Pipe Smoking—The Pipe Parts and Stuff

“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis

In our previous post, we talked about the different shapes of a smoking pipe. So today we’re going to talk about the different parts of a pipe and some of the tools you’ll need for smoking your pipe.

Now that you have your first pipe (congratulations, by the way!), let’s talk about the different parts of your pipe.


As you can see in the above image, a pipe has two basic sections, the stummel and the stem. The stummel is the wood part and the stem is the mouthpiece.

The stummel can be made of different material but is generally briar wood. Briar (Fr. bruyère) comes from a flowering, evergreen shrub (erica arborea) in the heather family that grows in the Mediterranean Basin. After the shrub has reached maturity (30-60 years), it’s harvested, boiled for several hours, and dried for several months. The part used for pipes is found between the base of the shrub and the root ball.

The stummel is made up of inside and outside components. On the outside, there’s the shank and the bowl (basically). On the inside there’s the chamber, draught hole (where the airway meets the heel of the chamber), and the mortise (where the stem connects to the stummel).

Like the stummel, the stem can be made of various things but is generally made from acrylic or vulcanite. As we know, acrylic is a hard synthetic resin made from polymers of acrylic acid or acrylates. In other words, it’s a hard plastic like substance. Some people like acrylic stems because they’re easier to care for.

Vulcanite (also known as ebonite) is vulcanized rubber, meaning it’s rubber that’s been hardened by treating it with sulfur at very high temperatures. Some people prefer vulcanite stems because they’re softer. But that softness means it can show teeth marks more readily and can oxidize more rapidly than acrylic stems.

The stem is also made up of inside and outside components. The inside is (basically) just the airway (some stems have a place for a filter in the tenon). The outside consists of the tenon (the part that connects to the stummel), the bit (the part that goes into the mouth), and the button.

That’s the overall structure of a smoking pipe. But there are slight variations. For example, as I’ve noted before, a Peterson System Pipe will have an extra reservoir in the shank, below the mortise, to collect moisture that collects when smoking a pipe. The stem, too, is different in that the hole for the airway doesn’t come straight out of the stem but is directed to the top of the bit. Also, the button is modified to accommodate the change of the opening.

What do you need to smoke your pipe?

There are some basic tools you’ll need to smoke your pipe:

Czech Pipe Tool
Tamper: This is a device that allows you to lightly push down the tobacco as you smoke it. Some tampers are quite exotic and others are quite plain. One of the most popular tampers around is the “Czech” tool, so called because it’s made in the Czech Republic. This pipe tool comes with a tamper, a pick (to loosen the tobacco if you pack it too tightly), and a little scoop (to remove ash and dottle).

Kiribi Kabuto
Mizo Silver
Flame: Obviously, if you’re going to smoke a pipe you’re going to need something to light your tobacco! There are several ways to do this—hemp wick, lighter, and the tried and true, matches. Like all other aspects of smoking a pipe, what you use to light your pipe is a personal thing and entirely up to you. Personally, I prefer a pipe lighter. Like the name suggests, this is a lighter specifically designed for a smoking pipe. These, too, range from the exotic to the plain. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the ol’ standby, a BIC lighter. On the other hand, I would be very cautious about using torch lighters (in fact, I wouldn’t recommend that at all). Torch lighters are blue flame lighters that burn extremely hot. Sometimes you can’t see the “end” of the flame and actually burn your briar.

Pipe cleaners: I know. Some people don’t think this is essential to a good smoking experience but I disagree. When you’re smoking your pipe you might hear some gurgling sounds coming from your pipe. This is moister that’s trapped at the heel of the bowl and can cause an acrid taste while you’re smoking. The fix is quite easy, though. Just run a pipe cleaner through to the bowl! The cotton fibers will collect the moisture and return you to a pleasant smoke.

So, those are the essentials. But what about extra accessories?

Well, I’m glad you asked!

One thing you might consider procuring is a pipe bag or pouch (some people would say it’s an essential). A pipe bag is just a bag to carry your pipe and all of your accessories. You can even get bags that carry more than one pipe.

Another item you might consider purchasing is a pipe stand. This is a place to rest your pipes when you’re not smoking them.

Another couple of items I use almost daily are a pipe rest and a wind cap. A pipe rest is a compact little stand that allows you to rest your pipe instead of just laying it on a table or counter. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

The wind cap is a temporary cap you can place over the bowl. This item is a necessity where I live as the winds can really begin to howl, especially during the Spring. What the wind cap does is restricts the air flowing into your pipe. This is important because, if you’re not careful, the air flowing through your pipe can cause it to burn extremely hot and will eventually damage your pipe. You can get a heavy duty wind cap here.

Well, that’s it for this installment. Next time we’ll talk about tobaccos.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


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