An Analysis of Pipe Filters

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Davy Jones

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I have developed a sensitivity to pipe smoking over the last couple of years. I started looking into pipe filters recently and trying various options. Here is a summary of my 'investigation' and experiments for those interested or curious, about the filter or not topic of discussion.

I have been smoking new Brigham, Rattray and Savinelli pipes over the last few weeks. The Brigham has the rock maple system; the Rattray, a 9mm charcoal activated filter; and the Savinelli, the 9mm Balsa wood filter. Allow me to share and summarize my impressions.

1. Draft Restrictions.

a. The rock maple allows a pipe cleaner, but it stops where the metal part fits in the airway. It will not go in the tobacco chamber but I have not experienced any blockage while smoking. The draft was pretty good; I can't say I felt any significant obstruction but it still requires some adapting compared to a 4mm airway. I do take the filter out after every smoke so it can dry.
b. The 9mm charcoal activated filter does restrict the airway but it's not as dramatic as I was led to think watching some Videos. It does require adapting, particularly with the puffing cadence; otherwise, the pipe can become pretty hot pretty quickly. I tried smoking with the same filter twice and it didn't work well, it smoked much less clean. Curiously, I never had to remove the tenon because tobacco bits were obstructing the airflow.
c. The balsa filter does not restrict at all, or barely, the airflow. Which is absolutely weird as the 6mm, from memory, restricted it significantly. However, when you insert it, you must leave about 2 cm sticking out from the end of the tenon or else, good luck in taking it out as it's very soft to the touch and breaks easily.

2. Tobacco taste.

a. With the rock maple system, the tobacco taste is not narrowed down significantly. What is interesting is that when smoking with a new filter, the taste, for the first 5 min, is reminiscent of a CC. Then it goes away.
b. With the charcoal activated filter, taste is narrowed down to a couple dominant but still distinct flavors.
c. With the balsa filter, there is about no loss of flavor. I can taste, for the first few min, the balsa when I start a new filter but it's temporary.

Overall, the mouth feels 'cleaner' smoking with, than without a filter.

3. Reduction of tongue bite/harshness/moisture.

a. The rock maple does not significantly reduce tongue bite, but enough that it does make a difference. The smoke is a lot less harsh from the moisture but is not entirely eliminated. Still, enough to make a difference: my gum never became irritated despite breaking in 4 Brigham pipes over the course of a couple weeks.
b. The charcoal activated filter eliminates tongue bite almost totally. The smoke is not harsh nor moist. My gum never became irritated.
c. The balsa filter does reduce tongue bite, harshness and moisture but not significantly so. If I am not careful, my gum can manifest a beginning of irritation but it has never been pronounced.

4. Cost.

a. The charcoal activated is the most expensive option as I have to replace the filter every new smoke.
b. The balsa wood performs decently the first 3- 4 times but I would not exceed 5 smokes with the same filter as the balsa will become saturated and have adverse effects.
c. The rock maple is the less expensive option as it's good for several smokes as long as you take the time to remove it from the tenon after every smoke and let it dry. Some rinse it through hot water to prolong its life duration. I'm not there yet.

5. Conclusion.

  • The Brigham pipes, overall, are not what I consider to be sexy pipes by design. Sadly for me, it's the only brand using the rock maple filter. Nevertheless, this filter, despite some cons on the maintenance level (the filter can be sometimes a bit difficult to remove after the smoke and I had to sometimes try a couple new filters before finding one that fitted the tenon nicely), works pretty well for me as the smoking is fairly restriction free. Despite traces of slight tongue bite, my mouth and my gum do not become irritated and the smoke feels fairly clean. And each filter can be used several times before final dispatch. It would be, so far, my preferred filter even though I'm not crazy about their pipes.
  • The charcoal activated filter allows a wide range of pipes to choose. In fact, more and more pipes are available with the 9mm filter option. Some brands almost exclusively offer this option only. It has the best result in terms of comfortable smoke, despite the relative loss in flavor. No tongue bite, no harshness, no mouth or gum irritation. Smokes real clean but only if the filter is used once, no more. But the fact that the airflow is more restricted and demands a constant vigilance to work out makes it my second preferred option.
  • We all know Savinelli makes some really sexy pipes. The balsa filter seems to improve after a couple smokes but still requires caution on my part as moisture and harshness are less reduced with it than tongue bite. In my case, it is the less preferred option as my gum can remain sensitive if I am not careful when I'm smoking with it. Still, the irritation is much less severe than without a filter. To alleviate this, I will experiment with the charcoal activated filters that Savinelli offers. Because of the size of the balsa filter, charcoal activated filters such as Peterson and Dr. Perl are too loose in the tenon so I will use the ones designed specifically for Savinelli pipes which are, unfortunately, rather expensive.

To conclude, personally I will only smoke with a filter from now on as a non - filtered pipe generates gum irritation. I believe my issue is that I developed a sensitivity to the harshness generated by the moisture. Hopefully, this will help people who are debating the 'to have or not to have' filter option.
I started this journey unfavorably biased toward the filter option and can say that I stand corrected. For those who have, or have recently developed an oral sensitivity to pipe smoking, a filter might be the solution. Or, simply, if you are looking for a cleaner smoking experience.
 

Mikem

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If I remember correctly Vauen also makes the 9mm filtered pipes. I own both the Vauen and Brigham pipes. Luckily I don't have the sensitivity that filtered pipes offers. I tried using them but didn't like the clean up mess when changing the filters. In my limited experience the charcoal filtered pipes tended to mellow out the smoke more so then the Brigham filters. Very good review on the different filter options. Kudos to your review.
 

