Pipe Smoking—The Pipe

“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 this series, I’ve been going through the whimsical world of pipe smoking. In this post, I want to get down to the auspicious task of buying a pipe. Before we do that, we need to talk about terms and definitions. I think we’ll see this come up again and again during this series.


First is the pipe itself. I recently purchased a couple of pipes and showed my office mates my shopping cart. One of my colleagues asked, “Why did you pick those pipes?” My response was in three parts. The first part is the aesthetic of the pipe.1


Pipe smoking is as individual as one’s finger print. While some people my like straight pipes, others may like bent pipes. And some of the people who like bent pipes might like really long bent pipes, e.g., churchwardens (we’ll talk about shapes in more detail shortly). So, it all depends on what you like. I remember stopping by Kramer’s Pipe & Tobacco in California when I was visiting my daughter. I was looking at the various pipes because I wanted to purchase one from the shop (I wrote about my visit to Kramer’s here). At one point my daughter picked up a pipe and commented, “Ooo…I really like this one, dad.”


“Nope,” I replied as I placed a Fe.Ro pipe on the counter.


“That looks just like other pipes you have,” she said.


“I know,” I smiled a broad smile. “That’s why I’m buying it.”


And that’s the whole point. Don’t buy a pipe based on someone else’s preference— “Your first pipe should be a straight billiard,” “It should be a System pipe,” “It should be a corn cob,” etc. Base your decision on what you like, what appeals to you. I suggest going to a local tobacconist and actually holding several pipes (Some places even have little plastic sleeves that go over the mouthpiece so you can feel the weight of the pipe in your mouth). Go and touch stuff. Pick it up. Let the proprietor know that this is your first pipe and you’re not really sure what you want yet. You’ll be attracted to different shapes and finishes. Take note of the brands and the shapes you like and write them down. Unfortunately, if you live in certain parts of the country, buying pipes and tobacco from a local merchant costs a whole lot more than purchasing the same thing online at places like Smokingpipes.com, pipesandcigars.com, or CupOJoes.com. So figure out what you want to buy and compare the prices. Who knows, maybe your local shop will have the best deal!


So, what are the different shapes of pipes?



Well, that’s a very long and drawn out conversation. I’ll just mention a few here and link the rest.


Billiard: This is the quintessential pipe that comes to people’s minds when they think of dear ol’ grandad smoking his pipe. It’s a straight pipe with a bowl that’s at 90∘of the shank. The bowl and tobacco chamber are cylindrical. The shank is round and about the same length as the height of the bowl and the stem is usually tapered. While there are variations of the billiard, the straight billiard is the “standard.”


Bent: This is a catch-all term meaning any pipe that has a bend in the shank or stem. Even a billiard can be a bent pipe!


Bulldog: Another classic shape, the bulldog looks like two cones attached at the large ends with the pointed part cut off from the top. There are generally one or two lines cut around the bowl where the two cones meet (called “bead lines”). They typically have a diamond shaped shank and stem. They come in either bent or straight varieties.


Sir Ian McKellen
as Gandalf the Grey.
Churchwarden: Think of the pipes in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books and movies. Those long pipes are churchwardens.


Dublin: The shape of the bowl is generally tapered down to the shank. The stem can be any shape—diamond, oval, round, etc. Dublin’s come in both bent and straight varieties.


System: Most of the time, when someone’s talking about a “system” pipe, they’re referring to a Peterson pipe. As I’ve stated before, Charles Peterson patented the modifications to his pipes in the late 19th century. The modifications are an extra chamber in the shank to collect moisture and a redesigned mouthpiece. Almost all Peterson System Pipes are bent pipes but they do make one straight system pipe.


Which one should you choose?


Some people may steer you toward those “basket” pipes I mentioned in my first post of this series. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But, remember, the reason those pipes are in a basket is because they’re flawed in some way. So, it’s the luck of the draw with those pipes. As a novice just entering this world’s realm, you probably won’t know what to look for and you’ll be stuck with a bad pipe and an even worse experience.


Shape_Chart_Savinelli.jpgWhat’s my recommendation? I’d start with a “low end” Savinelli. They’ve been around since 1876 and know a thing or two about making quality pipes. Unlike some other brands, the price of a Savinelli pipe starts out at roughly $70. That’s a little more than most “basket” pipes but are a lot better quality. They make a variety of shapes and finishes. The pipes with more unchanged wood on the stummel will cost you more, so a sandblasted or rusticated finish might be the place to start. They have a “One Starter Kit” series of pipes that includes everything you need to get started—a pipe, a bag, some filters, a pipe tool, and some pipe cleaners (we’ll talk about these things in the next post)—all for under $80. That’s a heck of a deal! The pipes in the “One Starter Kit” come in 3 of Savinelli’s most popular shapes—the Author (shape 321), the Billiard (shape 106), and the Zulu (shape 404). What I like about the shapes in this series is that they’re all relatively straight so you should be able to pass a pipe cleaner through any of them without much fuss.


So, there you go. There are my thoughts about some pipes and what might be a good place to start in this adventure. In the next article, we’ll discuss the parts of a pipe and some of the tools you’ll need to have an enjoyable smoking experience.

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In the Love of the Three in One,


Br. Jack+, LC


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1. The other two parts are the stem material and weight.

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