Humidors for Dummies

But first...


The California Redwood...

Some of these trees were around before Christ. Over two-thousand years old. Scarcer that Ebony, Teak, Koa... practically any "exotic" you mention these days.

I build humidors from those exotic woods as well, but I keep coming back to my favorite one... the old-growth California Redwood.



In case you're not aware...

... the Redwood is an environmentally-threatened species, protected in California. This beautiful wood is still available, but supplies are dwindling, especially the burls and the better pieces of the heart. By "heart", I mean the darker, inner wood of the older trees(more to follow). The colors are every hue of red under the sun, and the grains can vary more than any wood I've ever seen.



Okay, you can start now.











Lesson One...

DO YOU NEED A CIGAR HUMIDOR?? The answer is...



err, no. You don't.


It's a myth, perpetuated by makers of humidors. People like me. Well... maybe not like me. Most other humidor makers are full of themselves. A shiny finish... a fancy logo... the sum of what most humidor makers know about making humidors.

And a fancy logo and shiny finish means a superior humidor. Right?

Well, not exactly...

The following reasons are why you would need to spend more than $15.00 for an efficient humidor:

1-you buy good cigars, and can't smoke them all at once
2-you like nice things

Everything else is irrelevant.

I know this is cigar heresy, but seriously, regarding reason 1:

The problem with cigars is that the moisture content of the cigar needs to be kept at around a 70-75% relative humidity. Yes, the tobacco of the cigar needs to stay in a certain range. Otherwise, bad things start happening to the cigar.

Like what?

For instance, when you fall very far below 65% humidity, the cigar starts to dry out and shrink. The wrapper(outer layer) will crack in spots, guaranteeing a poor draw. The binder and filler will dry out next. And dry tobacco means a harsh smoke.

Ever smoke a cigar where the paper ring was loose? The cigar was too dry. And it probably smoked harsh(although you might not have realized it at the time).

The opposite condition is as big a problem. When the relative humidity stays over 80%, the cigars actually swell(no, they don't get "swell", they DO swell). It becomes hard to draw on, because all the tobacco's swelled so tightly inside the wrapper(if the wrapper hasn't already split yet). It won't stay lit, cuz it's wet in thar. And you run the risk of having mold start to grow in your humidor and on your cigars(mold likes it when the humidity stays over 80%).

So, when cigars "breathe" the moisture level of their surrounding environment in and out, you want it to be somewhat controlled. That's why an enclosure that will maintain a certain relative humidity is the only thing you really need to have a functioning humidor.

Reason 2

Remember this one? The part about liking nice things?

You know how funny you'd look if you strolled out with your $20.00 cigars stored in... Tupperware?

Hey... I'm not knocking Tupperware. They make fine humidors. But they ain't the prettiest.

And who's going to believe you when you say, "No, really. I just keep them in there. They really are nice cigars... really... I swear!".

Like serving a vintage wine... in a screw-cap bottle.

You want a nice humidor to keep your nice cigars in.

Period.



What to look for in a humidor.


You want a nice humidor. No problem. You should look for a humidor with the following characteristics:
  • the outer appearance blends in with the environment you're placing it
  • you can get the humidor made in the material you like
  • the inner appearance of the humidor showcases your cigars
  • the inside of the humidor maintains a relative humidity of 70-75%, whether you live in Nome, Alaska or Palm Springs, California
  • you don't have to open the humidor to check the relative humidity inside it
  • you can see what's in your humidor without having to open it
  • you have easy access to all your cigars once you open the humidor

There. That's the "short list" of requirements for a good humidor. Next step is finding one.

Easy as pie. Right??


Well, not exactly...


Just type "humidor" into the search engine you use on the internet, and presto! You have thousands of humidor makers to choose from.

Including mine, I assume.

You're thinking, "Just great. This shouldn't take more than two or three years."

So go ahead. Ask yourself at this point...

... am I about to spend a LOT of money on something THEY want me to have, or...
... am I about to spend money on something I can personally design myself?

That should narrow your search by about several thousand. And I guarantee, my name will be close to, if not at, the top of your list. And that's the beauty of the service I offer.


If you've read this far, you're probably interested in finding a good humidor that reflects your personal tastes. A couple other caveats to keep in mind:
  • make sure the humidor is made of solid stock, or at least furniture-grade plywood(have NOTHING TO DO with that particle/pressboard crap). Wooden humidors, like cigars, breathe moisture. The humidor shell has to be thick enough to prevent moisture from escaping through the shell and finish, or it has to be waterproofed.
  • get a good finish. Most of the old hands still use varnish. It's harder to put on, but imparts a deep, rich luster to the wood. Plus, my varnish is UV-rated. I'll do lacquer on request also.
  • fully lined with Spanish Cedar. No exceptions.
  • reliable hinges, and a reliable lock or catch. On my travel and rectangular models, I use hidden catches and hinges. Makes for a cleaner-looking humidor.
  • check the extra costs(like shipping) to make sure you've accounted for them. And check the warranty.


So, now what?



That's enough for one session. You've got enough information to do an intelligent search. Go look at a few sites and see what's out there. Do they fill your needs? Email them. Ask questions. Do a few comparisons.


And then...


... when you're finished with your search, drop back by and let me know how I stacked up against the others out there. I'd like to know. And if you're nice, I'll let you email some of my other customers. I've never had a complaint. There must be a reason.














LESSON TWO...


About woods...

Three styles of woods I deal with, whether it be Redwood or another exotic --
Straight-grained -- most of the wood on the planet, and what most of the heart Redwood I use is made from. Nice, tightly-packed lines in the wood. A few knots on occasion for a little added personality.
Wavy-grained and/or curly-grained -- the next step up in lack of availability. It's formed where the limbs and the trunk intersect, or where the root system starts at the bottom of the trunk of the tree. Because it only occurs in approximately 15% of the tree, it's much harder to find.

