pipe buying

Pipe buying

Summary: If you are not sure if you like pipe smoking, a corn cob pipe is a better choice than a poorly made briar pipe. However, if you know you enjoy smoking a pipe it is worth buying a briar pipe of reasonable quality. It will last a lifetime, is easy to care for, and provides cost savings over time.

Pipe-smokers are an individualistic lot, and the range of shapes, materials, and finishes available reflect the diversity and individuality of the smokers who own them. If you are new to pipes or are selecting an item as a gift the options can seem overwhelming. A good tobacconist can help guide you through options to select a great pipe that will bring enjoyment for years to come.

The purpose of this article is to give you some basic knowledge to help you judge pipes in the store, without getting overwhelmed with details you will discover as you refine your own personal preferences and likes.

So what are some things you want to look for in a first pipe? First a good pipe is one the smoker enjoys. That means you should spend a moment to think about the shape and size. Pipes can be an accessory as much as a hobby, and it’s good to consider the emotional appeal of a pipe. Do you want a compact briar like Einstein favored or unmistakable directness like General MacArthur’s famous corn cob?


Pipes can and have been made out of almost any material that can withstand heat, however most quality pipes available are made out of briar (Erica Arborea). Briar is prized because it is has a dense grain that can stand up to the heat of use and also helps provide a cool, dry smoke. Briar is strong compared to many other pipe materials, and straightforward to care for.

When looking at a briar pipe pay attention to:

    Grain – Look for a uniform tight grain, but the pattern of the grain (or even mix of patterns!) is not too important for a first pipe, and smokers debate opinions about favorite grain patterns.

Finish – Great pipes can be found in smooth or rusticated (rough finish) but it’s a good rule of thumb to steer clear of varnishes that give a glossy shine. They can mar over time and may interfere with dry-out times between smoking sessions.

Fills – when a piece of briar has a pit in it pipe makers fill it in with putty. While considered not desirable aesthetically, unless they are very deep they will not interfere with how the pipe smokes.

Other common materials:

Clay pipes are inexpensive but fragile and tend to heat up in the smokers hand.

Meerschaum is a mineral that is often beautifully carved. It darkens in color with use. It provides a cool dry smoking experience, it is lightweight, which can be an advantage for long, relaxing sessions but good meerschaum is relatively expensive, and have some additional care considerations.

Corn cob pipes can be a great introduction to pipe smoking, especially if you are just trying to assess if you enjoy smoking a pipe. Corncob pipes look more rustic which is an aesthetic issue for some (but prized by others). They provide an inexpensive pipe that smokes well without needing a break in period. One detractor of corncob pipes is that they do not last as long as pipes made from more durable materials.


Construction matters no matter what the pipe is made from:

    Air hole – If you look into the bowl of a pipe, you will see a hole drilled that allows the smoke to ‘draw’, or be carried up through the shank and stem into the smokers mouth. It’s important that this hole is at the bottom and center of the pipe bowl. it is difficult for tobacco to burn below where the hole is drilled, so a hole that is too high in the bowl will mean that tobacco can’t completely burn in the bowl. This can waste tobacco and make it harder to develop an even ‘cake’ which is desirable. A thin (around a dimes width) carbon deposit will help your pipe to be protected against charring, and can make it easier to achieve a mellow, sweet smoke.

Part alignment – Look at the where the stem and shank join. They should have a solid fit that looks well made. If these parts don’t fit together well you might have trouble cleaning the pipe. If the air pathway is not optimal because of a poor fit you might experience moisture condensation when smoking, which is unpleasant.

Other factors related to construction can help you choose your pipe. Most of these will depend on your individual pipe smoking habits. For example, if you find pipes tend to heat up uncomfortably in your hand you might consider a pipe shape that provides a thick area of material that will provide you an insulated area to hold on to. Or if you find your favorite time to smoke a pipe is while reading or doing other tasks you might prefer a pipe with a bend in the stem, which will move the pipe out of line of site and require less hand holding. These are considerations you can’t anticipate as a novice, but your tobacconist can help guide you through some of the more common issues.

New or Estate?

What about estate pipes? Estate pipes are the industry term for pre-owned pipes. Pipes can last for generations and can become prized heirlooms. Pipes can be cleaned thoroughly, so buyers need not worry about cleanliness issues any more than one would worry about using flatware at a restaurant. Some older pipes are prized for their collectibility and the quality of their materials and workmanship. Sometimes pre-owned pipes can provide a good deal, costing less than an equivalent new pipe. If you are considering an estate pipe all the previous advice still applies, but you also want to look inside the bowl to make sure that previous owners did not light the pipe with a jetflame lighter, which can be too harsh for a pipe and create uneven walls and pitting inside the bowl. A reputable tobacconist will be honest if any repairs have been performed or if further refurbishing is required. Reputation and expertise are all important for retail tobacconists, and there is no incentive to mislead a customer for a ‘quick sale’.

