Becoming an Expert in Cigar Smoking: Your Comprehensive Guide

cigar smoking man

The process of preparing, smoking, and all the associated elements of a cigar constitute a ritual. Many cigar enthusiasts, myself included, find solace and relaxation in this ritual. Achieving the ideal cut, a flawless light, and a satisfying draw requires practice, but the journey is as rewarding as the destination.

The Cigar

The world boasts a diverse array of cigars, varying in shapes and sizes. In this discussion, the focus will be on premium cigars, particularly those that are handmade. While machine-made cigars are an option, it’s akin to choosing your dad’s favorite light beer over a craft small-batch IPA.


The outer layer of the cigar, known as the wrapper, is what you see, and it often gives a hint of the cigar’s smoking characteristics. While color isn’t always a decisive factor, the type of wrapper leaf can be a preference, especially for novice smokers.

  • For a light and mild experience, look for wrappers like Connecticut, Sungrown, or those with shade or creme in the name.
  • If you prefer middle-of-the-road and medium-bodied cigars, consider options like Habano, Colorado, Claro, or San Andres.
  • For a heavy, full-bodied experience, opt for cigars with a dark, almost black wrapper, bearing names such as Maduro, Oscuro, or Corojo.

Sizes & Shapes

Cigars are gauged by their widths and lengths (typically in inches) and are often associated with a vitola, which is the general term for the size and shape of the cigar. As you gain more experience, you’ll discover your preferred size for different occasions.

A good starting size is the Robusto, a medium to small cigar ideal for 1-2 hour smokes. A typical Robusto is around five inches long with a ring gauge size of 50. Another well-known vitola is the Churchill, named after the famed British Prime Minister. Churchills are usually about seven inches long with a ring gauge of around 56, suitable for longer smokes lasting 2-4 hours. Read more about the Churchill here.

Beyond the traditional cylindrical cigar shape, there are varieties that provide a different mouth-feel or handheld experience. Popular alternative shapes include box-pressed, torpedo, and pyramid.

The Cut

The majority of handmade cigars are equipped with a cap at the end, requiring removal or cutting before smoking. The cap serves multiple purposes, such as preserving the cigar’s structural integrity during handling and preventing the unraveling of the wrapper leaf. To fully savor a quality cigar, the end must be modified to facilitate proper airflow. There are various methods to achieve this adjustment.

parts of a cigar
Parts of a cigar
  • Straight cut
    Utilizing specialized cigar scissors or a straight cutter involves slicing the cap with a single moving blade. In a pinch, a knife can also be used to remove the end of the cigar. The straight cut is the simplest type of cut.
  • Wedge or “V” cut
    Inserting a V-shaped sharp blade through the side of the cigar forms a wedge-shaped cutout, allowing air to be drawn in. This cut is unusual or unique, typically chosen for a change of pace or when encountering significant draw issues as it removes a substantial portion of the cigar.
  • Punch
    Using a circular metal piece, you can punch a hole into the cap, similar to perforating a piece of paper. This method is a suitable choice for cigars with larger ring gauges or those that are box-pressed.
  • Guillotine
    Like the straight cut, a guillotine is a type of cutter where two blades converge to make a clean slice. It is the most efficient and commonly used method for cutting a cigar before smoking.
  • Peel
    Depending on the cigar and the circumstances, it’s possible to remove the cap by peeling the end of the cigar and exposing the innards. This method is preferred when a cutter isn’t available or if you wish to maintain a more natural approach.

Regardless of the method you select to begin your cigar, remember a couple of key points. On the top of the cigar, you can observe the line where the cap overlaps the wrapper. Be sure not to remove more than below that line. Cutting a cigar too low may result in the wrapper unraveling, leading to problems with the draw and structural integrity of the cigar.