Note that there are light and dark areas crossing the "grain" of the wood. When you turn this wood under a light, the lighter areas become the dark areas, and visa versa. Cool stuff!
Burl -- the silver chalice of Redwood, or any wood for that matter. Usually occurring where several limbs were started out, but were grown over in a few years. Or, where a lot of roots started splitting up and going in different directions. Or, sometimes a deformity in the growth pattern of the tree. Only 10% of the 15% mentioned above turns out to be a beautiful burl patter when you split the log open. The result is a multi-colored, multi-textured morass of beauty.

Notice how the grains vary from light to dark, and goes in all different directions. As you turn the piece, the colors change in the light. More of the wavy-grained features, but over most of the wood.


Turning the humidor against the light in different directions cause the wood to change colors. Lighter areas become dark, and visa versa. Under my finishes, the wood takes on varying depths. You could look at the humidor for a while, and enjoy every second of it, because it's a little different every time you turn it some. The creme de la creme of the tree when it comes to finished wood products, prized by woodworkers everywhere.








About finishes...



Two(varnish and lacquer), as mentioned before. But actually four in total. We forgot about "glossy" versus "satin". But before you can actually apply the finish, you have to sand the wood.

A lot.

For instance, I'll generally start with a sanding belt of 100 to 120-grit to level the surface and remove imperfections. Then to the orbital sander, where it gets hit successively with 100, 220, and 340-grit sandpaper. After 340 grit, it's time to put on a sealer.

Sealer consists of diluted varnish or, in the case of lacquer, diluted lacquer. Then that is allowed to thoroughly dry, and the entire piece is resanded with 340 sandpaper again, to remove any small wood burrs which have raised up off the surface. After that, the real finishing starts.

Several coats of varnish get applied to the piece. But only on the outside surfaces of the humidor. You DO NOT want finish inside the humidor.

And then you spray. And spray. And spray. Several light coats of varnish. Building them up on top of each other.

Why light coats? Why not just one heavy coat?

Because if you do that, it will 1)run like a lady's nylon, and 2)take forever to dry.

Example of a Satin Finish
Note how the white paper and the edge of the coaster barely reflect in the surface of the wood(a piece of wavy Walnut). It's like a matte finish on a print. Doesn't reflect anything.
Example of Buff Gloss
Looks kinda like a matte finish with you look at it straight-on, but the more you tilt the wood, the more of a reflection you see in the surface. I leave slight finish marksto give it that hand-made feel.
Example of Piano Top Finish
You can shave in it(why not, it's waterproof). Totally reflective finish, whether you look at it directly, or at an angle. Yea, it's a lot of trouble, and the price tag reflects it(no pun intended).


But then there's the piano finish. Yea, like the one in your great-granddad's parlor. That takes a little more work.

Once you have built up MANY coats of varnish, it's time to sand again. As a matter of fact, you generally sand most of the varnish back off.

HUH??? Why you do dat??

Because, it's the only way to flatten the varnish finish out over the wood surface before you start with the final finish process.

So... you repeat the above spraying and sanding off process until you get a flat surface over the entire humidor, and there's a solid coat of varnish remaining on the wood. That solid layer of varnish over the surface of the wood becomes very important later on during the final finish.


Onward, to the final finish work.

Once you've gotten that solid, flat coat of varnish on the humidor, you start... yep, more sanding. But with really fine sandpaper. Mostly 400 to 600 grit "wet" sandpaper. What's wet sandpaper? Waterproof paper that you wet before commencing the sanding, so the sandpaper can do its job. And then??

More sanding, down to 1500-grit paper. So smooth, it almost doesn't feel like sandpaper, but it is. After sanding with this paper, the surface has started to take a sheen to it. If you hold it at an angle, you can see the reflections of other things around it on the surface.

And if it's a buff gloss finish you want, there are a couple of other steps I go through to get there, but quite frankly, it's none of my competitor's business what I do from here on out. So I ain't telling. Let them take 40 years to figure it out themselves.

So you're thinking... "Hey, what you charge is peanuts compared to the amount of work you put into these beauties. How can you afford to build these humidors??

I mean, geez Michael, doesn't this process take, like, forever???

Well, duhh...

Of course it takes forever. You think I could charge, time-wise, what it would actually take to reimburse me for ALL the time I put into these?? Well no...

I make my living as a remodeling contractor. You know, specialty stuff... mantles, crown and base, marble showers, custom(really custom) cabinetry and furniture, and so forth(and hey, you buy the plane ticket, and I'll install your humidor in that extra room you have)

If I charged what I have to charge to make a living at building humidors?? I would be servicing a very, very select cadre of cigar aficionados. I build these humidors because I enjoy building these humidors. Not suggesting here that the money is secondary(gasp!!). I still value my time. It's just that the other work I do "subsidizes" my humidor business.

Kinda like Francis Ford Coppola's vineyard paying for Zoetrope Studios.

Look for that to change after a while, though, when I "retire". My wife tells me I'm only allowed to keep my shop in "her" garage if it pays its own way.

Hey, enough babbling...

... there. You are no longer a humidor "dummy". You can dazzle those stuff shirts at your next outing with what you know about humidors and woods. And when it's your turn to host the next cigar bash, you can dazzle those turkeys with one of the finest humidors known to mankind -- a Redwood humidor from Michael!


And send me a plane ticket sometime!! It's about time you installed a combination wine cellar/cigar room in that extra space you're not really using!


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Web page designed by H. M. Hargrove
copyright 1996/2009-all rights reserved.

For additional information, contact:
Michael's Humidors
P. O. Box 10004
Westminster, CA 92685
714-296-2177 Or, just EMAIL me.