What Makes a Great Humidor?
by David "Doc" Diaz
Monday, November 3, 2014
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but there was a time when I decided that I was going to start collecting cigars. I don’t mean collecting from a purist point of view because “pure collectors” are people who collect things and don’t use them. I have never really been that type of collector. I wanted to collect cigars because I firmly believed then–and still do to this day–that certain cigars, if provided proper conditions, will age gracefully and successfully and will change in ways that will make them a joy to smoke at 2, 4, or 10 years down the road. In short, I wanted to enjoy the benefits of properly aging a fine cigar.
Great humidors, like the Vanderburgh Humidors special edition above, are more than just a pretty box
So, it was about 12-14 years ago that I started researching the conditions that make for the best aging environments for cigars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find what I considered to be comprehensive and trustworthy information on the topic. I also tried to find quintessential advice about what makes a humidor great. Once again, I was disappointed with the information I was finding. I found some textual information that was pretty good, but those sources typically didn’t include any photos or graphics that would help me visualize the topic. And there were a random assortment of photos that showed different things, but there wasn’t any corresponding textual or audio narrative to explain what I was seeing.
So, out of frustration, I started to catalogue my own thoughts on the issues. I also started taking photos for illustrative purposes. Once I got enough material together, I decided to make this material available to the world and that process led to my current website: Stogie Fresh. As you can probably surmise from the name, Stogie Fresh has, from the very beginning, been devoted to the art and science of keeping cigars fresh. And with that goal in mind, I have pursued every bit of knowledge that I could find about cigar humidors and about storing and aging cigars.
Trial and Error and Learning the Hard Way
I was recently engaged in the process of servicing my numerous humidors: checking the temperature and humidity and recharging the humidifiers and/or replacing them. As I was topping off one of the superabsorbent polymer cassettes in my limited edition Vanderburgh desktop, I started to think about how many humidors I’ve purchased over the years and how some of them have been rock solid performers while others have been mediocre to poor. I own 3 cabinets, 14 desktops of various sizes and several portable and travel humidors. Suffice it to say, I’ve spent considerable time, money and effort to purchase my humidors and keep them in prime working condition.
Below: My first humidor now serves only to hold my keys an other items
Obviously, if someone is going to spend a lot of money to collect cigars, they better have a good place to put them. More importantly, if you are going to spend a bunch of money on cigars, you shouldn’t lose sight of the value of that investment by trusting your cigars to a cheap and/or non-functional humidor.
I have learned many of my own lessons the hard way. For example, I have purchased what I thought to be very cool looking humidors, only to find out that they were inefficient when it came to protecting the environment of my cigars. In fact, there were a few humidors that, after using them a while, proved to be so poorly functioning that they were essentially nothing more than a pretty box. I retired these “humidors” to be used as storage for things like wallets, keys, pens, pocketknives, lighters, and cutters… Gradually, I came to understand the characteristics of a great humidor. Below, I will share these simple lessons with you.
What Makes a Great Humidor?
There are predominantly three things that determine the health and longevity of your cigars: humidity, temperature and light. I want tell you how humidor construction can affect these three characteristics.
First of all, my recommendation for ideal humidity would be between 65%RH and 71%RH and my recommendation for temperature would be between 65°F and 71°F. I always set my own preferred marks in the middle of those ranges (68%RH and 68°F) so that small fluctuations won’t take me outside of the desired range. If humidity and temperature register a little bit high or a little bit low, it is unlikely to cause any problems; cigars are more resilient than some people give them credit for. A humidor can accommodate small, transient deviations in temperature or humidity and, in fact, that is one of the reasons we want to purchase a great humidor in the first place.
A more important factor focus on is the stability of the temperature and humidity inside your humidor. Satisfactory readings of temperature and humidity can vary, but the more stability you can maintain inside your humidor, the better it will be for your cigars. Wide changes in humidity and temperature in your cigars can cause undesired changes that may damage your fine smokes.
