I have a small tubing machine. I only found out after I bought it that it is only really suitable for use with ‘expanded’ tobacco. I have seen different descriptions about how tobacco is ‘expanded’, but the most authoritarian description seems to be this:
Liquid carbon dioxide is ‘infused’ into the tobacco. Liquid carbon dioxide is very cold. The tobacco is then heated and the carbon dioxide reverts to being a gas. In that process, the CO2 expands, and thus increases the volume of the tobacco (in effect, the expanding gas makes holes in the tobacco structure). The CO2 gas escapes. The result is a rather soft and flexible tobacco, which is easily manipulated. I bought some fags on a cruise ship a couple of years ago, and I am convinced that they were made with expanded tobacco (in retrospect). Fags sold on cruise ships are less regulated (but not dangerously so). The reason for my conviction is that, although they seemed to be exactly the same as normal cigs, they burned down remarkably quickly. You can understand that when you think that any specific fag made with expanded tobacco will contain tobacco in a loose form, containing lots more air than usual.
But the important thing about expanded tobacco as far as tubing is concerned is ITS FLEXIBILITY. It is quite easy to understand that a form of tobacco which is very flexible is far easier to stuff into a tube without damaging the tube, if it is very flexible.
Which leads us to the problem. Whether you cut your home-grown stuff into strips or break it up into flakes, it will not normally be as flexible as expanded tobacco. This problem is confounded by the increased likelihood of sharp, pointed bits of tobacco (especially those produced as a result of chopping up the dried main ribs) which can easily tear the sides of the tubes.
For a time, I was not particularly concerned about ripping or bursting 10% of the tubes. After all, they cost only 1p each. But, after it happens enough times, you get annoyed, if only because of the waste of time. Also, it hurts your pride! You say to yourself, “What can I do about this annoying bastard? (A bit like Simon Chapman)”
There are things that can be done.
The first thing is that you have to make your mind up about what you are going to do about the mid ribs (the centre rib which runs up the middle of the leaf). The leaves that I am currently dealing with are cured and dried and the mid ribs are almost solid twigs, for all intents and purposes. What I am doing at the moment is stripping the leaf from the mid rib and allowing the mid rib twigs to dry out completely. They then become very hard and can be broken up into little pieces and passed through the coffee grinder. But my observation has been that it is hardly worth the bother. The resulting quantity is very small. I hate the idea of throwing away anything that I have gone to the trouble of growing, but I am definitely coming round to the idea the mid ribs are simply not worth the trouble – when you have dried them and grated them (to get rid of the hard lumps and sharp edges), there is really very little substance left.
But let us assume that you have either thrown away or ground the mid ribs so that there are no hard lumps or sharp bits. How are you going to make your stuff flexible?
I think that I have arrived at a tolerable solution. The beauty of this solution lies in the fact that it kills two birds with one stone. That is, I can flavour my tobacco and soften it at the same time.
After I have cured my tobacco (by towelling and wadding), I dry it almost totally. In the first instance, I put it on a tray in front of the fire. When I think that a lot of the moisture has evaporated, I then start to microwave it in 20/30 second bursts. I try to get the stuff into a state where it crumbles, but into flakes and not into dust. There will obviously be some dust and tiny flakes, but those bits do not seem to be a problem – they still go into the container. This process may sound messy, but it is not! We must remember that we are dealing with small amounts of leaf at a time. The produce accumulates over a period of time.
So, after three months or so of gathering in the harvest, curing and drying, we arrive at a point where we have a tub of very dry, flaked tobacco. We mix it all up so that the early tobacco, the middle tobacco and the end tobacco are all mixed together. When you open the tub, IT STINKS! But that stink is the key to the sweetness of the cig which I am smoking at this very instant. BUT, the tobacco does tend to be ’intense’. I do not know how to describe it otherwise. It is better to blend it with a more ‘bland’ tobacco. If you do, then you finish up with a mild smoke which is sweet.
I have digressed a lot!
Because tubing machines are designed for expanded (and thus, flexible) tobacco, we have to find a way to make our home-grown flexible. There is an easy way. Take a quantity of your home-grown, put it into a sealable container and put orange peel on to surface, pith-side down and leave it overnight. I have tried other ideas, like squashed grapes and sliced plumbs, but orange peel is supreme for me. I suspect that the reason is that the sweet moisture from orange peel is not particularly sticky; also, the surface of the peel is spread over the surface of the tobacco, which eases an equitable distribution of the sweet moisture.
So let me finish quickly with a few pics:
There you see two small piles of tobacco and the tubing machine. The tobacco on the left just happens to be cheap whole leaf stuff which I obtained from the net. It really is cheap Virginia stuff and rather common since it has not been ‘treated’ in any way. It is a bit like the stuff you get called ‘grape juice’ from which you can make your own red/white wine – no tax but lots of effort. But it could just as easily be rolling tobacco or Marlborough tobacco – the result will be the same.
The stuff on the right is my home-grown and home-cured.
Both have been given the ‘orange peel’ treatment. In this instance, I found that the flakes were just a little too moist. I mixed the two groups together and at the same time, allowed the bits to fall through my fingers onto the tray. That simple action removed enough of the extra moisture after a minute or so. BEWARE! That stuff is not wet – it is just soft. It is important only to deal with a little at a time because it dries out very quickly. In that pic, the stuff is sufficient to create about four fags.
I am becoming embarrassed about the length of this post!
Bung a quantity of the mixed stuff into the tray. The tray is the place where the shiny bit is – not the whole thing! Tamp it down and even it out with the side of your finger. Compress it with the little tool. Add some more, depending upon how ‘firm’ you want the cig to be. Slide the mechanism gently. This action pulls the tube over the tobacco. It is important to understand that. It does not push the tobacco into the tube. When placing the tube onto the spout, rotate the tube so that the glued part (where the edges of the tube are glued) is on top. The gummage which grips the tube will thus grip a double thickness of paper.
HOWEVER, you have to think about over-compressing the tobacco in the tray just at the opening of the spout. I noticed that lots of tiny rips in the tubes occurred at the filter tip end, just under where the tube is gripped. By pushing stuff into the spout and then scrapping away the excess compressed stuff just inside the tray, I have stopped such rips. I need to explain that a bit more clearly. When you push tobacco up the spout, you compress it in the vicinity of the spout. When you add more tobacco and compress that, you compress the tobacco near the spout even more. Thus, if there are any sharp bits thereabouts, they can easily be pushed into the side of the tube and rip it. OK?
Little things make a bid difference.