Selecting your pipe is a very personal affair. The pipe must, first of all, fit your personality and character. It should also enhance your appearance, and provide you with the comfort, confidence, and satisfaction to which every pipe smoker is entitled.
When selecting a pipe, regard it as the old friend it will become, as something you will be living with for many years.
Once you’ve decided on the pipe style that suits you best, you will want to make sure that the pipe is of good quality and correctly priced. Judging the merits of a pipe requires a certain knowledge of pipe manufacture, a familiarity with briarwood, and a smattering of background in the economics of the pipe industry.
This chapter will serve as a general guide to briar pipe selection. It is designed to help you choose a quality briar, and to tell you how much you should pay for it. It would also be a good idea to glance at Chapter Seven, “How Briar Pipes Are Made,” before actually choosing your pipe.
FLAWS AND WHAT THEY MEAN
To make certain that you get the best pipe for your money, select a reliable pipe dealer who sells the product of a well-known pipe-maker. In this way, you can be assured of a quality pipe, since the manufacturer’s reputation depends on the excellence of the pipe bearing his name.
Because briar is a product of nature, imperfections occasionally occur in the burl. The skilled pipe maker eliminates or minimizes such flaws, however, through careful selection of briar block and hand-finishing of the bowl. These minute imperfections in no way affect the smoking quality of the pipe, and painstaking hand-finishing makes the flaws invisible to the naked eye.
Thus, pipes which may at first seem identical may vary sharply in cost, one selling for ten dollars and the other for only three. The reason for the wide difference is usually that the less expensive pipe has an imperfection or two, while the other pipe may have no visible faults at all.
A pipe with a crack penetrating the entire bowl would be useless, and no reputable pipe maker would allow it to carry his name. Neither you nor anyone else would want it at any price. However, a good pipe with one or more minute surface imperfections, rendered invisible to the naked eye, will give you as fine a smoke for as long a time as a perfect pipe. Finally, you may run across an outstanding specimen, a pipe with beautiful grain, and not a visible defect inside or outside the bowl.
Imperfections originate in the briar burl when the growth of the burl is interrupted in some way. One kind of defect may be caused by a strong wind that bends or twists the plant so that its roots grow in an abnormal manner. This, in turn, may form small air pockets, partially open or completely enclosed . . . and invisible unless the pipe-maker’s cutting blade happens to slice through one and expose it.
Another type of fault occurs when a small stone becomes embedded in the burl and the plant continues to grow around it. Such a stone, like the air pocket, remains undetected until the pipe is shaped from the wood. If the stone is not too deeply lodged within the briar block, it can be gouged out.
A flaw may also develop if water somehow becomes trapped inside the briar burl. The end result is a small pit or air hole in the finished pipe.
Blemishes are seldom visible on the surface of the briar block. Indeed, the manufacturer can never be sure that a particular block will yield a perfect pipe until the pipe is finished. Even the final sandpapering, which removes a mere thousandth of an inch from the wood, may disclose a hidden fault of such dimensions that the pipe has to be discarded. More often, the pipe maker will cut into an expensive block of the finest briar and find a few tiny flaws. These defects will be too small for the briar to be scraped, but large enough to relegate the pipe to the bargain counter.
The finer pipes, of course, never possess a single visible flaw. This is the result of careful selection. Reputable pipe makers sell their less-than-perfect pipes as “seconds” to dealers who market the pipes under different brand names. Very often an inexpensive pipe may appear perfect to the untrained eye; yet it will probably have a very small defect which may escape your scrutiny but not that of the inspector at the factory.
Do faults affect the smoking quality of the pipe? The answer depends upon where the flaw is located. If it is on the outside of the pipe bowl, reasonably small, and not too deep, chances are it will have no effect on the pipe’s smoking properties. But if the defect is on the inside of the bowl, beware! Such flaws eventually lead to trouble.
Imperfections on the inside of the bowl appear as rough spots, depressions, or holes in the bowl wall. Unless the pipe is carefully broken in and a thick cake maintained over the bad spot, a burnout could occur. The wood around the flaw may scorch easily, adversely affecting the pipe for smoking purposes.
Many smokers refuse to buy pipes with a carved finish because they believe that the manufacturer has used the carving process to eliminate faults on the outside of the pipe. This assumption is not necessarily true. When a defect shows up during the pipe-making process, the manufacturer has two alternatives (if he does not wish to discard the pipe): he can give the pipe a carved finish and remove the flaw in the process, or he can reduce the outside diameter of the bowl, leaving a smooth finish, and also removing the blemish.
In either case, the result is a flaw-free pipe. Many pipe smokers prefer a carved pipe because of its original appearance, lighter weight, and cooler smoke. The carving increases the surface area of the bowl, which in turn results in a greater dispersal of heat.
There are several principal pipe-bowl designs which the experienced smoker will readily recognize, plus a half dozen variations on each familiar type. The following are the more common pipe-bowl shapes:
The pot bowl has parallel sides at right angles to the shank, with the base of the bowl slightly rounded. The pot bowl is usually larger than most other shapes. If the height of the bowl measures less than its diameter, it presents a somewhat squat appearance, and is referred to as a squat pot. Similarly, if the bowl’s height is equal to or larger than its diameter, it is called a large or raised pot, respectively. The pot bowl seller shape has a pot bowl with a flat base.
The Dublinbowl diverges from the base of the bowl to its rim, like an upright letter V. On the other hand, the outline of the prince bowl converges from base to rim, as an inverted V. The billiard, pear, and apple bowls all bulge outward.
Traditionally, special names have been given to various pipe styles that combine certain shapes of bowl and shank. The Bull Moose, for example, is a sturdy pipe with a full, short, round shank, an apple bowl, and a slightly curved stem. The Woodstockhas a Dublin bowl, a slightly curved stem, and an oval shank.
The Bulldog has a pear bowl with a paneled (flattened) top, is beaded (grooved) around the circumference of the bowl, and has a diamond-shaped shank and stem. Straight shanks of greater than average length, with oval or round cross-sections, are called Canadian.
The Oom Paul is a large pipe, usually measuring about two and one-half inches from the rim of the bowl to the bottom. It got its name from “Oom” Paul Kruger, the Boer leader during the South African war at the dawn of this century. Although the diameter of the bowl is that of an ordinary pipe, it is very deep and holds a great deal of tobacco.
The Dawes pipe (more correctly named the Lyons, after its inventor, Charles Herbert Lyons) happened to be the favorite pipe of General Charles G. Dawes, Vice-President of the United States from 1925 to 1929. General Dawes smoked the curious pipe incessantly and it became popularly known as the Dawes Underslung, because the shank joined the bowl near its rim.