A Beginning Smoker's Learning Curve

When I first happened upon Smokingpipes.com, it was because they were advertising to hire a copywriter. However, I quickly became intrigued by the pipe descriptions and the dizzying array of pipes. I began searching the site and was stunned to find a $3,500 pipe and even more stunned to see how incredibly beautiful it was. The grain was exquisite, and as one of my many former professions was in carpentry, I couldn't help but stare at it. Maybe it was a Former, who knows — at the time, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between a Former and a Football Bat.

I was hooked and applied for the job, excited for the chance but moderately concerned about one small problem: I knew absolutely nothing about pipes.

The hiring process was surprisingly in-depth, with multiple writing assignments, Zoom interviews, and steely-eyed questioning from panels of passionate people who clearly were only interested in hiring the right person. I have held dozens of different jobs in several distinctly different career paths but never faced the types of questions Shane Ireland, Andy Wike, and the rest asked. It became clear very quickly they were less worried about what I already knew about pipes and more interested in how passionate I was about learning about the culture and community of which they were an integral part.

When I was offered the job, I quickly discovered the reason for their focus. Even had I been an avid pipe smoker, any knowledge I possessed would have been inconsequential compared to what I would soon be learning.

Learning Process

Being a writer at Laudisi isn't only about crafting quality pipe descriptions (although that's essential); it's about understanding the culture and history of the pastime and being passionate about it. I learned that describing pipes isn't about listing obvious attributes; it's about understanding what is cool about each pipe.

Knowing that we sell astonishing numbers of pipes every year, I limbered up my typing fingers, determined to get straight to work. To my surprise, our lead copywriter Truett Smith said he wouldn't allow me to describe a single pipe until he was confident I could do it justice. He wasn't alone. The entire Copywriting team banded together to carry my expected workload while Truett set me on an in-depth, ever-expanding course about pipe-making history. Accordingly, my Laudisian experience began not with a blizzard of work but an avalanche of learning.

The first thing I learned was respect: respect for the tradition of pipe making; a deep appreciation for the generations of men and women who, over centuries of innovation, turned substance and function into art and the creation of pipes into an art form. I learned a lot about humility: I stared at a list of over 250 different pipe marques and artisans in our database, attempted to match Italian neoclassic interpretations with their roots on an English pipe chart, and learned there were approximately five billion different blends of tobacco (I'm still counting, but that's my current projection.)

Truett took me through the stages of pipe design and development one phase at a time, spending the first couple weeks on English and French pipe chart classics and the industrial process limitations that affected early shaping standards. I spent days poring over the history of Dunhill, reading About Smoke, memorizing the standard pipe chart and common variations, and learning what a My Mixture was.

When I could tell the difference between a Billiard and a Dublin, birdseye and flame grain, morta and meerschaum mediums, and figural vs. gestural shaping, Truett began teaching me how the Italian neoclassic movement added bold flair to the traditional shapes. Design cues that previously I would have been unable to detect became recognizable and intriguing, and I found myself using words like "pronounced heel" and "bowl-centric design."

A couple of weeks later I was describing the awesomeness of a Savinelli Autograph Freehand with both confidence and excitement, and Truett said I was ready to learn about Danish. I squinted my eyes, thinking that they didn't put foreign language proficiency in the job description, but it turned out he meant Danish pipe making history, not the spoken word.

I learned all about Sixten Ivarsson, his son Lars, granddaughter Nanna, and how the legendary pipe carver started the "shape first, drill second, movement." I watched Father The Flame and began to feel a part of a tradition, a community, a family. I found myself pondering the fragility of the artisan carving tradition and the importance of new generations maintaining that tradition. Without the knowledge I had acquired of how standard shapes came to be, this phase of my education would have been meaningless. I came to appreciate how following the wood could produce such spectacular pipes and became obsessed with the soft curvature and exemplary use of grain in artisan-crafted pipes.