Racine and Laramie’s tips on selecting your first tobacco pipe.

Pipe Guide

Choosing a Pipe for Smoking Tobacco

Choosing a pipe is harder than it may sound, especially if it is your first or second ever one. The range of factors that go into finding and buying the right pipe is extensive – and it can be even harder if you’re buying one as a gift.

Fortunately, this guide will be able to clear a few things up to help you get on your way to choosing the right pipe for you or whomever you may be buying for.

A pipe must meet your requirements and preferences for it to fully satisfy you. The different factors that you must consider exist as Aesthetic, Mechanical and Financial. By breaking the factors up into groups, we are able to consider all of the key points to hopefully match you up with the perfect pipe at the end of it all, providing endless enjoyment.

1. Aesthetics

You must like the look and feel of the pipe. All other considerations are fairly meaningless in comparison to this one. Even if you purchase a mechanically perfect pipe, but you don’t enjoy the look and feel of it, then it is completely pointless. There is a perfect pipe out there for everyone, so don’t settle for second best. It doesn’t matter if the pipe is crafted by a big-name carver, or is simply a factory made pipe, if it doesn’t appeal to you, then it’s no good.

Buy pipes you like. Easy. But how do I know what I like? If you are new to pipe smoking, you may not be entirely sure which pipes suit your taste and preferences best. You need to make sure you consider all of the pipes you, seeing and discovering as many types as you can, before you indentify a few you may like to look at purchasing. Look at different pipe styles, because eventually, a pipe will just sell itself to you, so ensure that you’re ready to give it a physical inspection before you purchase the pipe.

2. Mechanical Considerations

The pipe not only has to look and feel good but has to bring you ultimate pleasure from smoking it. It must not have flaws in its designs. You must be able to operate the essential maintenance safely and comfortably. The question for a beginner is how do you find out how well a pipe is made?


First and foremost, you need to know what features signal a pipe you have to avoid. Quality pipes have a precisely aligned and perfectly smooth airway from the draft hole in the bowl to the end of the mouthpiece.

Any disruption in the smoke stream will cause turbulence in the smoking experience that can result in the pipe to smoke loudly and wet. Be aware that some pipes are designed with a moisture trap that many people do like to use.

Large holes and pts in the pipe are also the sign to steer well clear. While these may not interfere with the actual smoking of the pipe, they may not colour and age gracefully as the rest of the briar, which will result you in a dodgy appearance of the pipe.

Metal filters – these inserts in the stems of some low grade pipes will cause condensation, resulting in a noisy, wet smoke, which is an unwanted side effect.

Look Out For:

Besides these things to look out for, you should be on the lookout for the following characteristics of a well-made pipe:

Grain – The more uniform the grain, and the tighter the grain, the higher the price of the pipe, but overall, this has little to no effect on the smoking quality but plays a large part on the way a pipe looks.

Weight – The lighter a pipe is, the better it will generally smoke, and also stay in your mouth without straining you. Often a lighter pipe will mean that it has been cured more thoroughly (moisture removal).

Fit and finish – The pipe should look as if it was made with care. There should not be any obvious sandpaper marks, uneven stain, or bald spots without wax. The inside of the bowl should not be stained. The stem and shank should join well and there should not be any/ many sand pits. Although it is not going to compromise the smoking quality of the pipe, generally the fewer sandpits in the pipe, the better.

Draft hole – This should be as close as possible to the centre of the bowl. It should align with the air hole in the stem as perfectly as possible and should terminate in the bottom of the bowl, not partway up the side.

3. Financial Considerations

Money plays a major role in everything. You must be able to afford the pipe! Pipes are available in a huge fluctuation of prices. Generally, the higher the price of the pipe, the better the quality of it is. This has lead to a rule some people like to use: “buy the absolute best you can afford to spend”. You should however, strive to get the best value out your pipe. A cheap pipe will probably be a bad smoker, while a more expensive pipe will be a better smoker.

Now you know a little more about buying a pipe, take a browse through the UK Tobacco pipe section to see what is available. Maybe you will find the perfect pipe for you right away, with some of the best pipes and best value pipes stocked throughout the website.

So, what is the right pipe for you ?

Here are some of the most popular shapes the serious pipe smokers can choose from.

Our Pipe Guide provides detailed information for all you need to know about smoking a pipe including aesthetics and different pipe variations.