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CA Quick Guide: 5 Tips for Buying Your First Humidor
5 Thing You Need to Know When Buying Your First Humidor
Everyone remembers their first.
My first “real” cigar was a Don Diego. And at the time, I’d only buy what I would smoke in the next day or so…maybe one or two cigars at a clip. But one or two became three or four, maybe 5 – and hey, look there’s a deal on ten of these…it happens that fast.
My first humidor was a gift from my then-girlfriend’s parents, who saw my cigar enthusiasm as much less of an eyebrow-furrowing vice than the other things I said and did around their daughter (now my wife).
Lucky for me, that humidor was a pretty good one…I still have it, and I still use it.
So now you’re at the point when you know you need a good quality box; but what do you need to know when buying a humidor for the first time?
You need to know what it is, and why we use it.
The humidor is an essential tool for cigar smokers; built right and properly tended to, it will keep your supply of cigars fresh for years. Experience (and some Cigar Advisor tips) will teach you how to use the technical parts, and how to adjust the temperature and humidity in the system to preserve the tobacco’s freshness and flavor.
One of the more common rookie mistakes is buying cigars, and expecting them to stay fresh in the box they came in. While they’ll keep for a limited time in their factory packaging, it’s a matter of a few days to a week without a humidification source before your stockpile needs to move into some new digs – and that’s a humidor. But if you’ve never bought a humidor, how do you know you’re picking the right one?
We’re going to help you answer this question with five tips below, along with some video help about cigar humidors.
A couple of things before we get started…because this is your first humidor, I’m not getting deep in the weeds about aging cigars; right now, we just want to focus on keeping them fresh – otherwise they’ll smoke hot or crack, and you won’t enjoy them.
Also – as you’ve seen, there are plenty of fancy cutters, lighters and other sweet-looking toys of the cigar trade. You will (eventually) need to consider some of these as your interest in cigars grows; but for now, it’s fine to keep using that plastic cutter while the blade is still sharp, and a cheap torch lighter will do. It’s more important to give your cigars a proper place to call home – because even if you’re an occasional smoker with just a few sticks in your collection, a Ziploc bag isn’t going to cut it.
So here are my 5 tips on buying a beginner humidor – I want you to save your time and money, as well as your cigars. And if you know someone who’s just starting out with smoking cigars, pass these tips along to your friend…they’ll appreciate the help.
Size matters – so make sure you have enough room for the cigars you plan to smoke.
Humidors come in plenty of different sizes, from 3-stick travel humidors to full-size furniture that holds thousands. But a good beginner’s humidor takes a couple of things into consideration: how many cigars you like to keep on hand, what kind of cigars you like, and how often you smoke. So you’re really accounting for two things: the well-being of the cigars you own now, and giving yourself a little room as your collection grows.
It’s similar to the lesson I learned when I built a deck on the back of my house. My original plan called for 120 square feet; but since I wanted to put a bunch of furniture and stuff out there (and you can always use more deck), I upped my plans a little bit to 12’ x 16’ – and had more room to work with.
Consider the capacity of the humidor
I think of this like wine: if you drink wine every day, then sure – go ahead and buy a case or two. But if it’s only an occasional treat, or you’ve never bought it for yourself before, there’s no need to knock down walls to make a wine cellar in your house. Likewise, if you’re fresh to the cigar game, there’s not much benefit to making room for a ginormous humidor to hold a 600-cigar hoard.
The rule of thumb is to buy a humidor that’s slightly bigger than what you want to keep on hand. If you think ten cigars is the right number, it might be worth your while to step up to a 25-count humidor – or if 25 cigars seems like your sweet spot, think about a humidor that holds 50. It’s not bad to go a little bigger, because cigars need a flow of moist air to stay properly humidified. Plus, if you ever decide to purchase a few extra smokes, you’ll have some space to include them. Give yourself some room to grow.
Keep in mind, it’s harder to maintain humidity and keep your cigars fresh if you choose a humidor that’s too big or too small for your needs. If you go conservative, you may find your cigar supply growing faster than you can smoke it – and you’ll be opening your wallet again for another humidor in just a few months. Go too big, and you’ll be overworking your humidor’s ecosystem – and may even develop a case of Cigar Acquisition Syndrome, as you’ll feel compelled to buy more cigars since you have all that room…
With that in mind, here are three great starter humidor options if you’re 100% sure you’re going to stay small:
The Private Stash Humidor
A great beginners box, as it’s very affordable – and accommodates a modest stash of a dozen cigars. Easy to maintain, and the perfect size if you’re only ever going to keep a few smokes on hand.
