Experienced pipers know to rotate the pipe tobacco blends they smoke in order to avoid flavor burn-out or nic overdose. And, newer pipers generally figure that out fairly quickly even if they're not being mentored. However, at some point in our piping experience, all of us also have heard or read about the necessity of "pipe rotation." And, just like belly buttons and favorite pipe tobacco blends, everyone has a different opinion on the subject - i.e., how many pipes you should have in your rotation, how often each pipe should be rotated, etc.
Why is pipe rotation necessary or even important? Quite simply, tobacco is moist and your pipe - whether it be made of briar or corn cob - absorbs that moisture when you smoke it. Your pipe's ability to absorb the tobacco's moisture is a good thing because it helps to provide a drier smoking experience and to convey some of the briar's natural flavor to the overall taste.
However, because your pipe does absorb the tobacco's moisture, it also needs time to dry out afterwards. A good way to illustrate why it needs time to dry out is this analogy. Let's say you've been working outside in the hot summer sun all day. You're dripping wet with sweat and filthy dirty (boys will be boys!). So, you head inside to take a shower and clean up. When you're finished showering and reach for a towel to dry off, do you grab a dry towel or the damp one from your morning shower? You go for the dry towel because you know it will do a much better and quicker job of completely drying you off. If you use the damp towel, you'll be left feeling damp and sticky. Ewww!
So, what does excessive moisture do to a tobacco pipe? At the least, it can cause your pipe to gurgle and, at worst, it can cause it to crack from over heating. Without taking you through a course in the laws of chemistry, which Michele would have to write about anyway, the basic explanation is that the moisture absorbed by your pipe heats up to a higher temperature than the tobacco in your pipe and causes the cells within the wood to expand. When the pipe cools off, the cells contract. Too much extreme expansion and contraction can cause the wood to crack. The same applies to corn cob pipes, and cracking can occur more quickly with a cob due to its softness (compared to briar).
The solution to this is simple: rotate your pipe. Of course, in order to rotate your pipe, it means you need to have more than one pipe. I know it sounds absurd to even have to say it since many of us suffer from PAD (more on that and TAD in a future blog post!). But still....
The next question is, "how many pipes does one need for the best rotation?" Well, that depends on how often you smoke your pipe. If you smoke a bowl a day, you might only need two pipes. If you smoke your pipe pretty much non-stop, then you might need 10, 12, or more pipes in order to allow each one sufficient time to dry out. The tobacco blends you smoke also factor into this equation. If you smoke drier blends, you might not need as many pipes in your rotation; whereas, if you smoke wet aromatic blends - particularly the goopy, sticky US blends, you'll need more pipes in your rotation.
And, that brings us to the last question: how often should you rotate your pipe? The generally accepted rule of thumb most pipers use is to allow a pipe to rest for 24 hours for each bowl of tobacco you smoke in it. In other words, if you smoke one bowl of tobacco in a pipe, then that pipe needs to rest for 24 hours; if you smoke two bowls in a pipe, then it needs to rest for 48 hours. If you adhere to the 24-hour rule method, then this general rule of thumb - "the number of pipes you need for your rotation = the number of bowls of tobacco you smoke per day + 1 extra pipe" - works quite well.
There are some who say that cob pipes don't need to be rotated. That's a debatable subject, so I'm just gonna leave you with this direct quote from the Missouri Meerschaum website, "Having more than one pipe in your smoking rotation will allow your pipes to dry and 'rest.' Dry pipes will always smoke better and last longer than wet, overworked pipes. Reliable smoking pipes are the key to a truly excellent smoking experience. Most pipe smokers recommend having a 7-day rotation."
The number of pipes you need and how often you rotate them is something that each piper must determine for themselves. There really is no right or best universal answer to this because it depends solely on the piper, the type of blends he or she smokes, and how often they smoke. Of course, proper and regular pipe cleaning also is a must if you want to experience the best smoking enjoyment from your pipes.
So, what is a piper to do when he or she likes to smoke more than a few bowls a day and is on a limited budget but doesn't care for cob pipes? Or, what if you want a pipe to dedicate to just one tobacco blend but don't want to spend $50 or more on a pipe? The answer my friend is ... Basket Pipes!! Basket pipes generally are quality briar pipes that just didn't make the grade for regular production due to some minor pit, flaw, or scratch in the briar. Basket pipes still provide the same smoking enjoyment, but at a fraction of the cost. So, while you're saving up for that more expensive Brebbia, Castello, Neerup, Peterson, Savinelli, etc., considering buying an inexpensive basket pipe for your rotation so you don't overuse one of the more expensive pipes in your collection in the meantime.
I'm going to wrap this up by saying that we're all here to learn so, please leave a comment and share what type of rotation method you use and why it works for you. For me, I smoke on average between 4 and 6 bowls a day in one pipe and use a 7-day rotation along with a few special occasion pipes. This method provides ample time for my pipes to rest and dry out in between use ... and, it gives me a good excuse to have more pipes! :D
As always ... Happy Piping!
The Story Teller