How to Make a Corn Cob Pipe

by A Manly Guest Contributor on August 9, 2010 · 47 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from by Bryan Schatz.

Pipe smoking is the oldest form of smoking tobacco, developed during an era in which men would make time to sit at the end of a hard day’s toil, to rock back and forth in their favorite chair and observe the rotation of life. They had an understanding that prolonged satisfaction is greater than the immediate and fleeting gratification we have a tendency to seek today. A pipe is a man’s companion, his smoky warmth on a crisp winter day and the friend with which he watches the passing of time. A pipe requires patience. It instills calmness, observation, and contemplation.

A pipe is best enjoyed from the stoop thrones of rocking chairs, beneath the shade of patio roofs and in the absence of unnecessary noise.

Why the Corn Cob Pipe?

In my mind, the corn cob pipe is a tangible symbol of a bygone era. Corn cob pipes are the tobacco-smoking instrument of the common man: those who surveyed their surroundings and did what they could with what little they had. These were men of thrift, of inherent frugality and of resourcefulness. They are the pipes of hard times, when men knew how to work with their hands, when they did what was required without complaint; when men were hard, lest they perish. Or as the saying goes: “back when dodgeball was played with sticks and stickball was played with knives.”

The Corn Cob Pipe Tradition

Legend has it that in 1869, a farmer in the Missouri countryside whittled a pipe out of a dried out corn cob. He smoked his tobacco and enjoyed the nice smooth smoking experience so much that he requested his wood-working friend to turn stems for the pipes on his lathe. Hence, the birth of the Missouri Meerschaum Company, the original and sole surviving manufacturer of mass produced corn cob pipes.

Though the beginning of the mass production of corn cob pipes commenced in the late 1800s, their emergence and individual construction likely began long before that, and certainly persisted for years to come. Within and beyond the Dust Bowl area, corn cob pipes were the instruments of farmers, hobos, migrant laborers and vagabonds of all sorts.

Train hoppers in the Midwest and other corn-growing areas would find themselves in the presence of this abundant crop, often just off of the train tracks. With a communal sharing of simple tools and the luck of having a pinch of tobacco, having a soothing smoke on those enormously tiring days was a welcomed occasion.

Current Status

Examining the evolution of pipe smoking in the 21st century is more like observing the slow extinction of a dwindling species.

According to “Bowled Over No Longer,” a 2005 Washington Post article by Peter Carlson, there exists approximately 1.6 million pipe smokers in America today. Since the 1970s, there has been a 91% drop in pipe tobacco purchases. With those statistics it becomes apparent that the current number of corn cob pipe smokers has likely declined even more dramatically.

Apparently, appreciating the afternoon with a pipe in hand has been exchanged for quick fixes of indulgence and gadgetry. People today tend to not simply sit and notice, say, the sun’s departure quietly occurring later and later each day. We may not consider why a particular bee chose to slurp the nectar from one flower and not another, or wonder why it hasn’t rained in so long.

In these days of instant coffee, fast-food chain-restaurants and 5-minute cigarette breaks, the corn cob pipe persists as a comfortable speed bump in the common rush of a frantic life.

With the immediacy of most things today, it can be easy to forget that we don’t always have to buy something we want, that we can allow ourselves a few solitary moments to create something with our own hands-and then enjoy the fruits of our labor.

In an attempt to grasp a few moments for yourself, I encourage you to try making a corn cob pipe, to take a contemplative breath and appreciate the fact that the world still spins.

How to Make Your Own Corn Cob Pipe

If meandering to your stoop throne on a sunny day and enjoying the smooth hit of tobacco from a corn cob pipe sounds good to you, then you’ll need to know how to make one. Granted, this will likely not be the quality of a Missouri Meerschaum (mine certainly isn’t), but it will be of your own creation.

It is said that the most important thing for a pipe smoker to do is to find a pipe that feels right. A pipe may not be sentient, but it will bring its own presence to the relationship between man and pipe. What better way to find this inanimate companion than to craft it with your own hands?

