Cigars 101

How to Cut and Light your Cigar

How to Cut and Light A Cigar

If you’re new to the culture of cigar smoking, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ve chosen your first cigar from the humidor and ready to smoke, relax, and enjoy. But, do you know how to properly cut and light your cigar? It’s very different than lighting a pipe or cigarette. Because it is closed at the head, first you have to cut the cap of a cigar so the smoke can flow through it.

For the seasoned cigar lover, who’s reading this and grinning right now, you might also find the following enlightening; especially if you’ve never been taught—let’s call it, the “traditional” method—of preparing your cigar for smoking.

Before we get into the technique of cutting and lighting a cigar, let’s take a look at the different types of cutters and lighters available to you.

What are the different types of cigar cutters?

Cutting a cigar is most often performed in one of five ways. Here they are, including the particular type of cut they produce.

Guillotine Cigar Cutters

This type of cutter, be it a single blade or, the popular double blade cutter, is the one used by most cigar smokers. That’s because the “straight cut,” is the most common way to cut a cigar. The reason for this is that it exposes the most tobacco at the cigar’s head, while also allowing the easiest draw.

Hold the cigar firmly and place the open cutter just above the shoulders of the cigar – the area where the cigar rounds off. This is usually about an eighth of an inch below the head. You can also cut the cigar at its uppermost cap seam. The cap seams are the thin strips of tobacco where the rolled portion of the cigar meets the cap. For example, cigars with triple seam caps have three strips of tobacco below the head.

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Next, close the blades so they are just touching the cigar. Add a little pressure and begin turning the cigar. (As you turn the cigar, the blades will naturally begin biting through the cap.) Continue to close the blades until they meet. The result should be a nice, clean cut removing only the disc-shaped cap of the cigar. If you go a little lower, that’s fine; as long as the cut is neat and the cigar doesn’t unravel.

Punch Cigar Cutters

The punch cut is also used by a lot of cigar smokers. It’s neat, easy to use, and leaves a recessed hole in the head of the cigar. You’ll also find a lot of lighters with built-in punch cutters for convenience. Punch cutters come in different diameters depending on the size hole you prefer. Some even come with several punch sizes for different size cigars. Be sure your punch isn’t too wide or too narrow for the cigar you’re about to light up, too. Also, the sharper the punch, the better, as some cigar caps are thicker than others.

For this type of cutter, you don’t have to remove the cap. Hold the cigar firmly and place the blade in the center of the cigar’s cap. Slowly, and with a fair amount of pressure, begin boring with a twisting motion into the head of the cigar until it reaches the hilt of the cutter. Pull out the cutter and remove the plug.

Now, check the draw. If the cigar was rolled well, the draw should be fine. Note that because the cut is narrow, the smoke will be a more concentrated when it strikes your palate. The idea here is that it provides a richer-tasting smoke.


V-cutters, also called “cat’s-eye” cutters, are very popular for their ease of use and neat results. Using a longer blade bent into a V-shape, they’re very effective on pointed-head cigars like Belicosos, Torpedoes, Pyramids, and similar cigars with tapered heads. When completed on a round headed cigar, the cut has the shape of a cat’s eye. On a tapered head, the result is a cleft-shaped cut.

Like the punch cutter, you don’t need to remove the cap with a V-cutter. Hold the cigar firmly and place the cutter over the head of the cigar. Looking through the cutter, make sure the head is properly centered so the cut goes down the middle. Now, snap the cutter shut. Viola! You’re done. For tapered-head cigars, place the cutter about one-quarter to three-eights of an inch below the head and snap. One caveat, however, when cutting Torpedoes, and the like: Cutting too deep can be what causes a cigar to unravel.

Now check the draw. The V-cut is also very narrow; so here again, you should expect a more concentrated, richer-tasting smoke.

Cigar Scissors

Scissors are probably the least popular way to cut a cigar, but some cigar smokers swear by them. Here again, the blades should be as sharp as possible, so if you end up preferring this type of cut, make sure they’re top quality cigar scissors.

It’s essentially the same technique you use for a double-blade cutter. Carefully place the scissors’ blades above the shoulder of the head, apply pressure and turn the cigar. One of the biggest mistakes cigar smokers make using scissors is cutting too deeply, so watch what you’re doing.

Your Teeth

Believe it or not, more cigar smokers than you think simply prefer to bite the cap off of their cigars. There’s nothing wrong or gauche about it, either. Plus, if you’re ever in a situation where you don’t have a cutter, or a knife for that matter, go dento.

