The Briar Pipe
New Pipe Smoker? Here is some great information for you!
On the Nature of Briar...
A briar pipe begins as a Burl (or growth) on the root system of the White Heath Tree, a squat, hearty, shrub-like plant which grows primarily in the dry, arid, rocky wastelands around the Mediterranean Sea. Of all woods, the Briar Burl is unique for making pipes; its tough, porous and nearly impervious to heat. Burls for fine quality pipes can often be 50 to 100 years old when harvested for pipe making.
And Briar Pipes
Once harvested, the Briar burls are cut by skilled craftsmen using large, circular saws to remove the soft and cracked portions, leaving only close-grained, extremely hard Briar wood. This remaining Briar is then rough-cut into small blocks, called ebauchons, in sizes and shapes suitable for fashioning into standard shape pipes. Some particularly fine grained Briar is left uncut in larger pieces called plates which are used for larger freehand pipes.
When harvested, Briar contains considerable moisture, sap and resin. The ebauchons and plates are boiled in water for several hours to remove much of the sap and resin. This is followed by long periods of drying (up to 2 years) so that all traces of moisture are moved from the wood. This careful curing and aging process is of the utmost importance in bringing out the finest smoking qualities of a briar pipe. It allows the pipe to breathe, to absorb moisture and oil from the tobacco, assuring a cool, dry smoke.
Once the curing process is completed, the Briar is ready to be shaped into pipe bowls. A variety of hand and machine operations are necessary to complete this shaping process. Generally, the more handwork that goes into the carving of the pipe, the higher the price. Once the bowls are shaped, they are fitted with mouthpieces or stems (either vulcanite or Lucite), hand finished, stained, polished and waxed. The new pipe is now ready to give many years of smoking enjoyment.
How to Select a New Pipe
Due to the inconsistencies of nature and the conditions under which Briar grows, only a small percentage of the thousands of pipes produced each year will have a uniformly fine grain pattern and perfection of finish upon which a manufacturer will stamp his name. These perfect pipes, which may cost $100 or more, are sometimes called firsts and represent the pinnacle of the pipe makers art. Serious pipe smokers and pipe collectors take great pride in owning and smoking these fine pipes.
The remaining Briar pipes may have tiny, natural surface flaws or sandpits, some of which are almost undetectable, some of which are large enough to warrant putty fills. While these tiny surface imperfections affect the aesthetic appearance of the pipe, they have absolutely no effect on the smoking qualities of the pipe. These pipes, often referred to as seconds, are sold at more reasonable prices, under numerous brand names and represent the very best values in pipe smoking. Other bowls may be selected to be sand-blasted or carved to create a rugged, pleasingly rough texture. Most pipe smokers have several of these sandblast or hand carved pipes in their collections.
Briar pipes are available in a wide variety of standard shapes, well over a hundred in fact. The choice of shape is a matter of personal preference; some pipe smokers have a single favorite shape, others have dozens of different shapes in their collections. Briar pipes are also available in unique, one of a kind Freehand pipes. These extremely beautiful pipes follow no particular shape, but are carved according to the grain and size of the Briar.
We suggest that you heft a Briar pipe when considering it. The pipe should feel comfortable in your hand. A lightweight pipe is well-aged and cured and will offer a good tasting, cool smoke. We also recommend that you choose a pipe that does not use any kind of filter or condensing system. These systems trap bitter moisture in the shank of your pipe and prevent the effective use of the pipe cleaners during the smoke.
Selecting the right pipe is an important factor in the true enjoyment of pipe smoking. Your Tinder Box tobacconist is a knowledgeable, skilled professional. He or she can answer any questions you may have about Briar pipes and assist you in selecting the Briar pipe that's just right for you.
Smoking Your Pipe? (This is the Best Part!)
Your greatest smoking pleasure will come from learning and practicing the basic techniques employed by pipe experts. A cool, dry, flavorful smoke time after time will be your reward. Once you know the secrets of loading, lighting and tamping your pipe, you will enjoy the full richness and flavor of your tobacco. Your pipe will stay lit longer and give you full smoking satisfaction.
How to Break In Your New Pipe
Breaking in your new pipe simply means developing a thin layer of carbon or cake on the inside wall and in the heel (bottom) of the bowl. The carbon cake acts like a grate in a fireplace to improve the draft and ensure complete combustion. It also serves as a barrier between the burning tobacco and the bare wood. Many pipes are pre-carbonized to assist you in the break-in process.
There are several methods of breaking in a new pipe. Tinder Box recommends beginning with a full bowl of tobacco. The most important thing is to smoke the tobacco all the way to the bottom. Smoke slowly. Tamp and relight as often as necessary; do not be afraid of using too many matches. If your pipe gets too hot, let it rest awhile, then tamp the dead ashes and relight. You can test if the pipe is too hot by placing it against your cheek. If it is uncomfortably hot, set it aside and allow the pipe to cool.
