8. Pipe Tools

pipe tools

Pipe tools: (left to right) home-made 14 gauge steel smoke hole ream 17 gauge aluminum bit ream, Q-Tip, whittled tamper and wedge, pipe nail tamper, machined steel smoke hole ream.

There are several tools that are useful while packing a pipe, smoking the pipe, and maintaining and cleaning a pipe. Some are easy to improvise at home, while others may need to be purchased

a. Tamper
You can pack a pipe with your fingertip, but you can’t tamp the tobacco without some sort of tool, once it is burning. The simple, whittled end of a twig from the lawn does a fair job. Inexpensive pipe nails (from a tobacconist) are excellent. An ideal tamper head is flat and circular but created with a narrower neck so that the tamping can be slightly angled if needed.

b. Spoon or wedge

This is used to adjust the bottom of the packed tobacco inside the bowl, in the event that the draw becomes too tight while smoking. and also for scraping out the bowl. The simple, sharpened wedge of a twig does the job, as does the flattened end of a pipe nail.

c. Bowl ream
After months to years of smoking the same pipe, the layer of char that builds upon the interior of the bowl needs to be scraped away. There are specialized pipe bowl reams to accomplish this safely and are the safest option when reaming a relatively soft bowl material, such as a softer wood or meerschaum bowl. For the much harder, briar bowls, a knife blade with the right shape will work well. The objective in reaming is, for a meerschaum bowl, to remove all of the char, but for all other materials, to remove only most of the char.

reaming the bowl

Reaming the bowl requires a relatively blunt edge, and the absence of a sharp point that might easily gouge the bowl. Only certain knife blade types in certain sizes provide that.

d. Smoke hole ream
With continued use, and especially with smoking aromatic tobaccos, the smoke hole in the pipe shank accumulates a thick, sometimes hardened coating of tarry combustion products that, little by little, narrow the opening, and reduce its airflow. A typical smoke hole will accommodate a rod or wire of about 14 gauge. The tip of this smoke hole ream should ideally be flat‑cut at a right angle to the rod. The crud within the hole is forced into the bowl, for removal

e. Bit Ream
Pipe bits need love too. But they tend to be made from fragile material. Both acrylic and hard rubber (Vulcanite) bits can endure significant compression, but easily fracture when an internal force is applied from inside the smoke hole. A flexible probe made from aluminum wire, 17 gauge or smaller, can be curved to match the bit’s curvature and used to gently remove materials too adherent to come clean with just a pipe cleaner.

f. Pipe cleaners
These are fine, twisted wires with fuzz entrapped into them. They are manufactured with cotton or synthetic fibers. Some are startlingly expensive, while others are dirt cheap. Either will clean equally well. Although burning an occasional cotton fiber is less noticeable than burning acrylic fiber, this is not a problem if you blow through the pipe after using a pipe cleaner.

The most economical and efficient pipe cleaners are 12-inch long synthetic ones sold in the craft section of big-box stores, and labeled as something like “fuzzy sticks”.

g. Q-Tips
Keep a small container (e.g. a shot glass) filled with Q-Tips near where you smoke or clean your pipes. After each bowl of tobacco, forcefully blow through through the bit (with a paper towel in front of the bowl, since stuff may come flying out), to force any retained liquid out of the bit and shank, then clean the bottom of the bowl with a Q-Tip. This allows the pipe to dry, ready for the next smoke much more quickly than waiting for evaporation. (An alternative would be to insert a pipe cleaner into the stem, down to the bowl, and leave it there while the pipe rests.)

After using a pipe cleaner or smoke-hole ream in the shank, clean the goo from the bottom of the bowl with a Q-Tip. Consider them as important as pipe cleaners.

h. Pipe rack
A pipe rack, while it may or may not be decorative, is useful in allowing a pipe to adequately dry between use. Keep space efficiency in mind when purchasing a pipe rack, since the number of pipes in your collection may creep upward over the years. Racks with a closed hole in the upper rail (into which the pipe stem is inserted) are more secure and stable than those with just a slot in the upper rail, but some pipe shapes and bits can be difficult or impossible to insert through a closed hole, or with other pipes in adjacent positions.

Folding, pocket pipe rest and other tools

Folding, pocket pipe rest and other tools. [Sid.Stavros, Athens]

A one-pipe “rack” that simply allows a pipe to be set upon it while smoking is usually called a pipe stand or pipe rest. Sitter pipes won’t work with a pipe rest, but most other styles of pipes are more conveniently set in them, allowing a pipe smoker to put down a pipe that contains burning tobacco. Sitters acquire their name because they are shaped and balanced to sit all on their own.

A handy, pocket pipe rest can be made from a stiff loop of leather (e.g. a piece of an old leather belt) or thick vinyl, that is joined face-to-face. It can lie flat within a pocket, yet be forced into an open loop at a table. Pipe rests are manufactured in various woods, ceramics, plastics or even glass, and are available from most tobacconists.