The Capri Humidor
The Capri is one of the most popular humidors for beginners (myself included), as it’s well-made, wallet-friendly AND gives you the room to grow that you’ll inevitably need. Easily holds and humidifies a box of cigars.
Craftsman’s Bench Hampton Humidor
A great small humidor for storing 15 or so cigars, in a finish that’s hard to find at this price point. Plus, it’s backed by a name renowned for quality humidor building.
Consider the size of the cigars you like to smoke
When you see the capacity for a humidor, the calculation is based off of how many traditional Churchill cigars (7” x 48) will fit in the box, not including the humidification device. Humidor makers seem to take a few liberties with the capacity anyway – so a “100 count” humidor probably holds more like 80, and a 25 count humi will do better at effectively maintaining 15 cigars.
If you’ve taken a liking to Toro Grandes and 60-ring fatties, expect that you’ll fit even fewer of them in your humidor…meaning, that 25 count humidor may end up holding only 10 cigars. Conversely, you may fit a whole box of Coronas in the same humidor; just remember to save a little space when stacking your cigars inside, because cramming too many smokes in a too-small humidor will impair their ability to be evenly humidified and affect their flavor.
Consider how often you smoke
The humidor isn’t like a gas tank…meaning, you don’t fill it and run it until it’s empty before you tank up again. Our rule of thumb is to try to keep your humidor consistently filled to 75% capacity:
Fit the size of your first humidor to the number of cigars you smoke. Do you enjoy one or two cigars a month, or maybe one a week? Go for a smaller capacity humidor, and plan to restock with a five pack of a brand you like every 3 to 4 weeks. Do you prefer variety? Go up a little in size, and you’ll have the flexibility to order more cigars a little less often.
If you know you’re eventually going to fatten up your cigar collection, or you expect that you’ll include cigars of various sizes or shapes – give yourself that room to size up with one of these three medium-sized humidors we like:
Orleans Standard 40-Count Humidor
Simple, plus anything looks good in black. And now that we’re getting into a little more sizeable humi, this one also includes a humidifier and a hygrometer.
Adirondack Antique Rustic 50-Count Humidor
Offered in an attractive weathered barnwood finish, and a hygrometer is included; you choose what kind of humidification device you want to use (more on that below).
Old World 5-Count Humidor
One of our customer favorites, for its classically-styled charm; easily holds a box of cigars plus those random extra smokes you pick up (or are gifted) along the way.
An important tip to remember about these larger picks: you can’t shrink your humidor (although you can fill the empty space with bubble wrap), so don’t ever let your stash run out; your humidifier will dry out quicker, working extra hard to keep the wood lining in shape. Having cigars inside your humidor at all times – not just when you want to have a cigar – will help keep the humidity stable, and your humi healthy.
Do you smoke Infused cigars in addition to traditional smokes?
These are delightfully aromatic cigars; for some, that’s all they smoke. For others, sometimes you’re in the mood for one…sometimes you just feel like a regular cigar. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. But the robust mixes of herbs and oils and such used to infuse the cigars are also very good at infusing everything else in your humidor with said essences of herbs and oils and such. And I mean everything: the other cigars inside, and even the wood of the humidor takes on a note of the infusion. So if you feel your cigar game has progressed to the point where you like to keep a little of the traditional and flavored on hand for whatever mood strikes you, just be sure to store them separately – or as we’ve advised in the past, give your infusions a home of their own.
Wood is good: and while Spanish Cedar is the standard, it’s not your only option.
Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) has long been the gold standard of cigar humidor construction for its ability to absorb and retain humidity, as well as being moderately resistant to decay. It’s a very fragrant wood that imparts character to the cigar (many cigar factory aging rooms are lined with Spanish cedar) and offers good protection from tobacco beetles. Interestingly, Spanish cedar is not really a true cedar – it’s a tropical hardwood that’s related to Mahogany, and it’s commonly used in boatbuilding and crafting musical instruments because of the wood’s ability to resist cracking as it expands and contracts over time.
