This article was originally published on my personal website back in 2005. Since then it garnered over 30,000 hits. Probably one of the surest signs of the article’s success is the simple fact that many of my pipe smoking friends went out and bought the same box and use it as the solution to their open-tin tobacco storage problem! (I even use a little one for snuff.) Since its original posting I have modified my own use of the “Lexador” so I’ve given the article a complete overhaul so that it now aligns to my current experience and practice.
When I bought my first pipe tobaccos I naively presumed they would keep perfectly well in their respective little tins. Much to my dismay, after a few weeks my precious little containers of cargo were becoming as dry and crispy as the grass on my front lawn. As it turns out, pipe tobacco is best stored roughly the same humidity as cigars: 70%. Fortunately, pipe tobacco is a bit more resilient than cigars (e.g. it won’t split or start to unroll!) so a humidor for pipe tobacco needn’t be as scrupulously maintained. (For an exhaustive link on building humidors, try the Cigar FAQ.)
I went on the Internet and researched what other pipe smokers were using: invariably it was Tupperware, mason jars, or some other kind of small lidded contraption. This was fine and dandy, but I didn’t want to have a dozen different jars sitting around my room—especially since it isn’t particularly convenient if I want to take a tin with me to the local patio. (Not to mention I’m rather fond of the little tins they come in.)
I decided that my ideal humidor would be airtight, easy to monitor and maintain, but most importantly, it would be able to hold several individual tins of tobacco. After some thought and research, I came up what has been the ideal solution for me:
The Lexan Humidor (aka the “Lexador”)
This is an airtight container made of high quality plastic with a hygrometer and humidifier. Together, they keep the humidity level so constant that I only have to add water to the humidifier only after several months. (In fact, if the tobacco starts off at the right humidity I usually don’t even have to add the humidifier.)
- It is probably good practice to open the box every week or two in order to replace the stagnant air inside the box.
- It is a good idea to buy two boxes: one for your natural tobaccos (e.g. Virginas) and one for any aromatics. (And, heck, why not a third for your cigars!)
The ideal humidor will not impart any foreign taste or smell upon the tobacco and seal perfectly. (Tupperware never seems to, and it also takes on the smell of what you’ve put in it.) Lexan, on the other hand, is a very hard and clear plastic that, like glass, will not absorb any moisture, flavors or odors. I bought a Lexan box at Mountain Equipment Coop, though most stores that sell paddling gear will likely stock them, or something similar. This particular one has a gasket around the lid and seals airtight with two sturdy latches.
This is the little device used to monitor the humidity level inside the box. Digital hygrometers are now very common and can be purchased at your local or online tobacconist—or you can use a household one from RadioShack. Dial hygrometers are also an option but are usually more unreliable.
If you’re incredibly thrifty you can make your own: Pick up a block of green florist foam— be sure to buy the ‘wet’ kind or it won’t absorb water—from a florist or craft store and cut it down to fit into small Tupperware container. You can also spend a little more on specialized humidifying sponge made specifically for humidors: your tobacconist will stock several kinds of these sponges, and some of them will cost up to 50 bucks! (These ones are supposed to be very high quality, but personally I think that they’re the same as any other, but people who spent thousands of dollars on their cigars aren’t about to start cutting costs at the sponge.)
In either case you then should buy a bottle of humectant that will help keep the humidity at the proper level. This is important because if it gets too humid inside then you may eventually start encouraging mold growth, not to mention your tobacco will be awfully hard to light and hot to smoke! There are many different brands of “cigar solutions” but they are invariably a mix of propylene glycol and distilled water that, together, help keep the humidity at the proper level. Again, these branded solutions are stupidly expensive and if you look around you can probably buy a big bottle of propylene glycol (a hydroscopic liquid used in everything from foods to shampoos) from on its own and it will last you decades. (Mix together at a ratio of about 60/40 of propylene glycol and water.)
For the last couple of years I have been using hydroscopic crystals—you just top them up with water when they dry out and that’s it. They’re cheap, easy to use, and (most importantly) work great!
Whether you’re using a sponge, crystals, or something else you will need to top it up with fresh water on occasion. When you do, it should be distilled water so it doesn’t clog up your humidifier with the minerals left after evaporation. You can buy distilled water at a grocery store for a buck or two, or make your own by capturing the steam from boiling water. (Good luck with that.)