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Cigar 101

Cigar Tunneling: How to Fix & Prevent Your Cigar Burning Too Fast

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

When your cigar is burning too fast in the middle, it’s tunneling. If a cigar tunnels, its filler tobaccos burn at a faster rate than the binder and wrapper leaf, leaving the center of your cigar hollowed out while you’re smoking. Common cigar problems like tunneling, canoeing, coning, and a cracked wrapper can be fixed in many cases. Here, we’re going to focus on what causes a cigar to tunnel and how to avoid tunneling or fix it after it occurs.

How to Tell if Your Cigar Is Tunneling

If you look directly at the foot of a tunneling cigar, it will look like a tube. The wrapper and some or most of the binder tobaccos haven’t burned much, but the filler (centermost) tobaccos continue to combust leaving the center of the cigar hollowed out when you ash it. When you puff on a cigar that’s tunneling, the flavor will be off because the tobaccos are burning out of sync. This interferes greatly with a cigar’s balance.

Cigar Is Burning Too Fast

Plenty of cigar lovers assume their cigar is simply burning too fast on the inside, and that’s why it’s tunneling. It’s easiest to fix a tunneling burn on a cigar if we can diagnose why the filler is burning too fast – or, why the wrapper and binder are burning too slow.

If you have just begun to re-humidify a dry cigar by putting it in your humidor, make sure you give it enough time (several days or weeks) to fully humidify. The wrapper and binder will absorb moisture first, but it may take some time for the humidity to reach the filler. If a cigar was dried out and you try to smoke it too soon, it can tunnel if the wrapper and binder are moist, but the filler is still dry.

Some cigar wrappers are naturally thicker or oilier than others and they initially absorb more humidity than the filler tobaccos. When the fillers fully ignite, they can burn faster than the wrapper causing the cigar to tunnel. If your cigar is over-humidified, leave it out of the humidor overnight. When excess moisture dissipates, the wrapper, binder, and filler tobaccos should burn at an even pace.

Less Smoke

If you’re puffing on your cigar and its smoke production is stifled because the wrapper isn’t burning, it’s likely tunneling. The foot of the cigar will produce less smoke than anticipated. The wrapper, binder, and filler in a well-made cigar should burn at a consistent pace, leaving a firm, even ash behind. And, a consistent volume of smoke will emerge every time you draw on the cigar.

Prevent & Fix Cigar Tunneling

Here are a few simple fixes that can correct a tunneling cigar. Their effectiveness depends on the underlying causes of a cigar’s tunneling.

Light Your Cigar Correctly

When you’re lighting your cigar, light the entire foot evenly. If you only focus your flame on the center tobaccos and you neglect the edges, your cigar can tunnel as it burns. If your cigar is well made, an uneven burn will self-correct after a few minutes of smoking in most cases. However, it’s best to create an even burn from the first puffs. If you notice that one side is burning faster than the other, perform a touchup with your lighter so that your cigar won’t canoe.  

Not Puffing Enough

When you wait too long in between puffs, your cigar can tunnel. We know it’s easy to get carried away in a conversation and forget about your cigar if you’ve set it in the ashtray. Take a puff at least every couple minutes to keep an even burn. When the filler tobaccos become insulated by the ash, they can keep smoldering as the binder and wrapper begin to cool. Drawing on the cigar at regular intervals prevents tunneling.

Oilier Wrappers Burn Slower

Certain wrapper varietals burn slower because the leaves are heartier, thicker, and oilier. Most Maduro and Oscuro wrappers burn slower than your traditional Connecticut Shade or Cameroon cigars. That doesn’t mean cigars blended with strong and dark wrappers will inevitably tunnel. You just want to pay attention to the foot of your cigar and touchup the wrapper with your lighter when necessary if you’re smoking a heavier wrapper like an Ecuador Habano Oscuro, for example.

Was the Cigar Rolled Properly?

It’s rare, but once in a while a cigar is not properly rolled. If there is slight gap between the wrapper leaf and the binder tobaccos, the cigar can tunnel. On the flip side, if a little too much binder tobacco goes into a cigar, the center of the cigar can combust faster than the wrapper leaf. If there’s an inherent problem with the way a cigar has been constructed which makes it too uncomfortable to smoke, simply let it go out and start a new one. Construction problems are less common with cigars that have been rolled according to the entubar method versus cigars made in the accordion, or booked, style. In an accordion cigar, the leaves are folder over one another like the pages in a book. The leaves in entubar cigars are rolled in individual tubes which guarantees greater airflow as you draw on the cigar.

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