Furthest Right

Pipe Meditations (August 30, 2023)

Blend: Peterson’s Perfect Plug
Type: UK plug: dark fired Kentucky Burley and red + bright Virginia
Strength: the dark side of medium-to-strong

Among the UK plugs, Peterson’s Perfect Plug remains one of the few that is widely available in plug form. A generation or two ago, this was a popular form of pipe tobacco because, as with a rope, a smoker could keep a chunk of it in a pocket for the day without it drying out or going bad.

This way when you were out on a job or in the office, filling a pipe meant dragging the rope or plug out of your pocket, whipping out a sharp pocketknife to make lots of little shavings, and then marshaling them into the pipe with the flat of your hand.

Compressed tobacco burns differently from ribbon tobacco. Since it is dense, it naturally smolders, which is the heat level we desire as pipe smokers. Slow and steady is the way, and sudden changes make instability, including burns, tongue bite, and hot wet messy pipes.

For me smoking 3P (as it is commonly called) involves placing the little cube on its thinnest side, then slicing downward at a slight angle in order to get shavings. Once the pile is the right size, it is basically poured into the pipe and compressed lightly with the thumb.

You want shavings here because it is unlikely, unless you have a clamp and a professional-grade slicing tool, that you will make anything but thick flakes that are very hard to light. Aim for feathered slivers instead that you can pile without pressure in your pipe.

This ensures that all the little bits of tobacco are touching each other so the flame will easily transfer from one to another as it burns down. At that point, the flame must descend into the bowl with a few quick puffs, then it is time to tamp and light again.

After that, the pipe will be going and if packed reasonably well, will keep burning for the next few hours. This is what a working pipe smoker needs, after all: a pipe that starts going and can be breath-smoked without a second thought while the job is in progress.

The vision shown to us in much of the pipe writing out there of the solitary pipe-smoker relaxing on his porch with a carefully curated bowl proves to be at odds with the working smoker. We are doing something else while we smoke, which hints to the philosophical nature of the pipe.

The point of smoking a pipe is not to get through life, but to get into it. Most of what we do is materially teleological, meaning that we have a goal to enact some material change on our world, usually through pacifying or terrifying others with symbols.

When you get into life while smoking a pipe, it means that you are enjoying your time and the spirit of whatever you are doing. You will have time constraints — who does not? — but you are there for the experience of what you are doing and the joy of doing it well.

The pipe accompanies you with rich flavor, gentle nicotine, and a comforting rhythm of breathing in and out every seven seconds or so. It is there to enhance life and insulate you so that you can appreciate the essence of whatever it is you are doing and enjoy your time doing it as much as possible.

Sure, fixing a toilet will never be fun, but it is less un-fun with the pipe, and in a contemplative mood, you find yourself paying attention to the framework of little details that make the difference between a mediocre job and an excellent one. You take pride in your accomplishment.

That is the spirit of life. No one wants to fix a toilet, but most of us can take pride in having made a toilet work so well and engineering the process so solidly that it will keep doing so for a long time. That way, when we go home, we look back on a job well done and appreciate its excellence.

In the same way, when we experience into life instead of trying to get through life as a task, we find ourselves appreciating the benevolence, beauty, and sanity of ordinary life. While a pipe is not required, it surely helps.

When you fire up your bowl of 3P after the tamp, give it a good deep flame because while compressed tobacco smolders for better smoke, it also takes a bit of work to get it going. Once the ride begins however, it is nothing but pure smoky goodness all the way.

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