What You Will Need:


  • 1 Ear of corn
  • Pocket Knife
  • Wood branch
  • Drill with various bits
  • Tobacco
  • Matches or butane lighter

Step 1


Make sure the ear of corn you use is as wide as possible and has plenty of pith (the portion of the cob at its center, where the bowl will later be shaped). Break the cob in half with your hands or cut it to the size you want with a pocket knife.

Step 2

Here comes the waiting part. You’ll want that cob to dry out and harden as much as possible; professional corn cob pipe makers let their cobs dry for two years. Granted, we don’t generally have that much time to wait, so you can throw it in the oven or use a dehydrator to speed up the process. I let mine sit for about one week after baking it on 100 degrees for a few hours, and while I’m no expert, it seems to work fine.

Step 3

Dig out the pith with your pocket knife to shape the bowl (another reason why “Every Man Should Carry a Pocket Knife”); if possible, make it about one- inch deep. The width of your bowl should be as wide as the pith allows without making the walls of your pipe too thin. Having slender walls will make it hot in your hand when you light the tobacco, so keep them thick.

Step 4

Beneath the bowl, drill a narrow path through the pith towards the bottom of the pipe…If you prefer to refrain from using power tools during this project (which is perfectly understandable and even encouraged), you can also heat up a metal hanger and bore through the pith’s center.

Step 5

While you’re letting the bowl dry out, construct the stem of your pipe. There are a few options here; without a lathe it’s difficult to turn a piece of wood. If you have access to some narrow bamboo, then use that. It’s easy to hollow out with a metal hanger heated up red hot or with a drill, and it will fit nicely into the hole that will be cut near the base of your cob.

I don’t have a lathe nor access to bamboo, so I went out and found a downed Bay Tree branch, cut it, drilled a hole through its center and then whittled it with my knife until it fit the dimensions I wanted.

Use a pocket knife to angle one side of the stem down to a point. This side will be pushed into the cob.

Step 6

Drill a hole above the base of the corn cob until it meets the hole in the pith. Make sure that this hole is slightly smaller than your stem. Press your stem into the cob and line up the hole in the stem with the hole in the pith (you may need to shave off small portions of the stem to get a proper fit). All you need now is some tobacco of your choice and a match.

And now I’ll sit upon my stoop throne, observe the pollen sacs collecting on the legs of bees and appreciate the billowing drifts of smoke escaping my lips.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Martin August 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

My brother wrote this! Nice post, Bryan!

2 G August 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I’d be more interested in how to make your own tobacco, or substitutes. My father was a pipe smoker for most of my childhood, and I’ve always had a certain fascination for it. But the only way I’d ever even consider it would be if I knew absolutely everything that went into it, done by my own hands. Not that drawing smoke into your lungs can ever be healthy, I think it’s possible for it to at least be far, far less hideously toxic than corporations make it today. That’s something I’d like to read about.

3 Steve Horvath August 9, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Pipe smoke is not meant to be inhaled. Now a days, there are a lot of small custom blenders out there. Most of the major players from yesteryear have dropped out. Not enough profit in it for the big boys. I myself am a pipe smoker, and have been so on and off for about 30 years. Love it!

4 JamesBrett August 9, 2010 at 11:13 pm

but… can i smoke… other stuff in it?

5 John Wright August 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I guess I didn’t realize that Missouri Meerschaum was the only major manufacturer of corn cob pipes. I grew up in Southeast Missouri not too far from Washington where they’re made. It’s a fine old Missouri tradition. I had a friend who had one. He smoked too quickly. He had the pipe only a couple of weeks before he burned through the bottom. You have to smoke a corn cob pipe slow and easy.

6 John Wright August 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

@G

Making pipe tobacco is not difficult, but time consuming. In reality, there’s not much difference in what you could make yourself versus big tobacco products. Big tobacco doesn’t care about making pipes addictive because they can’t make money on pipes. Cigarrettes and cigarillos are where they make there money and add the most additives. I could probably give you a primer on tobacco cultivation and processing if you want as long as you don’t sell it. Just ask me in the AOM community.