Spanish cedar is also kind of pricey – which explains why shopping for humidors might give you a little sticker shock when you start. But a well-built humidor, with thick wood walls, will provide excellent insulation and a stable environment for your smokes.
A close runner-up is an acrylic humidor or jar: it’s airtight, and is up to the task of resisting the bumping and banging that a wood humidor may not. The only difference is some of the care required for keeping the cigars inside in tip-top shape.
However – even if you only ever keep a handful of cigars on hand, I’d pass on settling for a travel humidor as your primary cigar storage option…it’s nice to have if you want to keep a few cigars safe and fresh on your next vacation but doesn’t give you much room to grow. You’ll also find yourself tossing it around, or not thinking to check the condition of the cigars inside from time to time. Out of sight, out of mind. Instead, consider a HumiJar: it’s the same low-maintenance materials (throw in a Boveda humidity pack and go), but gives you ample room to add a few sticks. Remember, it’s better to go slightly bigger.
Here’s one better: some HumiJars come loaded with the cigars already inside…so it’s like getting the jar humidor free.
Seal the deal: a well-sealed humidor is the key to fresh cigars.
Even before setting up and seasoning a humidor, the unit you’re looking at should have a good seal. It’s not going to be air-tight, as the wood expands and contracts with more or less humidity inside your humidor. That’s why the humidifier is there: it helps keep the cedar lining moist, in addition to keeping the contents of your humidor at the right RH.
Tempting though they may be, I usually don’t recommend choosing a glass top humidor as your first humidor. They are nice to look at, and handy for keeping an eye on your stash; but experience has taught us that some extra steps are necessary to making sure they maintain a good seal, and that additional care and attention may be more work than a first-timer wants to tackle. Watch this video, and you can decide for yourself:
The tell-tale sign of a well-made humidor is the “whoosh” that the air makes as it leaves the humidor when you close the lid. Test it and see: lift the lid of the humidor about 3 or 4 inches…then let it drop closed. If the lid drops closed with a thud, the seal is less than satisfactory. If it makes that whoosh sound, then your humidor should seal up nicely. You might even notice the lid slowly settle into place as it closes for that last half inch.
Not sure what sound you’re listening for? Then use our go-to move, the dollar bill test:
- Lay a dollar bill halfway into the open humidor.
- Close the lid on it.
- Pull on the dollar gently and slowly – if the bill comes out of the humidor with little or no resistance, there’s too much of a gap at the seal and humidity will leak out. But if that dollar doesn’t budge when you pull it, or even starts pulling the humidor across the table, then the seal is tight – and that is good.
Money isn’t everything…it’s quality that counts, and your cigars depend on it.
You’ve heard the old saying…“Good work ain’t cheap; cheap work ain’t good.”
That (mostly) applies to humidors, too.
Just as humidors come in all shapes and sizes, they come at all price points, too. But caveat emptor: when someone tosses in a free humidor when you buy their sampler from a Penny Saver ad, it doesn’t mean it’s the right or only option for you. There are plenty of deals out there to be had – so do your research and find a quality humidor that fits your needs. And if it turns out that you need to throw in a few extra bucks to get it, it’s worth it in the long run: those couple dollars could be the difference between a cheap box that becomes a challenge to maintain after a few months, and a humidor that might even outlive you.
If you’re serious about keeping fresh cigars on hand, ask yourself these two questions before you commit to the humidor life: what’s your budget, and how important are looks?
Budgeting for your first humidor
Think of a humidor as a toolbox: are you choosy about the quality of hammer, screwdrivers or wrenches you use? (You should be.) If you only need a couple of reliable, do-everything tools, a sturdy little tackle box will suit your needs just fine – so resist your urge to splurge on something way bigger than you need, like a tricked-out 9-drawer Craftsman rolling tool chest. An investment doesn’t need to be overkill…because the truth is, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good, reliable box.
Internal hardware matters here, and brass is best for long life of the working parts when moisture is involved. Better humidors typically use one of two hinges:
Quadrant hinges (shown above) are, according to Rockler Woodworking, “L-shaped hinges [that] also provide lid support, holding the lid open between 90° and 100°.” A mortise is cut into the humidor wall to make room for the hinge support when the box is closed, helping to maintain the seal.
