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James Leavey's Corner
A Cut Above The Rest

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A cut above the rest


by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland


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James Leavey

Kinky Friedman,the politically incorrect jewish Texan singer/songwriter, thriller writer,and close friend of social outlaws such as Willie Nelson, is a dedicatedsmoker who often gets through twelve large Havana cigars every day.  Heactively detests what he calls, “all that anally-retentive crap”  about theright way to cut, ignite and enjoy fine cigars.  “Just slice 'em, light 'emand  smoke 'em,” he once told me, over an overflowing ashtray in London,“the rest is history.”

That said, somesmokers who are new to cigars need to be reminded about the basics; it'srather like telling a computer-illiterate senior citizen that before youactually play with your PC you need to know how to switch it on. A couple ofyears ago, one of London's leading tobacco merchants told me the story of aJapanese customer who returned his cigars to the shop he had just boughtthem from, complaining that the draw was so tight he couldn't extract theslightest whiff of smoke. The salesperson looked at the cigars, smiled andsaid, “Well the thing is, sir, handmade cigars need to be cut at the 'head'or closed end before they can be smoked.”

There are variousways of doing this. Cuban smokers usually bite off the 'cap' of theirHavana, or flick it off with their fingernail; others use a sharp knife.

The rest of usprefer an easy life, and use a proper, sharp, cigar cutter.

Cigar cutters,made of precious metals, steel, iron, tin, rubber (not the blade!) or wood,have long been the ubiquitous accessory of every cigar smoker or cigarretailer, but they are often hidden out in the open and taken for granted. Agood, sharp, reliable cutter is perhaps the most important accessory a cigarsmoker can buy for a fine cigar can be destroyed with a poor cutter.

The basic typesinclude:

Guillotine Cutter– which uses one or two sharp blades to cut the end of the cigar. Some saythe two bladed variety is by far the best. A self sharpening feature is alsovery good, if you can find one.  There are hundreds to choose from includingelegant pocket-sized versions that are a joy to use, and magnificentdesk-top guillotines that resemble something from the French Revolution.

Scissor Cutters –many aficionados swear by this type of cutter – for the scissors-shape putsmore uniform pressure on the cigar and gives a more even cut.

Cigar Punch -rather than cutting anything off, you punch a hole in the end of the cigar.While not practical for small ring sizes or cigars that don't have a roundedend such as a torpedo, punches are usually the only answer for really largering gauge cigars. They are also smaller and easier to carry – many of themare now already attached to keyrings. 

V Cutters -rather than pushing into the cigar with a punch or cutting off a large areaof the cigar, some people cut a small V at the end of the cigar.  The onlydrawback if you are a 'wet' smoker, i.e. one with a high saliva count, isthat this type of cut may end up closing  and cause uneven burning.

Screw Cutters –bit like a Cigar Punch, except you twist them into the head of the cigar. Not sure this is such a great idea, though.

Whatever cutteryou use, the idea is to remove the leaf from the closed end of the cigar youare about to smoke.  The 'cap' is that small circular piece of tobacco leafstuck on the head of an Havana cigar to secure the wrapper. Cigars from theDominican Republic and other countries are often secured with a twist of thewrapper which is then gummed onto the uncut end, or tied off as a pigtailand known as a 'flag'.

The objective isto leave a little of the cap or end of the cigar so that the whole thingholds together . If the the hole is too small - and compressed by the cutter- the cigar may overheat.  If the cut's too large or uneven, the end of yourcigar may unravel. And there's nothing as frustrating as  the cigar you arereally enjoying falling apart.

The thing toremember about guillotine cutters, especially those cheap plastic ones oftenfreely given away by cigar retailers – with details of their name, address,phone number, e-mail address and website printed on them, and by themarketing departments of cigar companies, is that, ideally, the blade shouldbe bevelled on both sides so that it won't matter which side you use it. Using the non-bevelled side of a cigar cutter often results in a badly torncigar, which you may just as well shred and smoke in a pipe.

Some cigarsmokers prefer to use a bullet cutter, which removes a small section fromthe head of the cigar, but this is not recommended for a beginner, unlessthey've been shown how to do it properly.

A fairlyfool-proof way ot cutting a cigar is to lay a hand-held guillotine cutterflat on a table, place the head of the cigar in it like an upright pillar ona stand, and gently but firmly – snip!

The other thingto remember about cutters is that well-made ones are fun to play with, andvery tactile.  Table-top guillotine cutters are usually extremely reliableand also very attractive.

Whatever you useit should be very sharp and capable of making a quick, clean and level cut.Some people say there should be around ¼ to 1/8 of an inch or a couple ofmillimetres of cap left after you've cut a Cuban cigar, which can only comewith practice.  Better to make a smaller cut, than a large one, for then atleast you can always cut it back.

But if you doinsist on using your teeth, do remember to spit the cap out.  Or you couldgrimace with the taste,  and find yourself seriously considering buying adecent cigar cutter.

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