7 Michael P Lathrop August 10, 2010 at 5:27 am

At what step do you shave the the cob?

8 Peter August 10, 2010 at 5:55 am

@JamesBrett – that was my first thought too. I think every AoM reading stoner is gonna take notes on this one.

9 Jimmy The Man August 10, 2010 at 5:55 am

Finally a post on making a pipe!

I have been waiting for this post for quite some time. I was interested in making my own pipe a few months back but never got round to it. This is just what I needed.

Thanks bryan.

10 Dave Campbell August 10, 2010 at 7:36 am

How about a primer on making a bamboo pipe?

11 alex August 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

I think im not getting the angles right in my head. You drill 2 holes in the cob, one in the bottom, one in the side?

Any chance we can get a picture or two?

12 Bill August 10, 2010 at 10:03 am

Great post! Sitting and smoking a pipe while the sun goes down is truly a lost art.

Alex-it’s simple-just think of how a regular pipe looks and works. The corn cob is the bowl. So you want to scoop out the bowl from the top of the cob-but you wouldn’t want a hole in the bottom of the cob. And then you want a hole in the side that meets the bowl so the smoke can come through the stem. Just like any pipe.

13 CoffeeZombie August 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

Nice article! If I ever do start smoking tobacco, perhaps I’ll give this a try.

I would note that you overlooked probably the biggest factor in the reduction of pipe smokers: the ever-present campaign against smoking. The health patrol doesn’t make any distinctions between ciggarette and pipe and cigar smoke, which, unfortunately, means that the only kind of smoking most people are going to do is the addictive kind. People that aren’t hooked on cigs will be dissuaded from smoking their pipes/cigars by the anti-tobacco activists, while the people who smoke cigs are already stuck.

14 Rob August 10, 2010 at 10:38 am

From Wikipedia:
“The overall risk of early death is 10% higher in pipe smokers who have never smoked cigarettes than in nonsmokers. Pipe smokers who are former cigarette smokers have a 30% greater risk of heart disease and a nearly 200% greater risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Pipe smokers have higher rates of lung and other cancers, as well as of tooth and bone loss.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipe_smoking#Health_effects

Please, for the sake of the ones you love, your wife, your mother, your children and grandchildren, if you choose to relax this way, do so rarely if at all.

15 Hugo Stiglitz August 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I say we all combine the last four posts and perform ring exercises while wearing a mask, smoking a corn cob pipe and pounding our chests like Tarzan.

16 Andrew August 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm

the “cob” is a great first pipe… it smokes really easy and will often stay lit much longer than a traditional wooden pipe. For the same reasons that it stays lit.. it will also crack much easier than a wooden pipe.

One thing you can do to a corn cob to help it retain it’s longevity is to lightly coat the bowl with honey before you smoke it. (not necessarily the first time ever, i just mean before it’s hot) That will help to begin to develop your protective insulation that is naturally formed by the carbon left on the inside walls of your bowl. (left from ash) This will help maintain the strength of your pipe and help it last a bit longer. Also… honey just seems to go well with a corncob.

thanks for the great article!

17 John Wright August 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

@Rob,

I just checked the Wikipedia reference and it does say

“The overall risk of early death is 10% higher in pipe smokers who have never smoked cigarettes than in nonsmokers . . .”

However, I checked the reference given for this statistic and it did not give any methods as to how they determined this percentage nor did they cite a previous source. In general, this is bad practice in science. I’m a graduate student in the biomedical field, so a huge part of my job is sifting through good and bad information. This is not good information. I agree that with your general point that no smoking is safe. Pipe smoking is no exception. However, I don’t think that statistic is accurate. The other statistic of, “Pipe smokers who are former cigarette smokers have a 30% greater risk of heart disease and a nearly 200% greater risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” was given by valid citation and methodology so I would have no problem accepting it. I’ll see if I can find a better citation of pipe smoking in nonsmokers. I don’t want to be rude. I just wanted to point out a bad source.

