[This entry is going to be a bit more unusual from my regular posts. Normally, I write for those that are already pipe smokers and talk a bit about the hobby. Instead, this entry is for those that are curious, who wish to know more about pipe smoking, but haven’t taken the plunge. So for my regular readers, none of this should be new, but feel free to read along and add your thoughts as well in the comments section.]
Welcome traveller, pull up a chair, grab a drink, and get yourself comfortable. I see you’re new here, and by the look in your eyes, I can tell you have questions. You wouldn’t have come to this blog if you didn’t. Perhaps you’ve wondered about it for years, or maybe this is just an impulsive read. Either way, you want to know more about pipe smoking, and I’m here to help.
I was like you once, as were all fellow pipe smokers at one point before the got into the hobby. Perhaps you have a relative or acquaintance that smoked a pipe, and you have fond memories of them puffing contently at a family gathering. Maybe you remember seeing a pipe smoker walk past you out in public, and the aroma of their pipe stuck with you all these years. You might have a favorite author or someone you admire that smoked a pipe, and the pictures of them with their briar piqued an interest. Maybe you already use tobacco in some sort, and wish to switch to a pipe as a way for you to enjoy the sacred leaf in a more pleasing method. Or there’s a chance you love history and old things, and a pipe appeals to the side of yourself that wants to escape to yesteryear.
We all have our reasons, and every pipe smoker worth their salt has a yarn to spin about their journey. I’ve talked about my journey elsewhere, but I can give you the cliff notes. I didn’t have anyone in my life that smoked a pipe, and yet I felt a call to it. See, I’ve always been a lover of history and stories, and both are intrinsically intertwined with pipes. I would read my history books on the Civil War and see soldiers with pipes hanging from their jaws. I spent evenings reading fantasy books, following the exploits of heroes that smoked pipes. More often than not, these authors would have their pictures taken with a pipe in hand or clenched in their teeth. I admired these men, and wanted to be like them, and that included their pipe smoking.
There was something about a pipe that made people more interesting. The pipe was an extension of the person, as much as their hair style or the clothes they wore. Watch a pipe smoker in an old movie, and see how they act as they smoke their pipe. The pipe becomes more than just a prop, but a part of their character and personality. The character might be an eccentric inventor, a simple villager, a weary soldier, a storm battered sailor, a wise pontificating father, or a stuffy braggart, but regardless of their personality, their pipe accentuates who they are. When they come back to your memory, often it’s with their pipe in tow.
When I saw pipe smokers, either on screen, in photos, or on the street, I studied the different kinds of shapes and styles, each one unique and interesting to my untrained eye. A basic billiard pipe seemed just as cool to my wide eyes as a monstrous calabash. Long or short, bent or straight, it didn’t matter to me, they all had their appeal to me. I remember daydreaming about making my own pipe, long before I ever tried the hobby for myself.
Funnily enough, tobacco started off far down my list of reasons of why I wanted to try pipe smoking. I never enjoyed the smell of cigarettes or cigars, but due to the lack of pipe smokers in the wild, it took years before I smelled the aroma of a pipe. Yet when I finally did, it caught me totally by surprise. Instead of pushing me away with the rank stink of cigarettes or the powerful force of a cigar, smelling a pipe drew me in and made me want to hang around it. I didn’t know how to describe it at the time, but the smoke had a pleasant yet deep quality to it.
What appealed to me the most of all about a pipe was the sheer contentment it brought to the smoker. The pipe brought joy to the smoker engaging in conversation, peace to the man relaxing in his study with a book, and solace to the troubled soul. As someone that struggles with depression and anxiety, I wanted to experience that kind of peace and joy a pipe could bring.
Even before I took up pipe smoking, I remember sitting with a group of friends at a holiday party, minding my own business. Apparently, I looked quite at ease, as a friend of mine commented that all I needed was a pipe at that moment, and I’d be complete. I chuckled at the remark, as the person had no idea that if I could’ve had one right then and there, I would have. Others, oblivious to my hobby, have made the same comment, and it always cheers me up. Some people are meant to be pipe men, and I suppose I have that aura.
Now then, now that my history is out of the way, I’ll return to the original question—why smoke a pipe? After all, we live in a world now that demonizes all forms of tobacco usage, and by taking up a pipe, you will no doubt face the scorn of some members of our society. So why take up a hobby that a number of well-meaning people frown upon?
Admittedly, I struggled with this very question when I started. I believed I’d disappoint my parents and loved ones if they knew about my pipe smoking. What I realized is that I’m my own man, and I can make my own decisions. If others don’t like my hobby, then that’s fine, but it won’t keep me from enjoying a bowl of good tobacco. When I eventually told both of my parents, they ended up being fine with my choice, as did my relatives. While not everyone will have the same experience, but I’ve found more often than not that others find it interesting that I smoke a pipe, rather than treat me like a pariah.
What will help you in your favor is that pipe smoking is seen as unusual and a tradition from an older time. Flip through a history book with old photos from decades long ago, and chances are you’ll see a pipe smoker or two walking around. Pipes were commonplace, and they certainly aren’t nowadays. When pipe smokers enjoy their pipe out in public, more often than not they’ll be told how they remind a person of a grandfather or uncle. Others might tease you and call you an old man or gramps, but I find it’s rarely out of malice. They’ll never admit it, but they’re probably glad to see you out with a pipe.