A piano or “continuous” hinge runs “the full length of the pieces being connected. The name derives from its use connecting the heavy lid of a piano to the body of the instrument.” It does the same for the body and lid of the humidor.
Looks Can (and Will) Outperform Price
A well-made, solid wood humidor is a beautiful sight…but wood is expensive, and the exotic stuff even more so. That’s why many of the more modestly-priced humidors have a wood veneer finish, offering a similar look for less money. It’s a very common practice, even in those cabinets you’ve been eyeballing for that $50K dream kitchen remodel – the base cabinet box is often made from one kind of wood, then finished with a fetching veneer.
Bottom line: no matter your budget constraints or considerations, don’t take a shortcut – invest in a well-appointed humidor whose parts are built to last. Upgrade the size later if you need to (we all end up doing it) and keep this starter for something else, like your infused smokes or a private stash of your “special occasion” cigars.
Work smarter, not harder: how much time are you willing to spend on the upkeep of your cigars?
Nothing stokes a beginning cigar enthusiast’s fear of commitment more than being told, “keeping a humidor is a lot of work.”
Truth is, it’s only as high maintenance as you make it. There are a few initial steps, including seasoning the humidor, that take a little bit of work to get you up and running – but after that, you shouldn’t need to babysit it – just an occasional peek at (and maybe a tweak to) your humidor conditions.
This is also why quality was one of the 5 buying tips: if you cheap out when you pick your first humidor, a less reliable unit will take up more of your valuable time keeping it in shape.
You need two things in your humidor to help you keep a watchful eye on your smokes: a humidifier and a hygrometer. Some humidors come with them (or even have them built in); in some cases you’ll need to add your own, but they’re all a pretty low-dough investment. These two accessories will help you monitor the environment your cigars are living in and can help you gauge the health of your humidor.
A humidifier is the moisture source that keeps your cigars fresh, and the Spanish cedar lining of your humidor (if it’s wood) humidified…your options include:
- A green foam disc or block, similar to florists’ foam – and many beginners are inclined to use it, just because it was included with the humidor. It’ll do an ok job of releasing moisture for a little while but will eventually need replacing. And I suggest sooner than later.
- A crystal, gel or bead humidification jar – I like these better than the green foam because they’re reliable, emitting a consistent stream of moisture that’s (roughly) tuned to the 70% RH your humidor likes. They also are one of the longest lasting options here.
A crystal gel humidifier is a breeze to use. Just fill with distilled water or PG solution, and the crystals expand as they absorb it – then releases humidity for up to 50 cigars. The downside is the amount of space it takes up inside your humidor.
This Xikar cigar bar humidifier has crystals that work the same way as the jar, but the shape is more amenable to smokes who keep a smaller humidor. Keeps 25 to 50 cigars fresh.
A great pick for the smallest humidors above, the DryMistat tube’s PG crystals absorb distilled water and release moisture through tiny holes in the tube to keep 25 cigars in good shape.
- Boveda two-way humidification packs – my ideal humidifier recommendation for a small starter humidor, as the learning curve to use them is short system (open plastic, throw pack in humidor) and maintaining them is easy (replace when crunchy). If you have fewer than 25 cigars in your supply, you’ll only need 1 pack…and I find it reliable to maintain the humidity, releasing and absorbing humidity as needed.
A hygrometer measures the relative humidity inside the humidor…if a hygrometer isn’t included with or built into your new humidor, you have two options for a gauge: analog and digital.
- Analog hygrometers are easier to calibrate; only a few digital hygrometers allow you to do it.
- Digital hygrometers are considered more reliable and accurate; analog are more “aesthetic.”
While temperature is a factor in keeping cigars fresh and ready to smoke, a smaller beginner humidor is more than likely going to be close to the ambient temperature of the room. It’s something to be mindful of, as heat + humidity can equal mold.
As it turns out, these tips weren’t as quick as maybe I would have liked them to be…but the important thing is, you’re now armed with a healthy set of details and how-to’s to help you pick your first humidor: consider the size, seal, construction, quality and the time to care for it, and soon enough, your cigars will be happy in a place they can call home. Happy humidor hunting!
What to Look For in a Good Cigar Humidor – CigarAdvisor.com
6 Tips for Choosing the Right Cigar Humidor – NewAir.com
3 Questions To Ask Before Choosing A Humidor – CigarWorld.com/General Cigar Company