18 Bryan Schatz August 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Martin (and everyone else) – Thanks for the positive feedback.
JamesBrett -You surely can.
Michael – On the one pictured I shaved it after I put it in the oven, but I made another (which came out much better) and shaved it before letting it dry out at all…it retained a nicer shape. You can also sand them down once they’re dry.
Alex – Its exactly as Bill clarified, one from the top and one at the side (preferably wide at the very top and a slender hole through the center to meet stem near the bottom)
Rob – Very good points.
Andrew – The honey sounds like a great idea. I’ll have to try that.

19 craig August 10, 2010 at 12:59 pm

This looks like a great little weekend project! I don’t smoke anything and I might make one for the hell of it!

20 Williamm August 10, 2010 at 1:24 pm

HAHAHA! Yes Mr. Brett. You can smoke anything in any pipe. You could even make 2. One for tobacco and one for …OtherStuff. haha.

I personally love to smoke a pipe. So far, I’ve had some very nice tobacco from a local tobacconist. I end up smoking captain black sometimes because it’s decent tobacco for cheap. One can pick up pipe tobacco easily, but most of it is cheap tobacco that’s been dunked in sugary syrup and was made from very light (I think) Burleys.
I also smoke cigars, and have really enjoyed the CAO Brazilia cigars. They are made with very dark Nicaraguan tobacco, and I think they’re delicious.
If you want dark tobaccos like Virginias and Latakias, you’ll either have to order online or find a real tobacconist. I’m lucky that one near me has quite the hand-blended selection.

@alex, I was wondering about that too. I believe the point is to make a small passage to the stem to prevent large pieces of ash from coming through.
I like to smoke a pipe because of the tobacco, and of the meditation associated with it. It’s similar to shaving with my straight razor. It’s very methodical.
I do keep smoking to rare occasions though. It tend to irritate my sinuses and give me sinus infections. But it’s very relaxing.

21 Michael P Lathrop August 10, 2010 at 2:12 pm

As a rule of thumb (other then for domestic violence of course) how many millimeters and or 1/16th of an inch would you say are minimum diameter of the bowl and thickness of the walls?

22 willo August 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I remember my grandfather making one to show me how when I was a kid and he carved a cherry wood plug for the bottom of it. He also used a dry cob found in a cornfield after the corn was picked and he used a piece of reed for the stem.

Something I’m not clear on is if green corncobs are recommended. The mature ones aren’t nearly dense as green ones.

23 don August 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Your fancy tea roses in the garden are a WEALTH of pipe stem material – almost all hollow on the dead canes!! I have used these for years !!
( Be sure to trim the thorns unless you WANT it to stay in your mouth permanent !! ;) )

24 Jared August 10, 2010 at 8:21 pm

You could also use a small block of walnut, cherry or oak to carve the bowl. Pretty much the same principles all the way around, except for baking it in the oven.

@Andrew: I actually do that when I get a new pipe, period (save for real meerschaum). I smoke briar, but the old guy at my local tobacco shop told me to do that when I got my first pipe. It helps the smoke to not taste so woody (or corny, in this case).

25 Pete August 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Very nice. would like to see more how to articles like this.

26 Rob August 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

@John Wright

I just copy-pasted the section there in Wikipedia and did no actual research of my own. I take no credit for that quote and atribute it to the good people there at Wikipedia entirely.
That being said, the facts that are sourced correctly do say that smoking pipe tobacco is not a healty activity. Please, consider alternative forms of manly recreation and relaxation for yourself and the wellbeing of others.
Do
Not
Smoke

27 BRZ August 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

@Rob
I knew a woman who was killed on a four wheeler (ATV), I don’t know anyone who was killed by smoking a pipe.
Do
Not
Ride
An
ATV

Obviously I’m lampooning you a bit but many hobbies can be dangerous. I know people who have died on motorcycles, broken their backs falling out of tree stands while bow hunting, and been accidentally injured doing all sorts of things. People understand these risks and accept them when they take up a hobby.

