I’ve written before about how certain pipes seem to work better than others for certain types of tobaccos. This time I’m going to get a bit more detailed. I’ve wanted to write this for a while, but every time I began, I felt that I couldn’t be as clear as I’d like. Let’s see how this attempt goes.
The simple rule of thumb is to smoke hotter tobaccos in narrower chambers and those that are hard to keep lit are best suited for wider bowls, but it goes even further than that. Shag-cut tobaccos, bright, sugary Virginias, exceptionally, intentionally dry tobaccos (think Semois) seem to blossom and smoke better in chambers 5/8” or narrower. To carry that a bit further, I tend to prefer the older-style draftholes for those blends as well. The 3.2 mm airway restricts the airflow, which also slows down the burn rate. There’s an exception, though. I have one of Rolando Negoita’s Conducta pipes which is a reverse-calabash (it has a secondary chamber between the stem and the tobacco chamber which cools the smoke and removes excess moisture), with a 5/8” chamber. It works beautifully on even the most aggressive-burning blends. Traditional gourd calabashes also handle these blends with aplomb.
Latakia blends and moister Cavendish blends really perform better in ¾” or larger chambers, and even better if the airway is the more modern 4 mm size. Lots of airflow makes it easier to keep these blends going. The better “breathing” qualities of a more open airway can be a real help with these tobaccos. Some pipes with better engineering but traditional draftholes will work well, too. To tell if a pipe breathes well, take a couple of puffs and take the pipe out of your mouth. If smoke continues to curl out of the stem, that’s a sign of a well-engineered pipe. Not only does it breathe well, but the pipe will stay lit longer even when you’re not drawing on it.
The simplicity of the concept is so glaring when you use the wrong tobacco for a given pipe. I have a pot with a 7/8” chamber that I intentionally smoked a straight Virginia in. With the first third of the bowl, even smoking as slowly as I could while still keeping it lit, the flavor turned ashy. The same tobacco in a 5/8” stack delivered great flavor with no ashiness at all.
Likewise, a Latakia blend smoked in that same stack required 5 relights to get to the bottom, and the flavor was muted. Even when I dried the blend out quite a bit, it still didn’t smoke right in that stack. Of course, you can always alter your packing method to get better results, but many pipe smokers have trouble consistently getting good results with varying packing approaches, so they tend to stick with what works for them.
Try this approach to see if it improves your experience, and leave a comment to let us know how it went.