Pipe Bowl Sizes and Their Effects on Tobacco

Millicent Fenwick, former U.S. rep.

UPDATED April 2, 2018

On the Dec. 19  edition of The Pipes Magazine Radio Show, host Brian Levine and guest co-host Shane Ireland of Smokingpipes.com agreed that wide-bowl pipes, such as pots, mellow out a tobacco blend. Their advice, then, was to use such pipes for stout blends and use narrower pipes for milder blends. The logic is that if you smoke a mild blend in a wide pipe, you may find it too mild, and if you smoke a stout blend in a narrow pipe, it might knock your socks off.

That made sense. I had not paid much attention to the effect of pipe diameter on the smoke. So I tried an experiment. I smoked Haunted Bookshop, which I find stout and nicotine-heavy, in a pot (an old Kaywoodie). I’ve been smoking HB in small bowls and have had some success in taming it, enjoying the richness while minimizing the nic kick. I hoped that smoking it in a pot would mellow it still more.

Boy, I was wrong! I enjoyed the rich flavor, but I got kicked in the you-know-what by the nicotine. Luckily, it was the last smoke of the night and I was ready for bed.

I plan to keep experimenting, but I’d like to hear other smokers’ experiences. Leave comments below.

UPDATE 1: Brian wrote me privately to suggest that with a high-nic blend, I should fill the pot to only about the two-thirds mark. The idea here is to get the smoother smoke from the larger surface but without so much nicotine. I tried this with Pegasus, a pretty stout and nic-heavy (for me) C&D burley blend. The results were good. Next, I’ll try Haunted Bookshop that way. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE 2: Things are looking good. I smoked Haunted Bookshop, two-thirds of a bowl, in my father’s old GBD Granitan 9442 pot — a particularly squat form of the shape — with undiminished pleasure. I had no nic-hit from HB. This is great news indeed!

UPDATE 3: Things are not entirely smooth. I’m still getting nic-hits from the stout burley blends and even some vapers (Dunhill Navy Rolls, for instance). Brian suggested drinking lots of water during the smoke, which has definitely helped with Haunted Bookshop and Pegasus. Stay tuned.

Small Bowls

Einstein
Albert Einstein

I may be generalizing unjustifiably from my own experience, but I have a sense that newer pipe smokers lean toward medium and large bowls in their choice of pipes. If I’m right, I want to say a good word for small bowls.

Smaller pipes have the virtue of allowing you to avoid palate fatigue or simply monotony. Short-and-sweet has its payoffs. Often, less is more. As they say in show biz: always leave them wanting more.

So don’t pass up small pipes merely because of their size. You can always reload if you find yourself unsatiated, or you can switch tobaccos for variety.

Pack Loose, Tamp Gently

The longer I smoke the more I appreciate the need to pack loose and tamp gently. I find that these are two keys to a pleasant experience. Newer pipe smokers seem to pack too tight and to maintain the tight pack by tamping with too much force. I think that’s why so many beginners give up before giving the hobby a chance.

Smokers use several packing methods. You can find many tips by Googling or by watching YouTube videos. I’ll discuss some methods eventually, but for now I simply want to emphasize the importance of packing loose. I’ve gotten to the point where I want no resistance in the draw. Some smokers say the resistance should be like drawing soda through a straw — they all say avoid anything like the resistance you get from a milkshake. But I find even soda resistance too much. I basically want none at all.

If I pack too tight I will find myself puffing with too much effort. This is no fun because pipe smoking is about relaxing. I will also have trouble keeping the pipe lit — also no fun.

It follows from this that I don’t tamp too much or too hard. All I want to do by tamping is to lower the ash back in touch with the unburnt tobacco after it has risen. I try not to use any more force than what gravity provides. Let nature do the work. I also let gravity do most of the work when I pack.

Remember, you can always tamp, but it’s hard to untamp. Err on the gentle side.

Give this a try — you’ll know if you’ve packed too loose — and see what you think.