What to Look for in a Humidor
The first thing I look for in a humidor is the thickness of the walls. Decent humidors will have walls that are ½-inch thick. But really good humidors will have walls that are ¾-inches thick. That extra thickness provides better insulation, which in turn provides a more stable environment inside the humidor where your cigars are resting. That goes for the sides, top and bottom of the humidor. My Vanderburgh desktop humidors all have ¾-inch walls and a thick solid granite bottom. The granite has shown itself to be great at stabilizing the temperature in my humidors. My portable humidors from Purgatory Humidors also have ¾-inch walls. It just makes good sense to look for thick walls when considering how to best insulate the environment that protects your cigars.
Second, real Spanish cedar (or Mahogany) has special properties that make it perfect for linking your humidor. Spanish cedar has at least three different purposes: 1. It provides a secondary layer of insulation (after the walls of the humidor), 2. It modulates humidity inside the humidor because of its porous properties and, 3. It provides a pleasing scent or aroma to the humidor and, in some cases to the cigars themselves.
A thicker layer of Spanish cedar can enhance the wall’s ability to insulate the inner box. Most humidors have cedar lining that is 1/8 of an inch or thinner, but I prefer a cedar lining that is ¼-inch thick, if possible.
A thick Spanish cedar lining has the potential to adsorb and desorb more moisture, thereby capturing and/or releasing moisture into the inner environment of the humidor, as needed. The thicker the Spanish cedar, the better it will be at moderating the humidity inside the humidor.
Purgatory portable humidor (below) has thick Spanish cedar lining and 3/4-inch walls
Glass and Ultraviolet Light
If I had it to do all over again, I would have avoided humidors with glass tops, sides and/or fronts. Whether it is part of a desktop humidor or cabinet humidor, glass is not an efficient option. It looks cool–no doubt about that–but glass is not as good an insulator as wood. So, any advantage provided by thick walls is lost with glass tops or sides. When I purchased two of my cabinet humidors, I ordered both of them with glass doors and one with a glass top. If I could do it over, I would have ordered both with no glass whatsoever. Instead, I would have chosen a solid, figured wood.
Below: Glass tops may be pretty, but may not protect cigars from UV rays
The other reason glass makes a poor choice, is because it allows ultraviolet light into the humidors and onto the cigars. Ultraviolet light can be harmful to cigars because it encourages oxidation, which accelerates aging. Obviously, direct sunlight emits a large amount of UV light, but incandescent and fluorescent lights also emit UV light. The amount of UV light produced by inside lights depends on the type of light source and the output. So, for example, fluorescent bulbs emit more UV light than incandescent bulbs and high watt incandescent bulbs will emit higher amounts of UV light than lower watt incandescent bulbs.
The final thing I will mention about great humidors is that they should have high quality hardware. I’m talking about hinges. Solid brass (photo left), or other similarly heavy-duty hinges will withstand the repeated opening and closing of your humidor over its lifetime and will keep the lid in proper alignment with the base of the humidor. Remember, a great humidor will have thick walls and top and, if it is properly thick, the lid of that humidor will be heavy. So, you will want a high quality hinge to easily carry the weight of that lid through repeated openings and closings over the lifetime of the humidor.
A great humidor is so much more than just a pretty box. It must keep the internal environment at a stable humidity and temperature, commensurate with the requirements dictated by the climate of your home or office (i.e., wherever you keep your humidor). Purchasing a great humidor should be seen as a lifetime investment. It will be a great piece of furniture that will adorn your home or office with distinction and will also function perfectly as a humidor, keeping your prized cigars fresh and allowing them to age gracefully. A fine humidor will be an heirloom, handed down from generation to generation and will serve each generation with excellence.
For Further Reading
Before you Purchase a Humidor by David “Doc” Diaz
This article discusses the questions you should ask yourself before purchasing a humidor.
After you Purchase a Humidor by David “Doc” Diaz
This article is about set up and maintenance of your new humidor.
Spanish Cedar by Eddie De Jong
This article discusses the characteristics of Spanish cedar that make it a perfect choice for use in humidor construction. It also informs the reader on how to recognize if you have genuine Spanish cedar in your humidor.
Humidor Supplies by David “Doc” Diaz
This article talks about the supplies that I use a lot and represent the staples for maintaining humidors.
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 35 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 lifetime member of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus