in Pictures

Making Cigars

Leaf bundle

A bundle of tobacco leaves. Also known as a "hand" of tobacco.

Introduction

The first hurdle was getting the unprocessed leaf. Besides ethics and age-verification, unprocessed tobacco should be easy to sell. For instance, the USPS recently released a statement barring customers from shipping cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. Unprocessed leaf falls outside of the definitions for nonmailable tobacco, making it perfectly legal to ship:

New Mailing Rules for Tobacco Products Set for Summer (July 17th, 2010)

The seller isn’t required to tax the unprocessed leaf either, since unprocessed leaf doesn’t fall under the definition of a “tobacco product” by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau:

Ruling Request: Virginia Cigarette and Tobacco Products Taxes

Some people are hesitant to move into the unprocessed tobacco leaf market regardless of the above. Find the ones that aren’t.

Preparation

I found my provider and purchased a pound of tobacco leaf.

warm leaf

It came wrapped in a plastic bag to keep the moisture in.

Specifically, I ordered the #16 cigar leaf. It’s grown in Pennsylvania and is praised for being a great filler, binder, and wrapper:

  1. Filler. The filler is the leaf in the center. This is where the strength of a cigar comes from.
  2. Binder. The binder wraps the filler leaf up.
  3. Wrapper. The wrapper leaf is put on last and looks the best. It’s small-veined and gives the taste to a cigar.

I never realized how big tobacco leaves are.

Big leaf

This is before they're rehydrated.

Making the Cigars

(For those interested in a step-by-step guide, feel free to check out my Instructable on the topic.)

I assembled my workstation: scissors, a rolling pin, some leaves, Gum Tragacanth (alternatively, clear pectin or flour paste,) a sheet of E-size paper, and a spray bottle filled with water. I was live-tweeting the process at this point.

workstation

The paper protects my carpet.

The leaves needed to be brought back to a pliable state, so I misted them with water. After letting them relax for a few minutes, I began to pull the leaves into their full shape. I used the scissors to cut the middle vein out of each leaf. This leaves (I love you) two halves of the leaf, which are now pliable and ready for sorting.

pliable leaf

A hand of tobacco after being cut up. Ready for sorting and rolling.

I then sorted the leaf into filler, binder, and wrapper. I went with piles of leaves with small holes (filler), non-hole leaf (binder), and pretty leaf (wrapper). I wasn’t sure how to start, so I bought a cheap cigar and [ripped it apart] reverse engineered it. It confirmed the steps for me and proved that the YouTube videos were accurate. The rolling pin was used to flatten out the wrapper; this minimizes the appearance of veins and makes it easier to wrap with. It looks nicer in the end too.

Conclusion

Making a cigar is intuitive, but the process lets you know how long it could take to become proficient.  The simplified mechanics go like this:

  1. Grab a small clump of filler leaf and make it tube-like. Make it look like a cigar.
  2. Use the binder leaf to wrap that clump. Roll the tube of tobacco to help fill out the shape.
  3. Wrap the wrapper leaf around it and seal the cigar.

The art of shaping the filler, or wrapping the binder tight enough, or getting the wrapper to look right takes time and experience. It took around three hours total to make these:

cigars

A pile of cigars

There’s a whole slew of things that are done differently in the real world. A chaveta is a special knife used to separate the leaf from the center vein, and in the real world filler leaf is held in cigar molds to force the shape to stay. These leaves were air-dried and not fermented, whereas most places put the leaves go through a fermentation process. There are a lot of variables. There is a lot of room for innovation.

I smoked the first one weeks later and it tasted great. I rolled it too tight though and threw it out at the halfway mark. I ordered seeds at the same time I got the leaf, and planted my own crop. That post is next.

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12 Comments

  1. My FIRST Cigars looked like a crooked branch. Now, 2 years later they are looking nice. Practice makes perfect..am NOT that good……yet. Getting better.Now I am growing my first batch of 9 different var-
    ieties and it is April 19th.TINY little guys. Hope they grow BIG.Will see.

  2. I am in Pittsburgh, Pa. , I get tobacco seeds, I plant the seeds ( spread them
    on top of potting soil) then I wait a couple of weeks for the seed to germinate
    I transplanted about 150 or 175 plants outside in early July. This is a very
    labor intensive process. going from seed to tiny plants to healthy plants
    that can stand to outdoor garden soil.
    I need to water the plants and protect them from green worms. Then I
    wait a couple of months, I first harvest the bottom leafs. And by October
    the leaves are picked and dried. Again , this process is very labor intensive.
    After a couple of months the leaves have dried. I then start the process
    of fermenting the leaves. I introduce heat and moisture to the leaves
    so I can work with the leaves to hand roll cigars. I got pretty good at
    consistently having cigars that draw smoke. I use 3 types of leafs.
    Connecticut Broadleaf, Dark Virginian, and Cuban Criollo 98.
    This is a hobby. I enjoy smoking my cigars and drinking home made
    wine on my porch an the end of the day.

    Thank you, I would enjoy any feed back.

    Mike Stetz

  3. Is it possible to use Virginia or bright leaf tobacco for cigar rolling? I will be grateful if someone put me wise. Thanks

  4. Yes! You can use any type of tobacco you want. You’ll find that some strands are better for rolling cigars, and some are better for cigarettes. For instance, the leaves will rip easy for cigarette tobacco, and stay strong for cigars.