Friday, January 1, 2010


This being this blog's first post on this first day of the first year of the second decade of the second millennium (so it's not a perfect analogy), I thought it fitting to discuss the very important step of buying a first pipe.
There are as many factors that go into selecting a first pipe as there are pipes, and there are as many correct responses as there are pipe smokers. And while all of those factors can come into play during the selection of a pipe, first or otherwise, there are a few generalities we can address that will apply to everyone.

The first consideration should always be appearance. If you do not like the way a pipe looks, you will not smoke it. As my father used to say, you can love a woman's personality, but you still have to be able to look at her over your newspaper every morning. As true for pipes as it is for relationships. Appearance is highly subjective, but while the person in the next seat at the tobacco shop may not like the way your pipe looks, he or she isn't the one smoking it. Experienced smokers will know if they prefer billiards or bulldogs or blowfish, apples or acorns or authors. Personally, I like a saddle bit, which has nothing to do with the shape of the bowl. The terminology will come if you continue down this path, but the important thing to do when choosing a pipe is to wait for one to shout, "Buy me!" Because, when done correctly, it is the pipe that chooses the smoker, not the smoker that chooses the pipe.

The second consideration is quality. If you see a pipe that is absolutely meant to be yours, you must then consider whether or not it meats your demands for quality. As a general rule, new smokers should stick with pipes made of briar. Pipes can successfully be made of many hard woods, including rosewood, olive, oak and others. Briar, however, is easier to break in and includes minimizes possible negative side effects, such as moisture accumulation and tongue bite. Briar pipes come in a variety of brands, or sometimes no brand at all. So-called basket pipes can frequently provide a quality smoke without the cost of a brand-name pipe, but they can be risky. I have frequently recommended that new smokers limit themselves to Savinelli, Stanwell or Peterson pipes, all of which provide a consistently good smoke, but I also have come to appreciate the value of the less expensive pipes from Kaywoodie and Dr. Grabow. Artisan pipe carvers can also provide quality in a more personalized pipe, but the associated costs are general greater than the factory pipes.

And that brings us to the third consideration, price. On eBay, estate pipes (used pipes) can be sometimes be found for less than a dollar and frequently for about $20. Some of these are also good smokers. New pipes, which I recommend for a first pipe simply to give the new smoker a fuller experience, can also be inexpensive. The pipe brands listed above can easily be bought for less than $100, with most Kaywoodies and Dr. Grabows coming in under $50. Pipes, both new and used, can also be found with much larger price tags. Many artisan pipes have larger price tags, ranging from the low hundreds into the thousands. Generally, the higher price gives you a better quality or more unique pipe, but it can also bring regret. Pipe smoking is a hobby designed to bring relaxation, encourage meditation and lead to satisfaction. If you are distracted, however, by the price you spent on a pipe, you will find it difficult to reach any of those transcendent states. There is a pipe in any price range, so a smaller budget is no excuse for spending more than you can afford. Find a pipe that looks good to you, make sure it's quality is sufficient for you, spend only what you can afford, and then sit back to enjoy your entry into pipe smoking.

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