In a world dominated by smart phones, social media, and distractions, a pipe forces a man to slow down, put everything else aside, and focus on his pipe. One does not simply desire a pipe and instantly start smoking. No, instead the pipe smoker selects a pipe, the tobacco desired for smoking, and takes care in packing and lighting the pipe properly. While for some this is a speedy process, for many especially starting out, they will need to focus on what they’re doing, putting aside all current worries and cares, and mentally engage in getting their pipe ready. This creates anticipation for the smoke to come, which adds to the experience. The pipe eschews the instant gratification of a cigarette or a cigar, forcing the pipe smoker to be an active participant, rather than a simple passive recipient of tobacco. For some, I’m sure this act doesn’t seem appealing, but I can assure you that there’s something relaxing, almost Zen-like, about selecting and filling a pipe for the evening.
Likewise, a pipe requires constant attention while smoking. One doesn’t simply light a pipe and huff and puff their briar until the tobacco in the bowl has turned to ash. Instead, the pipe smoker constantly tends to their pipe once it’s lit, taking purposeful puffs as they tamp the ash down. The pipe takes work, but after some time, effort, and practice, the actions in maintaining a lit pipe become second nature.
Due to the work involved, pipe smoking isn’t for everyone. Well, let me rephrase that—anyone can smoke a pipe, but not everyone that does becomes a pipe smoker. I don’t say that with any sort of elitism, even though pipe smoking can be seen as a pretentious prop. Smoking a pipe is not something one picks up as a lark. Those that pick it up half-heartedly most likely will toss the pipe in their junk drawer, never to be seen again. No, a pipe is pursued and sought after, practiced and honed by the smoker. If you’re not willing to keep at it, then its most likely not for you. But if you’re willing to endure missteps and keep at it, then a marvelous world awaits you.
The world of pipe smoking is vast and deep, filled with little intricacies and nuances that will keep your attention for decades. Likewise, the hobby is flexible enough for any sort of style of pipe smoker. For some, they’re content with sticking to the shallow end, smoking cheap pipes and grocery store tobacco blends. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, as that’s been the most common type of pipe smoker in the past. But if you’re an adventurous type, willing to dive deep into the depths of the briar, then pipe smoking will hold your interest for the rest of your life. From artisan pipe carvers, to obscure overseas pipe tobacco blends, there’s a wealth of adventures awaiting the willing pipe-smoking explorer. Your friends and loved ones will chuckle or roll their eyes as you open up the package containing your latest pipe and ask, “Do you really need another one? Don’t you have enough already?” You will turn to them with a twinkle in your eye and reply, “Just one more.”
While the people around you might not understand your new obsession, you won’t be alone in your passion. While there might not be as many of us walking around the neighborhood, you’ll find that the pipe community is not only alive online, but thriving. Take a gander on Youtube, and you’ll find a plethora of pipe smoking channels (such as the Syndicated Pipe Club) and personalities to guide you into the hobby. Are you more of a podcast listener? Then you have plenty of podcasts to listen to, from the ever-entertaining Country Squire Radio, to the informative Pipes Magazine Podcast, The Syndicated Pipe Club, Pipe and Tamper, and others. Each podcast or channel has their preferred topics for discussion, from tobacco reviews to shows on famous pipe smokers. There’s years of content to watch and listen to, so there’s never a dull moment in the community.
The conversation doesn’t end with videos and podcasts, as you will find plenty of pipe smokers to chat with on forums and on social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are full of fellow pipe smokers, discussing their latest tobacco find or favorite pipes. They’re easy to find, too, if you use the right hashtags and search terms. And if forums or message boards are more your style, then don’t fret, as there are many active communities to join and post to your hearts content. Each forum has their own unique style and atmosphere, so if one doesn’t work out, you’re bound to find another one that fits you.
If you’re still unsure about trying a pipe, let me assure you on one additional matter. The way smoking is portrayed in media is completely different to reality in terms of pipe smoking. Unlike some other forms, pipe smoking is not addictive to the average person. Now, this might be different if you suffer from an addictive personality, but in general pipe smokers are not slaves to tobacco addiction. This was a concern of mine (and my wife) when I first took an interest in becoming a pipe man. I’ve been smoking a pipe for eight years, and I’ve never once felt like I couldn’t go a day without my pipe. When I go on vacation, I make it a point to leave my pipes at home to show that I can go for a period of time without pipe smoking. Do I miss it? Certainly, and you can bet that on the first night home I’m out with my pipes, but I’m not bouncing off the walls or chewing my nails without my pipe tobacco. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of pipe smokers that used the hobby to kick their cigarette habit.
Instead, pipe smoking for me is a form of relaxation, something that brings me peace after a long day. No matter my mood, I know I can escape out to my garage, light up my briar and baccy, and clear my head as the smoke wafts up to the rafters. When I’m alone in my garage, pipe in hand, I understand why pipe smoking has endured all these centuries. Should you decide to take up a pipe for yourself, I hope from the bottom of my heart that you too will find this tranquility.
Until then I’ll be here, ready to help answer any question you might have. See you further down the path, friends.