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Guarantee yourself a good smoker

Discussion in 'Pipe Making Forums' started by Sasquatch, Sep 5, 2009.

  1. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

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    So, you're thinkin' to buy a pipe, after having gone into the shop "just to have a look". How do you know if a pipe is going to be any good, or any good for you in particular?

    Briar: We don't know where it came from. Period. So we have to hope it's been treated properly. Most of what you'll hear is total baloney. Every pipe shop in the world has a brandless bunch of basket pipes where the stummels were cut in WWII and recently found, or some such nonsense. For our purposes, briar is briar, and how old, how treated, where from, is all a mystery.

    All we can do is look at the briar carefully and make sure it has no serious flaws. Deep pits, cracks or fissures, or spots that look kind of spongey? Pass it by. Fills are harder to detect, but in general, they are small spots of color that have no grain at all, and are usually a slightly different texture than the wood. A fill is no reason to reject a pipe on smoking grounds. I have pipes with multiple fills that smoke great. But if you are paying top dollar, and want a pipe that did not require cosmetic repair, then look really close for small off-color spots.

    On a smooth pipe, look that it is sanded well and finished evenly. This is where corners are cut on production pipes. Have a look, for example, where the stem hits the bowl - it's tough to get that right. If it's all scratchy looking, or darker stained, then it didn't get the attention it deserved. That won't make the pipe smoke better, but it can be an indicator of how well taken care of a pipe was at the factory - did anyone care how it came out?

    Rusticated pipes are usually chosen for rustication because they have some cosmetic issue - they aren't pretty under the texture. That does NOT make them worse smokers by any means, but you have to look closely at the rustication and make sure it isn't hiding a serious defect.

    Inside the bowl may be coated. If it is, you can't see much. If it isn't, have a look at the wood, again making sure there aren't any serious defects (larger pits, or discolored areas). I would pass on a pipe if the stain bled through to the bowl from the outside.

    That's about all you can tell on most pipes.

    Grain itself means nothing in terms of how a pipe will smoke. Your straight grained beauties are just that - beauties.

    I avoid heavily lacquered pipes because I've seen them blister and flake. But most finishes are fine, and I wouldn't pay a huge amount of attention to exactly what the pipe is coated with.



    Mechanics: I spend a lot of time looking at how a pipe is set up. First, see that the airway hits the bottom of the bowl, more or less in the middle. I would accept a pipe if the airway is off to the side a bit, but not if it isn't in the bottom corner, so to speak. I also avoid pipes that have the airway meeting the bowl RIGHT at the bottom - they can plug up a bit.

    Have a look at the shape of the tobacco chamber too. Some people don't like the more conical Danish style chambers. It depends on your packing technique and what kinds of tobacco you smoke, I think. It's not that one is better than another, but a 1" by 1" wide, flat bottom bowl requires a different pack than a 3" deep cone.


    Opening the pipe up, feel how tight the joint is. If it's super tight, the shank could crack, or the tenon break. Super loose is no good either. A little loose and it will fix itself if you smoke the pipe a bunch.

    Have a look at where the airway from the bowl ends inside the shank. In a straight or slighly bent pipe, the airway should be centered dead on inside the mortise where the tenon slides in. A really bent pipe will have the airway terminating in the side wall of the mortise, and it is critical that the tenon does not occlude this hole. You can take a quick measurement with anything; a pipe cleaner, a match.... just see that the tenon is not deeper than the airway hole.

    Assuming the stummel is okay, have a look at the stem. It should be cleanly finished inside and out. It's worth looking at how well the button is cut, and the slot at the end of the stem. This part goes in your mouth, so if it's too fat, or sharp, or just weird in some way, you'll know it.

    Make sure you like the material of the stem: Lucite lasts long and is maintenance free, but it's hard on teeth. Ebonite is nicer on the teeth and more durable than cheaper vulcanite, but you'll only see it on top end factory pipes and handmades. Most pipes have mass-produced stems that are not especially comfortable compared to a hand made. Try a pipe cleaner in the stem, from both directions. If it goes easily, that's good. If it gets stuck, or hits something, the stem is either too restricted or badly machined. Dump it!

    Generally, the idea is that the smoke coming from the chamber does not have to jump through hoops to get to your mouth. The smoother the ride for the smoke, the nicer the pipe will be.

    With the stem in the pipe, you can look at the joint between the stem and the shank of the stummel. No gap is good. Gap is bad. Now, you can certainly tweak that at home with a little sanding - it's not a dealbreaker, but a high quality pipe will have a high quality joint. These little details being done well is an indicator that someone, somewhere, cared how the pipe came out.

    So if you have a pipe in hand, and you can see that air gets easily from the bowl to the button, and the briar isn't obviously junky, the pipe will most likely be fine. The little details being done right is indicative (we hope) that the pipe as a whole is "well made".

    Hope this helps. I bought ten or so pipes knowing absolutely nothing about how they should go together, and got lucky on some, and unlucky on others.
     
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  2. user0003

    user0003 Well-Known Member

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    Thank you , Todd. Great post!
     