Carefully place the head of the cigar just inside your foremost front teeth. Slowly bite down so you, in effect, pinch the top of the cap, bite through, and pull out the cigar. If you did it right, a decent portion of tobacco at the head will be exposed. Be sure not to swallow the cap. And don’t spit it out—that’s gauche. 😉

What are the different types of cigar lighters?

After you’ve made your cut, you’re ready to light your cigar. You can use anything to light a cigar from matches, to butane torch lighters, or a flint-style lighter that uses oil. Most cigar smokers prefer a butane torch lighter for its high heat output and better toasting capability.

Lighting a cigar takes some time and practice. Cigars don’t light immediately like a cigarettes do. It takes patience. Following is a quick look at the different types of flames. Moreover, unlike the different cigar cutting techniques, there’s really only one way to light a cigar; that is, if you don’t want to torture it to death.

Cedar Matches

Matches are the oldest form of lighting just about anything. If using a match to light your cigar is your flame preference, be sure to use cedar matches made for lighting cigars. Cigar matches are generally four-inches in length, giving you more time to light your cigar. Avoid the book style matches. You’ll probably go through at least half the book and probably burn your fingers. You don’t want to ruin your mood before lighting your cigar. Cedar also leaves a nice woody aroma when you blow it out.

Soft Flame Lighters

These are fine for cigarettes and OK for cigars. Yet, because soft flame lighters (like this selection from Colibri, S.T. DuPont and Zippo), aren’t as hot as jet-flame lighters, it takes a lot longer to toast the cigar. More on toasting shortly. That said, they’re fine for cigarillos, café cigars, and other thin cigars that have small ring gauges.

Cedar Spills

What’s a cedar spill? It’s a bit old school, but a cedar spill is a long, thin strip of Spanish cedar used for lighting a cigar. Think of it as a giant cedar match. Cedar spills are rarely used by cigar smokers. It’s kind of an aficionado thing, but spills are a savvy way to light a cigar. You simply light the spill with a match or lighter and slowly toast the foot of your cigar as you would normally.

One of the reasons some cigar smokers prefer a spill over a match or lighter is, when lit, the cedar strip imparts a slight cedar flavor to the tobacco, and a pleasant cedar aroma to the room. Cedar also burns cleaner than typical matches, and since spills are longer, you have more time to light your cigar.

You can find cedar spills for sale online, or make them yourself by using the cedar divider sheet from a box of cigars. Cut the sheet lengthwise into strips approximately 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch wide. Some spills can burn quickly, and the ash can be messy, so be careful and make sure you’re near an ashtray when your lighting your cigar with a cedar spill. It’s worth trying, and you’ll certainly get some interesting looks from your fellow smokers.

Torch Lighters

The avid cigar smoker’s flame of choice. Torch lighters are the most effective way to light a cigar due to their ultra-hot flames, which can also be more easily controlled. However, because they are so hot, you have to be careful not to let the flame get too close, or you can ruin a perfectly good cigar.

Torch, or jet-flame lighters also come in a variety of flame choices: Single, double, triple, and quadruple flame. Each has its benefits depending on what size cigars you smoke most often. However, due to its heat output, even a single jet torch lighter can handle a 70-ring cigar.

Now that we have our accessories in order, it’s time to light-up. Placing the cigar in your mouth, then butting the flame up to it and starting a small bonfire tends to result in a charred-up wrapper and a lousy-tasting start. To each his own, I suppose, but if you want to light a cigar correctly, it takes a little more time; and believe me, its worth it.

How to Light a Cigar

Note: This method is most effective when done with a torch lighter.

Before you light your cigar, you want to toast it. Toasting is done by lightly applying flame at the foot. Doing this releases the oils in the tobaccos and caramelizes the flavors. It also helps you avoid a getting a bitter, charred taste in the opening puffs.

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First, hold the cigar in front of you and place the flame as close as you can to the cigar’s foot without touching it. Starting at the edge of the foot sear the entire outer edge first. Too avoid scorching the wrapper, position the flame just inside the edge. This method helps bond the wrapper to the binder for a better burn.

Next, begin working the flame from the outer edge towards the middle in a circular motion. Remember not to touch the tobacco with the flame. (You can be several inches away from a cigar with a torch lighter, and still get a great light.) Blow on the foot until the entire surface is bright orange. If you have to touch-up an area, do so, then blow on it again.

Now, placing the cigar in your mouth, take a puff. If you did it correctly, that should be all you have to do.

To make this method even easier to understand, watch how a pro lights a cigar in this video Cigar Advisor did with Nick Perdomo:

Once you’ve cut and lit enough cigars, all of this will come naturally to you.

Someone once told me that smoking a cigar was like burning money. Therefore, cutting and lighting your cigars with a little more patience will help you get the most enjoyment for your buck by delivering a much better smoke.