by Richard Carleton Hacker
First, most pipes are made of briar, a hard, Mediterranean-grow wood that will char but is resistant to burning. That‘s why it is used for pipes. Briar flavors the smoke to a minor extent, and is porous, which means that it will burn relatively cool. Older briar usually has much more porosity and is therefore lighter in weight, both very desirable attributes in pipemaking. However, older, well-cured (aged) briar i also more expensive, a fact that will be reflected in a higher price Normally, moderately priced pipes are made of briar that is approximately 25 years old or less. More expensive pipes are made of wood that can be 50, 100, or even 250 years old. There are also some interesting and less expensive pipes made of cherry wood or olive wood, but these woods are softer than briar and will not hold up as well for a primary pipe.
You may also encounter pipes made of meerschaum, a handsome white material that is very often carved into rococo busts of Bacchus, eagle‘s claws, and similar designs. Meerschaum, which means "sea foam" in German, is really a mineral called magnesium silica, and is primarily found in Turkey, where it is mined and carved for export. A unique feature of Meerschaum pipes is that they change color over the years as they are smoked, and gradually transforming from white to tan to brown to, eventually, a dark chocolate. Unfortunately, meerschaum pipes are fragile and must be handled quite carefully, as even touching the bowl while smoking them can affect the coloring process. For these reasons, meerschaum should only be thought of as a pipe for the smoker who already has a selection of briars at his disposal.
Other pipes you may spot are corncobs (which are very inexpensive, very absorbent, and hence, tend to become very rank; they are not the ideal choice for long-term smoking endeavors), and clay pipes, which smoke hot and are so fragile we should exclude them for anything other than historical reenactments. So, for all practical purposes, briar is the material of choice for an initial pipe purchase. ... to be continued
Prossimo articolo: How To Pick The Perfect Pipe - part III