There are two methods by which cigars are typically made: by hand or by machine. Today, we’ll focus on how premium handmade cigars are made, offering a peek into the truly beautiful and artistic process of how cigars are made by hand by talented artisans.
Generally, cigars makers work in pairs, combining their efforts to take raw tobaccos and turn them into the works of art we enjoy smoking. Each pair consists of a buncher and a roller, and each plays an equally important role in the process. Often times, cigar making pairs spend their entire careers working together. The reason is because in order to produce a superlative product that will pass quality control, the bunch and roll processes have to be of equally high quality.
Let’s start out with the buncher’s responsibilities. He or she will be given the necessary ingredients (tobaccos) to create the bunch, which entails a precise mixture of filler and binder tobaccos. Leveraging years of experience, they use their hands and their eyes to feel and visually gauge the perfect combination of tobaccos.
Bunchers are responsible for carrying out the cigar to a specific recipe, building the cigar in a way that ensures the ideal amount of airflow—or draw, as we often refer to it. After they construct the filler leaves by hand, they apply the binder. This is done either by hand or using a leaverman. After the binder is applied, the cigar is placed into a mold to achieve a uniform shape. After a few hours in the mold, the cigars are turned and pressed in the mold for a second time.
After the cigars are removed from the second molding session, the roller takes over. Wrappers are expensive and sometimes delicate, so the roller uses their knowledge of the particular leaf to apply just the right amount of moisture to the tobacco. Then they stretch and cut the leaf in a curve-like fashion so that it wraps properly around the cigar. As there’s very little room for error where wrappers are concerned, this process has to be completed carefully and precisely.
The next step is to create the cap using excess wrapper leaf. In premium cigars, the “triple cap” is the preferred method, whereby two additional caps are applied using a similar technique. A small round tool is used to help get the three slightly different sized caps in the proper shape.
After the cigar is finished, it’s set aside for a quality control manager to approve by checking the look and the feel. Some factories not only pass a cigar by look and feel but also weigh the cigar. Some even test the draw by using a Drawmaster machine. We’ll dive deeper into quality control in the future.
Check out what Henderson Ventura of ADVentura Cigars has to say about the skillset Bunchers and Rollers need.
"The buncher is the guy who needs more technique in the rolling process. This is the technician of the cigar because they need to blend the cigar properly. Not only do they make the ring gauge the perfect size but also make the channels for the airflow. There is a lot more that they need to focus on. The roller is more of the artesian of the cigar, they concentrate on the beauty of the cigar."
Interesting Side Notes:
Cigar bunchers and rollers are often second- or third-generation cigar makers and start learning their craft an early age.
Many factories require bunchers and rollers to complete certain schooling or training before they ever make a single cigar that you see on a retail shelf.
Pairs normally start at the back of the rolling room floor, where they make more traditional sizes. As they gain more experience, pairs are moved closer to the front of the rolling room, where they’re allowed to make more complicated sizes (small format, Lanceros, torpedoes, and figurados). The very front row at most factories is comprised of the very best cigar rolling teams, who typically have decades of experience.
Production is normally capped at a certain number of cigars per day to prevent teams from working too quickly or growing tired, thereby running the risk of producing a substandard product.
Some factories pay cigar rollers daily on a per-cigar rate (with a maximum number). Others pay for a shift, and the teams leave after they successfully meet their daily designated number of cigars.
Being a buncher or a roller is considered a valuable skill in cigar making countries, and factories often have to fight to recruit and retain quality teams.