Proper Lighting Technique
A bad burn has many different characteristics, the most common being a minor variation is the burn line. This generic form of a bad burn is characterised by a variation in the burn line of more than three eighths of an inch.
More often than not, a variation of under three eighths of an inch will correct itself and become more even over a short period of time. Rushing through the initial lighting stages is likely the cause of a bad burn line.
The most critical part of cigar smoking is touching your preferred flame to the bare foot of your cigar for the first time. Many times, an uneven burn can be avoided by simply taking care while toasting the foot of your cigar.
To obtain a proper toast, hold your cigar between your thumb and middle finger while keeping the palm of your hand at a forty five degree angle to the floor. With your opposite hand, ignite your lighter and slowly bring the flame closer to the foot, watch for any discoloration or smoke coming from the foot of the cigar. Once the foot of the cigar begins to emit a small amount of smoke, stop moving the flame towards your cigar. Usually, the flame tip will be just touching the foot or a slight distance away from the foot. Once the flame is at the correct distance from the foot, slowly begin rotating the cigar between your thumb and middle finger. This will help you to avoid overheating a single spot of the foot.
As you rotate the cigar slowly, move the lighter with a minor wrist movement to evenly darken the foot of your cigar. You will know to extinguish your flame when the foot of the cigar is uniformly darkened and you have a thin glowing burn ring around the foot portion of the wrapper.
Now that the cigar is properly toasted, place the head of the cigar in your mouth and repeat the toasting process as you take gentle puffs. Be sure to rotate the cigar in your mouth as you puff, this will help with an even light.
When you feel that the cigar is evenly lit remove it from your mouth and gently blow on the foot to see if you do in fact have an even burn around the rim of the foot. If the cigar is not evenly lit, place it back in your mouth and repeat the lighting process until you are satisfied with the burn. By taking the time to properly light your cigar you will greatly reduce the chances of encountering burn issues.
In some cases, even after great care is taken to properly light your cigar, you will still develop burn problems. One example of this would be an erratic burn due to wind. For example, as you puff on your cigar, wind blows along one side which will cause increased combustion.
Another reason for burn variation can be caused by uneven humidity throughout the cigar. This happens when a naked cigar (One without cellophane) is placed directly against another surface that is moist or has increased humidity. As the wrapper comes into contact with this surface it acts like a sponge, pulling the extra moisture from the surface and wicking it into the inner tobaccos.
Burn problems can also be the direct result of poor rolling. This type of problem is most common when cigars are rolled by apprentice rollers. This can result in the tobacco becoming too loose or tight, which will not only cause draw problems, but a variation in combustion.
One of the most common severe burn issues is probably what is referred to as a “canoe”. This type of burn problem is when the burn line of your cigar gets out of control and burns deep into one side of the body.
A canoe can sometimes be caught early by paying attention to the appearance of the burn line. A proper burn line should be thin and even all the way around the circumference of the cigar. An early sign of a canoe is that the burn line becomes irregular and wide on one part of the cigar. This generally means that the cigar is heating up unevenly and there is a chance that one side will begin to combust at a faster rate. When this faster combustion occurs, the binder and wrapper will begin to burn away on the hotter side while the burn remains slow on the opposing side.
To prevent a canoe in this type of situation, try slowing down your rate of smoking and take extra care to puff lightly and less frequently. Doing this will allow the over heated side of the cigar to cool which will, in turn, allow the burn to even up across the foot of the cigar.
If you find that a canoe is too far gone to correct by slowing down your rate of smoking, you can set the cigar down and allow it to go out. Once the cigar has cooled and is completely unlit, use a guillotine style cutter to clip the foot of the cigar so that you have an even starting point once again. Once clipped, place the cigar in your mouth and gently exhale through the cigar to help exhaust any foul chemical flavour that may be lingering due to partially combusted tobacco. After purging, begin the toasting and lighting process once again so that you may continue to enjoy your fine cigar.
When tunnelling occurs it can best be described as though a fuse was lit down the centre of your cigar, burning away the core and leaving the exterior intact. The filler (or core) of your cigar is slowly burned from the inside out. As this tunnelling occurs, the centre falls out leaving what appears to be the hole or void within the body of your cigar.
