When you first start out as a pipe smoker, it’s this mysterious thing you look forward to. It’s something you wait for with baited breath! “When will this elusive cake that everyone is talking about finally build up?!” You scream to the heavens.
I remember those times. It was a while ago, but I remember the guys in my pipe shop 20 years ago talking about building a lovely cake, laughing and puffing their clouds as I sat quietly in the corner trying to soak up some of their knowledge; and I remember waiting for it.
Then finally, if you smoke enough, and pray enough to the pipe gods, you get to have your cake! (But don’t eat it too, that could be bad for you!)
The truth is, the excitement and suspense wear off well before you smoke enough to get a good cake, but either way, it grows, and it does improve the smokeability of the pipe.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t STOP growing. Suddenly this thing you were waiting for becomes a chore you have to take care of. It works well as a metaphor for life, I’d say, but that’s an entirely different article.
So years pass and suddenly, it’s time to ream your pipe. If you don’t, eventually you will run out of room in the bowl!
In fact, most pipesters recommend a cake that is roughly the thickness of a dime for optimal smoking. Personally, I let it get a bit bigger, but that’s just me.
So it’s time to ream. You can buy a reaming tool or use a knife; these are the most readily available tools for reaming. The problem with these is that you risk damaging the cake you’ve spent months, possibly years, on, and even if you do it correctly, you can never get it 100% smooth.
I don’t know about you but I’ve chipped my cake using both of these tools, and I was meticulous. It’s pretty horrifying to ruin something that took so long to build, but accidents happen. It’s a risk I just had to make, and I hated that. It made me nervous to try to remove the stuff.
Well, all that changed this year after I read an article on reaming. In the comments, someone recommended reaming with fine-grit sandpaper. The idea seemed a bit scary, but I was desperate to find other ways to go about this business, so I decided to take a leap of faith.
With this knowledge, I picked up some sandpaper. Here’s a link to the exact sandpaper I used that is the best for pipe reaming: 220 Grit Multipurpose Sandpaper Sheets.
I didn’t skimp. These are my pipes we’re talking about, not the side of a fence. So I bought the best sandpaper I could find at the cheapest price. It’s only a few bucks more. Sandpaper is cheap. Pipes are expensive, so don’t feel bad getting the best.
There are different ways you can ream with sandpaper. One person said they wrap it around a dowel rod and gently sanded it. Another said they used a pencil. I use my finger because it seems more precise and I can feel the progress I’m making.
I cut a small rectangular strip, stick in all the way in, bending it a bit so it covers the bottom of the pipe as well, and I gently sand. It doesn’t take much, so don’t go crazy with it. Sand a little and check. Repeat if necessary. I got through around three pipes per strip before I cut a new one.
Before I went to my expensive pipes, I took the cautious route and practiced reaming with the sandpaper. I worked on a pipe I didn’t care much about, that didn’t have a lot of cake, and I made sure I knew what I was doing. Once I felt I got the amount of pressure and duration down, I went on to ream the rest of my pipes. This is the route I think everyone should go, just to be safe.
This is one of those tips I wish I knew twenty years ago when I first started smoking a pipe. Those years of messing up my cake or just stressing about it would never have happened. But I know now and I’m glad I do, so I thought I would pass this information on to you.
Try it for yourself! You’ll be glad you did when you see how smooth and beautiful your new cake layer is!
See you next week with another pipe tip!