The Importance of Process

Trust the process.

If you follow the NBA at all, you've no doubt heard that phrase.

I'm not a Philadelphia 76ers fan, not that I actively root against them, it's just that I'm not from Philly. The Indiana Pacers are my team. Loyalties aside, however, the team's mantra, "Trust the process," is a memorable one — made all the more so by Philadelphia's imposing, 7-foot, Cameroonian center Joel Embiid.

The phrase centers on building and refining. Positive results don't happen in a vacuum; they're born from planning, intentionality, and work. Personally, I've never played professional basketball, and I certainly never will — not much chance for a 5'11" guy with barely a six-inch vertical like myself, even if I was raised in the Hoosier state, the Mecca of basketball. That said, "Trust the process" is an applicable phrase beyond the field of sports.

Relationships require process: The journey from first date to first anniversary is one of growth and depth. Education is much the same: Thank God one's first semester doesn't look the same as senior year. Smoking a pipe similarly necessitates process, as many of us well know: From portioning tobacco and rubbing out flake, to methodically packing and testing the draw, to administering a charring light and paying attention to puffing cadence as one enjoys the bowl, the process of pipe smoking is one of routine, with steps that all combine to create and affect the entire experience, and to neglect one of these steps or not to give them appropriate attention potentially results in a less than enjoyable smoking experience.

Earlier this week, a dear college friend inquired about how to smoke a pipe, having become more intrigued by the hobby and interested in improving his technique. In explaining my own, personal pipe-smoking process — how I typically pack a pipe, etc. — I reflected on elements of the process I often rush through or don't give proper care. The times when a lit bowl underperforms, requiring more relights or perhaps suffering from too tight of a draw, often result from my neglect of the process itself.

The irony is that my attempt to more quickly enjoy pipe and tobacco, thereby neglecting the necessary process, actually results in a less enjoyable smoking experience.

In my desire to enjoy a pipe, it's not uncommon for me to hurry through packing a bowl and administering a charring light and final light: I fill the chamber haphazardly and without care; the charring light is disuniform; and the final light is rushed and fails to entirely light the top of the packed tobacco. Uniform and complete lighting is one area that I especially need to pay more attention to, and the times I more effectively light the tobacco the first time, the fewer relights I realize I need and, thus, the more pleasant and relaxing the smoking session.

The irony is that my attempt to more quickly enjoy pipe and tobacco, thereby neglecting the necessary process, actually results in a less enjoyable smoking experience. More relights and a poor draw lead to frustration and to focusing more on correcting the faults of the neglected process than enjoying the intended fruits of the process when done well.

The process required in smoking a pipe and the technique it necessitates are some of the aspects many of us pipe smokers enjoy most about the practice; it promotes slowing down and tending to a task. Rather than mindlessly acting as a passive participant, a pipe smoker intentionally and carefully engages with a pipe and tobacco for the best results — much like how cooking from scratch differs from, say, preparing a microwave dinner — and such a characteristic adds a relational aspect to the hobby.

While the process of packing, lighting, and smoking a bowl may seem tedious and even bothersome at times, it's this routine that truly makes pipe smoking enjoyable and yields the most gratifying results. Like basketball, education, and personal relationships, successful pipe smoking relies on a solid foundation of distinct, proven steps. Life itself is a blend of constant practice and growth — from childhood and adolescence, to adulthood and further maturity — and all good things in life benefit from a process, especially pipe smoking. Trust the process.

What are the aspects you enjoy most about the pipe-smoking process? What are those you perhaps neglect most? What are some techniques that you're improving on or that you've found best for enjoying a bowl?

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Editorial Pipe Culture


    • Zachary D on November 11, 2020
    • Truett - what is that pipe!? It's making me weak in the knees!

    • Arpie55 on November 13, 2020
    • The other day I hastily loaded a bowl with one of my favorite flakes not taking the time to make sure that my pack was "proper", I took my pipe out to my porch with a good cup of coffee and attempted my charring light only to find that the draw was too tight, rather than taking the time to empty and repack (didn't want coffee to get cold) I proceeded to puff vigorously away, and was disappointed all the way through the bowl. I told myself that next time it was "do it right, or not at all". Thanks for the reminder to follow process for success.