Some synaptic connection clicked in my brain, and I went back to that expensive Football Bat pipe that had originally captured my attention. Now it made sense. I could now see it was a Former, a beautiful, vertically grained Horn, a worthy centerpiece to any collection. I knew the history behind that pipe design and how Hans "Former" Neilsen became a legend in the craft. I told Truett I wished I had a few grand to spare so I could experience that beautiful Horn. He asked me why, and after I spent several minutes going on and on about its virtues, he just smiled and said, "Welcome to the copywriting team."

Now I am entrusted with describing the history and creations of more pipe makers. Every new detail I learn is like a branching fork in the river, leading to additional tributaries of information and culture, of nuance in form and function. It is a journey of discovery that I thoroughly enjoy and enjoy writing about. I've acquired excellent pipes from the English, Italian, and Danish design traditions, and thoroughly enjoy the qualities and aesthetics of each.

Smoking

I am a whole-life learner and decided to experience this hobby fully and firsthand. Previously, I had enjoyed an occasional cigar but was not a habitual smoker, nor had ever had a pipe stem between my teeth. Shane Ireland let me choose a pipe to be my first, and I chose a sandblasted bent Egg from Mastro De Paja without knowing in any way what I was choosing except that it looked and felt cool.

Shane taught me the right way to pack this little beauty with Amphora Original blend from his personal cellar. As he demonstrated his technique, he also imparted that the only "right" way to smoke a pipe is whichever way is enjoyable — and never to let anyone tell me different. With the meager experience I have now, I am amazed at his patience as I puffed like a man possessed to try to keep that pipe lit (spoiler alert: I didn't, and relit until the temperature of the room rose five degrees.)

I am not sure what I expected, other than a new experience, but what I encountered was a burgeoning garden of sensation. My mind experienced simultaneous calmness and stimulation, granting me adventure of thought in concert with the ability to focus and enjoy it, quickly followed by another completely new, this time physical sensation: tongue bite.

It turns out that puffing madly likely means pulling a lot of potentially hot, steamy smoke onto your tongue rapidly and repeatedly. Apparently, there is also some science-y stuff about alkalinity that equates to a chemical burn if you aren't careful. I was not careful. My tongue didn't get bit; it got legitimately scorched or at least felt quite like it had. But I liked the rest of the experience so much that I iced my tongue and powered bravely on, determined to overcome this phenomenon.

Like any good newbie pipe smoker, I assumed I was doing it right, or at least right enough that the problem must clearly be with my handmade Italian pipe, or possibly the tobacco refusing to burn properly. I set out to remedy this problem straightaway, calmly explaining to my wife that I would need to buy several blends to explore. Oh, and pipes, I would need some more of them. Lots of them, actually. You know, for science.

Pipe Collecting

Eltang Basic

Now armed with more knowledge, I wanted something light for easy clenching while hammering out epic pipe descriptions, and I chose an Eltang Basic Poker. Less than 20 grams, with a chamber that was smaller, so I would quit getting dizzy from the nic-hit. Great little pipe; I highly recommend it. After a month of smoking and breaking it in, being very patient while it learned how to be smoked by me and I learned how to be a better smoker, it is a regular in my rotation, and tongue bite disappeared.

During that process, aghast that the Poker's small chamber was not helping what I didn't yet know was a problem of technique, I received a boon. A generous colleague gifted me with a gently used Root Briar ODA Dunhill Billiard from 1972. I marveled at the wondrous grain, the handcrafted stem, and the massive chamber volume. I actually crawled inside the bowl and walked around; it's that big. After backing up a dump truck to properly load it with my latest explorative blend, Cornell & Diehl's Afternoon Delight, I semi-expertly flicked my new Kiribi lighter.

That particularly generous first bowl mostly involved me wearing out the flint in my new lighter, but eventually, my technique caught up with my pipes and they started behaving, rewarding me with cool, dry smokes. I got it. I understood why people have twenty pipes or spend hundreds of dollars in pursuit of one that is perfect.

