Buying your first pipe is probably going to be the easiest thing you do while learning this great hobby. The reason it’s going to be so easy is because I’m recommending you purchase a corn cob pipe for your first smoke. There are only a couple of different styles to choose from, based solely on your preference, not to mention they are the cheapest pipes out there. You can expect to spend $5 – $10 on a corn cob pipe depending on the style. Corn Cob pipes are great because they require no break-in and therefore will provide a great smoke with little to no experience.
Estate Pipes vs. New Pipes
If, however, you so choose to go straight to a briar or meerschaum your choice will be a little more difficult. Now you have to decide between a brand new pipe or an Estate Pipe. An estate pipe is a great choice for a beginner. These are pipes that are pre-owned and have probably been broken in. Most tobacco shops will take estate pipes as trade-ins then clean them up and sell them for a small profit. If you can’t find an estate pipe that you like the next obvious choice is a new pipe. Either way (new or estate) you should expect to pay between $20 – $75. You’ll want to heavily consider some of the higher quality pipes made by Bari, Peterson, Nording, GBD or Stanwell. They all make quality tobacco pipes.
Whether you chose to go with a new or estate pipe there are three things you’ll need to consider before purchasing: aesthetics, pipe quality, and price. There is a good chance if you stick with pipe smoking as a hobby that you’ll have your first pipe for the rest of your life. You may even pass it down as a family heirloom. That’s why you want to make sure it aesthetically pleasing, in good working shape. Let’s discuss each of these aspects in a little more detail.
If you gave your wife $1000 to go out and buy the best pipe in town and she came back with a pipe you didn’t like, chances are you’re not going to smoke it. You’ll come to find out that a pipe is a very personal thing. The biggest factor in purchasing a pipe is that you like it and maybe even love it. Be one with your pipe.
So that’s pretty easy huh? Just find something you really, really like. Well, naturally your next question is how do I know what I like? Well, your first impression when seeing a pipe for the first time will tell you a lot. If you see it and you like it, pick it up and try it on. Yes that right, strike a pose in front of a mirror and see how it looks. Does it still appeal to you? It’s almost like buying a pair of sunglasses. Looks cool on the rack but not on your mug.
Remember when I recommended you purchase a corn cob pipe as your first? If you spend an extra $10 you can buy 2 or 3 different styles of corn cob pipes to get a feel for what you like. They are all going to smoke a little bit differently. Now when you go to buy your briar you’ll know exactly what you prefer.
One last thing to keep in mind. Think Sherlock Holmes or Mark Twain. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, he sports a pipe that is way over-the-top whereas Mark Twain selected a pipe in keeping with his particular character. Since pipe smoking is more a weekend hobby for me I tend to go with pipes that are over-the-top.
Once you’ve found a pipe that you really like, you’ve got to make sure that it’s in good shape. Pipes actually have to be constructed in a manner that makes them a pleasure to smoke. Knowing what to look for is only half the battle though. Once you know what to look for, it’s remembering to actually look for it! Here’s a list of things to check when inspecting a pipe that you would really like to take home.
- Part Alignment - A quality pipe will have a precision airway from the stem to the draft hole which is located in the bowl. Any disruption in the airway will cause turbulence in the smoke stream and will cause the pipe to smoke wet and probably loudly. Occasionally pipes are designed with a moisture trap that does work very well. It really is a matter of preference but is not recommended for the beginner.
- Fills - When a crack, large hole, or pit is found by the pipe maker it is filled in with putty. These don’t necessarily interfere with the quality of smoke, but rather effect the pipe aesthetically. The putty will note age as gracefully as the rest of the briar and could cause a mottled appearance of the pipe. One last thing to note is that you might not be able to tell just how deep a fill actually is.
- Filters - A metal insert in the stem of the pipe can can cause condensation which will again result in a noisy, wet smoke.
- Finishes - Try to avoid varnished or sealed finishes. These finishes can crack or bubble over time, so it’s best to steer clear.
- Grain - High quality pipes will have a uniform tight grain however this will have no impact on smoking quality.
- Weight - Try to find a pipe that appears lighter than it should. It really comes down to how comfortable the pipe is to smoke.
- Draft Hole - Ideally the draft hole should terminate in the center of the bowl. Steer clear from a pipe where the draft hole is halfway up the bowl.
Pipes are neither expensive or cheap – they’re either good smokes or bad smokes. Find something within your budget that you like and that doesn’t have any major mechanical flaws. Once you get these new pipes broken in you’ll be the happiest pipe smoker in town.