by Richard Carleton Hacker
There are three finishes of briar, and the quality of each is reflected in the final cost of a pipe. The most expensive and the most coveted is a smooth-finished pipe, in which all the natural graining and marks (and flaws) in the briar are permitted to show. Next comes sandblast, wherein what started out as a smooth pipe is subjected to a tremendously powerful jet spray of tiny grains of sand, beads of metal, or glass, so that all of the softer wood is blasted away. The result is a rugged-looking, rough-textured bowl. When the blasting is properly done on a premium grade of wood, sandblasted pipes are quite attractive, and are usually less expensive than smooth pipes, as the pipemaker doesn‘t have to be as concerned about the appearance of grain. Finally, there is a carved or rusticated finish, in which the pipe bowl is chiseled or gouged by hand with special multi-pronged tools to create a textured finish. Some rusticated pipes have the appearance of a sandblast, but the rusticated surface is usually coarser. Do not confuse these expertly carved pipes with the crude figural carvings of cheap souvenir pipes. But no matter what the finish, the pipes you want to stay away from are those with lacquered or varnished surfaces, as this treatment seals the wood so that it cannot breathe; the end result is that these pipes burn "hot." And so will you if you buy one of these bargain-basement junkers.
Most pipe smokers tend to favor smooth-finished briars, primarily because of their beauty and individuality. Briar his a grain running through it and, nature being what it is, no two patterns are alike. There are three classifications of grain patterns that you should be aware of, because they will affect the price of any smooth-finished pipe. Straight grain, in which the lines of the grain run vertically on the pipe bowl, is usually viewed as the ne plus ultra of pipe making. And consequently, it is the most expensive. Next comes bird‘s-eye, which appears as tiny swirls on the bowl. And finally there is a random grain, with swirls and lines but no apparent symmetry. This is the least expensive pattern. Ironically, the grain pattern has no effect on the smoking quality of a pipe; it is strictly cosmetic. However, one thing you do want to avoid is a smooth pipe with no grain (usually called a "bald spot") on all or portions of the bowl.
Now let‘s talk about pipe shape, of which there are only two: bent and straight. It is said that bent pipes "hang" better in the mouth, but straight pipes look more sophisticated. It is all a matter of personal preference, so take your pick. The same goes for style. Pipes are either "classic" in shape or "freehand". Classic pipes are the ones Cary Grant and Bing Crosby smoked in the movies.
Freehands are more like modern sculptures and are somewhat non-traditional. Again, it‘s a matter of personal taste; one shape will not smoke any better than the next. However, the manner in which a pipe is made will definitely affect the way it smokes. ... to be continued
Prossimo articolo: How To Pick The Perfect Pipe - part IV