Pipe Types

Briar: This is the closely-grained root burl between the stem and roots of the White Heath, "Erica Arborea" a large bush that grows on the mountainous hillsides of Mediterranean countries, like Greece, France, Italy, and Algeria. Maquis is the French word for a hillside densely covered in by the White Heath, Underground, The burl grows underground. It is tough and close grained. The climate is an intensely hot summer with a showery winter. Good briar takes a log time to grow. The most commonly suitable root is 30-80 years old. Younger it is too small and older it may develop cracks and fissures. The most suitable root may be 60 to 80 years old, and some of the finest burls have been growing for over 250 years.

Good quality briar is cut into "ebauchons" at the sawmills. It is then boiled at the sawmills to kill all insects and bacteria and draw out the natural saps and resins. Then it is aged by the pipe maker, from 2- 7 years, on average. The longer it is aged the longer the better.

A few years ago the concern that pipe makers would run out of briar. Today the concern is that few people want to do the dirty hard work in the Mediterranean mountains with a mule to gather briar root.

This is one of the reasons for the resurgence of Algerian briar. It is becoming more easily available but does need more aging than Greek or Italian briar. According to Reiner Barbi, most briar today is Greek because there are almost no Italian briar cutters left.
Briar pipes are created using sanders, lathes and drill presses. Briar wood is, hard, light in weight and at times may have beautiful grain. A quality pipe will have no fills or putty. A fine straight grain briar pipe will command a premium price. An interesting note is that before the 1970's briar wasn't cut for grain. That is why older Dunhills, Barlings etc., rarely had good graining. Only in the 1970's did grain become highly prized.

Meerschaum: A white mineral composed of magnesia, silica and water. It is a German word meaning literally, "sea-foam", because it floats. The best quality Meerschaum comes from Turkey where it is mined.

Meerschaum - is very light in weight, it floats in water, lighter than briar, extremely porous, and cool smoking. Its disadvantage is its fragility and if dropped it shatters. Meerschaum pipes are made by hand carving, and finished with a beeswax polish. Meerschaum pipes delivery what can best be described as a creamy smoke.

Cheap Meerschaum pipes are made from compressed meerschaum dust that has been pressed into a form. Examine a Meerschaum pipe carefully, if you see carving marks then it is craved block Meerschaum. This is what you want.

African Meerschaum comes from Africa. It is normally stained in shades of brown, black and yellow. African meerschaum is inferior stuff and should be avoided.

Missouri Meerschaum: The American Corncob pipe. It is made from a length of hollowed-out corncob, often with a wooden stem and an inexpensive plastic mouthpiece.

Some pipe smokers buy corncobs by the gross, smoke one until it burns through or goes sour, then throw it away. The one big advantage these pipes have is they are extremely cheap.

Calabash: A South African gourd that is bent when growing to form the pipe shape. The gourd is the cut from the tree when the desired size is reached, dried, and then fitted with a cork gasket to receive a meerschaum bowl.

Calabash pipes are probably the coolest, driest smokers there are. They are large, delicate, and inconvenient to carry around. These pipes should always be bought with a fitted case.

Clay Pipe: Clay were what was smoked before the discovery of briar. From the 17th - 19th century long-stemmed "Church wardens" and "London Straws" were smoked in London coffee houses,clubs and at home. Short clays were smoked when on the go. Go being walking, in carriage or boat. Clays pipes get very hot but deliver a cool smoke. They are cleaned by heating in a fire. They break very easily but even today are relatively cheap.

Hookah/Narghila - Common called a WATER-PIPE or hubble bubble. The hookah is middle east tradition. In most Middle Eastern and North African coffee houses you can order a mint tea or coffee and a pipe. The cleaning of mouthpieces is not common. The tobacco is filtered through water, that is normally flavored, delivering an extremely cool smoke. Hookah come with anywhere from 1-6 mouthpieces. Those with more than one can be enjoyed a few smokers at once.

Hookah is usually dried whole leaf, crumbled and sometimes mixed with various flavors. The tobacco is moistened before smoking, its very hot and dry in the Middle East, then put in the bowl and a hot charcoal is put on top of the ball of tobacco. Water pipes filter out much of the taste of tobaccos. To get and taste you need either to buy special hookah pipe tobacco or the strongest stuff you can find.

When buying a hookah check to see it doesn't leak, water or air. Often those sold to tourists are poorly made and will never smoke right.

Visit these other interesting sites!

Hosted in