In the most common method of packing, tobacco is added to the bowl of the pipe in several batches, each one pressed down until
the mixture has a uniform density that optimizes airflow (something that it is difficult to gauge without practice). This can be done with
a finger or thumb, but if the tobacco needs to be repacked later, while it is burning, the tamper on a pipe tool is sometimes used. If it
needs to be loosened, the reamer, or any similar long pin can be used. A traditional way of packing the pipe is to fill the bowl and
then pack gently to about 1/3 full, fill again and pack slightly more firmly to about 2/3 full, and then pack more firmly still to the top.
An alternate packing technique called the Frank method involves lightly dropping tobacco in the pipe, after which a large plug is
gingerly pushed into the bowl all at once.
Pipe smoke, like cigar smoke, is usually not inhaled. It is merely brought into the mouth, pumped around oral and nasal cavities to
permit absorption of nicotine toward the brain through the mucous membranes, and released. It is normal to have to relight a pipe
periodically. If it is smoked too slowly, this will happen more often. If it is smoked too quickly, it can produce excess moisture causing
a gurgling sound in the pipe and an uncomfortable sensation on the tongue (referred to as "pipe tongue", or more commonly,
A pipe cleaner can be used to dry out the bowl and, wetted with alcohol, the inner channel. The bowl of the pipe can also become
uncomfortably hot, depending on the material and the rate of smoking. For this reason clay pipes in particular are often held by the
coloring of the material.
A Peterson Dry System Pipe cutaway, Matches, or separately lit slivers of wood are often considered preferable to lighters because
of lower burning temperature. Butane lighters made specifically for pipes emit flame sideways or at an angle to make it easier to
direct flame into the bowl. Torch-style lighters should never be used to light a pipe because their flames are too hot and can char the
rim of the pipe bowl. Matches should be allowed to burn for several seconds to allow the sulfur from the tip to burn away and the
match to produce a full flame. A naphtha fueled lighter should also be allowed to burn a few seconds to get rid of stray naphtha
vapors that could give a foul taste to the smoke. When a flame has been produced, it is then moved in circles above the rim of the
bowl while the smoker puffs to draw the flame down and light the tobacco. Packing method and humidity can affect how often a pipe
must be relit.
When tobacco is burned, oils from adjoining not yet ignited particles vaporize and condense into the existing cake on the walls of the
bowl and shank. Over time, these oils can oxidize and turn rancid, causing the pipe to give a sour or bitter smoke. A purported
countermeasure[who?] involves filling the bowl with kosher salt and carefully wetting it with strong spirits. Many feel that it is important
to not use iodized salt, as the iodine and other additives may impart an unpleasant flavor. Some find that regularly wiping out the
bowl with spirits is helpful in preventing souring. Commercial pipe-sweetening products are also available.