Corncob pipes are the least expensive option for a first pipe, and they are a viable alternative to briar that offers a predictable smoking experience whereas briar pipes very considerably. Potential disadvantages to cobs are they often have very small bowls—the part of the pipe that holds the tobacco—and brittle plastic stems that are quite easy to bite through, although replacement stems are available, and extremely inexpensive. Most briar pipes have stems made of vulcanite (rubber) or lucite (acrylic).
Either material works fine, and stem material is purely a matter of personal choice. Vulcanite is softer, which many find more comfortable, but lucite is more durable and resists oxidation. The shape of a pipe is entirely a matter of personal taste. Many pipe smokers prefer pipes that are bent, as they "hang" better, putting less strain on the teeth and jaw. Others prefer straight-stemmed pipes, predominately for aesthetic reasons and that it keeps the smoke out of the eyes, but also because it is easier to insert a pipe cleaner to absorb the condensate that occasionally collects in the shank while smoking. For a detailed study of pipe shapes and pipe anatomy, see Materials and Construction or the OoOPS Guide to Identifying Pipes. In terms of size, you'll probably want to avoid very small pipes, as they tend to smoke hot, and very large ones, as they are often harder for a novice to keep lit and may hold too much tobacco to finish comfortably, initially. Pipes range in price from a couple of dollars to several thousand; it is recommended that you spend a modest amount for your first pipe. By purchasing a moderately-priced pipe, you will not be out a large sum if you determine that pipe smoking isn't for you.
Try not to purchase one of those pipes you may find in plastic bubble packaging at your local discount store if you can avoid it; instead, seek out a good tobacconist and ask for his or her recommendation. Not only will this give you a broader selection from which to choose, but the tobacconist is likely to have some good advice on how to get started. Don't be afraid to tell the shop owner that you're a novice. He or she will figure this out pretty quickly on their own anyway, and it is in their own best interest to help you select a pipe and tobacco that they think you'll enjoy. If you don't know where to find a reputable tobacconist, check the Pipes Digest Resource Guide, the ASP Home Page or ask the newsgroup for a recommendation. Basket pipes A reasonable quality "basket" pipe (so-called because most tobacconists keep their lower-priced, "no-name" pipes in an open basket near the sales counter) can be had for as little as $15, and many name-brand manufacturers produce pipes in the $35-60 range. Seconds A true "second" is a pipe that has some kind of flaw (which is almost always cosmetic in nature) and is therefore not deemed worthy to carry the manufacturer's usual brand name. Typically, such pipes are simply stamped "Imported Briar" or something similar; however, some manufacturers have distinctive stampings for their cosmetically-challenged pipes (such as Peterson's "Irish Seconds"). You can find some very good pipes at a reduced price because they have surface flaws—pits, putty "fills" in the briar, imperfect carving, etc.—that do not affect the way they smoke at all. Many of the inexpensive pipes that you will find at your tobacconist (to include "basket" pipes and most "house brands") are "seconds" of one sort or another. Estate pipes In the pipe smoking community, "estate" is a euphemism for "used." By buying an estate pipe, it is possible to get a high quality pipe for much less than it would cost new. (It is also possible to buy a piece of junk at a greatly inflated price, so caveat emptor applies.) While these pipes are usually thoroughly cleaned before they are sold, some people are appalled at the idea of smoking a pipe that was smoked by someone else. It should be noted that the previous owner's smoking habits will have at least a minor affect on the taste the pipe will impart to tobacco. You should not be inhaling smoke when enjoying your pipe, so a filter is, in the opinion of many, superfluous. One major drawback to most filtering systems is that they tend to affect the taste of the tobacco—for the worse—if not kept meticulously clean. With that said, in some parts of the world, particularly Central Europe, pipe filters are quite common. Many of the pipes sold there have a cavity in the shank—that part of the pipe that connects the bowl to the stem—designed to accommodate 9mm filters. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a filter in your pipe. As with selecting your first pipe, "Pick one you like". If you have had experience with only cigarettes and cigars, you're in for a real treat. The variety of pipe tobaccos is positively staggering, and the flavor of a blend is influenced not only by its component tobaccos, but also by myriad other factors such as the style of cut and the pipe used to smoke it. The only way to determine which sort of tobacco is right for you is to try a number of very different blends to decide which general type you like, and then proceed from there.
Some of us are constantly searching for the perfect blend, affectionately known as "The Holy Grail." Varieties. The moisture content of a tobacco affects the way it smokes and tastes; a tobacco that is too moist or too dry will not offer a pleasing smoke. One way to determine if your tobacco has the proper level of moisture is the "pinch test." Take a pinch of your tobacco and squeeze it tightly for a couple of seconds, then release it. If it immediately starts to "unravel," your tobacco is in good shape.
Tobacco purchased in tins should retain its moisture for several weeks after opening. Blends purchased in "bulk," or tinned tobaccos that are to be stored for many weeks or months after opening should be stored in some type of container. Standard resealable zipper bags are not airtight, and your tobacco will dry out over time if they are used for storage. Similar bags designed for use in the freezer are better, but still aren't completely satisfactory for anything other than relatively short term storage. Some people advocate the use of multiple bags in a Tupperware container, "Mason" jars, or heat-sealed, vacuum-pack bags.