Pipe 101: Choosing a Pipe

Pipe 101: Choosing a Pipe

Almost every day, someone comes into Georgetown Tobacco curious to learn more about pipe smoking and to purchase their first pipe.  Given our proximity to so many universities, these are often young people who may believe that this favorite pastime of so many legendary thinkers might improve their GPA.  We also have a number of long time cigar smokers who have walked past our selection of pipes and our “tobacco bar” of house blends for so many years that at some point they just say, “I’ve always wanted to try this…”

With such a wide range of choices when it comes to pipes and tobaccos, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re not able to come into the store to talk with us in person, hopefully this post will help guide you through the first step in a pipe smoking journey: choosing a pipe.

The majority of pipes made today are made from briar, which is prized for being very porous so the pipe will stay cool in your hand while you’re smoking.  Briar grows very slowly at the root of the heath tree, and like any natural material has various grades assigned to it depending on the quality.

Pipes are also made from meerschaum (which you can read more about in this post), olive wood, maple, clay and let’s not forget the dear corn cob. In fact, if you are dubious about pipe smoking, we’d encourage you buy a corn cob pipe and some great tobacco just to see if you’d enjoy it before investing in a quality pipe.  If you’re prone to breaking or losing things, the corn cob pipe can be your best friend.

That said, if you really want to enjoy the smoking experience, choosing a briar pipe is a wise decision. When looking at pipes, a lot of what determines the right pipe for you is aesthetics, as the pipe you choose is really an extension of your personality.  Here are a few factors to consider:

Straight or Bent?

If you think you might like to read or type while you’re smoking, smoking a bent pipe will help keep the bowl away from your face.  A straight pipe will be a little more hands-on.

Smooth or Sandblast?

A smooth pipe allows the natural grain of the briar to shine. In general, the straighter the grain, the higher the quality of the briar.  A sandblast or rusticated pipe has had denser pieces of wood removed to help reduce the weight, and adds character to the look and feel of the pipe.

Bowl Size?

Pipes come in a large variety of sizes.  The size of the bowl you choose should feel comfortable in your hand. The bowl depth becomes more important later on in your journey, as certain types of tobacco perform better with deeper bowls, and you may want to smoke from a pipe that allows for a longer smoking experience.

Stem- Traditional or Modern?

The majority of pipes we carry feature lucite stems. Traditionally black in color, many pipe makers today like Savinelli and Peterson offer more modern takes with very colorful stems. It may sound simple, but the pipe you choose should make you feel happy when you look at it.


Pipes are available in several traditional shapes, as well as one of a kind, “freehand” styles. To get a sense of some of the most well known shapes, the Dunhill Shape Chart is a valuable guide.


Pipes are available to fit every budget, with prices ranging from $10 to $1,000 or more. The price is dependent on a variety of factors, including the quality of the materials, whether it is hand carved or machine turned, brand name, and size.  In our store, we offer “basket pipes”— ranging from $40-$65, these pipes are made of good quality briar and are often the perfect choice for a beginner. On our website, you’ll find great mid-range choices from Nording, Savinelli, Peterson, 4th Generation and Chacom, For over 100 years, Dunhill pipes have been considered some of the best in the world.  We have recently added several new Dunhills to our inventory, and you can read more about the Dunhill mystique in this post.

Pipe smoking is an art. It takes patience and practice at first to “get it right.” But once you have started on this journey, the possibilities are endless— whether that’s building your own pipe collection, sampling and collecting various pipe tobaccos, finding unique accessories or even joining a pipe club.  Almost as often as we meet the customer who wants to buy their first pipe, we also see someone who bought their first pipe at Georgetown Tobacco 30, 40 or even 59 years ago. It’s a fascinating world, and we’re happy to help guide you on this journey!