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Cigar 101

Why Do You Have to Cut Cigars?

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

It’s a simple question with a simple answer. Why do you have to cut a cigar? Well, because almost all premium cigars these days have a cap on the smoking end and you couldn’t get the smoke from one end to the other without cutting the cigar or, more precisely, cutting the cap or head of the cigar. Perhaps the more appropriate question is why do cigars have the head capped in the first place? The answer to that is a bit less simple.

The Cheroot

Cigars didn’t always have one end open and one end closed, or capped. Up until 1883, according to no less venerable a source than the New York Times, the uncapped cigar was quite popular. It was called a “cheroot” and originated in the Philippines. The report in the newspaper said, “The trade is a Government monopoly, and the factories employ more than 20,000 hands. The difference between the cheroot and the cigar is that the former is made of square leaves of tobacco, rolled as one would roll up a paper, while the cigar is constructed of tobacco leaves folded and packed tightly upon each other.”

The report attributes the cheroot’s fall in popularity to the increase in price because of import duties placed on the product. So, a five-cent smoke went up to ten to fifteen cents apiece. U.S. manufacturers took to making a five-cent cheroot, but the tobacco was inferior to that being used in “the cigar proper,” as the Times put it.

“[C]onsequently,” the newspaper stated, “the cheroot fell from the aristocrat to the plebeian, and having thus lost its reputation sank out of notice altogether.” If you find a cheroot today –meaning a cigar with both ends open – it’s almost exclusively machine-made of low-grade tobacco.

A Better Cigar

The best clue for why you have to cut a cigar is in the Times story. The cheroot was rolled up like a coil, but “the cigar proper” was much tighter in construction. The cheroot would leak pieces of tobacco quite readily because of its loose construction. The capped cigar, because of the compression of the leaves, tends to do less of that unless the cut is made carelessly.

Why Is a Cigar Capped at One End?

Ask cigar-makers this question and you’ll get many of the same answers from each of them. First, the cigar just looks better, they’ll tell you. Then they’ll say that without the cap, the cigar wrapper tends to unravel. “But wait,” J.B., you might ask me. “When I cut the cigar cap, it doesn’t unravel? What gives?”

The answer is that you have cut the cigar properly. If you were to cut off the entire cap, or cut the cigar’s head beyond the cap, you increase the chances that the wrapper would begin to unfurl.

Why Isn’t the Cap Pre-Cut?

Believe me, no two cigar lovers cut their smokes the same way. Some don’t cut them at all, preferring a punch to open up the head. Some like to straight-cut Figurados on a slant. And some like a V-cut. So, the cigar is more appealing if you are able to cut it the way you want, not predetermined by the manufacturer. Further, some cigars have a great draw, sometimes too great, and you don’t want to make a large cut to the cap. I tend to start small on a cigar brand I’m smoking for the first time. If the draw is tight, I’ll cut again and the draw will tend to improve. If I’m smoking a cigar that has a high likelihood of being somewhat tight (ahem, Cuban cigars), then I have a toothpick ready to punch through the knot.

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