Hello, my name is Eddie Gray, and I want to thank you for visiting my site! I've got some big plans in the works, but all journeys begin with just one step, and that's sort of what this first blog post means to me. I encourage you to register and sign up for news and announcements about The Pipe Nook--I think you'll find in time that you'll be glad you did!
I figured it would be best to take this opportunity to give a brief introduction of myself as it relates to pipe smoking, which is the thing that connects us--the reason we're both here, so to speak. I've always loved the idea of pipe smoking since I was a child, watching my great-grandfather relaxing with his pipe. But when I grew up and tried my hand at pipe smoking, I had many false starts and times of frustration. Every time I tried to smoke a pipe, it seemed I was destined to fail miserably. My tobacco would be not to my taste, too flavored or flavorless, my pipe would burn hot and go out constantly, I would burn my tongue severely, and finally throw my hands up and say, “that's it, I'm done! I just don't have the knack.” And I would go back to cigars, which are infinitely easier to manage. That went on for about 20 years.
Thing was, I just didn't enjoy cigars as much as I thought I would enjoy pipes, if only I could get it down. There seemed to be some secret knowledge that I just wasn't privy to, some club of information, and I wasn't an initiate. In my hometown, I only knew a few people who had even tried to smoke a pipe, and they were pretty much all as clueless as I was. The only older person I knew who smoked was my great-grandfather, and he just honestly wasn't that great at instructing, not to mention that he only smoked Dr. Grabow pipes, and only smoked Sir Walter Raleigh Regular. When you smoke the same tobacco in the same pipe for 70 years, I guess you get the hang of it!! But I was more adventurous than that. I'd seen and heard of many other tobaccos with different flavors and characteristics, and many different pipe shapes, sizes, etc.
In the United States, we pretty much went two or possibly three generations with pipe smoking highly marginalized, with cigars more in the limelight, but cigarettes steadfastly rooted center-stage. The most obvious reason why is that cigarettes are cheaper and easier, and intended for the masses who have been conditioned to want cheap, instant gratification. Think about fast food. We want it cheap, and we want it fast. Doesn't matter that it's substandard food, or that it's slowly killing us. That, my friends, is also the story of cigarettes. Cigars have become the more “upper class” smoking alternative, providing a much more expensive and luxurious smoking experience, although cigars predate cigarettes (the name cigarette means little cigar). Perhaps I'll write a completely different blog about this in the future, but I'm getting off-topic.
Since there was no one around to teach me how to smoke and enjoy a pipe, and since I'd seen all of my grandparents die in their sixties due to cigarette related illnesses, I chose cigars as my form of smoking enjoyment. Only thing was, I was a college student on a very tight budget. I enjoyed cigars when I could, and had fun learning about different regions of cigar tobacco, different shapes and ring sizes, etc...but I couldn't afford the “really good sticks.” It was an enjoyable pastime, but there were drawbacks.
First, cigars don't pass the wife test, either for myself or for many of my friends. No matter how mild or small of a cigar I would smoke, my wife would never want to touch me or even be near me for hours after I'd smoked a cigar. As an affectionate man, believe me, I'm definitely not a fan of that! Then, there was the fact that no matter how much I enjoyed smoking a cigar, it would “haunt” me the next morning. I would invariably wake up feeling like someone had used my mouth as an ashtray. I called it the “Morning After Syndrome,” and I wasn't happy about that. Then, of course, there was the expense, of spending $8 to $10 on a “good” smoke for special occasions, and the risk that I might not even enjoy that particular cigar. On a student's budget, I just couldn't buy a bunch of cigars and maintain a well-stocked humidor of premium sticks. These reasons and more brought me back to the pipe.
I still had (and to this day still have) my first few pipes, all Dr. Grabows that cost me about $15 each, back in the late 90's. But I had a feeling that while pipe tobacco was relatively inexpensive, I would be doing myself a favor to try my hand with a better pipe. This was around 2008, and even though I was out of school and earning a bit more, the budget-conscious part of me still kept me from going crazy, and I wound up buying a basket pipe at my local (now defunct) Tinder Box for $35. It was better, even though I still didn't know how to “properly” smoke a pipe, and it inspired me to try a $50 pipe about a year later. This was a much more enjoyable experience, but I was still very ignorant as to what I was doing. As such, I continued to go back and forth between cigars and my fledgling pipe collection.