  3. babysinister

    babysinister Active Member

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    Thanks, 'squatch: I've been browsing through and joining many pipe-related forums and found great information all around, but never on the details pertaining to good pipe/bad pipe aspects. This one really spells it out. One question, however, with half bent to full bent pipes is the pipecleaner test still valid? I would guess that bent pipes would be an exception to that rule.
     
  4. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

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    There is one way to make a bent pipe pass a cleaner. If you open the airway right where it hits the mortise, you can kind of cut a little ramp for the pipe cleaner to get into the airway with. Here's a bad diagram. The drilling angle is maximized (you can't hit the bowl any less steep), and that is the red line. The tenon is in blue. The middle of the tenon and the drilling line don't line up. So you cut a little ramp (in purple) which would allow a pipe cleaner to sneak into the airway.

    I'm not a big fan of the method. I prefer to cut the mortise deeper and leave a little sump for any excess moisture to collect in. It has a minimum impact on airflow, and seems to be the best way to deal with a situation which is less than ideal.

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

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    To me, passing a pipe cleaner is more about proving that a pipe is engineered well than it is about actually needing to run a cleaner into the pipe.

    Most condensation issues occur right at the tip of the tenon anyhow, so you can have success in anti-gurgle warfare, with a pipe cleaner even in a pipe that won't pass it right to the bowl.

    Your new Oom Paul has an anti-condensation flared design, Ed, which is why it is gurgle-resistant. And the journel from the chamber to the button is pretty smooth in that pipe anyhow.
     
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  6. babysinister

    babysinister Active Member

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    I have a 31 year old Sasieni Four Dot Burton that is only half bent and it still gurgles throughout the first half of the bowl. The full bent Hungarian/Oom Paul did not gurgle once. So that flared thingamagig worked.
     
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  7. 3 Phase

    3 Phase Member

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    WAIT A MINUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!! You told me that the pipe you made me came from a 1500 year old dead root burl that was found by workers while removing debris from an ancient brothel.
     
  8. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

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    Oh yeah, uh, that one was, after all. Carbon dated and everything. But briar from OTHER guys we don't know nothing about!!!
     
  9. babysinister

    babysinister Active Member

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    I have to vouch for Sasquatch's version of that 1500 year old burl. He told me about it. It's a famous dead root burl with archeological significance, as it came from a late-Roman brothel that was sacked by the Vandals, who also took the handle. Someone recently stole the burl object from the archeological remains section of the Museum degli Uffizi in Florence, where it was listed under the Latin title of "Dildus Magnus."
     
  10. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

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    That also explains why the pump don't work.
     
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  11. babysinister

    babysinister Active Member

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    No it doesn't. You have to puff. Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.
     
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  12. erickghint

    erickghint Member

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    Great information, especially for a noob like me. I've bought five pipes thus far, and I've really not known what to look for. I've gotten lucky, I suppose as all of them smoke great. I'll have to check out pipes a bit more carefully at the B&M from now on. Thanks for the info.

    ~William
     
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  13. Silverado

    Silverado Member

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    I know I'm late to the party, but do you have any of that briar left, you know the stuff the Templars dug up under Solomon's Temple? I think it was off-cuts from the Ark of the Covenant...

    I'd like you to make me a pipe from that stuff.
     
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  14. Falconeer

    Falconeer Active Member

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    Thanks very much for this post Sasquatch! As I've posted before, no matter how long you've been at this game you can still buy a bummer - I've copied and printed this article and I'm keeping in my wallet beside my crdit cards for the next time I go into a pipe shop "just for a look."

    Thanks again,

    Gerry
     
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  15. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Well-Known Member

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    Silver, watch the skies.

    Falconeer, my official advice is to not go to pipe shops. However, this seems impossible (certainly impossible for me) so the next best thing is to go armed.

    Certainly I shop for pipes a lot differently now than I used to, and I reject a lot of fairly expensive pipes for any number of reasons. Many are fundamentally unsound.

    I'd sticky your Meer "primer that isn't a primer", Gerry, if you would allow us to put it up?
     
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  16. Wydeboi

    Wydeboi Member

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    Thanks Sas, great info.
     
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  17. Falconeer

    Falconeer Active Member

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    Hi Sas,

    No problem; it's a "work in progress" treat it as a starting point - I'm sure there will be people here who can add to it and I'd be delighted if they would!

    Gerry
     
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  18. woody

    woody Admin Admin

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    This topic could use a bump.
     
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  19. Falconeer

    Falconeer Active Member

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    I agree Woody - if we just ignore who wrote it and look at the advice given it's one of the most useful pieces ever written. My copy is till in my wallet and I can only say I wish I'd had access to an article like this when I was starting out - it would have saved me a lot of money on total bummers that passed as pipes.

    Good point about checking for soft spots - when young I bought what I though was a seriously nice black rusticated horror - it smoked fine until the goo seeped through to the soft spot which just went spongey and disintegrated completely,

    Thanks to Sas for writing and to Woody for bumping the topic,

    Gerry
     
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  20. Strongirish

    Strongirish Member

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    A most excellent post sir! Should help a lot of newbies!
     
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