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The Pipe • The Tobacco • Accessories • Filling and smokingThe New Pipe • Care

The Complete Pipe Smoker

Relax with your pipeOne day you will know the pleasure of tranquilly puffing on your pipe, and will barely remember the days when you started - when the pipe wouldn't stay alight, you used more matches than tobacco, and the smoke was so hot that your tongue felt raw.

This article will help you and your friends who are just beginning; or would like to take up pipesmoking but are doubtful of how to go about it; or have failed in the past.

Cautionary note - remember pipe tobacco doesn't contain ANY additives to assist burning.
Don't puff vigorously, the tobacco will only burn hot as a result. Simply let it go out and re-light as often as necessary. Tobacco will burn easier if it is rubbed out **, or allowed to dry a little.

**Rubbing out: Roll a little of the tobacco into ball between the palms of your hands. Then gently tease it out trying not to break up the strands of tobacco too much.

The Quality:
Choose a pipe from a company that makes good pipes. This will ensure that you buy a pipe that has been properly cured, giving a sweeter taste. Curing the briar is done before sorting the bowls, and has to be good enough for the best pipe made by the company. (Read more)
The taste from a pipe which still has sap and juices in the wood, and possibly a varnished finish, can be very deterring. (Such pipes are however usually cheaper, and the experienced pipe smoker may prefer to economise, and accept the taste as the pipe dries out over the first couple of weeks.)
The shape should be one that feels good in your hand, looks good when you smoke it, is comfortable in your mouth, and should preferably be a pipe with a filter. For a novice, the only real "don't" is a pipe that is too heavy in the mouth, e.g. a large bowl on a long straight stem. One of the best pipe shapes is a full bent which is very light on the jaw.
The Savinelli Dry System is a superb bent stem pipe with many advantages, especially for the new pipe smoker.
The Marca Dry pipe has the same system with a plain mouthpiece
A sandblasted finish is generally lighter because the soft wood on the surface has been removed, leaving the tough shell.
"Filter" pipes:
Many years ago there was a common pipe expression "the cheaper the pipe the more elaborate the filter". This was because the wood used for cheaper pipes was not as carefully cured as it might have been. Good pipes were made from well-cured, hard, dry, porous briar and needed no filter. Besides, it was not possible to turn vulcanite thin enough to hold the filter without making an overly thick shank. The technical problems have been overcome by the introduction of flexible Teflon inserts capable of holding 6mm and 9mm filters.
But that is not the only reason that there is a demand is for more and more "filter" pipes.
The pipe is a natural filter and moisture will condense from the smoke and deposit in the shank and mouthpiece. Many smokers, especially new smokers, secrete excessive saliva or use the very popular "Aromatic" tobaccos which, due to the flavouring oils, have more moisture in the smoke than the older natural blends. This can lead to a messy pipe and the unpleasant smoke known as a "wet smoke".
The function, therefore, of today's "filters" is to absorb moisture, by mopping up excess juices, without spoiling the taste. These may be 6mm or 9mm filters made of Balsa wood, or Paper rolls, or capsules containing Meerschaum granules, Charcoal pellets, Crystals - all serving the same purpose, to remove moisture and provide a cool dry smoke.
Bowl Filters serve the same mopping up function if there is no stem filter.

Bearing all this in mind, the best pipe for you is the one you like.

New Pipesmokers - DON'T try to start your first pipeful, when the phone is likely to ring, plus the doorbell, and a dozen other matters may need your attention. Wait until you're likely to have a relaxed, comparatively uninterrupted period, such as watching television. In time, your pipe will relax you, but as a beginner it needs your full attention.

The ideal blend for a new smoker is one which burns easily - but not too fast; tastes smooth - yet not too rich; has an attractive aroma - especially for the bystander; and is satisfying to smoke, so that you won't smoke it too fast causing it to burn hot.