During this time, I made a few interesting discoveries that completely changed the way I viewed pipe smoking. I found that when I smoked a pipe on the porch and came inside, I could give my wife a hug minutes later, and not be pushed away with the typical “Gross, get away, you stink” line that I inevitably got after smoking a cigar. Whereas she used to want me to take a shower or at the very least change clothes before I got anywhere near her, she seemed fine with the much more subtle aroma of the pipe. In fact, she began to ask me what tobacco blend I had smoked. She wouldn't go so far as to say she liked it, but it was quite apparent that pipe smoke lingered much less and was much more acceptable to her. And I didn't have to spend at least $5 on one cigar to enjoy a smoking experience; I could spend that $5 on an ounce of pipe tobacco, and have at least 5 smokes, if not more. In addition, I found that when I woke up the next morning after smoking a pipe, I didn't have “ashtray mouth.” Hmmm...interesting...
Sometime in 2012, I resolved that I was finally going to learn how to smoke a pipe. There were simply too many advantages of pipes over cigars, and the only real hindrance was my lack of knowledge. If I were going to continue enjoying the occasional smoke, it was going to be with a pipe. I was going to put in the time and the research, and finally, finally, figure it all out.
But there was SO MUCH to learn! Pipe making materials, various styles and shapes, price ranges, factory versus artisan, different finishes and stem types, the myriad of tobacco companies and blends, how to choose a pipe, pack it, light it, care for the pipe, tobacco storage, etc. All the things that discouraged me in the past. It was a daunting task, and I felt like I was all alone, me against the world trying to make sense of it all. Nevertheless, I had made up my mind, and this time it was all or nothing. I decided that if I couldn't “get it” this time around, I'd throw out my pipes and never try it again.
I began poring over various internet searches, and found a few pipe smoking forums. Some were more helpful than others, and I began to uncover more questions than answers. I did begin to gain some traction, however, and was encouraged. Then, I had a thought that made me wonder why I hadn't thought of it before. Why not search YouTube for some how-to videos? I'd used YouTube as a resource before, when I needed to know how to fix various computer problems, compare features of two similar products, etc. This could just be the answer. So I went to YouTube and typed “How to Smoke a Pipe.” The findings of that search altered the course of my story to this very day. I found many helpful videos, chock-full of tips and advice. The most helpful of which was a 37-minute video titled, “Pipe Smoking: How to Smoke a Pipe by Dagnerperformance.” It was one man's honest, simple and comprehensive methodology to all things related to pipe smoking as he saw it. It was a real eye-opener. I watched it three times. I took notes, I tried his advice on many things, and I began to have quite a few “Aha” moments. I was finally on the right track, and things began to click into place for me during my smoking sessions.
And soon enough, I discovered a whole slew of videos, made by regular people like Jayson, taking part in something called the “YTPC.” The YouTube Pipe Community. It was a growing, thriving, lively way to interact with fellow pipe smokers, both seasoned and newbies. And they were all helping one another, answering what questions they could, giving advice, making recommendations, and more. I was hooked. I watched dozens, and eventually hundreds of videos. And I finally began to take part, leaving comments (mostly questions), encouraging others, eventually making my own videos, and having fun! The YTPC provides the personal element that the forums ultimately lacked: a real, personal sense of...well, community.
I'm not saying there's no worth to the online forums. To the contrary, I've found many good pieces of advice, and many solid recommendations. But for me, YouTube became my go-to source for pipe information. Many would say that's like looking to Wikipedia for all of one's answers to a particular topic. I would say it's more like asking your friends their opinions. All I can say is that it worked for me, and I'm still making videos and enjoying the sense of community built around this pastime that I simply don't have in my own town.
Another interesting thing happened along the way that is worth noting. My view of pipe smoking, or really smoking in general, changed. The things I didn't like about the pipe in the beginning (remember that instant gratification curse of our culture) are the very things I have come to love about it. You can't be in a hurry and enjoy smoking a pipe. It makes you slow down, relax, focus on breathing, and clear your mind of all the clutter of the day to really contemplate. What an amazing discovery!
