Andrew Wike
How to Prepare Rope Tobacco

Preparing Rope Tobacco at

Beginner and veteran pipe smokers alike have always wanted to try their hand, or pipe rather, at rope tobaccos. One of the oldest forms of processing the leaf, rope tobacco is formed mostly by hand with various different processes contributing along the way. In the end, the tobaccos are twisted together to form a thick rope or lanyard that can either be bitten off and chewed or simply smoked in your pipe of choice. While chewing your favorite rope can be quite enjoyable, this post will focus on preparing your tobacco for smoking. So how do you do it? Well, here's 5 simple steps to get you started.

1. Find a Sharp Knife or Cigar Cutter.

First off, you'll need some rope tobacco. For this post we chose some Gawith, Hoggarth & Co. Brown Irish X Unsliced and Happy (Brown) Bogie Unsliced — two of my favorites, though most any ropes in the G.H. & Co. lineup are quite enjoyable. Once you've acquired your rope tobacco, remove it from the container and place it on a flat surface. You’ll need a sharp blade to cut the thick, tightly bound cord. While a sharp knife will do the trick, using a cigar cutter may give you more precision and a finer cut, as most ropes are about as thick as a cigar — allowing you to simply run the end through the cutter and slice away.

2. Cut as finely as possible.

After you’ve chosen your knife or cigar cutter, it’s time to slice and dice. If you’re using a knife, place the edge along the end of the rope and carefully cut the tobacco into fine coins, making sure to avoid forcing the blade. Avoid using a serrated knife (or the serrated portion of a partially-serrated blade), as this will tend to catch and tear the leaf up rather than make a smooth, even cut. If using a cigar cutter, run the end through the cutter and slice it off as finely as possible, making sure to keep your fingers away from the blades. The end result should be a few thin coins that can later be rubbed out or folded. It’s important to only cut as much as you think you'll use, otherwise your tobacco may dry out quicker than you’d prefer.

Preparing Rope Tobacco at

3. Rub it out or fold.

Once you have your coins laid out, it’s time to prepare that tobacco for packing. You can either rub out all the coins vigorously until you’re left with a nice shag, or simply fold a few and stack. You can also cut the coins into cubes and layer them later in your pipe. You should experiment with it a little to find your preferred smoke. Many folks here at SPC suggest combining two or more of the methods. Simply rub out a coin or two, and fold the rest — layering them sandwich style (shag, coin, shag) into your pipe.

4. Dry it out.

Preparing Rope Tobacco at Smokingpipes.comRope tobacco is, by nature, quite moist — one of the reasons why it ages so well. That being said, you’ll need to give your tobacco an ample amount of drying time to ensure a cool, even smoke. Simply set aside your rubbed out shag or coins and let them dry for at least 10 minutes. More time might be required depending on personal preference and moisture levels. Again, it's important to remember to only dry out what you're going to smoke. Try to avoid drying out the whole rope, as this can leave the rest of your tobacco dry and difficult to cut in the future. When Ted smokes his twists, he keeps about four inches of rope in a tobacco pouch. Before the rope can reach a point where it's too dry for a good cut, he's usually already smoked it. The pouch, while not a great solution for long-term tobacco storage, keeps the rope at a perfect moisture level: not too dry, and not too moist.

5. Pack your pipe.

Now that you’ve cut your rope, rubbed it out, and let it dry for some time, you can finally start enjoying it. If you’re folding your coins, make sure to leave enough room for the tobacco to expand in your bowl, so as to prevent any overheating. If you rubbed it out, pack it like you would a rubbed out flake. One thing to keep in mind with packing, however, is that it greatly depends on the tobacco’s moisture level. If your rope is still very moist, consider packing lightly or drying it out some more. If it’s crispy and dry, and rubbed out into a shag, try packing it a little tighter. Most of us will settle on a happy medium after a few bowls of experimentation.

So there you have it: 5 easy steps to preparing rope tobacco. Curious about how to prepare other types of tobacco? Check out our video on slicing and dicing plug tobaccos. Have your own tips and methods for dealing with rope? Feel free to share them in the comment section below! We’re always happy to learn new tricks, so go ahead and share your story.

Preparing Rope Tobacco at

Category:   Resources Tagged in:   Gawith and Hoggarth Tips Tobacco


    • Thomas P on August 26, 2014
    • FWIW, I have a whole stack of single razor blades as a result of having some glass fish tanks and a desire to remove algae buildup. I've found that for cutting rope and plug, these razor blades work quite well. I just cut on top of newspaper or paper towel, and if I want to rub it out, I cheat with a couple quick bursts in a coffee grinder. Hardly even seems like work, doing it that way, and I can still have the coins or flake effect if I'm in the mood to fold.

    • Andrew W on August 27, 2014
    • Thanks for sharing, Thomas! I bet the coffee grinder does make things a bit easier. Just out of curiosity, are you able to cut fairly fine coins or flakes using the razor blade?

    • pacman357 on August 27, 2014
    • The grinder does make quick and easy work of sliced rope, flake, etc. I can't claim to have discovered the idea, I just followed another guy's lead. The razor blade does, in fact, make slicing fairly fine coins, and I've smoked some rope that way. Burns very nicely. Just be sure you get a blade that only has one sharp side. I suspect a light pair of gloves might help anyone with tender hands/skin, too.

    • pacman357 on August 27, 2014
    • Um...just to be clear, that's me. Didn't realize I had posted before selecting a handle. --Tom :)

    • Andrew W on August 28, 2014
    • Awesome! Thanks, Tom for telling us a little more about your technique. Good advice about the gloves.

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