We have developed Houseblends which fill the bill.
No.43 Old Gold - light and mellow; . . . . No.42 Mellow Cavendish - smooth and fruity;
No.25 Cherry - slightly sweeter; . . . .. . . No.24 Black Cavendish - smooth and plain;
No.47 Vanilla Gold – naturally smooth and sweet, with a delicate aroma

Start with 50g of the tobacco of your choice to get accustomed to your pipe and this tobacco.
Select, by your sense of smell, a blend that appeals to you. One's senses of smell and of taste are quite closely related. Once you are settled with your pipe (or if you're looking for a new tobacco) experiment a little to see if you prefer any other flavour.
Read "The Perfect Blend"
Keep your tobacco in any airtight container in a cool place either in packets or loose. Use a humidrol to keep the air in the container moist, or stick a piece of sponge to the lid and keep the sponge damp (with water). If your tobacco has dried out, then spray it with water using a very fine nozzle, or steam it briefly.
Although tobacco keeps better when it is moist, you may like to take out your daily quantity and allow it to dry a little (naturally) before smoking.


Pipe Tool - This must have 3 instruments: A blunt-tipped knife-blade or scoop to empty the bowl; a pick to clear the shank; a tamper to press down the tobacco.
Pipe Cleaners - Ordinary thin; extra long or extra thick; tapered (do not pull right through thin-stemmed pipes); bristle for periodic scrubbing.
Pouch - (optional) can be zip, stud, companion or roll-up (synthetic or leather); but it must seal up fairly airtight, and have a synthetic or rubberised lining. In dry weather, use a clay/aluminium humidrol to keep the air in the pouch moist, and thus the tobacco fresh. (If you use a piece of potato, apple or orange peel, don't let it go mouldy).
Reamer - (optional) to keep the carbon layer at the optimum thickness.
Pipe Lighter - (optional) with a directional flame to make lighting easier. By angling the flame directly onto the tobacco it reduces the risk of burning the inside of the bowl. Gas lighters for pipes and cigars are clean and odourless. The flint mechanism is less sensitive to dust, and is more reliable than most electronic systems. (Read "Lighting Up")

Blow through the stem to make sure it is clear. If it isn't, use a pipe cleaner or the pick of your pipe tool to clear it. Feed the tobacco into the bowl, pinch at a time. Press down and check the draw - it must be firm but not too tight. To start with you may have to test the draw with each pinch but in time it will be second nature to pack it just right for you. If you have filled the pipe, but it doesn't draw comfortably, empty it out and start again. It won't smoke well if it burns unevenly.
Loosen the top of the tobacco slightly so that it will accept the igniting flame readily. Apply the flame (from a slow-burning match or a pipe lighter) to the surface of the tobacco, while drawing steadily to draw the flame down into the bowl, moving the flame from side to side over the whole surface so that all the tobacco at the top of the bowl is charred. Be careful not to burn the sides of the bowl. After a puff or two the tobacco usually goes out. Tamp down, tease the surface, and relight in the same way.  You will probably have to repeat this several times before you have finished the bowlful of tobacco.

(After the first lighting, the full, unsmoked pipe may be left for up to 12 hours before smoking. It settles down and smokes beautifully. Try it and see if it suits you.)
Smoking: Don't rush it, puffing furiously. Smoking should be an extension of breathing, gentle and rhythmical giving a cool smoke, good for the pipe and for the tongue. The majority of pipesmokers do not inhale, the taste is all in the mouth. Of course you will also enjoy the fine aroma of the smoke. If the pipe goes out, gently tap off the loose ash and relight, but don't refill a warm pipe, use another pipe and let the old one rest and dry out.
It isn't necessary to smoke solidly for hours. Stop when you're satisfied, put the pipe down, and it will go out naturally. When you're ready for another smoke, relight the pipe, or start another pipeful if you prefer.