We are adults, we can make our own choices.

28 Ethan August 11, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Hey just wondering on getting more specifics for this, what is a good type of corn to use? How wide should the pith be? I went to the grocery and picked up the biggest cob I found easily, but shaved off its still only an inch wide. What are some specific dimensions that I should be looking for? Thanks guys

29 Bryan Schatz August 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Michael and Ethan – I had the same problem. But the thing about these is that there is no exact measurements that must be adhered to. Remember also that the bowl and the hole leading from the bowl to the stem will inherently widen as you smoke. The drier it gets the more it will shrink. The one that worked best for me after being dried had a 1 1/4-inch diameter for the outside of the pipe, the walls ended up being between 1/8″ and 1/4″ based on how far down the bowl you go so that leaves a bowl of approximately 1″ wide at the top and getting narrower towards the bottom. There doesn’t seem to be any problem with heat penetrating through the walls…So, my take is that it is sufficient. Ethan – The white corn I found at the grocery store seemed to be the widest as far as I could find. Another note, in the picture, the stem is really short, I would definitely recommend making a longer stem, approximately 3 1/2″ long or longer, 1/4″ diameter and use a 1/8″ bit to drill through it.
As Jon said, it can be easy to smoke right through to the bottom of your corn cob pipe as it will eventually burn up as well…occasionally you’ll have to fit your stem with a new corn cob.

30 John Wright August 11, 2010 at 10:26 pm

@Rob

It is clear that you missed my point. The art of rhetoric involves correct selection of supporting evidence. While Wikipedia has its merits, I would recommend another source when arguing a point in this way. To reiterate, I agree with your point. I’m only offering constructive criticism. There is no safe tobacco.

31 Gabrielle August 11, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Have you started smoking pipes, Bryan????? whilst sitting in a rocking chair? Dare I say, you are a little too young for that! But interesting article, and clearly a lot of research.. Nice going.

32 Ryan August 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm

What makes a better pipe? A fresh ear of corn, or one you’ve eaten first? I have one fresh ear of corn, and I’m unsure if it should be eaten first. I am pretty hungry…

33 Aron August 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Note on step 5.
I’ve been making pipes for a good couple years now, I really need to make more cob ones, they are too much easier than carving wood, although they dont last quite as long..
Anyway on to step 5, there are several small brushy plants that have a foam like core, you can just bore out the center of these with a metal hanger or anything long and pointy like that. the only problem is that I have no idea what plants they are, just what they look like.
so anyone that wants to wander around breaking twigs and poking them, it could really pay off in the long run.
and you definitely can smoke other stuff out of these, just dont make the whole to the stem too big. Although I’d recommend glass kids, it tastes way better.

34 Andrew D August 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm

I am an avid pipe smoker and have always wanted to do this. I’m going to give it a try. Step 4 is confusing, though. It says “Beneath the bowl, drill a narrow path through the pith towards the bottom of the pipe.” I, like alex, pictured it from the bottom, which of course can’t be right. So what is this step talking about? I understand hole from top, hole from side, stick hollowed stem in hole from side – easy enough. I just don’t get step 4.

Also, Rob, there was a WHO study back in the day that showed pipe smokers actually live longer. To be sure, there have been other contradictory studies. All the same, there are risks. And we as adults can choose which ones are worth it.

The relaxation I get from smoking a pipe certainly offsets a good bit of the stress I deal with, perhaps helping provide an overall balanced impact on health. Yes, we all know: smoking = bad. Still, don’t forget, there are good aspects here as well. If the fear of the health risks outweighs your enjoyment, then don’t smoke. For me, the enjoyment far outweighs the risk. Could I die of oral cancer? Sure. It’s a risk I’ll take.

