Before You Purchase a Humidor...
by David "Doc" Diaz
Revised Friday, November 25, 2011
[Note: words in BLUE TEXT are terms that can be found in our Cigar Glossary.]
Buying a humidor should be seen as a long term investment. And, as with any investment, you want to do your homework to be sure your purchase will meet your needs in both the short- and long-term. There are some initial questions you should ask yourself before heading out to the store with your big sweaty wad of money:
Q#1: Will I want the HUMIDOR to match with the furniture in my office, bedroom, family room, man-cave, etc.? Trust me, while cherry is exquisite, it will definitely clash with your light oak armoire. DO give some thought to how your humidor will match the decor of the room you will place it in.
Q #2: How many cigars do I want to store? Always choose a humidor that is larger than you think you will need. Desktop humidors come in various sizes and are great for storing 40-200 cigars, but for storing boxes you will need a cabinet humidor.
[This is the point in every discussion where I feel compelled to provide my time-tested maxim. I call it "Doc's Axiom of Exponential Cigar Collection Growth." It goes like this: "Most cigar enthusiasts will purchase and collect cigars in quantities exponentially greater than their ability to store them." In other words, if you're like 99% of us, you are going to run out of room and will need to consider purchasing another humidor, or better, a large volume humidor. Therefore, pony up the extra cash at the beginning and you won't be crying about not having enough room for your cigars. Trust me, I have 15 humidors...]
Q#3: Do I need a lock? Beats me, can you trust your wife and kids? Your mom? Just sayin'...
Q#4: What type of humidor do I require? A desktop? Traveler? Cabinet? Just as a fine wood-worker, always picks the right tool for the job, you will need to choose a humidor(s) that will meet your current and future needs. A desktop humidor is a standard necessity. It adds to the decor in your home, will house quite a few cigars and will protect your stogie-investment. Cabinets are for the serious collectors and hobbyists who will be storing boxes of cigars. Travel humidors are a necessity to protect your smokes while on the road.
Q#5: How much money can I spend? Don't get cheap on me here. You don't want to waste the time, effort and money on a humidor that will ruin your smokes. Count the investment in dollars that you've made on the cigars that will end up in the humidor and then ask yourself, "Should I spend less to protect this investment?" For example, if you have 50 cigars whose cost was an average of $5 per stick, you are sitting on a $250 investment. Your humidor should reflect the commitment you have made in those cigars. You get the ide;: cut back on the single malt Scotch and put some cash away for a good humidor.
Buying a Desktop Humidor: What to Look For
Below: Wall thickness matters
Take a look at the outside, from top, to bottom, to sides. The humidor should be free of obvious imperfections: cracks, chips, warping, etc. The outside of the humidor should display the characteristics of fine construction including a thin seam between the upper and lower halves and a lustrous sheen of the wood or other material.
A humidor must maintain a CONSTANT INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT. Look at the thickness of the walls (see photo). Thick walls provide a better buffer between the ambient air and your cigars. This will protect your cigars from rapid humidity and temperature changes, thereby providing a dynamic capacity to maintain HUMIDITY within a safe range of 65-72%RH. In the photo at right, you see a more expensive humidor at left with better joinery, thicker walls in the outer box (3/4-inches vs. 1/2-inch) and thicker walls of the Spanish cedar inner box (1/4-inch vs. 1/16-inch).
The hinges should be secure, not flimsy, and should be set perfectly. Most good humidors have HARDWARE of solid brass, though many less expensive humidors use brass plated hinges. Both will work, but you get what you pay for. Make sure that the hinges are seated well so as not to create a gap in the box seam.
Check the corner joints. The box should display first rate JOINERY.
Look for a quality HUMIDIFIER. And, be sure to purchase and use DISTILLED WATER and/or a quality WETTING SOLUTION.
Look for a quality HYGROMETER. In my humble opinion, most analog HYGROS are crap. Be sure your box comes with a digital hygro, either standard or as an option. If it comes with an analog hygro, get rid of it and add a digital. The digital hygrometer will be more accurate and reliable over a long period of time. Many new digital hygrometers can be calibrated, which you should do every 6-months or so.
Ask if the humidor has a SPANISH CEDAR lining. Spanish cedar lining is not necessary, but many people prefer the pleasing aroma of Spanish cedar.
A stable, heavy box will handle the stresses of use and time. Plus, a heavy lid can help with the seal. But beware of an unbalanced box. If the lid is too heavy relative to the bottom, the box will fall over when opened, potentially damaging the box, your cigars, or both.
Buying a Cabinet Humidor: What to Look For
First of all, I prefer the term "large volume humidors" to cabinet humidors. That's because there are a variety of receptacles that can be used for storing large numbers of cigars. Plastic coolers, wine refrigerators, and old freezers and refrigerators whose motors are no longer functioning, can make excellent humidors if they are set up right. However, in this article I will focus on wooden cabinet humidors. That is, professionally constructed cabinets that are designed from the ground up to be used as cigar humidors.
