Does Size Matter ?!?!

Mastro De Paja 1 Yeah yeah, mind out of the gutter guys. This question is much more scientific if that’s possible. For the remainder of this discussion lets assume size refers to the combination of chamber depth & diameter and to a lesser extent airway. I got to thinking the other day, does the size of the pipe really matter not so much how the pipe smokes, but how certain tobacco’s taste in it? I have read many peoples opinion of this, and those opinions range from one extreme to the other. As with many topics in the pipe smoking community, for example, quality of current Dunhill blends: http://pipelore.net/index.php?id=123 , There always seems to be debate, disagreement and tomato throwing depending on your opinion. Well, in the past I have always been of the school of thought that size did not matter.

A brief side note: It will be interesting to see if the hits to my blog will increase with the combination of the blog title “The Eager Beaver…” and an article titled “Does Size Matter?!?!”. I will keep you all informed.

Now, back to the topic at hand. Being a disbeliever in size affecting the smoking properties and taste of a tobacco, I have always just lit up whatever blend, in whatever pipe, with the obvious adherence to my dedication of certain pipes to certain genres of tobacco. Recently, I ordered a 2oz. sample of Peter Stokkebye’s Balkan Supreme, which is touted as a well done attempt to duplicate Balkan Sobraine. Never having had Balkan Sobraine I will not get into a tomato throwing contest about which is better, nor do I care to be honest. Its not available, I am ok with that, and I will settle for what is. I am a lover of English/Balkan blends on the lighter side, and really appreciate Oriental tobaccos. So, when I saw PS Balkan Supreme at www.marscigars.com , for a measly $22 a pound, I decided it was a must try. At that price you cant go wrong trying it, and in the event it is satisfactory, you can afford to stock up on enough to last to Armageddon.

Now, I have been smoking that blend regularly for the last 2 weeks, in various pipes that I love. I must say that I was disappointed with the results. It was rather bland tasting, and whatever flavor was there seemed to have disappeared about halfway through the bowl. Now I wasn’t looking for a baseball bat of flavor to the face mind you, I simply wanted a good consistent taste that I enjoyed that would last the duration of the smoke. Instead, the VA’s, Latakia and even my beloved Orientals all seemed to be in the backseat of the car… No strike that, they all seemed to be in the backseat of the bus and I could barely make them out in the oversized mirror over the driver’s seat. Now being a disbeliever in the size affecting flavor theory, I had just about given up on this blend. I was satisfied to finish out the sample for the simple fact that it was not “bad” tobacco and I didn’t want to waste it. Again, let me stress here, this tobacco was never bad, although I may have said as much at times out of frustration. It is important to be clear that this tobacco simply was boring, unfulfilling, but was most certainly made of good quality leaf, of good cut and smoked rather effortlessly. All these upsides of course contributed to the disappointment found with the lack of flavor. An “OK” blend, well manufactured with quality product, at a price that is a throwback to 20 years ago. I’m sure you can all see where the disappointment comes from.

Well, recently I purchased a gorgeous Mastro De Paja longshank Dublin, which I fell in love with. However, there were some issues with the piece in regards to a minor crack and I could not smoke it until this was resolved.

mastro-de-paja-1.jpg

For the record, the pipe was purchased at www.ThePipeRack.com , and I can say nothing but great things about Michael and his service. Long story short Michael bent over backwards to work things out, and I will for sure shop with him again. Responsive, concerned and diligent are very good words to describe the service there and I would urge each and every one of you to take a look at his amazing selection of new and estate pipes. Who knows, you may find something you love, I did !

So after realizing that I was keeping the pipe I decided it was time to take it on its maiden voyage. It is a gorgeous pipe, and for its size, very comfortable to hold as well as clench. So, I stuffed it full of PS Balkan Supreme and lit up. Well, right from the start, it was different, very different. Whereas the flavors in other pipes was simply “OK”, in this pipe, this blend shined. From the charring light the flavors were pronounced and enjoyable. The components which all seemed to be riding somewhere in the back of the bus now were right up next to me in the drivers seat. The Orientals and Latakia popped out, neither overpowering, but just right and very satisfying.

Now, what is important here is not so much the tobacco, at least not for the purpose of this article. The pipe and the pipe’s in which this tobacco has been smoked are the focus. Lets take a minute to look at the various smoking instruments used in sampling this tobacco and see how they differ.

