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.
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!