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Care of Your Pipe

Pipes will not keep their original beauty unless one looks after them. All too often, the care of a pipe is neglected and it quickly becomes dirty and, occasionally, soured by tar build up. To avoid this, here are a few helpful tips for those who have recently begun smoking a pipe or just want a few pointers in the maintenance of them.

There are things available to us. Pipe cleaners, reamers, cleaning alcohol, rags and wax. I have always found a pocket knife to be good thing to have handy as well.


This is the bit that goes in your mouth. Just as you wouldn’t want to eat with dirty cutlery, do you really want to smoke a dirty pipe? Probably not. To keep mine clean, I run a pipe cleaner through the stem after every bowl I smoke. This will remove all the loose soot and tar from the mouthpiece. Once a month, I dip a pipe cleaner in alcohol and run that through my stems, scrubbing the airways clean. (My chosen alcohol is cheap cognac. It sweetens things up when it has dried!)
The exterior of the stems get polished with a dry cloth or, if I think the lustre is disappearing, with a little natural beeswax. Simply rub it on with a finger and polish it off with a soft dry rag.


Some people like to accumulate a layer of burnt tobacco leftovers in the bowl of their pipes. It is the common consensus that this helps the pipe to burn cooler. It doesn’t. The bowl may feel cooler in the hand because of the extra lining of carbon in the bowl, but your tobacco will still burn at the same temperature that it always does. This build up is generally referred to as “cake”. A little cake is a good thing. It will protect the bowl against burning.

I like to keep cake to a minimum as the carbon expands quicker than the briar. If you have too much cake, you risk cracking the bowl. To keep this carbon cake to a minimum one can use a reamer or a penknife to remove it or reduce it. Reamers come with instructions. Follow them. If you decide to use a penknife, the technique is to lay the blade in the bowl so that both edges of the blade have contact with the cake. Gently, rotate the bowl over the sharp edge and shave the cake down. Be careful to not press a sharp point into the bottom of the bowl. This will damage the pipe. Try not to shave right down to the briar. Leave a little cake.
As an extra method of reducing cake, one can “ream” the bowl with a dry paper towel after smoking. This will reduce the tar and soot build up and, thereby, reduce the caking process.

The exterior of the bowl can be polished up with a little beeswax on a dry cloth. Do not use water or alcohol on the exterior of the bowl. If you have a blackening (this is soot) on the rim of the bowl, this can be removed by using saliva to dampen a paper kitchen towel and simply polishing the soot away.

The airway in the shank is easily cleaned with a pipe cleaner. I use the same method in the shank as I do for the interior of my stems. A dry clean after every bowl and an alcohol wash once a month.


Handle your pipe carefully. Dropping them onto a hard surface will damage them and may even break a stem. Carrying a pipe in a pocket is also a risky business. They tend to fall out of shirt pockets when one bends over, they can be broken in a trouser pocket when one sits down. Be aware of these danger points. Coins, keys and all else in the pocket will chafe the pipe, so either keep the pipe in a pouch or the sock that came with it when you bought it or dedicate a pocket to the pipe.
Do not leave your pipe lying in direct sunlight. Sunlight will turn vulcanite stems brown and can cause deformation of the stem. (They are shaped by heating. Bent stems have a tendency to right themselves back to straight!) 
Finally, keep your pipe away from liquids. Even water can be detrimental to the finish on your pipe.

While this is not a comprehensive guide to keeping your pipe like new, following the regimen I have described will lengthen the life of your pipe and keep it sweet. Some will advocate the acquiring of a buffer or other more advanced equipment which is, of course, very nice to have although not absolutely necessary. Generally speaking, a little care will go a long way and will add to your smoking pleasure. Not only that, you probably paid a pretty penny for your pipe. Look on this as a way of protecting your investment.

Enjoy your pipe.

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