5. Methods of Rolling Cigars

For the complete novice, it is worth understanding that a long-filler cigar is not made by twisting the tobacco. A better image is that of a bundle of sticks wrapped from top to bottom with a ribbon. The process of gathering the filler leaf into a bundle is called bunching, which can be approached using one of several different methods, discussed below. The bunched filler is compressed together by wrapping it with a sturdy strip of leaf, known as a binder. Sometimes, this bound bunch is set into a cigar mold, in order to make its surface smoother, and perhaps to shape it further. The bound bunch is then wrapped again with a second strip of leaf, known as a wrapper, selected usually for its appearance.

a. Bunching
1) Simple bunching
Simple bunching is fast and effective, after a little practice. Grab some leaf, and squeeze it into a cylindrical form with your hands. Excess length can be torn off and added to the thickness of the bunch. The objective is to avoid any knots or clumps of tobacco that may obstruct airflow within the filler bunch, to avoid multiple layers of the nested leaf, and perhaps to distribute different components of the blend in a particular arrangement within the bunch. If flat leaves are simply placed on top of each other, then rolled up like a beach towel, the flow of air and combustion will channel only through the center of the cigar, leaving the exterior unburned. The leaf within the bunch should be equally crinkled and equally compressed.

2) Accordion bunching (sometimes called booking)
Accordion bunching is relatively fast but requires quite a bit of practice to perform consistently. With this method, individual-or even stacks of individual leaves are tightly folded back and forth, like an accordion. Many cigar factories use this method. Compared to other methods, the final compression of the bunch is not as uniform and sometimes leads to an inconsistent draw. Placing accordion-bunched cigars into a cigar mold may minimize the asymmetry that it sometimes produces in the cross-section of the bound bunch.

3) Entubado (tubed) bunching
Tubed bunching is the most tedious and time-consuming approach to bunching, though it may theoretically provide the most consistent draw in the finished cigar. Using this method, each segment of leaf within the bunch is tightly rolled into a “tube”. The tubes are then assembled into a complete bunch of many tubes. This is then bound. Some rollers cut the leaf segments prior to rolling the tubes, then carefully roll an actual tube. Another approach is to start at the leaf base end of a frog-legged filler leaf and loosely roll it onto itself in a helical form, along an axis parallel to its secondary veins so that once the top of it is grasped, it remains wound. Each of these helical tubes is added to the accumulating bunch. When using uncut filler leaf, excess length can be torn off and added to the thickness of the bunch.

While the tightly rolled, carefully cut tubes present a striking visual pattern at the open foot of a finished cigar and certainly permits adequate draw (if not too tightly compressed), the airflow improvement rationale of this method may exist only in theory, and depend mostly on the degree of compression of the bunch. Entubado filler is no doubt more effective at providing adequate draw compared to accordion-pleated filler.

4) Long-scrap and short-filler cigars
Long scrap can usually be bunched using simple bunching, and bound in the same fashion as a long-filler cigar. Short scrap or even shred is more troublesome, in the absence of a specialized bunching device, such as a Lieberman. A Lieberman is a lever-arm rolling mat that traps a pocket of short filler, much like a manual cigarette roller, and compresses it into a cylindrical form, while allowing a binder to be inserted and wrapped about the filler. There are little, hand-held cigarillo rollers on the market that are just enlarged versions of a manual cigarette roller.

Cigarillo Wrapper

Cutting a binder/wrapper for use in a hand-roller for a cigarillo.
The wide, square end is inserted into the rollers after the filler
has been formed into a cylinder by the roller mat.

It is possible to lay an ordinary binder strip on the rolling board, then add little piles of short filler, as the binder is slowly wrapped, inch by inch. A more effective hand-binding approach is to use a broad binder leaf that is cut to its full width, parallel to a secondary vein so that there is a cigar-length straight edge at the start of rolling. Two or smaller such binder strips can be combined to comprise the full length of the cigar at the start of rolling.

Bunching short filler in this manner may yield a limp, spongy, bound bunch. In that case, add a standard binder, to stiffen and further compress it.

A temporary “Lieberman” can be created by taping a plastic mat (even a WLT 7 to 10″ wide leaf bag) to the countertop, laying a binder leaf on it lengthwise, and then piling short filler in a row across the far end of the mat, and on top of the wide start of the binder. Fold the mat over the pile of filler, then compress and drag the hump in the mat toward you, so that the binder strip is wound about the filler as the filler is compressed.