-Andrew

35 Bryan Schatz August 16, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Andrew,

By below the bowl, I mean drill a thin hole (1/8-inch drill bit) leading from the bowl (which is only a 1/2-inch to 1-inch deep) towards the bottom of the pipe (but not through the bottom), so that it meets the hole where the stem will be inserted. Does that make sense…In other words, the bowl shouldn’t go so deep so that it itself connects to the stem. Rather that you will have a formation from the top to the bottom of the cob as: bowl—>narrow path from the bowl towards the bottom of the pipe—>connecting with the stem, and the bottom of the cob remains closed. Naturally, this path widens as you smoke it, but keeping it narrow will reduce the ash that gets in your mouth, etc… I hope that makes more sense.

36 Don K. August 17, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Four former U.S. Presidents (John Adams, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan) lived into their 90s. ALL FOUR were pipe smokers, although Reagan quit 10 years before he became President.

37 Brian August 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm

@Rob im sure were are all aware of the risk of tobacco between the tv commercials and newspaper ads and radio ads and everybody and there brother that feels like they need to let you know as well…….ahem……..But the fact is if someone wants to enjoy a pipe or a pinch of dip what business is it of yours.Thats the problem with a lot of people they always have to be worried about everyone else.

38 Brian August 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm

In my rant i forgot to say,i loved the article,Although not a pipe smoker myself i always did enjoy the smell and would like to give it a try someday.

39 Cristopher Ricardson August 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Great Article!

I am trying to make my own, and in allowing the cob to dry for a week it was attacked and demolished by ants. Anyone have any creative ideas as to how I can dry my cobs without worryng about bugs?

Thanks!

40 Eric G. August 20, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I enjoyed the article! I would suggest tapering the bit so it is comfortable to hold in the mouth.

As for the people concerned about health risks, it’s all about moderation. Besides, in this busy world, it’s hard to find enough time to sit down and relax with a pipe frequently enough to get an addiction or chronic health issues. When I smoke a pipe it is once or twice a week tops, and in the summer not at all, unless I to to an indoor place friendly to smokers, which is getting hard to find these days. When I do get around to it, it is truly enjoyable and relaxing.

41 Aaron November 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I forget who said it, but “A pipe gives a wise man time to think, and fool something to stick in his mouth.”

42 jo November 21, 2012 at 2:26 am

now to find a drill growing plant …:P

43 Duane G. Beitmen January 28, 2013 at 7:15 pm

7) Life expectancy for Pipe Smokers:
Okay, sit down for this…. A US Surgeon General report “Smoking and Health” (No. 1103, page 112) noted,“Death rates for current pipe smokers were little if at all higher than for non-smokers, even with men smoking 10 pipefuls per day and with men who had smoked pipes for more than 30 years.” On page 92 the report also stated, “Pipe smokers who inhale live as long as nonsmokers and pipe smokers that don’t inhale live longer than non-smokers.
What? Life expectancy for pipe smokers is three years longer than… Non-Smokers! Just try to use that argument with an anti-smoking activist! Of course this is not to encourage people to smoke, but has more to do with the personality of a typical pipe smoker. Most are type “B” where most cigarette smokers are type “A”. So a pipe smoker, on average, is a more laid back person. Second, smoking a pipe is very relaxing. You just can’t be angry when you are smoking a pipe.
Cigars are also relaxing but it seems, not as much as pipes. Most cigarette smoking is not so much a relaxing experience as it is a need for nicotine.

http://www.seattlepipeclub.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=969877&module_id=17020

44 Luke B August 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Just finished my pipe tonight, went with the Douglas McArthur style pipe. Climbed a tree and whittled a branch into a suitable stem for the pipe. How do you post pictures so I can show it off?

45 Michael Knopf November 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

In the 70′s, I lived in Ark. After dinner, if we had corn. We would all make cob pipes, young and old, for fun.All different stem and bowl sizes.

46 TJ Mason January 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Be sure to use FIELD CORN rather than SWEET CORN.

47 Derek Petimore April 11, 2014 at 2:32 pm

After munching the sweetcorn yourself give the cob to a puppy, he/she will gnaw it to the perfect shape and texture for your pipemaking. I have just traded my puppy’s old one for a new one, he’s happy and so am I.

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