Wood burns, and although briar is one of the hardest woods to be found, it is a little unreasonable to put a fire inside the bowl and expect the wood to resist the flame. However, the pipe will build, naturally, a carbon layer to line and protect the inside of the bowl.

Read an article about the new pipe

Helping to build the Carbon layer:
1. Before packing the tobacco, moisten the inside of the bowl with a drop of water, or saliva. Alcohol, honey or molasses will aid the formation of the carbon layer, but they burn rather hot, bad for the pipe and you.
2. The carbon layer should reach right to the base of the bowl, so fill the pipe one-quarter to one-third full for the first smoke. Smoke it quietly and smoothly, as close to the bottom as you can. Don't smoke outdoors or in a draught. Read "Smoking Outdoors"
3. Over the next 6-8 smokes gradually fill the pipe a little more each time, moistening the inside before packing, and smoking as far down as possible. Clean gently so as not to disturb the carbon.
This will provide the final drying out and toughening process for the wood, and build the carbon layer essential to protect the wood.
At a pipesmoking contest we attended the competitors were given brand new, top quality pipes, as part of a promotion. They filled them to the top and set off to smoke, uninterrupted, for 2 or more hours. The pipes of the winners all burnt through because they had not been gently "broken in".
Meerschaum and clay pipes do not need a carbon layer, just fill up and smoke - but as with all pipes they should improve with smoking. Read more about Meerschaum.

CARE - The three things that most shorten the life of your pipe are
1. Saturation by tars and juices. Your pipe is a natural filter
- the distance between the bowl and the lip cools the smoke; tars and juices condense out and deposit on the walls of the shank and mouthpiece, and in the heel of the bowl. Excess moisture can be collected using an absorbent filter, but in any case some will soak into the wood. Between smokes place a pipe cleaner in the stem and rest the pipe vertically, bowl down, in a pipe rack or stand. Have a few pipes and smoke them in rotation, so that they will have time to dry out properly. Periodically clean the inside of the shank and the heel of the bowl. Bristle cleaners and a solvent (eg CG Pressurised Pipe Cleaner Spray) are very good for this periodic cleaning.

Read More

Oxidation makes the mouthpiece go dull, even green, and it tastes very bitter. Polish the mouthpiece with Mouthpiece Polish, and the outside of the bowl with Bowl Polish Cream.
Obsidian Oil can help prevent oxidation. Google it and see what you think.

2. Burning out or cracking. The carbon layer protects your pipe - however it does not expand and contract at the same rate as the wood. If it is too thick, it may crack the wood. If it is too thin it won't protect the wood, and the pipe may burn. Keep the carbon layer at the optimum thickness, approximately 1,5mm (the thickness of a 5c piece) using a reamer specially designed for the purpose, to give a smooth carbon layer of even thickness. A round tipped knife will also do, but it may be difficult to keep the carbon even.
3. Damaged pipes - most commonly: bitten through mouthpieces (old age), a hole in the bottom of the bowl or in the mouthpiece, or a broken mouthpiece.
A hole in the bowl
of the pipe is usually caused by one of two things:
a. Scraping out the bowl with a sharp pointed tool. Rather use a round-tipped knife or tool.
b. The wire in the middle of a pipe cleaner is hard and strong. If you are too enthusiastic when you clean out the shank with the pipe cleaner, you could drill a hole in the bowl. Be aware, especially with bent pipes, and don't dig and twist the pipe cleaner too hard into the base of the bowl.
A hole in the mouthpiece: Forcing a cleaner especially through a very bent mouthpiece, can cause wear and form a hole. Ease the pipe cleaner through. Use an extra thin cleaner if necessary.
The mouthpiece: When you have finished smoking, empty your pipe. Don't remove the mouthpiece from the shank until it has cooled down, as the peg may be soft or swollen, and you may break it or crack the shank. To empty the pipe, it is traditional to "knock it out" even though this could be bad for the pipe. Soften the blow by holding the pipe at the heel of the bowl, not by the stem, to avoid breaking the stem; and where possible knock against a soft surface eg. a cork knocker, rather than a hard glass or ceramic ashtray, or the nearest wall. The peg of the mouthpiece is the most vulnerable point. Always hold close to the join when removing or replacing the mouthpiece, and be careful when sitting down with the pipe in your pocket. Also, vulcanite doesn't expand and contract at the same rate as wood, with the result that after years of happy smoking, or soon after you're bought your pipe (or even before it is sold), the peg suddenly doesn't fit. Too tight - you may crack the wood. Too loose - and the bowl may fall off.
If your pipe is damaged it can be repaired at a moderate cost, especially when compared
with the price of replacing it with one of equivalent quality.