The Light

Following the cut, the next step is lighting. This essential process ignites the tobacco leaves, allowing the smoke to be drawn through the cigar for enjoyment. While the proper light is part of the ritual, it’s crucial to start the burn correctly. A well-executed light ensures the cigar burns evenly and can be fully appreciated. There are three commonly accepted methods for lighting a cigar, recommended for proper cigar etiquette.

  • Butane torch
    A butane-powered torch lighter, designed for clean burning, produces optimal heat, eliminating the need to hold a flame to the foot of the cigar for an extended period. These butane torches are widely preferred for lighting cigars, as they avoid fuel taste and deliver a high temperature for an efficient light.
  • Match
    In certain situations, you might resort to using matches. Although not the most efficient method for lighting a cigar, it serves as a viable option when a torch is unavailable. Be ready to use nearly a whole book of matches when smoking a cigar from start to finish, especially outdoors. Keep in mind that matches are not ideal in windy conditions, so plan accordingly.
  • Cedar spills
    Cedar sheets, occasionally provided with cigars, offer a traditional method for lighting. Transform the sheet into small strips, ignite one end with a lighter or match, and use the lit cedar piece to light your cigar. This elegant approach not only imparts a subtle cedar flavor but also adds a touch of sophistication. If executed correctly, it enhances the experience and adds a cool factor to your cigar ritual.

If you choose to use a conventional (Bic) lighter for lighting your cigar, ensure it operates on butane fuel and be mindful of the prolonged ignition times. Using a Zippo lighter with Zippo lighter fluid is not advisable, as it imparts a disagreeable taste to your entire cigar and may pose additional health risks. Alternatively, you can purchase a butane torch insert for your preferred Zippo lighter, providing a proper solution for cigar lighting while educating your friends on the suitable fuels.

The Smoke

Now that you’ve successfully prepared and lit your cigar, let me share some valuable tips to enhance your smoking experience and derive the utmost pleasure from your well-cut and lit cigar.

  • Go slow
    Take your time; this isn’t a quick five-minute smoke break with a Pall Mall in the cold. A cigar is meant to be savored for hours (depending on its size), offering a leisurely and paced experience. Excessive puffing and drawing too much heat into the body of the cigar can make it uncomfortably hot in your mouth and, more importantly, compromise the carefully crafted flavors intended by the cigar maker. Relax, pace yourself, and allow the cigar to unfold its nuances gradually.
  • Don’t inhale
    Unlike with cigarettes, it’s crucial to take it slow and avoid inhaling cigar smoke into your lungs. The tobacco in cigars provides a more intense experience and can make you feel unwell, especially if you’re not accustomed to it. Cigar smoking is focused on the mouthfeel and taste, emphasizing the sensory aspects rather than seeking a rapid nicotine fix in your bloodstream. Enjoy the rich flavors without the need to inhale deeply.
  • Enjoy
    Above all, relish the cigar and appreciate the diverse flavors and notes revealed during the burn. It’s an excellent means of relaxation, whether in solitude, good company, or paired with a drink. For a heightened smoking experience, consider trying a retrohale.
    If you ever feel dizzy or start coughing, take a break. Combating nicotine sickness can be aided by consuming sugar, either through eating or drinking. Prioritize your well-being and enjoy your cigar responsibly.

The End

The amount you choose to smoke is a personal preference, but a good guideline is to enjoy the cigar down to at least the band. Removing the band can be tricky, as excess glue may cause tearing and damage to the wrapper. Smoking the cigar down to the band allows the heat to melt the glue, making it easier to gently remove the band without harming the wrapper. Once removed, feel free to continue smoking until you’ve finished.