Tobacco bag taped
A 7-inch wide tobacco bag taped to the counter
Binder leaf taped
Two pieces of binder leaf laid near taped end of the mat.
Short scrap filler
Short scrap filler is piled onto the binder
Taped Mat Dowel

The loose end of the mat is folded over the tobacco,
then a dowel is used to compress the bunch,
while drawing it away from the taped end of the mat

Short scrap filler
Short scrap filler is piled onto the binder
Scrap filler with a wrapper
The appearance of the scrap filler, after a wrapper, is added

With a little practice, this works reasonably well, though it sometimes required a second binder to be manually wrapped onto it, before the wrapper is applied in the usual fashion…

b. Binding
1) Single binder
For a bunch that you plan to place into a mold, a single binder is usually sufficient. Lay the binder half-leaf so that the leaf tip is closest to you on the rolling board, the under the surface of the leaf (most prominent veins) is facing up, and the veins are horizontal to you. Place the gathered bunch of long-filler parallel to the veins, with the “foot” end near the closest tip of the binder. Bring the bottom tip of the binder toward you, and then over the bunch, and tuck it under the opposite edge of the bunch-like wrapping a scarf around a neck. Begin wrapping it by compressing the bunch beneath your fingertips, and very slowly rolling it away from you, while keeping the binder taut and smooth. This takes a little practice. When you reach the “head”, and the bunch is entirely wrapped, you can apply a small amount of cigar glue to hold it wrapped, or simply twist the end of the binder well, and clamp it with a clothespin.

The binder can appear sloppy, so long as it compresses the bunch adequately, and does not leave gaps. Its sins will be hidden by the wrapper.

2) Double binder
When using a relatively delicate binder leaf, or when rolling free-hand, without a mold, a double binder reduces the risk of the filler puncturing through to the binder, increases the stiffness of the bound bunch, and allows for better compression of the bunch. A double binder is easier for a new roller to learn to use effectively since it requires less of an understanding of how much stress a particular variety of binder can handle.

Double Binder

Double binder, one on top of the other.

A single binder is laid flat on the rolling board. A second binder half-leaf is laid on top of it, with its veins oriented the same, and with its outer edge slightly “inside” the outer edge of the first binder. If you create a double binder with the two halves of a single, stemmed leaf, one will have its veiny side up, and the other its veiny side down.

Wrap the bunch within the double binder as though it were only a single leaf strip. If you use glue, glue the final edge of both binder layers.

3) Reinforcement cap
If the “head” (the mouth end) of the bound bunch does not feel as sturdy as you would prefer, you can often use the remainder of the unused binder strip to reinforce the head. Trim the lower margin of this scrap perpendicular to the veins, so that you have a vertical straight edge. Mist it lightly with non-chlorinated water, then start wrapping the bound bunch 1-1/2 to 2 inches below the head. This will add an additional layer to the binder at the head and will be hidden under the final wrapper.

Reinforcement cap

A reinforcement cap added to a binder. [MarcL]

c. Wrapping
If you begin with a nicely bound bunch and a properly trimmed wrapper strip in high case, this is the easiest aspect of making a cigar. Wrapping an aesthetically flawless cigar requires experience. Wrapping one that you can be proud of does not. The wrapper should be in high case so that it is fully relaxed, and its secondary veins limp and straight. The leaf strip is laid out in the same manner as for a binder. Begin closest to you, with the “foot” of the bound bunch about an inch from the tip of the wrapper strip. Bring the tip of the wrapper toward you, then carefully wrap it over the foot of the bunch, and tuck it beneath the far edge of the foot. [The foot of the cigar is sometimes called the “tuck” because in starting the wrapper, you wrap then tuck it under the foot.]

Wrap the bunch by rolling it away from you, while gently applying tension (and smoothing) to the underlying wrapper strip. Keep veins parallel to the bunch. Don’t hesitate to back up and try a section again. Aim for a snug fit to the outer edge of the wrapper, and a wrinkle-free lay. As you near the head, apply a tiny smear of glue to the outer edge of the wrapper. Or you can just complete the wrap, and close the head with a twist.

d. Capping (closing the head)
Adding a simple or complex (for example. a so-called triple) cap requires that you use cigar glue. Add the first cap using the remaining wrapper leaf in the same manner as applying a reinforcing cap on the binder (see above), and glue it. For a more complex cap, an oval or teardrop-shaped segment of vein-free wrapper leaf is cut from wrapper scrap using a chaveta. It needs to be long enough to wrap more than one complete wrap around the head and must be glued on. Any protruding bits of the head must be trimmed and tucked toward the center of the cigar head. Cut a third cap (a circular disc), using a cap cutter, apply glue to it, then hold the cigar vertically above it, head down, and stick the head onto the glue-covered disc. Tidy it with your fingertip.