Prevention is better than cure:
In order to remove a mouthpiece which is too tight, place the whole pipe in a plastic bag, seal it, and put it in the freezer overnight. Remove the bag, and holding both mouthpiece and shank close to the join, gently twist and pull until the mouthpiece comes out. (If it is still too tight, return to freezer and try again later. We have left a pipe in the freezer for 3 weeks, with no ill-effects.)
Leave the mouthpiece and shank apart for two or three hours, pencil the peg and then test. The mouthpiece may fit straight away, or it may be necessary to file or scrape the peg until it fits. Rub the peg with a Silicone cloth or a pencil again to lubricate the joint.
If the mouthpiece is too loose (not 6mm or 9mm filter pipes), set up two cups of water, one cold, one boiling. Dip the peg only, first in the hot water for about 10 seconds, then in the cold for the same time, then test the fit. Repeat until the peg fits the shank. Remember to rub the peg with a Silicone cloth or a pencil to lubricate the joint.
If the mouthpiece is very loose (not 6mm or 9mm filter pipes), it may be necessary to heat the peg above (not in) a flame until it is slightly soft. Then gently press the mouthpiece vertically down on a hard surface, and hold this position until the mouthpiece is cool. Test, trim if necessary, and Silicone or pencil the peg to lubricate.
Caution: If you press too hard or at even a slight angle from the vertical, the peg may break

A most important word of warning about filter pipes:
Filter pipes must be smoked with either the filter or an adapter (usually supplied with the pipe).

Smoking without the filter (or adapter), even once, will allow moisture to condense in the empty space and seep into the shank, causing it to swell. This will result in a cracked shank, or a loose mouthpiece which is very difficult to remedy. If this happens to you, take it in to your nearest Wesley’s for an opinion.
The Tenon/Peg is tougher than the wood!
Keep it clean so it won’t stick. Occasionally wipe it with a silicone cloth, or pencil it, so it slides easily. Have a look at the Gallery
Because of the metal band, Savinelli Dry System pipes are excluded from this warning

Because it is glued into the mouth piece (not part of it) the Teflon peg may occasionally work loose and remain stuck in the shank. This is fairly easy to fix – use pliers to pull it out of the shank, and follow the instructions of one of those excellent 2-part glues to re-stick it into the mouthpiece -
and don’t use too much glue or the overflow may prevent the mouthpiece from fitting flush.
Not a DIY person? Bring it back to the shop and we’ll do it for you. Just needs a while to dry.

Any branch of Wesley's will be happy to help you with any adjustments
to the fit of your mouthpiece of your pipe, at no charge unless it needs to be sent for repair.

Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions
- Your smoking pleasure is our business.

Enjoy your pipe!

Colin Wesley
(Originally written Sept.1969; updated Nov.2002, extended 2008, updated 2022)

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Wesley's Logo and link to Homepage
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navbar03 THE LIBRARY - ARCHIVED BLOG POSTS Frequently Asked Questions Trade Enquiries Sweepstakes Subscribe
Main menu line 01 Cigars Tobacco Snus & Snuff Lighters & Accessories Roll Your Own Other Smoking Gifts & Games Mens' Grooming Walking Sticks