From early on, we pipe smokers hear of many rules that we are told to observe strictly to improve our smoking experience. Unfortunately, “rules” picked up from mentors, friends, tobacconists, and online pipe smokers too readily get hardened into stone-engraved commandments never to be questioned. I say this is unfortunate because, although some of these rules are reasonable guidelines, others turn out to be dogmas with scant basis in reality.
The ultimate test, of course, is what works for you and your style of smoking. Guidelines can be useful to the new smoker, and even a grizzled veteran can learn new tricks — as I often do after half a century of puffing.
One “rule” that I never thought to question until recently is the one that says briar pipes must be rested at least 24 hours between smokes, preferably longer. I lived by this rule religiously — and then I heard from long-experienced and thoughtful smokers who have never lived by that rule. They will smoke one pipe repeatedly all day — then let it rest a few days or a week so that it can dry out. I never would have thought to smoke the same briar more than once in a day. I still largely smoke according to this guideline because I like variety, but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to. (Of course, corncobs, meerschaums, and clays need no rest.)
I know an experienced smoker, a man who takes very good care of his pipes, who smokes a pipe he is breaking in several times a day. My friend also flouts another “rule”: the one that says you must smoke only partial bowls — one-third for the first few smokes, then one-half for the next few — when first breaking in a new pipe. My friend smokes full bowls from the get-go. The main thing, he says, is to smoke those early bowls all the way to the bottom in order to start forming a complete cake right away. He says the partial-bowl advice is really just a way to make sure that smokers work on the bottom cake from the first smoke; if they start by smoking full bowls, they might not get to the bottom during those initial smokes. In other words, if you know you’ll smoke to the bottom, then fill the bowl. If you think you may not, smoke a half or a third.
Another “rule” is that pipes ought to be dedicated to a particular type of blend: English (despite the lack of complete agreement on exactly what that is), straight Virginias, Virginia/periques (Vapers), aromatics, burleys, etc. Some smokers dedicate each of their pipes to specific blends, though I don’t know any smokers personally who do this. I see no reason not to smoke Escudo in a pipe that I’ve used previously for Dunhill Elizabethan Mixture or McClelland Virginia Perique Flake (2015). But then, as I’ve said previously, I routine smoke Cornell & Diehl Haunted Bookshop (burley and perique) in the same pipes I use for Dunhill My Mixture 965 (Virginia, latakia, Oriental, and cavendish), etc. The feared ghosting, for me, is too faint to make me want to bother with dedication. Besides, I don’t mind a ghostly reminder of latakia when I smoke a Vaper, or perique when I smoke an English that contains no perique. I don’t even mind the ghost of C&D Autumn Evening’s maple flavor when I smoke a straight Virginia or anything else. But that’s me — an unrefined palate might be as much a gift as a curse. Your mileage may vary, and you should go with what you like. Just be aware that lightning won’t strike you if you say the heck with that “rule.”
Meerschaum pipes come with lots of so-called rules, but some experienced meerschaum devotees flout them all the time. According to them, you can handle a warn meerschaum gloveless on its first smoke without ruining its appearance. That’s been my experience too. Bremen Pipe Smoker, who has an excellent YouTube channel, smokes his meerschaums in 20-degree weather without a problem, though others will insist that’s a good way to crack your pipe. I’ve not tried this, but it’s good to know about Bremen Pipe Smoker’s experience.
Lots of pipe smokers have rules about packing their pipes that they wouldn’t dream of violating. The three-pinch method, in which each layer is tamped more firmly, is often recommended. But other long-time smokers seem to enjoy their smokes no matter how haphazardly they load up. I favor something like the Frank method, which emphasizes letting gravity do the work with no tamping during loading; with this method the smoker does not insert a finger into the bowl while loading. I like this method because I have come to prefer almost no resistance in the draw. And that’s really the point: decide what kind of draw you like, and then load in any what that produces that draw.
Some rules really ought to be observed. One that comes to mind is the one that says you should not remove the stem from a warm pipe’s shank because the two pieces might not fit properly afterward. Heat makes materials expand, so caution here seems well-grounded. But the rule apparently does not apply to pipes with a military mount.
My only advice is to use your common sense. If a rule seems unnecessary, don’t feel bound by it. Ask questions of experienced smokers, and then do whatever produces a flavorful and satisfying smoke.
Enjoy — that’s my ultimate rule