fast which winds up frying tongues. Loosely packed pipes lead to similar problems because people wind up over-tamping. Here’s an article for a simple method to properly load a bowl.
Smoking overly moist tobacco- Most pipe tobacco is a bit too moist because the manufacturers don’t want the tobacco to dry out before it gets to the consumer. The problem is that smoking tobacco with too much moisture will cause the smoker puff too often in an attempt to keep it lit. When that happens, the water becomes steam, and steam will burn the tongue more than smoke will. Allow the tobacco to dry out a bit before packing by taking a bowlful and putting it on a piece of paper for 45 minutes to an hour before packing. It should then be dry enough to smoke well.