I've become marginally better at smoking now and can enjoy all the pipes in my rotation without tongue bite. I can clench the Eltang Basic like a pro and, very much unlike a pro, sometimes manage to clench my ODA Billiard as well. I am even experimenting with retrohaling and rarely blow ash all over my keyboard while typing.

I have discovered the joys of the Estate pipe market, recently acquiring a Peter Stokkebye bent Brandy with stunning cross grain, and now scour every new update to drool over awesome pipes. My smoking technique continues to improve, and my enjoyment of the hobby with it. I worry less now if my bowl is packed just right or if I am puffing at the right cadence — I just look forward to getting some tobacco in the chamber and enjoying a relaxing interlude of contemplation. My pipes are starting to feel like loyal companions and my time with them a communion of peace.

Most of all, I am happy to be a relatively knowledgeable copywriter for an impressive company. Gainful employment is great, but even better, I have found a lifetime hobby, a happy obsession, and, most importantly, a thriving community.

Dunhill: Root Briar ODA

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Pipe Basics Pipe Culture

Comments

    • Douglas E Fishback on April 8, 2021
    • Nice piece, Joel, and an informative behind-the-scenes. I really enjoy the copy; the entries are engaging little chats that build appreciation of the pipe at hand.I don't suppose my attempt is specific enough, but at least it rhymes:It has a hole to load the leafAnother for the drawThe rest is niceTo hike the price - A most impressive straw!

    • Eryn Patrick on April 8, 2021
    • Welcome to the team Joel! We're happy to have you! I really enjoyed this piece.

    • Joel Balyeat on April 9, 2021
    • Douglas, thanks for reading and I am glad you enjoy reading our pipe descriptions. Your rhyming description is quite creative, and executed with far more talent for prose than I can muster. Did I mention we are hiring copywriters? You could join the team!

    • Joel Balyeat on April 9, 2021
    • Thanks for reading, Eryn!

    • Robert Lombardi on April 11, 2021
    • Excellent story and very enjoyable to read. 1972 is my birth year, so if you ever want to sell that pipe, I would certainly be interested. :)

    • William B on April 11, 2021
    • Robert provides a warning to those who catch the Dunhill bug: You MUST have one from your birth year, HS and college graduation years, marriage, kids' births, the year your dog first sat, first bicycle, motorcycle, car, or horse, year your team won it all, etc.

    • James.zhang on April 12, 2021
    • Welcome to the world of pipes and tobacco!

    • Guillermo L on April 12, 2021
    • I’m a newbie too, even I have smoked for 40 years cigars. My first experience with a pipe was trying my father’s back in lates 70’s, I don’t know the brand but resembles that Dunhill. Also mixing tobaccos with a friend, I went sideways and quit I was 17, now back trying and 57yo. I can say that maybe my expectations back them were cigarette like and pipe could be close to cigars but is a different experience. Still have miles to go to say I understand. Thank you for sharing your experience, help me me to see I’m not alone.

    • Joel Balyeat on April 12, 2021
    • @Robert Lombardi, Thanks for reading and your encouraging comments. I think I'll be hanging onto this '72 Dunhill, as it is one of my favorites in my rapidly-growing [email protected] B, I was previously unaware of this need, but now that you bring it up, I have a hard time arguing against it!

    • Rich on April 12, 2021
    • Loved this article, I can relate a lot about the journey. I, myself, have only been smoking for what feels like a blink in time, about 2 years now, but I have learned so much and honestly really, really, enjoy some blends to the point it turns into a Smoking Yoga experience.Thank you guys for all you do and these great articles.

    • Joel Balyeat on April 13, 2021
    • Thank you, [email protected] L, I am right there with you. I feel I may not have enjoyed it as much when I was younger and more impatient, but as a contemplative art, it is well suited to where I am now in [email protected], a Smoking Yoga experience, well said. I think just finding the right blend is part of the journey and makes it all the more pleasurable when you hit on something your palate enjoys and spend many subsequent hours smoking it.

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