When selecting a pipe, generally the first criterion will be whether you like the appearance or not. If the shape appeals to you but the finish isn’t what you’re looking for, the shape becomes immaterial. If the staining, the grain, the sandblasting or rustication aren’t your cup of tea, the quality of the pipe, who made it or how good a bargain it is doesn’t matter; in your mind’s eye, it’s a piece of junk. But let’s assume that we have a table full of pipes that all appeal to you. Now you have to consider how you smoke to help you make a good selection.
As an example: let’s say that you tend to smoke hot and burn your tongue frequently. What’s going to help? One good bet is a churchwarden, as the long stem gives the smoke more time to cool. A thick-walled meerschaum may be a good choice as the material will pull the heat away, and the thick walls can absorb it better. You can also look at pipes like the Peterson systems, which keep you from getting too much steam in your smoke because of the reservoir but can also save your tongue due to the “steck” or “p-lip” bit which channels the smoke toward the roof of your mouth. Also, a gourd calabash will yield a cool, dry smoke.
Suppose that you don’t burn your tongue, but your pipe tends to get uncomfortably hot in your hand, One thing to look for is a bowl that gets wide in outside diameter at a point. A good example is the bulldog or Rhodesian shape which has a spot in the top half of the bowl where the wall is quite thick and easy to handle. Other shapes that should also give you a safe area to grab are the Dublin (wide at top), egg (wide in the middle) and volcano (wide at the bottom).
Wet smokers will tend to do well with reservoir pipes like the Peterson System or Wellington, gourd calabashes and filtered pipes. Rolando Negoita recently developed some new pipes called Conducta which use an oversized reservoir for a nice dry smoke.
People who smoke while reading or working on a computer will probably be happiest with a bent pipe, as it gets the bowl out of the line of sight. Those who lean toward straight pipes tend to hold the pipe in their hands.
Of course, economics and/or practicality have an impact on pipe choice. If the budget is tight, or if the pipe is going to be smoked while doing activities that could damage the pipe, corn cobs are always a safe, decent smoking choice. Likewise, there are always some bargain briars that sell for around $30 that can deliver a solid smoke.
My preference for Latakia blends are wider chambers, as I feel they deliver more flavor, where narrow bowls are best for Virginias, as they tend to burn at a little lower temperature, which will develop a sweeter flavor. For some reason, aromatics don’t seem to be affected quite the same way as unflavored blends, and will smoke fairly well regardless of the size or shape of the pipe.
If you’re going to “clench” the pipe (hold it in your mouth, rather than your hand), you’ll probably want to try a saddle bit which is relatively thin and flat in comparison to the tapered bit, and is a little easier to keep in your jaw. The tapered bit is a little thicker which can be a help if you tend to bite a little hard.
Hopefully, these thoughts may have made your next pipe selection a little easier, and your experience a little more enjoyable.