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, cont’d.

HIS Mini Curch
H.I.S. Mini Churchwarden

To further illustrate the benefits of smaller bowl pipes, I want to describe my affair with the pipe pictured above, an H.I.S. (Hugo International Series) mini churchwarden, which comes from the Italian pipe maker Gardesana. I bought this pipe in December from Penn Valley Pipes, or Pipeshoppe.com. The site displayed a picture of the pipe and listed its dimensions:

Overall length = 7 inches / 177.8mm | Bowl size = Small | Bowl depth = 1.125 inches / 28.575 mm | Bowl outside diameter = .875 in /22.225 mm | Bowl inside diameter = .625 in / 15.875 mm

So I bought it with eyes wide open. Nevertheless, when the pipe arrived, I was almost shocked by how small it was in my hand, especially the bowl. (That’s a quarter in the picture.) I could not get much of my index finger into the bowl, and my little finger went in only to just past the first knuckle. Since I was suffering a bad cold at the time, I wasn’t able to smoke it for a few days, during which time I became more concerned about its size. I even contemplated returning it.

I’m sure glad I didn’t.

As soon as I started breaking it in, I began to really appreciate the pipe. First, the profile is wonderful. It simply looks great with that gracefully curved stem. It is also super-light, making clenching it easy. It looks fantastic when I catch a glimpse of my profile shadow with it in my teeth.

Second, when I sip-puff, as I do with all blends, the smoke always lasts longer than I expect.

Third, I have come to love this pipe most especially with stout, higher nicotine blends that would be too much for me in a larger bowl. For example, Cornell & Diehl’s powerful burley blends — Haunted Bookshop, Pegasus, and Morley’s Best — are much more enjoyable in my mini-church than in larger pipes. (I suspect this will be true of Big ‘N’ Burley.)

I now like this pipe so much that I ordered another one from the line, a rusticated, less-bent pipe. I can’t wait to get it. Did I mention they are only about 30 bucks?

To repeat what I said before, don’t pass up small-bowl pipes by. They are light, easy to carry, and perfect for stronger tobaccos.

Small Bowls

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.