Rethinking the Packing of a Pipe

Herr Achim Frank spend six years in research and experimentation to develop a better method for packing a pipe, initially for use in competition. Those of us who have used this technique (and used it correctly) find it to be an extraordinary enhancement to the enjoyment of pipe smoking.

The "Frank Method" (a.k.a. German Packing) was presented in May 2004 at the Chicagoland Pipe Show. The New York Pipe Club would like to thank Herr Achim Frank for this marvelous technique. This site is adopted from the New York City Pipe Club .

In addition, we'd also like to extend our thanks and appreciation to Herr Jan Kropp for his gracious and enthusiastic permission to use the photos and translate the text from his (non-English) site.

Transliteration: Michael Bernhaut
Additional Text: Peter Kallish

If you'd like to see a video of the Frank Method, go to YouTube Frank Method . The video is in 3 parts, each part is about 3 to 4 minutes long., for a total of about 10 minutes. It's actually filmed by Achim Frank, the inventor of the method. Very nicely done and worth the time.

Jim's commentary on this technique: I've been smoking pipes for many years and had always felt that my method for packing a pipe was acceptable. The "sprinkle method" had always worked well and provided a reasonably good smoke. However, when I first tried the "Frank Method"....I knew when I fired up the pipe, I had found a better packing (or filling) method. I don't like the term "packing". It implys that you're stuffing the pipe with tobacco, like you would with a black powder gun.

This method fills the pipe without creating layers, like you do when using the gravity-filling method. With this former method, you tend to create layers that don't always transfer the burn properly, thus requiring re-lights. When I first smoked a pipe using the "Frank Method", I was able to smoke the pipe nearly to the bottom without a re-light. I have to admit that the filling method was only part of the success. I was using quality tobacco (G.L. Pease of my favorite blends) and a 1998 Mickles Bent Apple pipe. Certainly the combination of these three factors made the smoking experience the best ever. Try it yourself and let me know what you think....

Step 1:

It's a good idea to start out with a pipe that has what you feel is an average size bowl: not too wide, too large, too small, too narrow, too deep. Once you feel comfortable with this technique, you'll be able to adapt it easily for any of your pipes, no matter the size.

Both Herr Frank and Herr Gropp point out that the best way to learn this method is to see someone else pack their pipe in person. We'll try to get as close to that as we can.

Flake tobaccos must be fully rubbed out in order to work with this technique.

You'll also need a surface to work, and, more specifically, to spill tobacco on, as you'll see in the subsequent pictures.

Step 2:

The Frank Method begins by simply gravity-filling the bowl. You may scoop or sprinkle, but never press the tobacco into the bowl. Tap the bowl periodically to settle the tobacco. The tobacco can be shredded or torn before-hand to help the tobacco drop into the bowl.

NOTE: At this point all further instructions are for right-handers. Left-handers should simply reverse the directions.

Step 3:

If you've completed the previous step correctly, your pipe should look like this, with gravity-fed tobacco filling the bowl up to the top.

Step 4:

Hold the pipe in the left hand in such a way as to ensure that the left thumb is available. The left thumb will be needed to hold the tobacco at the top of the bowl in a subsequent step.

Step 5:

With the fingers of the right hand (index, middle, ring fingers and thumb), take an appropriate amount of tobacco that will at least fill the bowl.

If that amount of tobacco looks a bit too large to fit in the bowl, you've probably got it right. Better too much than too little, as the excess can be trimmed later. Remember, there are no layers in this method, so make sure you have enough tobacco to easily fill the bowl.

Step 6:

Create a large pinch of the amount of tobacco between the fingers of the free hand as shown. The pinch should have a large flat base at the bottom, wider than the diameter of the pinch closest to the palm. Achim Frank describes this shape as a "champagne cork".

You may gently press the bottom of the pinch against a table to flatten it.

Step 7:

This pinch or plug is now placed gently, not pressed, on the top of the bowl. If properly done, it should be too large to fit in the bowl.

The free thumb of the left hand now comes into play to hold the plug in place as the right hand releases the tobacco. Use just enough pressure to hold the plug in place.

Step 8:

Alternate holding the tobacco with one thumb while the other thumb rolls the tobacco toward the center. Soon, the tobacco will not need to be held in place by the thumb directly on top. Now, with light pressure from both thumbs as shown below (always avoiding the tips of the thumbs), continue to roll the tobacco towards the center. Herr Kropp uses the word "massage".

You roll your thumb from the outside of the bowl towards the inside (refer to the picture) with the emphasis on pushing the tobacco to the center, not down.

Do NOT press tobacco directly into the bowl. The motion is a rolling one that massages and directs the tobacco slowly and gently toward the center. If it feels a bit strange, that's good: this is very different than what we're used to.

Alternatively use the right and then the left thumb pad as you rotate the pipe in a circular motion to equally distribute the tobacco. This will result in the tobacco sliding down the sides of the bowl until the pipe is filled.

A Helpful Image: Imagine a cork about one half to three quarters of an inch high and a quarter of an inch larger in diameter than the inside of your bowl. If you wanted to get the cork to fit inside your bowl, you'd push the sides of the cork towards each other (to the center) to make it fit into the bowl, not just push straight down

Step 9:

At this time you may tear away excess tobacco from the sides if you feel there is too much in the plug.

Again, you are cautioned never to press into the center of the bowl. Continue to roll the tobacco with your thumb pads gently toward the center. Take your time and don't rush the filling step.

Here is an optional step that may somewhat contradict previous cautions.

If you feel it necessary, you may lightly press on the center of the bowl with your thumb pad only. Carefully bridge your thumb all the way across the bowl to ensure that only the pad will be applying pressure and that no other part of your finger enters the bowl to ruin the fill.

Step 10:

The finished fill creates a "super-plug", which should feel very tight at the top. No tobacco will fall from the bowl when it is turned upside down. However, the draw will be remarkably unrestricted and may even feel too easy compared to traditional filling methods.

A note from Michael Bernhaut: My experience with this method is that it greatly enriches my enjoyment of pipe smoking. My pipe now smokes all the way down easily. The aeration from this method reveals new flavors from all my tobaccos. Tamping and re-lighting are basically unnecessary until the very end of the smoke: the tamper drops through pulverized ash right to the bottom of the bowl. Each bowl lasts longer, is more enjoyable and forms a cake much quicker than the traditional method of filling. I've also noticed that no ash falls from the bowl if turned upside down. For lighting, Mr. Frank recommends a triple flame torch lighter to create a complete and even light immediately with no tamping. The lighter must be pointed straight down at the bowl (avoiding an angle that might point the torch flame towards the walls of the bowl) using very quick ‘dabs’ of flame. Using this light requires caution, a bit of practice, and will probably be met with severe criticism from most. I use it carefully and swear by it for a perfect light after two or three quick contacts of the flame to the tobacco. Precise aim and quick removal are essential to protect the bowl of your pipe.

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