Guillotine, V, punch--there are many ways to prepare a premium cigar for smoking. In a pinch, you can even use a scissors or a knife…and if you’re really desperate, your teeth. (Not a great idea; unless you’ve got very sharp teeth you won’t be able to deliver the clean, neat cut that a good cutter will render.)

No matter how you go about it, the end result will allow the smoke to travel from the lit end through the cigar and to you. But there are ways of making the cut that can, and will, maximize your smoking pleasure and allow you to enjoy all that your chosen cigar has to offer.

Most cigar smokers use guillotine cutters, as they work well on just about any type of cigar. So, we’ll focus on the guillotine here.

Of the various types of cutters, guillotines open up the largest area of the head, and allow the greatest amount of smoke to travel freely through the cigar. But it can be easy to cut too deeply with guillotine cutters. The goal is to remove an optimum portion of the cigar’s cap--the small piece of tobacco leaf that’s placed on the head of the cigar during the rolling process to seal the wrapper. Cut too shallowly, and you won’t remove enough of the cap to allow for the free-flow of smoke that you’re after. If you cut below the cap, you run the risk of the cigar wrapper unfurling as you smoke. And, since you’ve opened up an area equal to the circumference of the cigar, you might end up with more smoke than you can handle when you pull on it. Cigars cut below the cap also tend to burn faster, again because you’ve opened up such a large area for smoke to travel through. Basically, you’ll have a less satisfying smoke overall as the smoke won’t be as concentrated as it is when it travels through a smaller opening.

You can avoid deep cuts with a guillotine by erring on the side of caution when you snip. Take off a little bit first, and if it isn’t enough, cut again. Remember, you can always take off more, but you can’t reverse the process. Ideally, all you want to see after you’ve made the cut is the very top of the bunch--the inside of the cigar. Depending on the size and shape of the cigar, this could mean barely nicking the top of the cap to lopping off as much as ¼”. And here’s another approach to making sure you cut off enough but not too much: Place your guillotine cutter flat on a sturdy surface--a countertop or a table top. Insert the cigar you want to cut so that the head is touching the surface, and activate the cutter. This works best with a good, sharp cutter and if you do it quickly--dull blades and/or hesitation can result in a smashed head and/or a lopsided cut.

This leads us to the most important element of cutting your cigars. Getting the best cut also means making a sharp cut. Guillotines come single- and double-bladed; double blades tend to deliver better cuts as they come at the cigar from both sides instead of just one. But whichever type of cutter, you use, make sure it’s sharp. The freebie cutters that cigar stores often give away won’t stay sharp for long. They’re okay to use for a while, but it’s a good idea to toss them the moment you get the feeling they’re not working as well as they did. An even better approach is to spend the money on a better-quality guillotine cutter. They’re not that expensive--they typically start at around $30 or so. Some can even be re-sharpened when they get dull.