8 Advanced Pipe Smoking Techniques: Have You Learned Everything ?

There's a whole lot of information available on how to get started as a newbie pipe smoker. But what about pipe smoking techniques aimed at the more seasoned, serious, fully initiated pipe smoker? Not so much. Preparation and packing, lighting and tamping... these are great skills to have, but there's always something more to learn about pipe smoking — it's part of what makes our hobby so interesting and timeless. Though in no way comprehensive, here's a quick list of pipe smoking techniques for the seasoned smokers out there to get you started.

1. Retrohaling

AKA snorking — which to my ear sounds like the advanced technique whereby one noisily and forcefully ejects from one's nostrils vitamin D milk, ideally in a middle school cafeteria — retrohaling is challenging to explain, but if it is done successfully it should look like blowing smoke out of your nose. We know we can smell more odors than we can taste flavors, and an integral part of our understanding of the flavor of something derives from its aroma. Thus forcing tobacco smoke back through one's nose increases flavor impression in a usually surprising way. But how do you actually go about retrohaling pipe smoke?

Return to imagining snorting (or snorking) milk and the muscles you'd need to employ behind your nose, at the top of your throat, and around your nasal sinuses to pull it off, and you're about 50% there. The other 50% is just going to come from trial and error. Yes, like most things pertaining to the art of pipe smoking, you're going to have to practice and master the technique by doing it. I'll give you one last tip, though. Try retrohaling (at least at first) only about 20% of the volume of smoke you've imbibed or inhaled. If you try to retrohale a big puff, especially if you're unfamiliar with the move, you're cruising toward an epic case of tongue bite of the nose.

2. Finger Tamping

Just like it sounds. Skip the tamper; use a finger. But why? Even though, I wager, most pipe smokers will at some point tamp down a half smoked pipe with a forefinger on account of a momentarily misplaced tamper, there are some that actually prefer a raw wiggler to a Randy Wiley tamper for a fair reason: the feedback or sensation of give from the tobacco itself can instruct a gentler tamp, which may lead to fewer relights attributable to accidental extinguishes chalked up to a heavy handed tamp. Just be mindful of red hot embers and a dirty, ashy finger.

3. Twine Lighting (Using A Hemp Wick)

Matches or lighters? Try twine lighting. Some folks argue that lighters can run hot or behave unwieldy. In the case of butane lighters, some also say they expose the pipe's rim and tobacco chamber to sticky butane residue. On the other side, there are those who argue matches are smelly and unreliable in the wind or under fans, and create a surplus of detritus. Using hemp twine to light a pipe, and the reason to do it, is easily understood: take a piece of twine (or even a toothpick, as Adam Davidson was prone to do before he switched to a lighter), light it with a lighter, match, candle, or whatever and then use it to get your pipe going. Why the added step in flame application? A small flame combined with the relatively low heat of hemp's relatively low combustion rate will reduce your pipe's exposure to fire damage. So there.

4. DGT (Delayed Gratification Technique)

DGT — or Delayed Gratification Technique — is fundamentally a lighting and smoking practice connected to the desire to suss out transformed flavors from a single bowl. In practice, it's pretty simple: pack the pipe, get a charring light going, take a few puffs (or more), take account of the initial flavor, and then put the pipe down for some indeterminate period of time before getting back to it. There's no hard and fast rule on how exactly to DGT; the basic premise is to let a warm pipe caramelize, stove, or stew in its own juices long enough to wholly modify or modify aspects of the tobacco's flavor once one returns to smoking it. The rigidity and discipline surrounding any specific methodology, however, is subject to the fancy of the individual pipe smoker.

5. Breath Smoking

One can find a handful of different step-by-step instructional videos and articles hanging out on the web that map out the breath smoking technique. I suspect that many of us have probably stumbled onto the method, but here's the gist. Roughly speaking, the pipe smoker learns to breath in and out of his or her nose at a tempo at odds with the cadence of imbibing the pipe. Bifurcating the acts of breathing and smoking can provide the smoker with incredible control over smoke volume and puffing cadence, improving flavor, decreasing the potential for tongue bite and palate exhaustion, and keeping in check the overall temperature of the pipe. Though not tough to figure out, mastery requires both a little patience and practice. Solitude recommended.

6. Moisture Test

The advanceness of this 'technique' is dubious at best. Is your tobacco too wet to smoke? Pinch a bit of it between a thumb and finger (or, more prescriptively, pinch about 3g worth of tobacco between thumb and forefinger for three seconds) and then release them. If the tobacco is still stuck to your fingers, then the tobacco is too wet to smoke. Come to think of it, out of habit, I do this if I happen to be smoking a heavily cased aromatic. Outside of that, though, I'd say a particular fastidiousness about the moisture level of one's smoking tobacco, and the acrobatics one dispatches in achieving one's personally perfect moisture tolerance, can be considered advanced if it's a fairly complex and orchestrated procedure — the result of which is an optimum and strictly prepared bowl of pipe tobacco. Broadly, however, it seems most veteran pipe smokers naturally become pretty well tuned into their preferred tobacco moisture level. A good tip to consider nonetheless.

7. Tobacco Layering (Or 'Stacking')

Put some G&H Coniston Cut Plug at the bottom of a bowl, pack Lane 1-Q in the middle, and then top the whole thing off with G. L. Pease's Chelsea Morning for an intriguing smoke. Actually, on second thought, that might not be the best pairing. Point being, many pipe smokers dig on layering different kinds of tobacco blend types and cuts throughout a bowl in order to search out interesting new flavors and better control burning characteristics. Again, not necessarily an advanced technique here, as the method doesn't require any sage know-how, but if you've already got a handle on the rather wide spectrum of available flavors to be had from properly manufactured tobaccos by notable blenders, it does make for a pretty interesting smoking experience. Test it out for yourself, and let us know what you think.

8. Flake Folding

First and foremost, note that not all flakes are created equal. If your plan is to fold and stuff a flake from a newly opened tin of Sam Gawith's St. James Flake then I wish you all the luck in the world, ye intrepid endeavorer. Alternatively a flake of Mac Baren's Navy Flake split in half down its length, handily doubled up upon itself, stuffed straight down to the bottom of a pipe's chamber can be made to smoke easily with nothing more than a top sprinkling of leftover pre-shredded tobacco debris from the tin or pouch to get a charring light started. The important things to consider with flake folding, then, are moisture level and the thickness of the flake itself. But once you've chosen the right flake, with enough practice this pipe packing method can mean an on-the-go, quick, and easy flake packing technique, without having to hunt down a plate or napkin to rub it out.

So if you've mastered the traditional pipe smoking techniques like lighting and tamping, and feel you're ready for the next step: try these 8 tricks for yourself! Have any advanced tips or tricks of your own to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Category:   Resources
Tagged in:   Pipe Culture Tips


    • Eric G on August 26, 2016
    • I have seen hemp twine lighters on amazon if anyone wants to try the hemp without the extra step of lighting two things.

      I love the idea of layering. I can imagine trying to create a"3-course meal" in a pipe. A light virginia as an appetizer, a Latakia blend as the meaty main course, and a sweet aromatic dessert at the end. It might turn out horrible but would be fun to try anyway. Thanks for the idea!

    • Adam O'Neill on August 26, 2016
    • @Eric G Haha, make sure to report back and let us know how that goes!

    • Chris M. on August 27, 2016
    • As someone who researches pipe info a lot this article was a good read. Some new stuff here I hadn't heard of, and it's always good to learn something new and interesting. Many thanks for the write up and now time to experiment.

    • Duane on August 27, 2016
    • Been with a pipe for almost thirty years, so these techniques are pretty old news. I will say that my friends and I always called technique number seven a "parfait".

    • Joe Thornton on August 27, 2016
    • Loved the layering idea and intend to try it tonight!

    • bryanFwebber on August 27, 2016
    • I practice the DGT everytime I smoke a pipe. I char light it and puff a little then sit it down by habit. Usually when I'm smoking its because I'm in the woodshop or on the computer drawing out some measurements, etc. I'll pick up my pipe after half an hour or so and continue to smoke. Great flavors actually.

      The breathing method is something I've tried intermittently but I'm not that good at it. I don't think I've caught some good solid instruction on it though. Great article guys!

    • Adam O'Neill on August 29, 2016
    • @Chris M. Good luck Chris, and thanks for reading.

    • Adam O'Neill on August 29, 2016
    • @Duane Of course Duane, after 30 years I'm sure you've got that pipe burning exactly how you like it. Happy smokes mate!

    • Adam O'Neill on August 29, 2016
    • @Joe Thornton Let us know what you come up with Joe, and good luck.

    • Adam O'Neill on August 29, 2016
    • @BryanFwebber I've never been able to get the breathe smoking thing down either. And thanks mate!

    • Greg Kelly on August 29, 2016
    • Grow a beard, moustache at a minimum, to infuse with the incense of your Latakia~Oriental Blend to 'carry' with you (Morning Smoke for most who have office jobs) when you are required to be places that you cannot smoke your pipe! Be that guy in the commuter traffic with the smile on his face, remembering, remembering :-)

    • Tim S. on August 29, 2016
    • The finger tamp might catch some folks off guard, but I honestly prefer it. About the only time I actually use a tamper anymore is on very deep chambered pipes. From the charring light onward, I just use my index finger. Vastly more control of where I tamp and how much pressure.
      It isn't hot, I have never burned myself - granted my hands are calloused and a terrible case of carpal, my fingers might not be registering the heat!
      Eric is right on - Amazon does carry a wick "lighter". It is a housing with a coil of hemp and a regular old bic light fits in it. Interesting idea, and I can see that be dead useful in the woods and camping.
      As a side on lighting. I've been using cedar spills for a very long time to light my cigars, and I've gotten into the habit of lighting my pipe with them as well. It really doesn't seem to alter the flavor at all, if anything just imparts a bit of cedar"y" spice at the beginning.
      Otherwise, I've always preferred kitchen style matches. Penny matches tend to leave a flavor, but kitchen matches are large enough you can give a second or two and let all the chemicals burn off with plenty of wood left to light with.
      After 25 years of puffing leaf I've tried about everything, and have never had luck with the "layering". An old timer showed me ages ago. He would pack his with H&H and PA (Of course, drugstore blends) and he just swore by it. I've always found that the "stronger flavored" blend to take over. Perchance I've just not tried the right varietals.
      And the best method IMO for the "Breathing". An easy to clench pipe and a long drive (Maybe a gravel road to be safe) or some other attentive activity, fly tying works well for me. Having your hands full and not being able to put the pipe down will force you to do it. It will come to you almost naturally, without even giving it thought.
      I've found that it is best not to over-think your smoke. When the pipe, and it's smoking becomes an appendage, you'll pick up on so many subtle nuances you may miss when you over-think it. Less re-lights, less over-heating. Just pack, light, and go about whatever.
      Today's times have made smoking something you have to set time aside for, and possibly folks are over-thinking the whole process. Sure there is a right way and a wrong way, but if you get bogged down with the minutia then what's the point of enjoying a smoke?
      I am lucky in that I can smoke, whatever, whenever, and however I want. So I've always got a pipe slowly smoldering. The day starts with Capstan and ends in McClellend Dark English, with much Bullseye in the middle.

    • Ted S. on August 30, 2016
    • @Tim, thanks for the detailed, thoughtful, and reflective response. I recommended seclusion, quasi-cheekily, as means to master the breath smoking technique, but I think your tip to force one's self to smoke hands-free is a gem—in fact, smoking small Lovats in front of a keyboard (sort of like right now) definitely did more to improve the splitting in two my breathing and my smoking than sequestering myself from distraction.

    • Tony Suvie on August 30, 2016
    • Hey folks GLPease has a fantastic article on breath smoking. I feel that it describes and instructs as only Pease can. Seriously man, check that one out. If you are looking for another 'how to' on this topic, THIS is the one in my opinion

    • Tony Suvie on August 30, 2016
    • OH By the way I think the article about Breath Smoking is called 'Those Beguiling Virginias'

    • Adam O'Neill on August 31, 2016
    • @Tony Suvie Thanks for the tip Tony, we'll check it out.

    • Duane on September 1, 2016
    • This video, by the late Alan Kerslake, is an excellent tutorial for someone looking for a visual representation of the breath smoking technique. YMMV


    • Adam O'Neill on September 1, 2016
    • @Duane Thank you so much for that mate, a great view.

    • Walfy on September 1, 2016
    • Great article. Thanks!

      Being a person who constantly experiments with mixing foods (yogurt, toast, peanut butter, cottage cheese and ice cream or uncooked cereal in cold soup being two), drinks (coffee with fruit juice, coffee with tea, pop with milk, buttermilk with coffee, etc.) and other things I started layering very soon after starting to smoke a pipe. My favorite is cigars and either chocolate or marula flavored pipe tobacco. Planta Tobacco of the Year MMXII had marula in it and thankfully I bought a couple of pounds of it. Sir Walter Raleigh Aromatic is another I mix with other tobaccos and cigars.

    • Johnny III on September 3, 2016
    • When mixing or drying a bowls worth of tobacco in my tray I would inevitably have left overs that didn't fit in my bowl. Whether a fruit blend, occasional english, a vaper, or my prefered chocolate blend. I normally put the left overs in a jar on my desk and after half full will smoke it. The result is a changing bowl that is as unique as what I put in it. Not a hodge podge of combined taste but a bowl that can uniquely change several times from one flavor to the next. Some yucky some awsome lovely. Definetly better then throwing the scraps away.

    • Duane on September 4, 2016
    • @Johnny III

      A simple way to avoid having scraps left over is to fill the pipe in question with the amount of tobacco you would like to smoke. Then empty the pipes contents into your drying bowl and allow to dry as usual. No leftovers! :)

    • Enrique1212 on September 29, 2016
    • Are there any "filters" so I can inhale the smoke or not?

    • Adam O'Neill on September 29, 2016
    • @Enrique1212 Not really Enrique. We definitely have filters, but for the most part these just cut down moisture and tongue bite.

    • Mark W. on October 3, 2016
    • I use the layering method quite often, like putting a nice strong burley in the bottom half of the bowl (Newminster Superior Round Slices or HH Old Dark Fired) and packing a VaPer (Cabbies Mixture or Escudo) on top of it. I also sometimes like to use something with a light Latakia on top as well, like Bengal Slices or Fusiliers Ration.

    • Robert Windsor on October 11, 2016
    • I have been smoking pipes since I was 15 years old; I'm 50 now. When I was young there was a Tinderbox in every shopping mall. There was smoke in the store. Scores of tabacco jars lined the countertops. My parents were supportive, as they view it as a hobby and hoped I wouldn't smoke cigarettes. I went to a private prep school and many of my professors smoked pipes, even in the classroom when class was not in session. Their pipe racks were right on their desks, with tabacco jar front and center. Mr. Hamilton smoked classic English shapes most were black sandblasted marquees he aquire on his trips to England over the summer. An oxidized Dunhill saddle bit billiard was a sign of a used and we'll broken in pipe; I doubt if he worried about buffing the stems. My headmaster had a pipe that was permently hanging from the edge of his mouth; he could give a full speech to the student body without ever touching it. Gentle whiffs of smoke would emerge without him every relighting. It was a part of his look, few noticed. Back then few were worried about second hand smoke; Cavendish and even English blends filled the hallways. That's just how European history smelled. Although not an expert I have a few comments on advanced smoking techniques. Most tobacco is too wet. New smokers without a great carbon layer from a well broken in pipe can't cope with the hot steamy moisture. I suggest getting the tobacco sticky, not even moist. Possibly wet tobacco sold at pipe shops is to keep it "fresh". I've had zip locked bags that are 6-months old that are now just right. Let new tobacco slowly airout and age. I "rub" my tabacco with my fingers and get the thick chunks out. You must break in your pipe by smoking it all the way down. If you don't get a carbon layer in bottom because you knock out the tabacco half smoked, you will never get the pipe right. Packing a pipe is an art. Gently load in thirds. The first third is a drop gravity load, the second section is a gentle touch. Then test the draw for slight tention with slight resistance. The last third pack some in and test the draw. It should feel firm but you should feel some draw. The "char light" should lift the ashes above the rim; when ash is white tamp flat. The surface should be perfectly white and flat. Relight and always do everything slowly. You should never see anything but white ash for the rest of your smoke. As I smoke I tamp a "dome"..... around the edge and leave the center a bit higher. This seems to help even lighting. Never rush, letting the pipe get hot. Let it sit in a pipe rest, and cool. Relighting a cold pipe will give you flavor. Pipes that are smoldering give off the best flavor. Hot pipes don't have good flavor and will not carbonize. Slow cool burn, and just gently puff as if you don't care. Once broken in I have let my pipe rest for 5 minutes or more and it comes back to life with one gentle puff without relighting. With a new pipe filling it all the way with wet tobacco is a disaster, and probably is the number one reason new smokers quit. New pipes can work if filling half way with sticky tobacco that's somewhat of a coarse cut. Get some carbon building in bottom before filling more. Don't bang out your "dottle"..... smoke it all. You should be able to pour out pure white ash when finished. Gently remove ash so you don't ruin carbon; suddenly you will see some carbon layer. Use your pipe tool to break up the bottom gently and relight. I will use a pipe cleaner in stem during the smoke for a new pipe if too much moisture builds. Again wet tobacco can be a big problem. A great carbon layer will build and absorb moisture so later you will have great dry flavorful smokes. When buying a pipe make sure the hole is flush with bottom. This is easier to do on straight pipes. Bents and half-bent often have a big gap between the bottom and hole because it is drilled at an angle; so it's hard to get a carbon layer in bottom. When tamping don't destroy your carbon; I use a small head tamper......just a few tips! - Robert

    • Adam O'Neill on October 12, 2016
    • @Robert Windsor wow, thanks for all of that Robert.

    • David M. Rengers on October 14, 2016
    • Three Grapes: I was in a chili cook-off once and noticed a judge carrying a stem of grapes. He used them to cleanse his palate after tasting each chili. Well, now I take three grapes (and three only) when I head outside for a bowl. I eat one after true light, a second after usual re-light, and the third grape for an embarrassing third light. Now, having run through my supply of grapes, any further re-light subjects me to the indignity of some mucky mouth. Some day I may be a one grape guy.

    • Evan lynch on October 16, 2016
    • Perfectly on center Robert!
      Thank you for the insight and detail!

    • Jim Beard on October 27, 2016
    • When learning to smoke "cool," focus on the idea that combustion temperature in the bowl is the critical element. Using a long stem or a filter will cool the smoke on its way to your mouth, but that type of cooling does little for alkalinity (cause of most tongue bite) and nothing for flavor.

      If you pack a pipe and find it is too tight or unevenly packed but do not wish to empty the bowl and repack, use your pipe pick. Put through the tobacco, and it will simply tighten the pack. Slide it down between tobacco and inside of bowl at 3 or 4 locations, each time levering it slightly toward the center when the pick has reached the bottom, and the pack will loosen and become more even. You can lever to the inside at top, or bottom, or both.

    • Jerjer442 on November 15, 2018
    • I've been using the draw smoke with my nose, you get the real flavor of the tobacco that way. The one thing that wasn't mentioned in the article is that when you strong with your nose you have to let a little bit out through the pipe that keeps the pipe lit and a gurgling gone and cooler. Then after doing that for five times you'll notice you have a mouthful smoke which you'll have to blow out. I've been using this method for about 5 years, I get flavor from tobacco that other people never get.

    • Tony Suvie on September 29, 2019
    • #5 Breath Smoking
      Although it may be a no brained to some I feel obliged to mention an article if you can find it by the infamous GL Pease, ‘Those Beguiling Virginias’ . In this article he describes with his usual literary finesse how to breath smoke. At the time the term was new to this very veteran smoker and following his not hard instructions I came to enjoy Virginia’s in a manner never before presented to this old veteran pipesater. It had been just,’you gotta be careful with Virginia’s as they’ll burn your ass’. Hmph! No more discomfort.

      Thank you Mr Pease!

    • Olivia on August 6, 2021
    • Wow, this is such a good read! Just a newb in smoking pipes and reading this makes me wanna try every ways using my newly bought pipe I found at Tilden & Company , the best smoking products & accessories store for me! I hope they can get a chance to see this. Thanks for the awesome share!

    • Jerry B on April 24, 2023
    • I'm An old (75) pipe smoker and already knew most of this but found the article interesting. I especialy enjoyed the comments section.

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