Size Matters. The first step in seeking out a cabinet is to make sure it is large enough for your purposes. [ Remember Doc's Axiom of Exponential Cigar Collection Growth] I have three cabinet humidors. Why? Because I didn't buy them big enough initially. My first cabinet was filled before I even got it from the manufacturer. No kidding! Because I knew I was going to buy the cabinet, I bought a few boxes and added to the cigars I already had and by the time I received my new cabinet and seasoned it, I had enough cigars to fill it about 85%. When you are looking to buy a cabinet humidor, you want to buy with plenty of room to grow. Though cabinet humidors most often come with singles drawers, they are really built to hold boxes. And boxes take up plenty of room. I always recommend that people figure out how many cigars you realistically think you can purchase and store, and then double or triple that number. That's how big of a cabinet you will want to buy. It sounds like science fiction, but trust me, there are only two kinds of cabinet humidors: those that are full, and those that are almost full.
Temperature Control. Many people live in areas that
get quite hot in the summertime. I get questions all the time from
people who want to know if they should purchase a temperature-controlled
cabinet. Most of the time I try to dissuade people from this. A temperature-controlled
cabinet has a cost per square foot of usable space that is double or
triple that of a non-temperature controlled cabinet. To keep
the temperature stable, the sides, back, top, and bottom of the cabinet
have to be very thick, as the extra thickness provides insulation.
This drives the price of the cabinet up, while reducing the usable
space. Also, some room must be made for the installation of the cooling
mechanism and venting, which also claims usable space and drives up
Below: Cabinets often come with singles drawers
In my opinion, unless you are living in the Sahara Dessert or a Tropical jungle, you should be able to keep your humidor cool enough by purchasing a well-made box and positioning it in the coolest part of your house. If you are concerned with high temperatures, I would make sure that your cabinet is built with no less than 3/4-inch walls. Obviously, the thicker the walls, the more insulation the cabinet will provide your smokes. If you can work directly with the builder, inquire about the difference in cost to build the cabinet with 3/4-inch walls. Also, though glass doors and tops are very cool looking and show off your collection, the glass does not have the same insulative properties as wood and therefore may not be a cost-effective choice if you live in an area with temperature extremes.
Construction. Most cabinets come lined with SPANISH CEDAR, however, cedar is not necessary in a cabinet. You can use mahogany, which is cheaper and works just as well as Spanish Cedar. The thing about Spanish Cedar is that it carries a distinctive aroma. This aroma is very pleasant, however many manufacturers don't want their cigars to pick up the aroma of cedar and so they pack their cigars in non-cedar boxes. It's a preference really, but I try to respect the intent of the manufacturer. In any case, if you are aging your cigars in a cabinet, you likely be purchasing cigars by the box. The boxes will provide a large degree of protection and will also provide their own secondary microclimates.
Another aspect of construction is the HARDWARE. I'm talking about hinges, and locks. Hinges should be solid brass. Other hardware like knobs and locks should also be solid brass. I'm not sure why people would want a lock on a humidor, unless you can't trust your own family or you live in a commune. If I am leaving with my wife on a long trip and for some reason I don't want my kids to pilfer any of my prized smokes, I simply put a note on the humidor which says: "If you touch this, I will kill you." Something like that... I have locks on all of my cabinets, but frankly, I never use them and, in retrospect, I could have saved the money by leaving them off.
Below: A well-stocked Vanderburgh Humidor
It is nice to work with a humidor builder that can construct your humidor to order. There are many choices that can be decided by the consumer: for example, do you want glass doors or glass top? Locks or no locks? One singles drawer or multiple? What kind of wood do you want and what color stain or lacquer? Do you want routered designs in the wood? Do you want etching on the glass? Do you want certain types of inlays or edge treatments? Ideally, all these aspects should be under your control. Obviously, you will pay for these options, but when you are buying a cabinet humidor, you are essentially making a lifetime investment and an heirloom to pass along to future generations.
Humidification. By far the best choice for cabinets is a digital ELECTRONIC HUMIDIFICATION system (also called 'active' humidification). Electronic systems have a hygrostat, which is the humidor equivalent of a thermostat in your home. You set the desired relative humidity level and the system automatically turns on the humidity reservoir fan when the humidity drops a couple of points of your desired level. I've seen and used different models, but my favorite is a digital system. Depending on the size of your cabinet, the digital system will be at least two pieces: the water reservoir, which has a built in fan, and the hygrostat. The hygrostat is usually placed at the top of your cabinet while the reservoir is toward the bottom. On larger cabinets, you will see bigger reservoirs and multiple fans that are connected to the hygrostat so that when the hygrostat switches on the reservoir fan, the auxiliary fans will also come on and help move the humidified air around the cabinet.
Warranties. The final thing I want to say about cabinet humidors has to do with warranties and shipping. First, what kind of warranty is offered by the company? Be sure to find out! Do they warrant for defects in materials and construction? (Things like warping of the wood, or joinery that comes apart.) These should be warrantied for a lifetime on a high quality humidor. What about warranties for the electronic components? Electronic components should have 1-2 year warranties. Be sure to find out whether you return electronics to the humidor maker or to the company that manufactured the unit.
Shipping can also pose a problem. First of all, you should find out what the provisions are for humidors that get damaged in shipping. The manufacturer had better stand behind their product because the shipping company often will not. Do not sign for a package that looks damaged. Once you've signed for a delivery, you've just assumed some of the risk, as far as the shipping company is concerned. I have had some damage during shipping and I know others that have experienced problems as well. My problems were always dealt with satisfactorily, while other stories had very bad endings.
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus