Our discussion at Thursday's meeting of The Ozark Pipe Smokers (after all the talk of fly fishing) revolved around the packing of pipes with tobacco. There was a wealth of information shared, and everyone marveled at the amount of research I had done. Of course I stole all the information from one well-outlined source.
A hearty thank you to Pipes Magazine for (unknowingly) supplying all the materials for our discussion. In Pipes Magazine, Bob Tate outlines six packing methods for filling a pipe. While I see no problems with his logic or his techniques, I only see four methods, along with a number of hybrids and variations that I don't count.
My first is the Three Step Method. This has been described in many ways, most often with the use of allegorical hands. In this method, you fill a third of the bowl and press down on it lightly or not at all, then fill the second third of the bowl and apply a little pressure, and then fill the final third of the bowl and squeeze it down a decent bit, although not hard enough to hamper the draw on the pipe. This is an easy, ritualistic method that is fantastic to teach to new smokers that will help them get the cadence of their new hobby. Variations of this technique have the smoker filling the bowl in only one or two steps with the same results.
Next is the Gravity Fill Method. This is by far the easiest of all packing techniques. As the name implies, you let gravity fill the bowl. Generally, however, this is only appropriate with cube-cut tobaccos or cuts that similarly fall into place and leave little space between the pieces.
The packing now gets a little harder, as next comes the Air Pocket Method. This technique is named for the space left between the bottom of the tobacco and the bottom of the bowl. I admit that, when I first learned of this one, I thought it a prank or an April Fools joke. This method works best with folded flakes, I find, but others use it with any tobacco. What you want is a "wad" of tobacco that is larger than the bowl. Squeeze it a little ways into the bowl and then continue pushing the tobacco into the bowl while twisting it. After it gets a good way into the bowl, you can twist off the excess still sticking out above the rim. You'll be surprised to find you still have a good draw, despite cramming all that tobacco into the bowl. The real benefit, though, is that when you put a pipe cleaner into the bowl, you can absorb all the moisture without any tobacco getting in the way. And then, as you smoke your way through the bowl, the tobacco will break free from the wad and fall into the bottom of the bowl.
Last up is the so-called Frank Method, although I'll admit there have been some disputes about who actually first discovered the technique. So, for our purposes, we'll call this the German Packing Method. And I'll also admit that I have yet to try this one, but there is a decent video series in three parts: I, II, and III. I'll echo Tate's feelings in recommending smokers do not use the torch lighter shown in this video. Torch lighters can damage your pipe, even if used correctly.
These packing methods are certainly not the only methods, but they form a good base to begin finding your way around the pipe. But nothing in pipe smoking is set in stone. I encourage experimentation in packing your pipe. Try plenty of methods. Alter them to your liking. Mix and match. Just two pieces of advice I'd like to pass on: Pack lighter than you think you should until you get the hang of it and take a draw through your pipe before lighting it to make it easier if you need to repack.
This month, there will be another pipe club meeting this month on the fifth Thursday, April 29. We didn't choose a topic for discussion, but I do have an idea I think will be enjoyable. I'm just going to keep it to myself until then.