The Story of Your Meerschaum Pipe
The History of Meerschaum
The noble Meerschaum is unique among pipes. Its mysterious properties make it a perfect smoke and, at the same time, a work of art; a pipe highly prized by the Connoisseur and beginning smoker alike. Meerschaum is a German word meaning sea foam. The geologist knows the light, porous Meerschaum as hydrous magnesium silicate. The pipe smoker knows it as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke. The mineral itself is the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor over 50 million years ago, there to be covered and compressed over the ages by layer upon layer of silt. Profound movements in the earths crust raised the creamy white stone of Meerschaum above sea level. There men eventually discovered it and created an incomparable pipe from it. The first record of Meerschaum as a pipe dates from around 1723.
The Major Steps in Creating a Meerschaum Pipe
1. MINING - Meerschaum is mined in up to 450 feet of clay, sand, and gravel near Eskishehir, Turkey, and in Tanzania, Africa.
2. WASHING - The raw lumps of Meerschaum are washed to remove the dirt and gravel. assist you in selecting the Briar pipe that's just right for you.
3. GRADING - The meerschaum stones are graded into five categories with twelve qualities in each. Grading is based on size, density, color, and homogeneity.
4. SPLITTING - When the manufacturer receives a shipment of raw Meerschaum it must be split into smaller pieces for fashioning into pipes. A senior craftsman examines it very carefully, calculating precisely where the clumps should be split, much as in the cutting of fine gem stones. The many natural "fault lines" must be eliminated. As much as 80% of the raw material may be discarded at this stage.
5. CARVING - The Meerschaum blocks are soaked in water for 15 to 30 minutes to further soften the material to a cheese-like consistency before carving. Skilled craftsmen then fashion the Meerschaum into standard shape pipes or the magnificent sculptured pieces so highly prized by collectors.
6. HAND FITTING OF THE STEM - Before Polishing, a Meerschaum pipe is fitted with the stem or mouth-piece. In days gone by, stems were made of pure amber. Today, amber-colored Lucite is used almost exclusively. Pure amber is fine for collectors' pipes, but for the steady smoker, Lucite is much better because it is stronger, more resilient, and more comfortable in the mouth.
7. POLISHING - Only the finest abrasives can be used for polishing the soft Meerschaum. This step is long and tedious as too much pressure would mar the smooth finish.
8. WAXING - How well your Meerschaum will color is largely determined by the waxing. The pipes are dipped in molten bees-wax as many as 8 times to ensure proper coloring.
9. FINAL INSPECTION - A specialist carefully examines each finished pipe. The slightest flaw even at this late stage is just reason for the pipe's destruction. Finer quality Meerschaums are protected by a fitted case made for each individual pipe.
Caring for Your Meerschaum Pipe
1. Your Meerschaum pipe is quite fragile and requires more careful handling than other pipes. Handle the pipe lightly to avoid rubbing off the wax and to prevent any dirt or oils that might be on your fingers from discoloring the pipe. Some smokers prefer to handle a Meerschaum only by the stem. Of course, you should always take care not to drop your Meerschaum on a hard surface.
2. Caution Do not overly tighten the bit. Most of the leading manufacturers are now using a Teflon fitting to join the bit and shank of high grade Meerschaum pipes, improving their durability. However, excessive tightening can still cause the shank to crack.
3. Never ream a Meerschaum pipe. After each smoke and after letting the pipe cool, use a paper towel or a Handi Wipe and gently wipe out any residue left in the bowl. You do not want a meerschaum bowl to build a cake like a briar.
4. When using a pipe cleaner, take care not to push the cleaner too far into the bowl. The wire would eventually wear a hole in the heel of the pipe.
5. If you use a pipe sweetener to clean the inside of the shank, be careful that none of it drips on the outside of the pipe.
Meerschaum Pipe FAQ's
What types of tobacco are best for coloring a Meerschaum?
A Meerschaums color results from the light, volatile oils found in all tobaccos. While smoking a tobacco with a high oil content, such as the Latakia in an English blend, may yield a darker color, your Meerschaum will also color nicely with your favorite tobacco.
How long will it take for my Meerschaum to color?
This depends greatly on the porosity of the Meerschaum, the type of tobacco smoked, and the frequency of smoking. While a better quality Meerschaum will begin to color almost immediately, the complete coloring process is gradual and could take a year or even longer.
Can I smoke my Meerschaum pipe the same way I smoke my briar pipes?
No. One of the fascinating qualities of Meerschaum is its ability to change color from white to golden to a deep reddish brown. This results from the oil in the tobacco and wax on the outside of the bowl. If it is smoked too fast or too hot, the wax may melt down and only the base will color. Do not touch the bowl with your hands when the pipe is warm. The softened wax may cling to your fingers and the pipe will color in blotches. However, some pipe smokers prefer Meerschaum for its smoking properties, rather than for its ability to change color. If the coloring is not of importance, then, of course the Meerschaum can be handled and smoked in the normal manner. Note: Some manufactures produced antiquing or re-wax kits that can be used to touch up a Meerschaum pipe.
Do I have to break in my Meerschaum pipe?
No. Since Meerschaum does not burn as briar does, no protective carbon cake is needed on the inside of the bowl. To the contrary, the cleaner you keep your Meerschaum, the better it will smoke. However, to cure the Meerschaum, you should smoke several loads of your favorite tobacco. Meerschaum is a neutral tasting material and requires the light, volatile oil of several loads of tobacco to give you the mellow taste of which Meerschaum smokers are so fond.