Breaking In a New Pipe

This post written by Mr Brizzi.

A common complaint of new pipe smokers is the hot pipe, and tongue bite. Together, we will review a few points which hopefully, will result in easing that problem.

Years ago, it was unheard of, to simply purchase a pipe, fill the bowl and smoke ‘pall mall’, going for broke. That seemed to make the old-timers laugh when they would see that. It had been commonly known throughout the planet where tobacco pipes are encountered, that any, new pipe, or overly reamed pipe, would require it to be broken in. It was called: The Rule of Thirds.

Making sure the pipe is clean, run your finger under water and completely wet the inside of the bowl, without drowning it, of course. Place not more than, 1/3rd of the capacity of the bowl filled with pipe tobacco. Remember, in this case, less, is more. So go easy and pinch your bowl offerings in a way that would make Uncle Scrooge smile with admiration.

Bring your source of flame to where you like it, and get the pipe lit, not a raging forest fire, just lit. Slowly, and easily, gently draw the smoke. Use your hand to make a flue damper on your pipe bowl chimney. You can use a thumb, the first two fingers, or the palm, to regulate the air flow. This is helpful especially if you over pack the tobacco too tight. Breathe with your stomach muscles. Slowly and relaxed. Draw the smoke easy with long volume, and you are now doing a number of things. You are teaching yourself relaxed breathing which will effectively reduce stress, and breaking in your pipe. The carbon will immediately form, from the 1/3rd mark to the heel. By pre-wetting, you reduce the possibility of burnouts. Repeat this at a very minimum of three times, better at five, best at ten cycles. Your pipe must rest and cool between smokes, a minimum of a half hour or until dead-cold to your touch. You can hasten the cooling off process simply by placing your pipe into a glass ashtray. Glass is a heat sink. Crystal, being best. Cold absorbs heat, for all the science majors. Next, repeat the process filling to 2/3rds, multiple cycles, then eventually you will reach a point where you can top off the bowl. Bear in mind, you must, smoke whatever the loading cargo of pipe tobacco, to the very heel, each time.

Only in recent years has factory pre-lined bowls lessened the need to break a pipe in, but I don’t know. All these pre-lined carbon offerings have a raunchy taste. A pipe needs to be properly broken in, no matter what. A pipe that smokes lousy, can be corrected by thoroughly cleaning it, and mildly leeching with food grade alcohol [190-proof Everclear, is best. Invite me over if you buy too much! >HickUp<]. Then follow the process to break in the pipe, using the Rule of Thirds.

Gurgly, wet pipes are a nuisance, like a dog that keep doing their business inside the house. You may need to lay paper out and place tobacco on top to dry out overnight, or a few hours. You may need to age other tobaccos a few months. You may need to remove any filter element that is not immediately serviceable. You may need to sand the bowl with 320-grit paper and remove the heavy and often shiny, finish. Your pipe should gently sweat, and breathe. If you must use varnish, the best one I like is Min-Wax Wipe On Polyurethane. Wipe it on, wait half a minute,then wipe it off. Allow the pipe to dry eight hours between applications. You may want to apply carnuba after te final coat has dried eight hours. I like Min-Wax Paste Furniture Wax. Rub the pad of your finger onto the wax and gently massage the wax onto the briar. A few coats will be needed. Buff, buff, buff. It cannot be overstated.

Remember: Anything that you do to your pipe will result in changing the way it will taste and smoke. You may shift where the flavor tones rest. From the top of your tongue, to the back of your mouth, or to the roof of your mouth. In fact, what you light your pipe with, also accounts for taste. I cannot use butane. I simply can’t stand the taste of butane, so I use a fuel Zippo. Scorches the rim of the bowl, but I am a longtime and serious pipe smoker, so it doesn’t bother me. On many of my previous pipes, I colored the rims, black.

With this information, many of the newer and perhaps a few older pipe smokers, may want to purchase other type of pipes. Rosewood, Pearwood, Cherrywood, Maplewood, Lemonwood, Etc. All very nice pipes.

Now you know how to properly break a pipe in. Now you know how to correct a pipe that does not smoke well. Now you know how to correct a pipe that does not taste too good. It’s worth the effort. A pipe that smokes beautifully, is priceless to its owner.

Mr Brizzi’s Bio: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy [BBC television series: Smiley]; I have done all sorts of work to keep a roof over my family’s head, food on the table, a log on the fire… What can be said of a man who is a direct descendant of the Roman General, Brittius? I try to live my life with a measure of modesty, and walk quietly before others, humbly. Leadership by example [“Follow Me”]. I look like Brittius, resembling George C. Scott’s, Patton, and have the quiet demeanor of the late actor, Henry Fonda. I am not a complainer, nor busybody, nor gossip, nor rumor monger. I have earned my place in this world the hard way, and am most honored to bear the exalted title of, Grandpa.

The Rest of the Pipe Smoking Guide

14 thoughts on “Breaking In a New Pipe”

  1. You are putting in technical terms which make no sense to beginners. I’ve gotten half way through your text and have no idea what pipe bowl chimney, 1/3rd mark to the heel or burnouts are.
    Keep it simple man.

    • Stu, sorry you found the article a bit to advanced for your liking. Simple post your questions here and we’ll get them answered. Trust me, if you’re asking so are other readers.

      The chimney is the ‘chamber’ as referenced on the Anatomy section of the guide.

      The 1/3 mark is simply just 1/3 of the chamber, meaning you only want to fill the bowl 1/3 of the way instead of all the way to the top.

      Burnouts are what happens when the pipe gets too hot and burns through the wall of the pipe.

      Hope this helps and please feel free to ask additional questions in the comments sections.