After completing your cigar, simply let it sit. Extinguishing a cigar prematurely creates a mess and an unpleasant smell. The cigar will naturally go out within 15 minutes and be cool to the touch. Once cool, dispose of it properly. Like cigarette butts, cigar remnants can be unpleasant, so part of being a responsible cigar smoker is cleaning up after yourself.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do use butane to toast and light your cigar
  • Do offer a friend or acquaintance a spare cigar
  • Do make your torch lighter available for others to use
  • Do cleanup after yourself by removing ash or burnt cigars properly
  • Do support your local brick and mortar cigar store
  • Do puff a cigar nice and slow
  • Do wait at least 15 minutes between cigars

  • Don’t lick/moisten your cigar cap before cutting with a friends or shop cutter, save that for your own
  • Don’t snuff out your cigar in the ashtray or on the ground
  • Don’t inhale the smoke into your lungs, you’ll have a bad time
  • Don’t bring your own cigars to a cigar lounge, buy from the shop
  • Don’t offer or buy cigars for kids under 21
  • Don’t cut the cigar too far down
  • Don’t rush through smoking a cigar, take it slow

The Why

Many ask, “Why cigars?” Some recoil at the notion of smoking, given its negative reputation and health concerns. However, for me and many enthusiasts, it’s a source of great enjoyment. I liken it to having a beer after work—a moment to unwind and relax. Smoking a cigar, for me, is a ritual that commands my attention during the session. Despite the winter limiting my cigar enjoyment to one or two a month, I compensate during the warmer months. It’s not just a hobby; it’s a passion that extends to the thrill of hunting, collecting, and curating my cigar collection. Call it a collector’s disposition, not an illness.

This simple guide is my attempt to share the joy of cigar smoking with newcomers and those curious about the hobby. I hope it serves as a helpful introduction for anyone looking to unlock the world of cigars.

Head on over to BeardStix and see what I’ve been smoking lately.

My Hobby Project – BeardStix


As the sun sets on a balmy summer evening, seated on my back patio, I find myself enveloped in an ambiance that ignites my creative spirit. It is during these moments that I often indulge in the ritual of lighting a cigar, a catalyst for unlocking the depths of my imagination, as wisps of smoke dance around me, transporting me to a realm of boundless inspiration.

Curiously, one might assume that as an IT manager, my desire to escape anything technical or computer-related would dominate my precious leisure hours. Yet, against all odds, I remain drawn to the world of technology. Whether it’s tending to my home server and network or donning the hat of the family’s trusted IT guru, my free time becomes a canvas where I tirelessly refine my technical prowess, for better or for worse.

Recently, I shared my inherent inclination for collecting various items, ranging from games and cigars to YETI products, among others. However, my passion for collecting goes beyond mere acquisition; it extends into the realm of organizing and analyzing data. Initially, I turned to spreadsheets as a means to satisfy my craving for order, yet I soon realized that this alone would not suffice.

A peculiar aspect of my collection obsession revolves around my long-standing practice of rating a universally adored appetizer—mozzarella/provolone cheese sticks—since 2016, meticulously recording my assessments in a note on my trusty iPhone. With the introduction of cigars into my repertoire, I yearned for a method to catalogue my acquisitions and preferences. It was in the latter part of 2019 that the idea of BeardStix came to fruition—an amalgamation of my fondness for cheese sticks and the “sticks” that epitomize cigars.

Since its inception in 2019, my BeardStix website has been a work in progress, continuously evolving with the addition of new features, refined designs, and enriched information. This year, my focus has been predominantly on bolstering the administrative capabilities of the site, empowering me with seamless avenues to incorporate and update content from any location, at any time. This enhanced functionality ensures that I have the flexibility and convenience to contribute and manage website information effortlessly, no matter where I may find myself.

Technical details
For the inquisitive minds, BeardStix is crafted using PHP pages complemented by a MariaDB backend, which operates on a server located within the confines of my own home. To infuse the website with interactivity and real-time updates, I harness the power of JavaScript, Ajax, and cutting-edge Google technologies. This amalgamation enables the pages to be highly responsive and seamlessly updates information as it unfolds, providing users with a dynamic and engaging browsing experience.

BeardStix Features
Cheese stick ratings
Cigar humidor inventory
Cigar recommendations
Cigar ratings and check-ins
Pizza ratings
Add cheese stick rating*
Modify cigar inventory*
Rate and check-in to cigars*
Add pizza rating*

*admin-only functions not currently exposed to the internet

Select here to experience BeardStix

From Beer to Cheese Sticks: Exploring the Weird and Wonderful World of Collecting


I am driven by a strong desire to collect various items, including virtual collections. Although no research has been conducted in this field, I would like to share my experiences with this compulsive behavior.

I hesitate to call it “collector’s syndrome” since that term implies a more severe form of hoarding or personal attachment to physical objects. My tendency is to collect items without any clear purpose, accumulating as much as possible.


  • Collect as much as possible of a certain type of item, digital good, or service.
  • Acquire pieces of a collection that I will never actually use.
  • Try to complete a known collection if it exists.
  • Make lists that can show progress or collection completion.


There are numerous examples, past and present, that can easily define my collection tendency. However, to maintain some privacy and brevity, I will detail only a few.

YETI Coolers products are probably the most expensive compulsion I have. The company releases new limited-edition colors of the same products seasonally, which creates demand. I’m a sucker for this, and when there’s a new color (or even a new product) released, I’m compelled to buy one. I have amassed quite the collection of YETI products, and while some may argue, I do use most of them.

Digital video games are a collection that is easy to get out of hand because there is no physical storage required. When you purchase a digital video game from a platform like Playstation, Xbox, or Steam, the purchase lives in your account, and you don’t necessarily need to download or install the game. In theory, one can buy every video game available and never play or install a single one. Much like YETI products, when a new video game is announced or released, I buy into the hype and yearn for it. I add it to a wishlist to monitor if the price decreases. When a title goes on sale, I usually buy it. To my credit, I rarely pay full price ($70!) for new video games and wait until they receive a deep discount before pulling the trigger. The advent of video game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and Sony Playstation Plus Extra has eased the spending on individual video games as I now have access to hundreds of games through the subscription. This has shifted some of my collection on this front to wanting to install and play every game that comes to one of these services. This only wastes my time, so I consider it a win.

Movies and music used to be a big problem and time sink for me. Acquiring all the latest movies or albums used to take a lot of my time and money. Collecting DVDs/BDs and CDs really scratched my itch when it came to displaying them alphabetically and being able to see my collection every day. I can remember at least 10 times in my past where I purchased a DVD or Blu-Ray that I never opened or watched. I just wanted to have it in my collection. Streaming services and other digital distribution methods have really disrupted this for me, in a good way. Now, I have extended this collecting to video streaming services where I want to be able to watch anything whenever I want. Month-to-month subscriptions thankfully allow me to do that. I can subscribe to Peacock, watch Parks and Recreation, then cancel when I’m done. They’re hoping I don’t cancel to avoid churn, though. Most people just subscribe and forget, and these companies make money on the gym membership business model.

From Beer to Cheese Sticks

A few other examples of my collecting that involve more organizing than obsessive buying include cigars, beer, and cheese sticks. As a beginner cigar aficionado, I like to log the cigars I have tried and whether or not I enjoyed them. I keep a public list of the cigars I have on hand. Similarly, when I drink beer casually, I log it in a way that allows me to look back at statistics, see if I have tried a beer before, and share it with my friends. The app Untappd is great for this, and to date, I have checked in over 1200 beers! Unfortunately, an app like Untappd does not yet exist to track cheese stick ratings. Yes, you read that right: cheese sticks, such as those filled with mozzarella or provolone cheese. I consider myself not only a beer snob but also a cheese stick snob. So when I go to a new place that has them on the menu, I log them and add them to my public database for other cheese stick lovers to enjoy.

It’s not hoarding when you’re just collecting information. Sometimes, I enjoy making spreadsheets, and finding new data to add to Excel is always an adventure. Maybe someone else out there shares my “problem,” or perhaps not. What do you think?