Since it's quiet around here (advice for newbies) ...

Feb 1, 2015
Jackson TN USA
I'm a newcomer to Cigar Forums, but not to cigars. I can't believe this place is so quiet that it's almost completely dead, and apparently has been for quite awhile now.

There may be other newcomers lurking here, including some who are very new to the cigar hobby/habit/lifestyle/addiction/obsession; it's for those newbies that I offer up these tips based on my own experience and the wisdom of fellow Brothers Of The Leaf (BOTL).

1. You don't have to jump in with both feet right away. All you really need, besides cigars, are a cutter and lighter; if you buy your cigars from your friendly local tobacconist as you need them, you won't even need your own humidor.

2. But you want your own humidor, don't you? The problem is, you don't know just what you need, or who sells quality products instead of cheap crap. So start out with a tupperdor (just a tightly-sealing plastic leftovers container with a small humidification device), or even a ziplock plastic bag. Those singles you buy from the local tobacconist probably come in ziplocks because they work well; re-use them a few times, and store larger quantities in quart- or gallon-size ziplock freezer bags that you probably already have in your kitchen. This way you can keep a nice-sized stock of cigars on hand while you read the threads here (and elsewhere) that are loaded with advice on what to get and what to avoid; then you can make an informed purchase.

3. There are all kinds of cutters, but the most common (and probably most versatile) sort is the double-guillotine cutter. One of these in the $3-$5 range will serve you well, and you won't be out a lot of money if you lose or misplace it, as often happens. Later you can buy a nicer cutter, or a different style, or even several cutters ... I think I have between six and ten of them, all double-guillotines.

4. When it comes to lighters, there are three main types. First is the Zippo-style that uses a naptha-based lighter fluid; I don't care for these because I can taste the naptha when I light a cigar with one. Second is the ubiquitous disposable butane lighter; I like Bics, have at least one near every ashtray in my home and car, and usually carry one in my pocket. The third kind is the refillable torch-type butane lighter; I have two or three of these and usually carry one with me ... but I always have a Bic as a backup, since the refillables I own don't give much warning before they run dry.

5. Back to humidors: how large should the one you buy be? Humidors are usually described in terms of the number of corona-size cigars they can hold comfortably, such as "50-count". The size you buy depends on how many cigars you initially plan on having at any one time -- but trust me, if you are even a little bit serious about cigars you will outgrow that first humidor in time. That does not mean you should buy a much larger humidor than you need now, expecting to grow into it. Empty space inside a humidor still has to be properly humidified, and cigars are much better for maintaining humidity than air is. If you expect to keep between 30 and 50 sticks on hand, buy a 50-count humidor. You can always buy a second humidor later. (And a third, and fourth ... )

6. When you get that first humidor, it may come with instructions for seasoning the wooden (Spanish cedar is preferred) interior. Regardless of whatever the instructions say, here is the proper way to season a new humidor: Begin with a bottle of distilled (not purified, not spring, not drinking) water and a brand-new sponge from the supermarket. Moisten the sponge so it is damp but not dripping with the distilled water, wring it out slightly, then gently wipe down all the interior surfaces; this will remove any leftover sawdust and other debris, and it will also give the dry Spanish cedar a chance to absorb a little moisture. Resist the temptation to use a wetter sponge, or spritz with a spray bottle, or anything along those lines -- you risk warping the wood, raising splinters, and even wrecking the humidor's seal. Once you've wiped down the interior, rinse out the sponge with more of the distilled water, place a saucer or other container on the floor of the humidor, put the sponge in/on this, add a little more DW to the sponge, and close up the humidor. You can briefly peek inside once a day to make sure the sponge hasn't dried out and add DW if necessary, but you'll need to allow several days for the water to evaporate and the water vapor to be absorbed by the Spanish cedar. After five days or so, remove the sponge, place your hygrometer into the box, close the lid and walk away again for eight to twelve hours. If the relative humidity is anywhere above around 75% the humidor is ready to hold cigars; otherwise, return the damp sponge and give it a few more days.

7. While the humidor is seasoning during those first few days, check your hygrometer -- and if the cute little analog-dial hygrometer that probably came with the humidor doesn't pass the test I'm about to describe, don't be surprised. I've had several of them (a "free" one with every humidor I've bought), and only one of them has been fairly accurate; most of the others didn't really work at all. I use $25 digital hygrometers that are marketed for use with humidors, and they are very accurate and reliable ... but they still need to be properly calibrated by you before you can trust them.

Calibrating a hygrometer of either type is simple. Get a small plastic ziplock bag, a plastic cap from a soft drink bottle, and some ordinary table salt. fill the bottle cap about three-quarters full of salt, and add just enough distilled water to make it fairly moist, but not enough that the salt begins to dissolve. Put the bottle cap and your hygrometer into the bag, seal it up, and check on it in eight to twelve hours. The hygrometer should read 75 percent; if it's off a point or two, that's okay.

Some hygrometers will let you adjust the readout, and if yours is one of these you can move the pointer or change the digital readout until it show 75 percent -- but you must do this quickly, before the hygrometer responds to the presumably-lower RH outside of the bag.

If your hygrometer does not have a means for adjusting the reading, don't despair. Just notice how far it is from 75%, and in which direction, then attach a label reminding you how much you need to add or subtract from the reading, i.e. "-2" or "+1".

