Choosing a shape is totally subjective, differing from person to person. The most popular shapes are straight, bent and free-hand styles. Straight shapes are easy to carry about and they are easy to clean as well. Bent pipes do not obstruct the smoker’s space and it rests more gently in their mouth. The thicker the wall of a pipe bowl, the better it insulates heat regardless of the shape. Free-hand shaped pipes are not finished in the traditional shape, it follows the more natural look of the briar. Some spots are left unfinished to add a one-of-a-kind look.
The two most popular materials for making a pipe are briarwood and meerschaum. Briar-wood comes from the heath tree-root cultivated in the Mediterranean region. The area of Calabria in Italy yields the highest quality briar. Other areas where briar is grown are Greece and the islands of Corsica and Sicily. Meerschaum comes from Turkey and the northern regions of Africa.
Briarwood was discovered to be the best material for pipes, because of its cool smoking quality and its durability. Prior to briar pipes, the most popular materials were clay and any other type of hardwood, such as Cherry-wood. Clay pipes were too fragile and broke easily, and non-briar pipes ended up in smoke along with the tobacco smoked in them. Briar was discovered around the 1850′s and it has remained the most popular wood for pipe making ever since.
Pipes of the highest quality will have very old briar anywhere from seventy- five to over one hundred-year-old wood. First, The older the briar the better a pipe will smoke, because the wood has a high level of porosity providing a cooler smoke (when a pipe smokes cool its allows the smoker to taste the tobacco better). Second, the age of the briar allows the smoker to cure (break-in), the pipe with ease when it is new. Third, the high level of porosity makes the pipe lighter in weight so it does not cause a sore jaw while holding the pipe in one’s mouth. These high end pipes are usually all hand made.
Mid range quality briar pipes will range anywhere from twenty five to fifty year old briar. This range is the most popular range for pipe smokers because of its price point and gratifying quality. The briar may have slight imperfections, such as sandpits, bald spots, and/or putty-fillings.
Usually these imperfections do not affect the pipe’s longevity, but a risk is unavoidable. The briar is denser not quite as porous and therefore, making it a bit difficult while curing the pipe and getting hotter while smoking. For the same reason, is not as comfortable in one’s mouth. Mid range pipes can be either all hand made, or a combination of machine made and hand finish.
The third range of pipes is the low-end pipe. Usually all machine made, heavy, and hot smoking because the briar is not aged and it is lacquered so as to cover the multitude of defects in the briar. This category is popularly known as “drug-store” pipes. Heroes & Legacies have steered away from this category, as we feel they do not provide the necessary requirements and specifications for proper enjoyment of pipe smoking.
Grain patterns in briarwood pipes:
Briar pipes are finished in three kind of finishes: smooth, rough, and a combination of the two. In a smooth finish pipe, the three most popular grain patterns are straight, flame, and horizontal patterns. The rarest and most expensive pattern is the straight grain finish. This type of finish suggests that the briar is in excellent aesthetic condition, the wood has a tight 90 degree grain going in vertical position, Both the top and the bottom have a beautiful birds-eye grain that adds to the beauty and uniqueness of the pipe. Straight grain pipes are very rare; hand made, and are the most desired by pipe collectors. Only a handful are available.
The flame grain pipe is similar as a straight, but the grain widens in a pattern that creates the illusion of a flame, thus its given name. The flame grain is considered just as beautiful as the straight, because no two patterns are ever alike. The horizontal finish pipe has a grain that loops around the pipe usually widening into a flame finish, or it goes into different angles.
The grain helps to insulate heat; it also disperses heat through the pipe not permitting it to concentrate in one spot. Any smooth pipe that lacks grain of any kind should be discarded because they do not allow proper heat dispersment, making pipe smoking a miserable experience. Regardless of the grain pattern, the most important factor to look for when choosing one’s pipe, is the high level of grain. The more grain a pipe has, the older the briar. he grain allows the smoker to determine the age of the briar the same way a tree’s age is determined by the trunk’s rings.
Equally beautiful are pipes with a rough finish. Alfred Dunhill invented this process during its apogee as the world’s finest pipe. Rough finish pipes are not flawed briars, nor is the rough finish a means to cover up any imperfections. A rough finish is given to a pipe when the quality of the briar is superb, but the aesthetic quality does not meet the standards of the maker. The briar may have too many sandpits, uneven textures, or superficial holes, by carving them out either by hand or sandblasting the wood, these imperfections are removed allowing the briar to retain its smoking qualities. Because the grain-look is lost in this process, the pipe cost goes down, but not the quality.
The mouthpiece, or stem, of a pipe is made of two materials: vulcanite and Lucite. Vulcanite is a rubber substance light in weight and molds easily to make unique shapes. Lucite is a plastic substance not as light, but is great for smokers that bite their pipes hard. Lucite lends itself to a variety of color-finishes adding character to a pipe’s look. Older pipes may have briar, amber, or bone stems. Today, many mouthpieces will be accentuated with such ornate finishes so as to give distinctness to the pipe.
From a German word meaning sea foam, Meerschaum is an organic calcium- fossil material that is extremely fragile, but smokes great because it does not burn out. Because Meerschaum is soft, carvers can create just about any finish they desire. This unique substance absorbs the tobacco oils creating a beautiful colorization. Smokers should never smoke these pipes outdoors, since the slightest knock,or temperature change can break the pipe. The best Meerschaum in the world comes from Turkey in the area of Eskisehir, mined 400 feet below sea level.