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7 March
GASLIGHT The new tobacco from Gregory Pease available

Contact Info
Synjeco SA
Pipes and Tobaccos
Via Leoncavallo 37
P.O.Box 742
6614 Brissago, Switzerland

Email: info@synjeco.ch
Phone: +41 (0)91 793 1365
Fax: +41 (0)91 793 2716

F.A.Q. - Pipes

What materials are being used in making pipes?

Numerous. Almost countless. Man has tried all imaginable (and unimaginable) materials; even human bones were used when nothing else seemed more adequate! However, nowadays, the most popular and adequate material is the briar. This wood has proved to be relatively easy to work, extremely resistant to heat, and porous. It's also light in weight, esp. when it has been correctly cured. Another very popular material is meerschaum (seafoam) which is a mineral found only in Turkey. It's extremely absorbent and very light in weight; the problem with meerschaum is its fragility. Other less common materials include: clay, corncobs, porcelain, olive wood, cherry wood, and maple. An example of quite a rare material is the "morta", which is fossilized wood (currently being made by one pipe maker in France).

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How can pipes be differentiated based on the making process?

Pipes are generally made either by machine or by hand. Unlike other machine made objects, pipes made by machines always require a certain amount of hand work; for example, the application of colorings (tints) is almost always done by hand, as well as the process of hiding and/or removing defects in the briar (fills/putties). Depending on the manufacturing facilities and the available machinery, the pieces of briar are placed on a lathe, where 12, 24, 36, etc., pieces are cut simultaneously into a predetermined shape.

Hand-made pipes, on the other hand, require a great amount of hand work (which varies from one pipe maker to the other) and usually a certain minimal amount of machine intervention. Also, here machines may be used (and ARE often used) at certain stages of pipe making; for example, an electric drill is used to make the draught hole and the tobacco chamber. A few pipe makers nowadays make their pipe with absolutely no electric saws or drills, just lying on their muscles and filing and sanding abilities. A hand made pipe could take from one hour to a few days, depending on the method used, the maker's experience, the desired shape, etc.

The difference between hand made and machine made pipes is particularly (and justifiably) evident in the price of the end product. While an average machine made pipe would cost around $80, an average hand made pipe would cost at least double that

Apart from the (sort of) clear-cut distinction between machine and hand made pipes, there's another less known category: "Semi"-hand/machine made pipes. Here the making process is divided into two distinct phases: the bowl is formed using a machine (like in the machine made pipes), and then the bowls are further refined using sand paper (and again, the coloring is applied by hand). Unfortunately, and in a lot of cases, such pipes are stamped "Hand Made" anyway, and sold as such. It's impossible to detect the difference between a fully hand made pipe and a semi-hand made one (not that it is easy to distinguish a machine made pipe from a hand made one!).

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What are the general forms that pipes come in?

A pipe is generally defined as straight or bent. Bent pipes can be further described as "quarter-bent", "semi-bent" and "fully-bent". See the answer to the following question to get example shapes in each of these categories.

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What are the names of the most common classic shapes?

To render the answer more readable and comprehensible, I'll just give names of the most common classic shapes, without specifying which can be straight and/or bent (I'll say it only when I think a shape comes in only or mainly one form). You may be already aware of the fact that with time, several shapes could (and do) stem from one basic shape. For this reason, I'll list the basic models and in parentheses, I'll list other shapes that I think are based on the basic one (the basic shapes are given in order of their popularity): Billiard (Lovat, Canadian, Liverpool, Chimney/Stack), Apple (Globe), Bulldog (Squat Bulldog), Rhodesian, Pot, Dublin, Zulu, Horn (and/or Woodstock), Brandy, Hungarian/Oom Paul (only fully bent), Bullcap (usually only straight), Prince (usually 1/4 bent), and Calabash (only fully bent).

A very good reference booklet on the subject is "Briar Shapes and Styles-Pipe Line Guide No. 1", by Jacques P. Cole" (1985).

Note that examples of more than 90% of these shapes can be viewed on this site.

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What are the different finishes that pipes come in?