If a digital hygrometer is more than a few percentage points off, replace the battery with a fresh one and rerun the calibration procedure. If an analog hygrometer is very far off -- or if the pointer doesn't respond to the drier air outside the bag after ten minutes or so -- just assign it to the trash and replace it with a digital humidifier.

The hygrometer is one device that you will continue to use for a long time; while you can buy decent digital hygrometers for less than $10 at Walmart, don't be afraid to spend a little more and get one that will serve you reliably for years.

8. Your new humidor probably came with a humidification device too, and it works ... just not all that well. That plastic or metal box with the perforations in the top contains a piece of sponge or "wet" florist's foam. It probably comes with instructions to saturate it with either a 50-50 mixture of DW and propylene glycol (PG) or just distilled water (the PG is already in it). That 50-50 mix will allow the water to evaporate until the micro-environment inside your humidor reaches 70%, the "conventional wisdom" ideal RH for storing cigars.

But there are three things wrong with using this kind of humidification device. First, the 50-50 mixture won't stay at 50-50 because the water will evaporate but the PG doesn't. As the humidification device dries out, the RH will drop; you can add more DW, but how much to add is just a guess. Second, if you overfill the device, liquid may drip out of it and onto your humidor's lining -- or worse, onto your beloved cigars! Third, contamination of the sponge or foam can result in mold, which you definitely do not want in your humidor.

You can buy jars filled with crystals that expand when DW is added, turning into a sort of gel. The gel also contains PG, and they're marginally easier to use and safer for your cigars than the sponge or foam devices; but they can lose effectiveness over time, and I'm told mold can grow there too.

Your best choice for that first humidor is a Boveda "humidipak", available from many cigar retailers or Actually, you will need to get one pack for every fifty-count of capacity, plus one more for the humidor itself; a 50-stick humidor needs two, a 100-count requires three, and so on. Boveda packs come in various RH ratings: you will want either 65% or 69% packs depending on your personal preference; 69% to 72% is better for aging your cigars, but many of us prefer 65% for the cigars we intend to smoke soon. (For some reason Boveda doesn't make a 70 percent pack; but they do make a 75% pack that you can use instead of salt to calibrate your hygrometer, and an 84% pack for no-muss seasoning of humidors.)

Eventually you will buy another, perhaps larger, humidor; or you may just get tired of buying replacement Boveda packs (at around $4 each) every year or so. When that happens, consider switching to humidity beads. These are not the ones made from that gel I mentioned earlier; I'm talking about vapor-permeable ceramic beads that encapsulate mineral salts. The ones I use are from Heartfelt (, a company owned by a very nice BOTL who carries only quality products. Heartfelt's beads come in 60%, 65% and 70% varieties; I use the 65% beads in my humidors. (I suppose the 60% beads are for some use other than cigar storage; I know the beads were originally used for storing valuable works of art.) You can buy them already packaged in perforated plastic tubes and other suitable containers, or you can buy them in bulk (half-pound and one-pound packages) and use your own containers. A lot of BOTL make bags out of their ladies' nylon stockings; I switched to beads from those gel-jars, so I emptied and washed out the jars and put the beads into them. Heartfelt even has a calculator it its website to help you determine the minimum amount of beads you need – but it's okay to use more than the minimum, since that just lets the humidor recover quicker after you open it and let out some of the moisture. You don't need the beads if you're just starting out with one small humidor, but keep them in mind for the future.

(Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with either Boveda or Heartfelt, except as a happy and enthusiastic customer who buys and uses their products.)

Okay, let's recap:

Cutter - $5.00 or less
Bic lighter - $.79 to $2.00
Tupperdor - free from your kitchen, perhaps $5.00 at retailers
Boveda pack - $4.00 or so
Hygrometer - $10 to $25

As you can see, you can easily assemble everything you need for around $45; you can also go the frugal route and get it all for a lot less. Later you can buy that nice wooden desktop humidor and the few additional things (distilled water, sponge, more Boveda packs) that go with it, and you still won't have spent a lot of money – except for cigars, of course. (I refuse to be responsible for the amount you may spend if/when you become obsessed and buy more humidors and accessories!)

Notice that I didn't mention an ashtray, and there is a reason for that. You can probably scrounge an old ashtray from your junk drawer, or beg one from someone who is a former smoker, or just use an old coffee can; these are all free sources. (And I suppose you could just flick your ashes onto the garage floor or into the azaleas.) But ordinary suitable-for-cigarettes ashtrays aren't ideal for cigars, since they don't offer a proper “shoulder” to rest a cigar on.

A lot of cigar retailers sell purpose-built cigar ashtrays, of course; the cheapest I've seen lately cost around $5, and prices go up quickly from there. Some online cigar retailers occasionally offer free ashtrays as bonuses with purchases. You might still find a cigar-suitable ashtray at Walmart, Target or a dollar-store. But if you want an interesting-looking cigar ashtray (or several), search yard sales, flea markets, second-hand “antique” stores and thrift shops; you'll probably find plenty of choices in these places.

Now, all you need is a suitable location to enjoy your leafy treasures, and unfortunately I can't help you with that. Being a bachelor, I have given myself permission to smoke in my home and car. You may have to go to the patio, or garage, or in the yard while you mow the lawn. Or perhaps your local cigar store has a lounge where you can enjoy a smoke with fellow BOTLs … in which case you just saved money because now all you need are the lighter and cutter, and you can probably even borrow those from one of the other people there.
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