How To Pick A Pipe With A Purpose

Pipes are such a personal thing that we tend to purchase them based upon aesthetics alone. Maybe it’s the grain, the color of the stain, a nice ring-grain sandblast or a really interesting craggy rustication. It could be the shape or the stem material. But how often do we buy a pipe with the idea of solving a smoking issue? So let’s look at different potential problems that might be solved by the right pipe.

Heat- A hot pipe is the number one issue for a smoker to solve, but how can the right one help? First, if you smoke hot, a lacquered or painted pipe is not for you. That doesn’t mean that there’s no place for them, but just that anyone who is burning his or her tongue should stay away until you find a way to smoke cooler. A common thought is that sandblasted or rusticated pipes get rid of more heat because of greater surface area. While that’s true, it doesn’t help as much as it may seem.

A couple of thoughts right off the bat are to get a pipe with a thick enough wall to help pull some heat away and to change the way the smoke stream hits the mouth. A thick wall doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger or heavier pipe. To change the way smoke hits the mouth, one of the best ways is to direct the stream away from the tongue. Try a pipe like a Peterson with a p-lip stem. The drafthole exits the stem in an upward direction so the smoke hits the roof of the mouth, rather than the tongue. The stem might feel a little odd at first, but it will become more comfortable with use.

Another heat-related issue is tobacco preference, but we’re talking about pipes now. Here’s an area where the two cross, though. Many people enjoy Virginia-based blends, but have a real problem with the higher temperatures that they typically produce. The classic answer is to try a pipe with a narrow chamber. The restricted airflow will bring the burn rate down and make the smoke more tolerable. Of course, this will work for any tobacco that is causing a scorched tongue, but it’s the common solution for Virginia enthusiasts.

Weight Discomfort- A lot of people find that they have a problem keeping a pipe clenched for any amount of time. One of the problems has been a trend in the last decade or two- bigger pipes. Big pipes don’t have to be heavy, but they’re usually heavier than average. There are ways, though, to get a better feel and the effect of being lighter without going smaller. One of the best ways is to go to a bent pipe, and if you already prefer bents, go to a deeper bend, like a three-quarter or full bent. This will reduce the leverage in the bite, making the pipe feel more comfortable.

One change that can make a huge difference is one that the majority of smokers overlook. The harder you have to bite down to get the pipe to sit properly, the more strain you feel in your jaw. For those who don’t clench, but, rather, hold the pipe or set it down frequently, this is not much of an issue. To reduce the pressure, take a look at a saddle bit. With the flat top and bottom, versus a rounded surface, the teeth can more easily get a firm grip on the pipe- less pressure makes the pipe feel lighter.

Another problem that’s tangentially related to weight is the inability to stop clenching because it’s too uncomfortable to hold on to a pipe. This could be a matter of the pipe getting too hot to hold or the bowl being too awkward to grip. A great answer to the person who has this problem is a classic- the freehand. Freehands are, in general, larger pipes with thicker walls, but beside the bigger pipe being easier to hold, the typical freehand shape is more ergonomic, allowing it to sit more comfortably in the hand.

Moisture- This is another major bugaboo among pipe smokers. No one likes a gurgling pipe, and there are a number of potential solutions. Of course, the simplest answer is not to clench, which causes less saliva to run back down the stem, but what we want here are pipe-centric solutions, so let’s start with the most obvious- filters.

Filters will almost certainly reduce or eliminate gurgling, but many people are put off by the amount of flavor they remove from the smoke. While that’s undoubtedly true with the paper or charcoal filter types, there are others that don’t have that issue. The balsa filters used by Savinelli won’t decrease the taste of the smoke because the stream never passes through the filter, but around it. The only thing that the filter affects is the moisture, leaving drier smoke. In a similar vein, the Brigham filter is an open tube of rock maple that wicks away some of the vapor from the smoke, allowing it to pass cleanly through.

The Peterson System pipes use a different approach to moisture removal. The reservoir in the shank creates turbulence in the airflow. As the smoke swirls, the droplets condense and run down into the reservoir, efficiently trapping the fluid. After finishing, the moisture can be poured out, and with a swipe from a bent pipe cleaner, the pipe is fairly dry.

The Calabash works on a similar principle because of the large cavity in the gourd just below the meerschaum insert/bowl, but in this case, the gourd just absorbs the moisture, so the maintenance is a little lower.

The stem insert referred to as a “stinger” also works by interrupting the airflow, but the moisture remains in the pipe, so the gurgling may or may not stop.

But the principle of turbulence can work against a pipe. If the stem doesn’t bottom out in the shank, that little gap between the end of the tenon and the far end of the mortise can cause moisture to be deposited in that area, and it will, most likely, find its way up the stem. So, my best suggestion is to spend a bit more and buy a pipe from a name you’re comfortable with so the likelihood of a bad fit is decreased.

These are a few ideas for all of you. Do you think they helped? Let us know.

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for 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 or by calling 1-800-494-9144.