D.L.Ruth

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I dabbled with balsa filters for a bit at one point. I read that people just leave them in for a few bowls then replace, I didn't like leaving them in because it just me think ewww. I didn't want to go through having to take them out all the time so just gave up on them.
 

Rob_In_MO

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Of those I have tried, I prefer the Savinelli balsa filters over the others. Though I don’t use one, if I had to it would definitely be the balsa inserts.
 

RSteve

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I have developed a sensitivity to pipe smoking over the last couple of years. I started looking into pipe filters recently and trying various options. Here is a summary of my 'investigation' and experiments for those interested or curious, about the filter or not topic of discussion.
Is your sensitivity prevalent regardless of the tobacco? Are you smoking aromatics primarily? What's the usual moisture level of your tobacco? I'm also wondering if the humectants in some blends may be causing your irritation.
 

RSteve

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I have a couple of Brigham pipes that I smoke occasionally. After each smoke I remove the filter and replace it with another clean one, immediately. The used filter is thoroughly cleaned and left to dry for several days. Depending on the tobacco smoked, I've actually scrubbed the exterior of the filter.
 

RSteve

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Have you tried Denicool crystals? I haven't used them in years, but they used to be a staple. I can't remember why I stopped using them. I originally used them to insure a comfortable draw. Three or four at the bottom of a bowl creates some extra air space. (I just placed an order.)
 
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Davy Jones

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Is your sensitivity prevalent regardless of the tobacco? Are you smoking aromatics primarily? What's the usual moisture level of your tobacco? I'm also wondering if the humectants in some blends may be causing your irritation.
Yes, it is. I smoke Aromatics, English, Virginias, Burleys. I don't like my tobacco moist and avoid packing loose. The result is always the same, that darn gum ends up irritated after a while. Using filters (especially the rock maple and charcoal activated) has solved the issue.
 

Brunello

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As I reconfigure my pipe collection I'm looking for more high quality 9mm pipes like my Design Berlin Siegfried because it offers three ways to enjoy my blends: If I want a wide open draw (for flakes) I just leave it out, if I want a normal draw I use the non-filter adapter, on blends with a really earthy taste I use the 9mm filter which then directs the flavor profile away from any excessive bitterness. Blends heavy in dark-fired often have an earthy taste that I describe as baked potato skin, which can be fine as a nuance, but not when it dominates the blend.

My own take on filters is that 6mm balsa or Medico paper filters work to reduce moisture, or in cobs in keeping bits of baccy from being drawn into the open channel, but otherwise don't affect the taste (to me). 9mm activated charcoal filters actually substantially reduce any bitter compounds in the smoke, and rather than reducing the flavor profile as some have suggested, to me it brings greater focus to the intended flavor profile. Many German tobacco houses develop their blends using these 9mm filters. Brigham's maple inserts are sort of in between the 6mm and 9mm in terms of what they do.

As for 9mm filters, once the pipe has cooled I will look at the filter, if it is only a light cream color I will set it on a plate and let it dry out for re-use on another day. If it's wet from moisture and looks browned like an old meerschaum, I toss it. But I have to agree with DL Ruth on the wet balsa sticks, ewww.
 

Davy Jones

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Have you tried Denicool crystals? I haven't used them in years, but they used to be a staple. I can't remember why I stopped using them. I originally used them to insure a comfortable draw. Three or four at the bottom of a bowl creates some extra air space. (I just placed an order.)

No, not yet, but I did order some. I have a fair amount of Northern Briars I love but can't smoke them. I'm hoping such a system could allow me to pick them up again. If it doesn't work for me, the Plan B would be to contact the pipemaker and have him convert those which can be to fit 9mm filters.
 

Brunello

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I'll just add that I experienced my first negative from using a 9mm filter, something that DavyJones touched on briefly: blockage of the draft hole. Never happened before but frustrating because you can't get a pipe cleaner in to take care of the problem, and I'm always hesitant to separate stem from stummel while the pipe is warm. Even so, as often as I use them that has been a first. I find them indispensable for Lat-Bombs as the activated charcoal seems to be a magnet for those nasty creosote flavors.

Today in GQ's monthly newsletter I just discovered that Savinelli has 6mm activated charcoal filters to fit all their pipes. So I'll have to explore that option as well.

Davy Jones: you mention using Savinelli pipes with the Balsa but have you tried the new Savinelli filters??
 

mark

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Some years ago I bought some 9 MM filters from a site in Germany. "natur meerschaum" written on the side with a picture of an elephant and "Schutzmarke". They feature a cardboard tube, 5 holes drilled in each end, and filled with meerschaum chips. Just found a qt. jar of them a few days ago looking for tobacco. Don't know if they're available,,,just throwing it out there.
 

Brunello

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Some years ago I bought some 9 MM filters from a site in Germany. "natur meerschaum" written on the side with a picture of an elephant and "Schutzmarke". They feature a cardboard tube, 5 holes drilled in each end, and filled with meerschaum chips. Just found a qt. jar of them a few days ago looking for tobacco. Don't know if they're available,,,just throwing it out there.
Reading your comment I did a search and found that TobaccoPipes in Florida has them. Meerschaum is a sort of natural filter which is why blends that I prefer with filter in a briar are often just fine in a Meerschaum. You didn't say if you used them and how effective they were, but at $3.99 for a pack they might be worth checking out. Thanks for the info.
 

mark

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I use them in a Big Ben Mahogany/Meerschaum Calabash, the only filter pipe I have. They dry out a wet smoke, reduce harshness in a strong one. I'll send you some to try if you wish.
 

eggman

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I tried the filters once. I believe they were paper type in whatever pipe I had at the time. I absolutely hated them.
 

DrumsAndBeer

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The Vauen 9mm charcoal filters will make Haunted Bookshop taste good. That's something there.
 
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