Generally, six (surprised?!): Smooth, Sandblasted, Rusticated, Carved, Smooth Black, and Painted. Smooth means that the natural grain pattern of the briar remains unaltered; the difference could be in the tint used, from natural (slightly more yellow/orange than the natural color of the wood) up to dark red, for example. Sandblasted pipes still show the natural grain of the wood, not as it was in natural but rather through exposing the pipe to an extremely strong jet of sand, which removes the weakest parts of the grain, leaving the hard ones "in relief". The grain on Rusticated pipes, on the other hand, is no longer visible; the maker uses a tool (either a hand tool or an electric one) to basically render the surface "rugged". Why?! Usually because the pipe exhibits sandpits that are too big to be treated or hidden. Carved pipes, which are the rarest of the lot, are pipes that have been formed into a particular shape or image, such as a face or a motif; carving is made exclusively by hand. The smooth Black finish, on the other hand, is what it says: a pipe that has not been sandblasted, rusticated or carved, but has been colored black. Apparently, here the grain is no longer visible; however, Stanwell used to produce such an evening pipe called then the "Silhouette", which upon very close inspection still showed part of the grain. Finally, "Painted" is probably the lastest "fashion"; these are pipes that are literally painted with heavy colors that completely cover the briar grain (an example is the Butz Choquin Rhapsody pipe series, on sale on this site.

A note of caution: "Carved", in some parts of the world, primarily in the USA, stands for "Rusticated" and is used to describe both the "Rusticated" and the "Carved" in the sense they're used here.

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What's grain?

Just like with wood, in general, where the number of rings indicates the age of the tree, the grain functions in the same way for the briar. The harder and older a pipe of briar is, the tighter the "veins" on it are. There are different patterns that can be found on a pipe: Straight Grain (the most sought-after and the most expensive), Bird's Eye (where the crossing of different "veins" creates what looks like little eyes of birds), Ring Grain (horizontal lines, which is the result of the maker's decision to cut the briar piece sideways), and Cross Grain (which is a mixture of different patterns).

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What are the most common colors applied to pipes?

Generally, the less obtrusive (and more natural) a pipe is, the better and more expensive it is, since the pipe will grow darker with time and also breathe better. Natural tints have alcohol as a base and are usually natural (as opposed to chemical); these tints are usually light orange, yellow, brown, etc. Other less natural and more obtrusive colors, such as dark red or brown, are used, and are usually associated with machine made pipes as well as low-end hand made pipes. ("Painted" pipes are in a class of their own.)

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What are the types of ornaments and accessories used in pipe making?

The imagination of pipe makers has no limits also in this area. So many ornaments are being used in pipe making. The most common are: (1) bands/rings (varying in thickness and amount of hand work) of silver and gold, as well as non-precious metals, and (2) inserts of briar, bamboo, horn, bone, plastic, wood, etc.

A pipe could also be fitted with (3) a metal cover to protect the smoke and combustion from wind, and (4) chains to connect the mouthpiece and the shank/bowl.

It was the fashion in the 1970's, particularly in France, to apply a layer of leather to the outer walls of the bowl as well as the shank (dressing the pipe, i.e.).
(We're lucky not to be in the 1970s still!)

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What are the names of the different parts of a pipe?

A pipe is (usually!) made up of three components: a bowl, a shank, and a mouthpiece. The inside of the bowl, where the tobacco goes, is called the "tobacco chamber", the channel that conducts the smoke from the bowl to the shank and ultimately to the mouthpiece (and your mouth) is the "draught hole", and the little end part of the mouthpiece that enters into the shank is the "tenon" (also "peg", in the UK). The story could just go on and on!

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What advice can you give to someone who would like to buy his/her first pipe?

A pipe should be as light in weight as possible, and the smaller the better (not tiny, though). A straight or 1/4 bent would be ideal, since more bent pipes require a bit more experience to keep the pipe "under control"

So I advise you to choose a pipe that (in order of importance):

  • you like
  • goes well with your face (you should like that way it looks in your mouth and hands)
  • is of good quality (don't go too cheap, nor too expensive)
  • is straight or at most 1/4 bent
  • of a natrual finish, sandblasted or carved (avoid varnished or painted ones because they tend to smoke very hot)
  • is not too bulky or heavy (comfortable is the keyword)
  • of a reasonable size, better smaller than bigger

The golden rule is always go to a reputed tobacco shop and seek a professional's help.

If you have a question or a comment, contact Daniel

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