  2. hi i am from Malaysia. This is a very good article. Stoped ciggies and been smoking cigars for years now. wanting to start pipe smoking…is it too early for a 34 year old man??

    btw how to make a flue damper on your pipe bowl chimney using hand?

  3. Hi,

    Thank you for a very informative article! My question to you is, how long should a corn cob pipe last?

    My wife lovingly purchased a cob pipe for my christmas gift, and before smoking i read your article, a few issues keep popping up however.
    1) when I am finished smoking I tap lightly to get the ash out and my screen falls out with it.
    2)the chamber of my pipe was round when i started and now it appears that it is burning away…slowly but it is elongating.

    your help is much appriecated.

    • To answer your question simply, every corncob has a different lifespan. It all depends on the tobacco(s) you use, how you smoke, when you smoke, where you smoke, etc. Even a light breeze (from, say smoking outside) will increase the burning temp of your tobacco, giving you a greater chance of burning through your bowl.

      1) You use a screen in your cobs? I personally have never used a screen in my tobacco pipes, with the cob, I find that by the fourth smoke, the hardwood shank has burned down to a point where it’s not noticeable, although some people I know do actually go so far as to remove it.
      If you are insistant on a screen, perhaps using the scoop on a pipe tool will help keep it in place.

      2) It sounds like you may be smoking a little hot; one can find unsealed estate cobs with a decade plus of smoking use. The key to remember is that when the tobacco is just on the verge of going out, you’ve got the perfect cherry.
      Also, how long do you allow your cob to rest? I am a heavy smoker, but have one cob designated for each smoke of the day, to get at least 24 hours drying between em. I know that people say you can repack a cob as soon as its cooled, but I’ve found in practice this is just a good way to sour pipes fast.

  4. Hi

    Been smoking pipes for a couple of years now, and can say I am very happy and have never had ant problems or queries, until now that is. I recently purchased a Stanwell Featherweight 199, It’s a beautiful pipe and I am well pleased, but breaking it in has been a bit of a unpleasant mission. Never before have a encountered such a “pulling heat” and “steamy tongue bite” from a pipe before, is this a part of the breaking in process? Will it disappear after a while? I can’t help but wonder that this “heat” is due to the fact that there is no filter in this pipe, the website says that it doesn’t need one, but I have never had this unpleasant experience whilst breaking in other pipes. Please advise, much appreciated.

    • I surprised nobody fielded this question before now. Ryan, I stop by this site every now and then so I apologize. The Stanwell is bored at 5/32″ draft hole through the shank. The best advise This old timer could give is that I believe you have more than one thing going on at the same time. The tobacco should be leaning towards the dry side and not wet. In fact, I enjoy completely dry tobaccos, must have thrown out a full dump truck full when I was younger because I though fresh meant wet. The next thing is the packing of the tobacco should be not too loose. When you pull heat, s-l-o-w it down. Do not “puff”, instead “sip”, very gently. Also pulling heat can also mean that you lit the pipe too much. That is a big “no-no”. As soon as the pipe gives the least amount of smoke, go “flame off”. When relighting, wait a moment or two. When breaking a pipe in, I will at times even wait for the bowl to cool down just a bit, so the inside of the bowl does not develop any burn spots, which can be corrected if not too bad, by simply smoking and when the carbon lines the bowl, a sculpting of the inside of the bowl with either a reaming tool or, a fairly dull knife. When pipes pull heat, it is important to run a pipe cleaner through the stem and the shank, because the particles of combustion will more that likely get into the works, especially that your Stanwell has no element or filter, and those combustion particles then get onto your tongue. The key here, is relaxation and not to smoke like your trying to cover the place in a smoke screen. Sip, relax, light gently. You will notice that many pipe manufacturers under bore the draft holes so the smoker will not burn out the bowl, and once broken in, the draft holes are bored up, to what my preference is, at 5/32″. Keep the pipe as clean as possible by using pipe cleaners and the pipe smokes better. If you need to remove a flavor or simply give a good cleaning, I use a Dixie cup or cap of a booze bottle and only a drop of Everclear 190 proof. Dip about 1/4″ of the pipe cleaner tip in the booze and slowly clean. You will notice the muck melting. Then follow with a dry pipe cleaner. I also use dark rum and that will impart an ever slight flavor to the pipe when smoked, just be certain the pipe is absolutely dry before smoking or the alcohol vapors will burn your tongue real good. Hope it answers your questions, again, I drop by here every now and then, and I apologize for the major delay. Being that nobody answered until now indicates that there are many new pipe smokers and I try to help out when and if, I can. I do not have any “secrets”, only what was once common knowledge. Today.., I’m the Old Timer. Go figure. I never would have ever guessed that. The time flew by. Best of Luck with the pipe. R-E-L-A-X. Teach yourself to be patient, the rewards are pleasurable pipe smoking throughout the years to come. I started smoking a pipe in 1965, and have no regrets. Moderation.

      • 5/16″ my error. Too many things going on. 5/16″ is my favorite and what that bore in the 199 is.
        I think that I reached an age where I start forgetting things at times. {5/16″}

  5. I turned 18 a few days ago and I decided to give pipe smoking a go. Well Ifound a fairly decent corncob and some god awful tobacco… But then I found this guide and I must say that its been quite helpful I thank you sir and I hope that happiness finds its way to you regardless of were you should happen be. Happy smoking sincerely yours “Bagels”

  6. No idea if this site’s still active but it was a helpful read, 21 and I’ve just committed myself to pipe smoking, (purchased a Peterson today for £44.95). My question is.. when breaking in a pipe will the air intake be obstructed by a 1mm cake (as people say this size is ideal)??


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