Reputable sources tell me that the best way to get popular on the social media and catalog search engine driven internet is to be a dumpster fire of a human who wails about problems and attracts drama. This post tries the opposite: an easy solution to a long-term problem.
Not many pipe smokers attempt flake tobacco, which is reputed to be difficult, and in the sense that challenges are only overcome with technique, this is true. It is harder to light, harder to fill the pipe with, and even looks more like a confection than something you would smoke.
However, flake pipe tobacco delivers perhaps the most flavor of any of the cuts since by nature it burns cool and therefore delivers more of the roasting steam that brings more taste to the smoker. Since it smolders automatically, it provides a slow, cool smoke with little effort.
The OG pipe smokers probably breath-smoked because they were working smokers, even if just thinking before the fire in some Connecticut colonial ale house. You did not want to be huffing, puffing, sucking, drawing, or otherwise distracted by pipe activity from the flavor and delicious nicotine.
(We can dispense with the internet myth of “smoking for the flavor” in the same way we laugh at reading Penthouse “for the interviews.” If you did not want nicotine, you would smoke chamomille or chicory or something. The pipe is the whole experience, including nicotine, flavor, and fire.)
Many of the old school blends were compressed as ropes or curly cut, or plugs or flakes, with the latter in each pair being the sliced version of the former. This crushes the little cells in the leaf and lets deleterious compounds evaporate off while providing a dense, cool-smoking form.
In those days, pipe smoking was not an internet fetish or fashion statement, but the way ordinary people smoked because hand-rolled cigarettes were expensive and messy. Your regular smoker picked up a tin or plug every few days and carried it around with him, loading a pipe before the job.
This smoker probably would not recognize our modern culture of “having a smoke.” The archaic smoker through the modern wanted to enjoy the pipe while doing something else, so stuck the pipe in the mouth, lit it, and breathed with it while building the implements of civilization.
For those of us having to resurrect the near-past through research and archaeology, flakes seem daunting. In my experience, this comes from the tendency of compressed tobacco to uncompress when lit, slowly obstructing the airway and causing a hot, wet pipe that requires manic sucking to keep burning.
You can see why people avoid flakes.
However, never fear… The Stevens Method® is here! In this method, as in the usual guides to flake smoking, one starts by folding the flake widthwise or along its shortest side, making it into a thin double layer of flake.
However, at this point, The Stevens Method® diverges from the usual recommendation, which is to fold the flake lengthwise or vertically into a four-layer flake. Instead, you fold the flake only two-thirds of the way down, leaving one third at only double thickness.
At that point, you prepare the flake by rolling it into a wad, squeezing it to compress it even further, twisting it to open up the threads of the flake to flame, and then slide it into the pipe with the thin side (final third) facing down. Lightly tamp the top so random tendrils do not rise over the rim.
That final third of the wad, by virtue of being thinner, gives the flake room to expand at the point where it is most likely to clog the pipe, namely after it has burned down into the final third of the bowl where it is closest to the drawhole and therefore most prone to clogging.
To light this, insert pipe in mouth — always a good first step — and let natural capillary pressure draw in air through the pipe, then light the center of the top of the wad. Once that is glowing, you can do a followup light to get the edges, but generally the flame travels outward naturally.
Again, it makes sense to breath-smoke this pipe. Stick it in the mouth, make the seal, and breathe naturally. You will find yourself letting in new air through the nose every seven seconds or so, causing a small spurt of smoke from the top of the pipe like in old Christmas movies.
A good flake fill — we use the term “pack,” but this implies cramming tobacco into a pipe like a serial killer loading dead prostitutes into his trunk hurriedly before the law arrives — will provide over an hour of flavorful, easy smoke.
This contradicts what most of us are taught about flakes, namely that you should tear them to little bits and stuff them into the pipe, but that method produces the same problem as the ready rubbed flake expands, since the compression has joined together multiple leaves in those little threads.
Nothing says that you have to smoke Irish Flake, either. Although slightly wimpier than the version from a decade ago, this flake still packs a punch. You might try some of the soft, easy flakes like Newminster #400 to get the hang of this, since they are easy and sweet.
It is unlikely that your author here can provide the type of dumpster fire that will make this go “viral” (like AIDS) on an internet of apathetic, over-statured, bloated, inattentive, and self-pitying sweaty basement meat suit people, but maybe you will enjoy a bowl or two with The Stevens Method®.