The first pipe I smoked this in was a Stanwell POY 2001. This pipe is a blast Dublin with a straight chamber bore top to bottom. The chamber diameter is 11/16 and the depth just about 1 1/2 in. Overall length is 5 in. This has been a great smoking pipe that was given to me by my good friend Sean, and I have had no complaints about it for any reason, however it was one of the pipes that Balkan Supreme just went flat in.

stanwell-1.jpg

The next which is also a great smoker and one I received from my friend Jesper, is an Ansell Dublin. The chamber diameter measures in at 13/16 and the depth also 1 1/2 in with a straight bore. Again, Balkan Supreme just seemed to go flat in this pipe about half-way through the bowl.

ansell-1.jpg

Now the Mastro De Paja measures in about 14/16, only 1/16-3/16 larger in diameter than the other two pipes, but with a deeper chamber at 1 7/8 in. The overall length of this pipe is 5 3/4 in. The other major difference is that the Paja has a slightly tapered bore down to the heel.

Now, does this make the difference? Does the 1/16-3/16 difference in chamber diameter, just over 1/4 in. difference in depth and a tapered chamber change the taste of a blend from “OK” to “Good”? Honestly, I’m not sure. At this point, it is the only major difference that I can find here. My smoking methods are the same, although there are always variations in packing, my method is the same with roughly the same pre-light draw every time. Can these small measurements make the difference between a tobacco being simply acceptable to being a keeper? I would venture to say this theory still requires more testing, however; from my observation, in this particular case, it seems as though the size does matter. Am I totally convinced at this point, probably not, but now that it has been brought to my attention in a way that actually seems to affect my own enjoyment, I will be more diligent in observing and documenting my experiences. I have always questioned the practice of one pipe dedicated to one blend because that pipe and that tobacco sing together, however; maybe there is some stock in that. The difference is, I want to know why they get along so well, and size may certainly be the reason.

~Justin

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6 thoughts on “Does Size Matter ?!?!

  1. I believe a deeper bowl allows the smoke to pick up flavor from the unsmoked tobacco as it is drawn down into the airway. It is the same basic principal behind the 3 inch high billiards (friggin chimney) that are sold. I also feel you may be adjusting taste and the mild Englishes will not supply the kick they once gave you.

  2. I tend to stick to the same height and bore width with all my pipes. There are a few that stick out, like my Kaywoodie 2005 POY and my Edward’s bulldog. By Dunhillian standards they’re probably group 5. While they are good smokers, I haven’t noticed any change in the taste. They are just bigger and bulkier.

    I tend to stick to Stanwell dimensions 18-19mm bore width and around 37-40mm depth.

  3. Well JB, ya got me! How could I NOT look. It’s kinda like a car wreck. As far as does size matter, I have gotten absolutely yummy flavor in all size bowls, but I haven’t paid enough attention I guess. I’ll have to give er a try.

  4. I still think it’s about that particular pipe, regardless of the size, shape, etc. I have several pipes where English mixtures really shine, being mostly medium sized (and one really small prince which might be the best one).

    But who knows…

  5. Justin, thanks for an interesting post. I enjoyed reading it.

    I’ve always been of the opinion that size matters with different tobaccos. Personally, I’ve found that Balkans and English blends do better with group 4s and 5s, Virginias with 3s and 4s, and Flakes with 3s and 4s as well. Some aromatics that I enjoy really blossom with bigger bowls – as do some English blends.

    I have found, as well, that chamber shape really does matter. If a tobacco is particularly moist, that moisture will travel down and concentrate (sometimes unpleasantly) in the bottom part of the bowl, sometimes approaching unsmokably nasty in the dottle.

    Of course, this is just my experience. YMMV.

  6. Personally I tend to favor large pipes for smoking at home, and medium sizes for smoking in the field or otherwise out of the house. The medium sizes are conducive to a 15-30 minute smoke, the larger sizes 45 minutes to an hour. (I’m one of those guys who tends to keep the pipe in my mouth and puff slowly but constantly.)

    Critical dimensions include: the diameter and shape and finish of the bowl; diameter, depth, and shape of the chamber; thickness of bowl walls; diameter of draught hole; length and thickness of stem; and width and thickness of mouthpiece. All of these in various combinations can affect the qualities of the smoke and the feel of the pipe in the hand and in the mouth.

    A deeper chamber does cause the smoke to pick up more flavor from the unburned tobacco below it. A larger diameter draught hole enables the smoke to pass through it more slowly, losing some heat to the stem along the way. Thicker wood moderates temperature to some degree.

    Yet, a large diameter chamber that is uniform in diameter all the way to the bottom, may result in the suction from the draught hole being applied unevenly through the tobacco, if the draught hole is not located properly with respect to the bottom of the chamber. In the case of engineering flaws here, the tobacco on one side of the bowl (usually the side closest to you while smoking) burns well but that on the other side less so, unless encouraged by careful use of slightly different pressures over each area with the tamper. This is to me a minor inconvenience at worst, though some here may find it more so.


    G.L. Pease Montgomery in an old Peterson. Ahh…

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