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How to Properly Aerate a Bowl of Tobacco

pipe bowl drawing

Adding air space is one of the most critical steps for tobacco aficionados when setting up a new bowl. It’s done by simply filling the bowl with loose tobacco to about three-quarters full and gently tapping it until it settles. Air space in a pipe separates the packed surface from the burning material, allowing oxygen to move more freely around the line and mix with smoke before it exits through your mouthpiece. Achieving an appropriate air space also reduces smoking time by burning off less material at a time and preventing light or wind from interfering with your draw. As you use your pipe, some air space will be replaced by ash or carbonized tobacco.

Reasons Why Smoking Pipe's Bowl Needs To Be Aerated

Reason #1:  Achieves the Correct Amount of Air Space

You must carefully judge how much tobacco to pack into a pipe bowl. It should be packed firmly enough to make a solid seal against the bowl but loose enough to draw quickly. Tobacco packing too tightly is standard with new pipe smokers, who often fill the bowl too full and then are taught to stir or tap it until the material falls away from the sides of the bowl. (They do not realize that this also disturbs the air space. The air space should be the same size as the bowl.)

Reason #2: Permits Easy Draw

Too little air in a pipe will cause the stem to bend or bow under its weight. Too much air in a line creates turbulence, making a drawing difficult. The right amount of air will allow you to get a nice clean pull and not have to work your lungs as hard. It will also eliminate the need to puff on a pipe excessively.

Reason #3: Prevents Stem Burn

A pipe stem has a delicate inside that can be damaged by excessive heat or moisture. A well-aerated bowl will help prevent the rapid heating of the tobacco and moisture buildup in the air space between the packed surface and the burning material, which will cause the stem to burn out prematurely.

Reason #4: Prevents Internal Combustion

Internal combustion occurs when too much oxygen reaches the tobacco, producing an explosive reaction that forces hot gasses through tiny holes in your pipe and into your lungs, causing an unpleasant burn and sometimes even carbon monoxide poisoning.

Reason #5: Prevents "Burping" or "Burnt" Tobacco

When air is allowed to enter a pipe, it mixes with the burning tobacco and begins to burn. The tobacco will stay lit longer this way if there is no aeration.

Reason #6: Prevents "Ash" from Accumulating

The lighter, sooty covering created by burning tobacco in a pipe accumulates at the bottom of the bowl and will only be removed by stirring or tapping until it falls away. However, if you fill your bowl too full, much of the burning material will fall on top of this ash, and its heat will burn it into a thick layer of carbon on top of your tobacco, which will not easily remove from your smoke.

Process Of Aerating Smoking Pipe's Bowl

  1. Cover the bottom of the bowl with your thumb. It should be level with the top of the bowl.
  2. Using a finger scoop, fill the bowl to the top. It should be an even layer across the bottom of the bowl.
  3. While gently tapping the bowl with your finger, try not to move it around once you realize it is level. A slight tap may take care of any bulge in the bottom of your bowl that you inadvertently made when filling it.
  4. Using a pipe cleaner, gently pull air into all airways available in your pipe and let it flow freely around the immediate stem area. Do not clean out holes if there are no external openings; use a small piece of tape instead.
  5. Tap lightly around the rim of your pipe to level it out and prevent any material from falling into it.
  6. Using one hand, gently shake the tobacco loose on top of your pipe while using your other hand to hold down and push down on that half of the line. Use a bench knife or something similar if you need more support. It is done to reduce all air pockets from being trapped in and burnt by the crown of the bowl, leaving more room for fresh air to flow through your entire pipe at once. This process takes patience and practice to master.

Final Thoughts

Setting up and maintaining a proper air space is the most crucial step in the smoker process and should be done at all times. It will help your draw, burn tobacco evenly, reduces burning material and ash, and helps prevent internal combustion. The right amount of air will even keep your pipe lit longer, since it creates a hot surface between the burning bowl and the fresh air. A few materials are used in smoking pipes, including briar, meerschaum, and clay. These materials are distinguished by different characteristics (such as hardness or weight) and form (such as cylinder vs. bent or straight). Even though it may be stained or decorated with oils, all wood is considered wood.

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