How To Select A Pipe
Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Whether it’s a first pipe, or another one for the collection, the selection of a new pipe requires making decisions. Should it be straight or bent, briar, meerschaum, clay, or corn cob? Lucite stem or vulcanite? Fishtail or P-lip? Filtered or not? If your choice is briar, will it have a smooth finish, natural, sandblasted, or rusticated? Finally, how much should I spend? All choices that will have lasting consequences.
For the sake of brevity (and the fact that I don’t get paid by the hour), I will limit this discussion to briar pipes. The vast majority of pipe smokers choose this substance for their pipes, and for good reason. All briar pipes are made from the burl found in the root system of the Heath tree, and are popular because of briar’s fire resistant properties and ability to absorb moisture. As a burl ages over decades (we hope), it becomes more and more dense and at the same time, develops grain. This is important to remember, as grain equals age, and the more and tighter the grain pattern, the older the briar, and the better the pipe will smoke. We could have another long discussion on the different types of grain (straight, flame, bird’s eye, etc.), but what’s important to remember is that the grain pattern itself isn’t as important to a pipe’s smoking quality as just the mere presence of it around the entire bowl.
When considering how much to pay for a pipe, understand that you are paying for two things, material and workmanship. The older the briar, the more the pipe maker had to pay for it, and thus the more expensive the pipe. Workmanship involves time and skill. All pipes are made with some degree of machine work and hand craftsmanship. The less of the former and more of the latter is what makes one pipe more desirable than another. As with anything else, you get what you pay for.