The Five Laws of Pipe Companioning: 4° Law

by Mark Irwin


Case N° 130902



by Mark Irwin
(with undigested bits of philosophy & a short quiz from Charles Mundungus)




     I was lying under the Mini-Cooper this morning wiping off grime that had accumulated around the oil-pan gasket I was replacing, wondering how all the muscles in my back and neck could be so sore, when the epiphany came to me. Why do a lot of guys like to work on their cars? It’s a macho-thing for some, but that’s not it. Mundungus says it’s so we can save a pot of money and re-channel it for pipes and tobaccos (look in the mirror, Charles).* But that’s not it, either. The real reason is peace. When you take care of something you enjoy, you create balance and order in your own section of the cosmos. The fruit of taking careis a heightened appreciation and enjoyment of the objects of your concern. To that Mundungus said—while sitting my lawn chair drinking my coffee and smoking my 2015 in his Pease/DiPiazza June Bug—that it sounded to him quite a bit like Martin Buber’s ich und du idea, where an “object” becomes a “subject”—I and Thou.  And for once, he’s almost right, because that’s where the Fourth Law of Pipe-Companioning comes in.


     You’ve had time to get used to the ideas that pipes are for smoking (First Law), that every pipe finds its pipeman (Second Law), and that every pipeman finds his pipe (Third Law). But before delving into the stillness of the Fourth Law, we need to get a quick fix on where you are with a short quiz, which Charles conveniently lifted from his latest group therapy session; to wit: when the word “crazybusy” is used in conversation, do you feel 


  1. elated, because it validates your idea of being a successful human being;
  2. mildly annoyed, because you’ve come to realize there is no such thing as “multi-tasking” and are tired of living in an attention-deficit disorder culture; 
  3. totally freaked, because the waves of rush, gush, worry, blather and clutter are incontrovertibly coming higher and higher; 
  4. detached, because you’ve achieved balance and equilibrium in your life or are working towards the kind of downward-mobility that means more time for what’s important in life (like smoking your pipe)?


Got your answer?


      If you chose (a) or (c), chances are you’ve got a lot of dirty pipes laying around the house, out in the garage, even in your car. You may also be someone who prefers to have others wash your car, clean your house, cook your meals and do your taxes. If you chose (b) or (d), you’re either a monk, retired, or waking up to the fact that pipe-smoking and pipe-cleaning are two of the best things you can do to turn off the world’s noise and find yourself. There’s no right answer, no value judgment placed on any of these, it’s just that knowing where you are will help you more fully understand why you already enjoy preserving your pipes or why youmight learn to enjoy doing so.


Fourth Law: Preserve the Collection of the Pipeman


     After the act of pipe-smoking, preserving the pipes is without doubt the most enjoyable aspect of the hobby for many pipemen. But unlike the clamor and potential contentiousness sometimes aroused in the operation of the Third Law (“every pipe its pipeman”), the Fourth Law is something you pursue mostly alone. But this law isn’t about remembering to run a pipe-cleaner through your pipe after using it any more than remembering to put the toilet seat down is about domestic bliss. 


     Preserving the pipes is about three roads in your pipe-smoking which take different paths but all end up in Greater Happyville. The first road is the most obvious: maintaining the beauty and functionality of your pipe companions. The second is something that takes time and reflection: developing the integrity of your “pipe community.” The third is the result of the first two, either alone or in combination: deepening your appreciation and enjoyment of your pipes. 


Maintaining the Pipes


     I know there are a lot of folks who say “I don’t have time” to do a lot of routine things their fathers and grandfathers did before them, from washing the family auto and mowing the lawn to cooking at home or walking the dog. The obesity epidemic in the United States is hard evidence of both overwork and the outsourcing of our lives. But consider that one of the great counter-culture reasons for being a pipeman is to put an end to such out-sourcing, to go downwardly-mobile if necessary and slow down, take time to go to the gym, read a book, spend time with your friends, family and dog, time to take care and to enjoy the gentle art of pipe-smoking.

     There used to be a time when most of us didn’t know what to do, exactly, to care for our pipes aside from the occasional pipe-cleaner, rubbing an ebonite stem with some toothpaste or the (usually) disastrous attempt at reaming the bowl with a penknife. But these days most of us know how to care for our pipes, right?


  • Wipe down the bowl and stem with a good microfibre cloth after use
  • Use pipe-cleaners unsparingly, fluffy to absorb and bristle to scrub
  • Carefully use a tube-brush dipped in alcohol to clean out the “smoke hole” and your stem on a regular basis
  • Use a silver polishing cloth on sterling mountings when they begin to dull or tarnish
  • Apply Obsidian pipe stem oil (or equivalent) once in awhile if you notice vulcanite stems beginning to oxidize
  • Use Halycon II to shine up your bowls, paying special attention to the rim
  • Use a Buttner Reamer (or equivalent) to keep the carbon-cake thin; use a Senior Reamer (or equivalent) when you see a noticeable build-up
  • Keep the bowl rim like new by never filling the pipe more than 70%
  • Don’t store your pipes in direct sunlight or leave them on the dashboard
  • Blah, blah, blah


     This isn’t a definitive nor particularly original list, and yours will doubtless differ in its particulars than this one, but you should see significant overlap. The point is that most of us know what to do, but some of us just don’t do it—and that’s alright if that’s your style, but I encourage you to think about what you might be missing.


     One of my favorite Buddhist theologians, Thich Nhat Hanh, says that “the point of washing the dishes is washing the dishes,” not to get them done so you can go on to something else. Likewise, the point of cleaning your pipes lies in the cleaning of them. “Treat everything you touch like the sacred vessels of the altar” is how St. Benedict would say it from my own tradition—the point is in getting in touch with what brings us Happy. 


Developing Integrity in the Pipes


     Handing me the wrong socket wrench, Mundungus said, “What the f*ck does developing integritymean?” Integrity as part of the Fourth Law means “the state of being whole and undivided through adherence to a code of aesthetic values.”  This law is something that takes time, but as the years roll by, many pipemen find their interests and aesthetic tastes becoming more defined. Not everyone, of course, but enough guys that when you look at their pipes you get a sense of what they like. I loved seeing William Serad’s rack of old Jobeys in a recent P&T column, or finding out about my friend Gary’s exclusive devotion to Dunhill 6LBs. 


     It was actually Pipe Guru Fred Hanna who clued me into the concept of integrity, although he doesn’t use the word, in recounting his philosophy of pipe collecting.  “I am a fanatic for straight-grained pipes,” he writes. “There is something about a fabulous straight grain that is deeply satisfying, pleasing and even soothing to me in a way that I find difficult to express. I have discovered perfection in a world fraught with imperfection” (The Perfect Smoke 158). This is the “singleness of vision” of the Fourth Law. A little later Hanna enumerates his “code of aesthetic values” that must be met for a pipe to become part of his pipe collection: 


     There are four specific criteria that I look for in a prospective pipe. All four of these are crucial to adding a pipe to my collection. The first is that the pipe be a great to superior—if not SUBLIME—smoker. I have no desire to own a pipe that is merely an average smoker. The pipe must smoke well or I will trade it or sell it. This is actually the most-important consideration of all and takes precedence over all the criteria that follow. I own no unsmoked pipes. . . . To me, great pipes are simply wasted if they are reduced to being mere trophy pieces or works of art for some mantle, museum or curio cabinet.


     The second criterion is that the pipe must have nothing short of fantastic straight grain, nearly perfect. . . .


     The third criterion is that the shape of the pipe must be sufficiently appealing to me that I have a natural urge to pick the pipe up and smoke it. . . . [A] pipe with an unappealing shape does not last long in my collection. . . .


     The fourth criterion concerns the pipe’s construction. I will not own a pipe in my collection unless it is well-designed, well-constructed and well-drilled AND has a sufficiently open draw (158-59). 


I confess that I’m not nearly as far along as Guru Fred, because I still have pipes in my racks that I love to look at but just don’t smoke all that great. And (oops) my P.A.D. has put me in the embarrassing position of owning a number of pipes I haven’t smoked yet—but that’s another story. But I see each of the points he’s making and can foresee a day when I’ll follow suit as regards his first, third and fourth criteria.


     Like the other laws of Pipe-Companioning, the Fourth Law isn’t anything new; I’m just trying to label an observed phenomenon in the hobby.  Hanna’s collection has incredible integrity not because he collects straight-grained pipes, but because he’s recognized within himself the kind of pipe he responds to, and observed his own pipe-smoking long enough to be aware of his own code of aesthetic values. It liberated me to look at my own pipes in a new way and discover what I really liked and see what I didn’t. Like Hanna, once I saw what I didn’t like, what didn’t “fit,” it was easy to let them go and turn them into what I did like.  I know there are some pipemen who’ve never sold a single pipe they ever bought—William Serad counts himself among them—but there is a sense of lightness and buoyancy for me in letting go of what doesn’t work, a decluttering of the soul as well as the pipe-rack. 


     I don’t think of myself as a gambler, yet developing integrity in the pipesis a kind of joyful risk-taking, isn’t it? We gamble that a pipe which meets our initial aesthetic criterion will also be functionally suitable. In 1858, at the very dawn of the briar era, Emily Dickinson writes:

We lose – because we win – 

Gamblers – recollecting which

Toss their dice again!


     So we find a grain style, a marque, a shape, a style and roll the dice, hoping to have more wins at the end of the day than losses. Like so much of pipe-smoking, you can learn from others, but you have to do the essential work yourself. 


Pipe Babe Emily Dickinson: She Only Collected Calumets*



Deepening Appreciation of the Pipes


     The final road to developing the integrity of your pipe collection (oops—“pipe community”) is what I call the “Route 66” road, because like old highway 66, it meanders slowly and thoughtfully from Lake Michigan in Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in California, often as an access road to the interstates that have supplanted it, sometimes wandering away all by itself for miles at a stretch. If you’ve ever been on it, you’ll know that time stretches out on the old highway and your vehicle just slows down of its own accord. You’ve got time to look around, sometimes stop dead in the middle of the road for a picture or to look at an old icon of the road. And it’s an apt metaphor for how we deepen our appreciation for pipes and tobaccos: we pull off the Crazybusy, for awhile at least, and settle back to enjoy the quiet things, the small things, the little particulars that in the end seem to make all the difference in the world. “Preserve the pipes.”





     * His 1974 Pinto has 564,000 miles on it. He’s put over 500,000 of those on it himself. If you don’t believe me, look it up in the Guinness Book of World Records. He says the money he’s saved could’ve bought him six or seven Bo Nordhs or Magnum Charatans by now. I say: show me the pipes, Chuck, show me the pipes.


     †Mundungus is always regurgitating undigested bits of philosophy when he could be doing something useful like handing me the correct socket wrench.


     ‡See poem #1482, Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.




72 pipes in current rotation
18 unsmoked pipes
05 pipes on order or reserved
01 pipe I can’t quit thinking about: Paolo Becker Chubby Dublin Morland
Average time spent daily looking at pipes: 3 hrs 02 minutes
Average time spent daily thinking about pipes: basically, all day
Average time spent daily smoking pipes: 2 hr 10 min minutes


Fifth Law: Your Pipe Community is A Growing Organism