And then...basically...I went buck-wild. A switch flipped in my brain, and I stopped considering myself someone who smokes the occasional pipe, and I began to think of myself as a Pipe Smoker. It's something I don't have to do every day; however, every day that I don't smoke just seems to be missing something special. Once this change in mindset took place, I caught the collecting bug in a big way! I've always had a tendency towards collecting, whether it be guitars, comic books, or trading cards. But the money spending frenzy on pipes and tobaccos during the next 3 years shocked even me. Since this site is focused on pipes for now, let me just say that I purchased about 75 pipes and spent more than $3,000 collectively on them. That's an average of about $47 per pipe, but the numbers are a bit skewed because about 15 of the pipes are corn cobs. Excluding my cobs (great smokers, all) I probably spent an average of $60 per pipe, with the price tags ranging from $15 to $300. I purchased many different shapes, sizes, finishes, brands, and price ranges, and over time have come up with my own personal guidelines for future purchasing, based on my personal observations of the line where quality meets value.
The range of products of any given industry has always fascinated me, and led me to purchase items that I pretty much knew would be too cheap, and items I knew I shouldn't buy because I couldn't really afford them. In all my personal interests, I have searched for the optimal place where quality meets value. I call this range the “sweet spot,” and I have found it in mountain bikes, guitars, amplifiers, and now, pipes. To rein this discussion in, let's focus back on pipes and allow me to say that I have a price in my head that is the low end at which spending less would be a waste of money due to poor quality, and a price at the higher end beyond which I would have reached the law of diminishing returns. Currently for Briar pipes, I find this sweet spot to be between $50 and $150. I break these up into two basic tiers: Pipes priced between $50 and $99 I would consider Tier 1, quality pipes that smoke well, but possibly aren't the best in fit and finish, and are produced with typically more machining than hand-fashioning (although there is handwork involved). Pipes priced between $100 and $150 I would consider Tier 2, higher-quality pipes with more aesthetic value, and very likely with more hand-crafting involved. Regardless, I would recommend any of the pipes on this site to any pipe smoker, from the newest of puffers to the most seasoned of pipe smokers. Many of the pipes on these pages, I would consider “must haves” for any collection, from the most humble to the most abundant—they're that good!
A special note about corn cob pipes: I personally believe that the least expensive way to discover whether or not pipe smoking is for you is to buy a tried and true Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe. They won't impress your poker buddies and they won't win any beauty pageants, but they are honest-to-goodness good smokers, and the best value on the market for a pipe.
Now, I'm not saying you can't get lucky and buy a nice basket briar pipe or “drug store pipe” for $35 and get a good smoker. Stranger things have happened. And I'm not saying that spending $350 or more on a higher end pipe is a total waste of money. Again, what I'm talking about here is the sweet spot that I've found, where the best possible quality meets the best possible value. And that's how this site was born.
My aim is not to compete with the “big box” guys, nor is it to take away from the dozens if not hundreds of fantastic artisan pipe makers out there. My goal is to help out those who are just getting into the pipe smoking hobby, and those who are beginning to build their pipe collections, by providing brands and pipe models that I can personally stand behind, that don't break the bank. Every pipe for sale on this site is a personal recommendation from me, because I personally know the brands and can stand behind their products. I don't carry budget brands I can't vouch for that I feel are a waste of money because they are too unreliable or variant in their quality. I don't carry more expensive brands (or even higher-priced models of favorite brands) that I feel are simply too high-priced for beginners or intermediate pipe smokers. And I'll never carry a brand that I haven't personally smoked, because I can't stand behind a product with which I haven't had personal and positive experiences. Yes this is a business—but no, it's not all about the money.
My bottom line is this: There are literally hundreds of choices, so I help narrow the playing field for those just getting started building their pipe collections, and those who are just looking to give it the old college try without spending an arm and a leg. I've spent gobs of money, so that you can learn from my mistakes. My goal is to make this the education-focused website I wish I had found in my own journey many years ago.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for visiting! Please feel free to email me and ask any questions you may have. I'll do my best to answer.
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