Briar Pipe Finishes, Part 1: Smooths
Following its introduction as a pipe material in the middle 1800s, briar quickly became the dominant material for making pipes for the general pipe-smoking public.
Briar is durable, and with reasonable care, a briar pipe will serve generations of pipe smokers.
Another feature of briar is that, like any other wood, the grain can be exceedingly beautiful, which appeals to our senses and pleases us.
In this post, I’m looking at briar pipes with smooth finishes, which is, I think, the most common way to make a briar pipe.
In subsequent posts, we’ll look at sandblast and rusticated finishes where the pipe maker becomes, in essence, a wood carver.
The Grain’s the Thing
I think there are few things more beautiful than wood. The grain. With its pattern of light and dark lines that appeal to the eye. The inevitable variations provide an unending interest, as syncopation does to a piece of music.
A good piece of briar is good because of its grain. We’ve even developed an entire vocabulary to describe the grain patterns on a briar pipe. Flame, straight, bird’s eye, and cross-grain are just a few. And everyone has their favorite.
The fact that a pipe with beautiful, eye-catching grain is often priced higher than its sandblasted counterpart attests to our love of exquisite and unusual grain patterns.
My GBD Conquest Century, pictured below, is a beautiful pipe and a marvelous smoker.
Less than Perfect
But what if the grain is less than perfect?
Wood is a natural product. It is rarely perfect, so we value a briar stummel free from imperfections. However, the artistry of the pipe maker can still turn a less-than-perfect piece of briar into a beautiful pipe.
One way to do that is by using a colored stain. My GBD Popular Bulldog (pictured below) has a less-than-optimal grain pattern. But using the red pigment allows the grain to display exciting light and dark contrasts that we’d most likely miss were it not for the stain, thereby boosting the beauty of the wood.
Grain? What grain?
Sometimes, the pipe maker faces the dilemma of having a piece of wood that largely lacks any grain pattern. What does he do?
Aside from relegating the stummel to the woodpile, he can apply a very dark stain that obscures the natural surface of the wood. As is the case with the Falcon bowl pictured below:
The dark stain matches quite well with the aluminum and black plastic of the International stem. The bowl also looks good on the standard polished aluminum stem by providing a study in color contrasts.
The pipe maker may also paint the wood, as in the Filto pictured below.
Painting or applying a very dark stain allows the pipe maker to use lesser grades of briar and still provide the pipe smoker with an attractive pipe. Painting or staining pipes are often priced to give the smoker a good value.
I must confess I prefer a smooth finish to my pipes. The tactile sensation of my fingers on the smooth surface of the wood is very pleasing.
But each of us is different. And ultimately, beauty is about what provides us the most pleasure.
Next time, we’ll explore sandblasting. Sandblasting is another way the pipe maker can display the grain pattern of the briar.
Until then, happy smoking!
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