    • KevinM on November 15, 2020
    • Here’s something that might be new to a few of you — take your time packing several pipes in the morning. Then smoke them at leisure during the day. Grocery shopping is the most disliked things on my “to do” list, and my pipe afterward quickly helps restore my friendly disposition. Slowing down to fill my pipe at these moments would seem like “another damn thing to do.” But it is sooo nice to have a properly stuffed pipe waiting for me when I arrive home.

    • Smokebacca on November 15, 2020
    • Thanks Truett. I began my pipe smoking back in the early 90s and while my local tobacconist was great at recommending blends, my actual smoking of those blends was all trial and error done on my own or with a couple of friends who barely knew more than I did. In the days before the internet and social media, I had no real support group for my first twenty years smoking a pipe and I suffered for it. It's a wonder I stuck with it. I often tell people I've learned more in the last 5 years than I did in those first 20 or so, just because of articles like this one. While you may be speaking to the importance of experienced pipers remembering to do these things, there is always the chance a newcomer may benefit from the advice early on and save themselves from years of wasted time and money trying to enjoy pipes in all the wrong ways. I can remember a time when I thought a gurgle in my pipe meant I had achieved something special and now I prefer a dryer tobacco for ease of loading, lighting, and keeping lit. The shape and style of pipe I enjoy has also changed with greater understanding of form and function with my current preferences leaning toward the latter. I also agree with KevinM's comments. I do most of my smoking while driving, and packing several pipes in advance helps in that regard too, and each of them should be prepared properly as you suggest, of course.

    • John M Wiley on November 15, 2020
    • Great column, but I wish to correct a glaring error. Basketball Mecca is about 190 miles to your north, in Chapel Hill, NC.As far as the meat of the article goes, the routine (ritual) is very important to me and my pipe smoking friends (I have three). I think there may be a little OCD involved, but that's not a bad thing, as long as you aren't washing your hands twelve times in a row. I find routines involved in any repetitive task, from making coffee to welding, comforting, and more likely for that task to be resolved successfully.

    • Zachary H on November 15, 2020
    • One thing I need to do is open every jar I have in rotation and let them dry out overnight. Wet tobacco is awful and I never have the patience to let a pinch dry out. Why can't all tobacco be as dry as Billy Budd?Also, I need to learn to enjoy the process of cleaning my pipes more (and my guns, and sharpening knives), as I am a man who uses the same pipe all day. Cake buildup on a seven day set happens faster than you think.

    • Phil Wiggins on November 15, 2020
    • Never give up!!! A!!!

    • Pranshu on November 16, 2020
    • You shouldn't be posting any pics of a pipe or tobacco without mentioning which one it is. The pipe in the cover image is a beaut!

    • Truett on November 16, 2020
    • @Zachary D and @Pranshu, thanks for the inquiries! The pipe is a Lovat by Scott Klein (you can find more examples of his work here: ), and the lighter can by found here:

    • Truett on November 16, 2020
    • @John M Wiley, James Naismith would've disagreed with you, but given the current status of the basketball programs in NC, perhaps the tide has shifted... As a state on the whole, though, and when considering history, I think Hoosier Hysteria still takes the cake ;)

    • Mitch Braun on November 16, 2020
    • Man Zachary H it can be so satisfying and relaxing to clean pipes and guns and sharpen knives! (And reloading ammunition falls into the same category) You just have to make sure it's an evening when you have nothing pressing to do and you pour yourself a coffee, tea, jagermeister or, God forbid a hot chocolate and slowly start the process. I clean my dad and brother's guns and sharpen their knives because it's something that I've come to love. Once I passed 25 years of age I learned to relax and enjoy having nothing pressing

    • Addy on November 19, 2020
    • @Truett, thank you for sharing the details of that beautiful pipe - I'm in love and want one. Where can we find pieces in that texture and colour?

    • Truett on November 19, 2020
    • @Addy, you can check out Scott's available pipes by following that link I shared above! If you're just interested in a particular finish, though, then check out our Pipe Locator tool on the top left of this page, or feel free to contact our Customer Service department at 1 (843) 281-9304 and they will be happy to assist you further.

    • D on November 21, 2020
    • Mindfulness 101

    • Bill Kokos on November 22, 2020
    • Nothing like a reminder!

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