This type of burn problem is common for slow smokers. When the cigar is left sitting in the ashtray, or not puffed frequently enough, the burning door of the cigar partially goes out. As the outer part of the foot goes out first, the filler is left smouldering. The smouldering filler slowly continues to burn throughout the length of the body.
As more infrequent puffs are taken, the filler is kept lit while the binder and wrapper remain cool and unburned. Finally, when the smoker becomes bothered by the lack of smoke volume, the cigar gets tapped on the ashtray and the burned away filler falls, revealing a tunnel throughout the core of the cigar.
A common sign of this type of problem is a gradual lack of smoke while puffing. In addition to the lack of smoke, the ash will cease to progress down the cigar. To remedy a tunnel, the easiest thing to do is immediately touch up the foot and begin to smoke at a slightly faster rate.
A purge is also recommended at this point as the partially burned tobacco may begin to leave an unenjoyable flavour on your palate. Just like a canoe that is too far gone, you can allow the cigar to cool and go out, then clip and re-light the foot to resume your smoke.
“Coning” is the opposite of tunnelling and presents itself as a sharp spike or peak protruding from the foot of the cigar. This is a burn problem that is common among those that enjoy smoking at an accelerated pace.
As the cigar is puffed frequently, the dense filler begins to heat up and is not allowed adequate time to properly cool. As this happens, a sort of superheated bunch of filler burns the binder and wrapper away. Because of this, the mass of filler stays hot and burns slower than its surrounding tobacco.
Tobacco that is coarse, dense and full of resins will accentuate this problem since it does not burn as readily as other types of tobacco. A common sign that coning may be occurring is the gradual harshness of the smoke. As a filler becomes overheated the tobacco surrounding it also becomes overly hot and has a tendency to produce hot and undesirable flavours.
Once it is determined that you are experiencing coning, it is recommended that the cigar be set down and allowed to cool for a few minutes. After the filler cools, smoking can resume, but be sure to resume at a much slower rate however. Doing so will allow the filler to stay somewhat cool and catch up to the burn rate of the binder and wrapper.
Another way to help prevent coning is to allow the ash to remain on the foot of the cigar until it appears as though it is going to drop off. This will help to keep the foot cool by limiting airflow into the burning filler, which in turn slows down combustion.
Of all the serious burn problems, “runners” are the most severe as they have the potential to destroy a cigar in a matter of minutes. When a runner occurs there is a dramatic change in the burn liner and generally appears to take off down one part of the cigar.
In many cases, when the runner occurs it is due to a heavy vein in the wrapper. When this heavy vein begins to burn, it acts much like a fuse and starts to burn down the length of the cigar, destroying the wrappers it burns.
The best way to picture it would be to imagine unzipping your coat.
As the zipper comes undone and travels down your coat, it moves in a predictable line and as it passes it opens the portion of the coat above it.
In the case of the cigar the predictable path would be a heavy vein.
As it burns down the vein, the wrapper pulls itself apart, leaving a large hole where the binder will begin to show.
People will categorise an off centre tunnel as a runner. In this instance, a tunnel begins to form off centre and close to the wrapper of the cigar. As the tunnel worsens and the heat is increased, a hole will appear in your cigar, often within an inch of the burn line.
At first glance, this will appear as a small hole in the wrapper and will quickly progress into a much larger hole. You will then be left with a large opening in the wrapper exposing the binder and filler.
If you find yourself a victim to a runner caused by a tunnel, the best course of action would be to let the cigar cool, then clip and re-light the cigar as mentioned above.
If your runner is caused by a vein, the first thing to do is wet the tip of your finger and apply a small amount of saliva to the vein in question. This will help slow the exaggerated burn and hopefully stop it in its tracks. If the added moisture does not help, look to see if the vein shows any signs of getting smaller or stopping, if this is the case continue smoking with the hope that the runner will stop before destroying too much of your cigar.
It is often very difficult to tell if and when a runner will occur in a cigar. The most important thing to remember when handling burn problems, regardless of their complexity, is to take your time in diagnosing and be patient when attempting to correct the issue at hand.