Recently, I noticed that my pipes hadn’t been performing as well as they should. As I eyed my Peterson 05 and struggled to pass a pipe cleaner, I discovered the draw hole was caked from dottle. The 05 wasn’t the only pipe with this issue; all my pipes were long due for a good round of cleaning. Scratching my head, I realized the last time I gave my pipes a thorough cleaning was back in May of 2016, over six months had passed since then! Sure, I run a pipe cleaner through my pipes after every use, but my pipes needed some well-deserved TLC.
Pipe cleaning and maintenance is an essential part of taking care of one’s pipes. After a pipe is smoked many times, the briar starts to stink in a way that’s off-putting. It’s like if you never took a shower, only wiping yourself down with a hand towel to get off the dirt. That might work for a day, but eventually all the deodorant in the world won’t hide your terrible body odor. Pipes need to be taken care of, and it’s our duty to keep them clean for our enjoyment. After all, pipes take care of us, so it’s only fair we do the same for them.
As a pipe smoking enthusiast, I’ve built up a collection of pipes for my rack. As nice as it is to see a filled pipe rack, the problem comes when its time to clean them: it takes time. I’ve discovered that cleaning my pipes takes days to complete. So, with no writing projects to focus on, I set aside a week this past February to clean all of my pipes and get them back in order. I’d grab a bunch of pipes from a rack, gather my cleaning supplies, and head out to the garage to start my work.
I have a specific system for cleaning my pipes. I use two different kinds of pipe cleaners for the job. For everyday smoking, I use Dill’s pipe cleaners (the red packaged ones you see in grocery stores), as they’re cheap and easy to find. Deep cleaning is a different beast, and I use BJ Longs Regular and Tapered pipe cleaners, as they don’t bend easily in the shank. I also buy shank brushes to keep on hand for the draft hole. When you smoke a pipe regularly, the dottle builds up around the draft hole until you can’t pass a cleaner through it. Shank brushes are tough and firm, and can break through dottle when a pipe cleaner can’t. These are handy tools, and I can’t recommend them enough for every pipe smoker.
When I started cleaning my pipes as a new pipe smoker, I used Isopropyl alcohol as a cleaning agent for inside the stem. This time, I switched to everclear, as I’ve heard it’s safer for the pipe smoker. I still use the Isopropyl bottle, because it’s easier for me to stick a pipe cleaner in and get it saturated.
I bought a pipe reamer when I first became a pipe smoker, but haven’t needed to use it until now. Some of my pipes started building an uneven cake, so the reamer scrapes the bowl for me and eliminates undesired cake (though not too much). Finally, I keep a stick of beeswax chapstick to polish the stems of my pipe. The beeswax works well in making my stems look brand new after a bit of elbow grease with a paper towel. The only tool I don’t have that I plan on picking up in the future is a pipe cloth. It’s not necessary, but I hope to start polishing the bowls and keep them looking nice.
The whole process took about three nights to complete, taking about seven to ten pipes each night until my task was complete. I’m a bit OCD, so when I clean my pipes I use about half a roll of paper towels and set them up around me. Some were used for polishing, others to dry my hands after getting everclear or old tobacco stains off my fingers. After all, if you’re cleaning your pipes, your hands are probably going to get dirty.
Once I had everything set up, I’d put on a podcast episode of the Country Squire Radio, light a pipe, and begin my work. After separating the stem from the bowl, I soak a regular pipe cleaner in everclear and run the cleaner through the stem, followed by the bowl. I’ll take a paper towel and clean the part of the stem that connects into the pipe and remove any residual tobacco from it. Sometimes I’ll take a Q-tip and dab inside the shank of the bowl, removing any tobacco from there as well.
After that, I’ll soak a tapered cleaner and run that through as well before using a dry one to help remove any remaining everclear from the stem and bowl. Finally, I’ll stick with regular pipe cleaners until they run through clean. The stem always comes clean first, but I’ll use quite a few in the bowl until they come clean.
If a pipe cleaner won’t pass through the draft hole, that’s when the stem shank comes into play. This time, there were a number of my pipes that were so caked with dottle that I needed to use the thin end of a tapered pipe cleaner to start the process. Using a heavy-duty shank cleaner is effective, though, and once I break through the dottle and clean it out, it’s smooth sailing from there.
Once the inside of the pipe has been thoroughly cleaned, I work on the outside of the pipe. I’ll polish the stem with the beeswax until the stem shines, and dab a paper towel with everclear and clean scorch marks off the rim of the pipe as best as I can.
I’ll set the pipe aside once I’m finished and let the stem and bowl dry while I work on the next pipe before putting them back together again. Usually, it takes me about fifteen minutes with each pipe before I’m happy with my work.
There are some pipe smokers that might find pipe cleaning a tedious process, but I enjoy it. I can just sit back, puff a pipe, listen to my podcast or music, and just think while I work with my hands. As a writer, when I smoke my pipe I’m working on a story and hammering out little details. When cleaning, I’m using my hands with something tactile, and I see the results of my hard work. While I enjoy using my mind when working on things, it’s nice to take a break and fiddle around with each pipe. I take a moment with each pipe I own and think about how I bought it, and how it’s useful to me. I put care in each pipe, and I don’t take them for granted.
It’s important to have these moments as a pipe collector. The pipe is different from other forms of smoking. With the cigarette and cigar, you smoke one and throw away the butt and forget about it. There’s more thought to a pipe, as we don’t throw a pipe away when we finish a bowl. We have memories tied to each pipe, and think of the joy that they’ve brought us. There’s a special connection we have with our pipes that we don’t take for granted.
It’s important for us to take this time and clean our pipes. It shows we don’t just mindlessly smoke and have no thought for our actions. Pipe smoking is deliberate and thoughtful; from the moment we pick out a pipe, a blend, and set aside time to enjoy them. By cleaning our pipes, it’s our own way of thanking them for the service they provide for us. So if you haven’t cleaned your pipes in some time, go ahead and take care of them. They deserve it, and you just might enjoy your time.
Until next time friends, happy puffing!
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