The Hidden Benefits of the Expensive Pipe Tamper by Fred Hanna

The Hidden Benefits of the Expensive Pipe Tamper by Fred Hanna

Several weeks ago Matt Guss and I were having a conversation about pipe tampers.  A few days later Matt forwarded me this email:

“Fred Hanna wrote the essay below some time ago. He wrote it sort of tongue in cheek but I took it to heart. There is truth in the notion. It changed my view of the importance of tampers as a companion tool to our fine pipes. Why put all that effort and care into the pipes and tobacco we smoke only to use some cheap pipe nail as you smoke it? It degrades the experience. It is like cognitive dissonance for pipe smoking. More than that its a small affront to the very act of savoring the experience. I have not used a pipe nail since I read this. And I enjoy collecting beautiful tampers. A parallel hobby I guess.”

– Matt Guss, Seattle Pipe Club

I asked Fred if I could use it for the site & he was happy to share it with all of you.

Please enjoy reading Fred Hanna’s essay & please share your thoughts at the end.

‘The Hidden Benefits of the Expensive Pipe Tamper”

By Fred Hanna

I have heard the whisperings of some pipe collectors and smokers at pipe shows and pipe club meetings as I use my expensive tampers. I have seen the stares of fellow pipe smokers, and have heard their derisive and sarcastic comments as I walk away from a table or out of a room at a show. They huddle together and speak with hands covering their mouths. They say that they “don’t get the expensive tamper thing.” They mumble about the “waste of money” and how they “coulda used all that money to buy a nice pipe.” They say that their “cheap nail type tamper “does everything the expensive one does” and how “ya don’t have to worry about losing it.” I don’t take it personally, but it does make me quite sad. Amazingly, these critical though naive folk appear to honestly believe that a cheap nail type tamper is comparable to a fine, elegant, expensive tamper made of luxurious materials such as amber, high grade acrylics, sterling silver, bamboo, and/or exotic woods. They question the rationality of someone, like me, who buys and uses expensive tampers. This short essay is written to help them to see their error, to retrieve them from the darkness and bring them at long last to the light of reason.

Their attitude is, in truth, quite a dangerous state of affairs that may ultimately contribute to the devolution of our hobby. I have conducted several secret surveys and have found a surprising number of our brethren who firmly believe that the cheap nail tamper is just as effective as a sophisticated, expensive pipe tool. This disheartening attitude threatens to bring the tamper art to its knees and I for one will not stand for it. There are many factors in this ignorant perspective that are not being considered, and I have taken it upon myself to challenge the primary purpose of this covert and somewhat contemptuous attitude. I will not allow these people to demean and denigrate the expensive tamper.

Thus, I will set the record straight. In the following paragraphs, I will show how these people have, to quote the President of the United States, “misunderestimated” [sic] the value and function of the expensive tamper. I list these 6 points below as irrefutable evidence of the need for, and the value of, expensive tampers in our hobby.

1. Cheap tampers are fine, but they are intended for cheap pipes and should ONLY be placed in cheap pipes. It is an insult to place a cheap tamper in an expensive pipe. Committing this sacrilege often directly leads to the deterioration of the briar of an expensive pipe, and in time will contribute to burnout.

2. Conversely, if an expensive tamper is used consistently and often in a cheap pipe the quality of the smoke will improve due merely to the clash of quality against mediocrity. Allow me to explain. When an expensive tamper is used in a cheap pipe, the grain of a cheap pipe has been observed to become more dense and tight, with ring graining becoming more pronounced. Thus the quality of the smoke improves, because we all know that great grain is at the very basis of a fine smoke. Of course, placing a luxurious tamper in a cheap pipe is a complete waste, but the effects have been documented nonetheless.

3. A cheap nail type tamper placed in the interior of an expensive high grade pipe immediately degrades the flavor of the smoke. It is clear that cheap tampers are made from low grade metal that imparts to the smoke a metallic taste that destroys the subtle flavors of a fine blend. Try this experiment for yourself and then thank me. When collectors complain about a high grade pipe not smoking well, a cheap tamper is often the hidden cause. We now know that any smoker of high grade pipes should NEVER use a cheap nail type tamper.

4. Conversely, an expensive tamper placed in a high grade pipe positively affects the burning tobacco. In fact, the expensive tamper actually enhances the flavor of a fine pipe, as the expensive materials used to make the tamper, when heated, mix with the cake and graining of the briar and, to quote a famous chef, “kick it up a notch.” Because of the tighter graining found in high grade pipes, the influence of the fine materials of an expensive tamper is distributed from the top to the bottom of the bowl. This results in a harmony and balance of flavor that is completely marvelous and wholly unobtainable by the cheap nail.

5. A fine, expensive tamper forces the pipe smoker to be more attentive to the pipe smoking process itself, making the smoker more fully engaged in smoking. Therefore, he or she becomes more appreciative, and more fully committed to and in touch with that magical time that we call the present moment. The fantastic smoking properties that result from the combination of expensive tamper and high grade pipe have been known, in a few cases, to produce a zen-like experience of enlightenment, when other conditions are right, of course.

6. In a different vein, a ridiculously expensive tamper leads the pipe smoker to believe that he or she has reached levels of pipe smoking enjoyment that cannot be attained by those who desperately cling to the idea that a nail tamper works just as well. Thus, a cheap tamper user does not and never will experience the tremendous rush of self esteem that comes with use of an expensive tamper. As opposed to enlightenment, there is, for some, an exquisite feeling of surpassing superiority that is experienced by the user of the expensive tamper. Those pipe smokers who find the feeling of superiority to be especially intense, often go on to find fulfilling careers in politics. This is unheard of among cheap nail tamper users.

The fundamental error among the misguided advocates of the cheap nail tamper is the failure to recognize one glaringly obvious fact: A nail is not a tool. A hammer is a tool. A screwdriver is a tool. Not a nail. I thought everybody knew that but I guess I was wrong. So there you have it. I have generously and selflessly provided the pipe community with 6 undeniable, self-evident, and indeed axiomatic facts that completely obliterate the argument that seeks to place the cheap tamper in the same league as the expensive. I could give you more, but some people think that I have too much time on my hands as it is.

For those of you who believe all of the hype about cheap nail tampers, I beg you to regain your rationality, stop your whispering, whimpering, and disdainful comments, and put an end to this nonsense once and for all. Open your minds and join those who are in the know. I own some expensive tampers and I will not allow my illusions to be threatened by those who foolishly worship such dubious qualities as functionality and practicality.


This essay can be found in Fred Hanna’s book ‘The Perfect Smoke’, which is available on Kindle

Thank you both to Fred Hanna & Matt Guss.


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  1. Flatticus - July 9, 2015

    All true. Yes, a golf tee works. But a Ming Kahana or a Rik Ruff works and has style too.

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