Choosing a shape is totally subjective, differing from person to person. The most popular shapes are straight, bent and free-hand styles. Straight shapes are easy to carry about and they are easy to clean as well. Bent pipes do not obstruct the smoker’s space and it rests more gently in their mouth. The thicker the wall of a pipe bowl, the better it insulates heat regardless of the shape. Free-hand shaped pipes are not finished in the traditional shape, it follows the more natural look of the briar. Some spots are left unfinished to add a one-of-a-kind look.
The two most popular materials for making a pipe are briarwood and meerschaum. Briar-wood comes from the heath tree-root cultivated in the Mediterranean region. The area of Calabria in Italy yields the highest quality briar. Other areas where briar is grown are Greece and the islands of Corsica and Sicily. Meerschaum comes from Turkey and the northern regions of Africa.
From a German word meaning sea foam, Meerschaum is an organic calcium- fossil material that is extremely fragile, but smokes great because it does not burn out. Because Meerschaum is soft, carvers can create just about any finish they desire. This unique substance absorbs the tobacco oils creating a beautiful colorization.
Smokers should never smoke these pipes outdoors, since the slightest knock,or temperature change can break the pipe. The best Meerschaum in the world comes from Turkey in the area of Eskisehir, mined 400 feet below sea level.
Briarwood was discovered to be the best material for pipes, because of its cool smoking quality and its durability. Prior to briar pipes, the most popular materials were clay and any other type of hardwood, such as Cherry-wood. Clay pipes were too fragile and broke easily, and non-briar pipes ended up in smoke along with the tobacco smoked in them. Briar was discovered around the 1850′s and it has remained the most popular wood for pipe making ever since.
Pipes of the highest quality will have very old briar anywhere from seventy- five to over one hundred-year-old wood. First, The older the briar the better a pipe will smoke, because the wood has a high level of porosity providing a cooler smoke (when a pipe smokes cool its allows the smoker to taste the tobacco better). Second, the age of the briar allows the smoker to cure (break-in), the pipe with ease when it is new. Third, the high level of porosity makes the pipe lighter in weight so it does not cause a sore jaw while holding the pipe in one’s mouth. These high end pipes are usually all hand made.
Mid range quality briar pipes will range anywhere from twenty five to fifty year old briar. This range is the most popular range for pipe smokers because of its price point and gratifying quality. The briar may have slight imperfections, such as sandpits, bald spots, and/or putty-fillings. Usually these imperfections do not affect the pipe’s longevity, but a risk is unavoidable. The briar is denser not quite as porous and therefore, making it a bit difficult while curing the pipe and getting hotter while smoking. For the same reason, is not as comfortable in one’s mouth. Mid range pipes can be either all hand made, or a combination of machine made and hand finish.
The third range of pipes is the low-end pipe. Usually all machine made, heavy, and hot smoking because the briar is not aged and it is lacquered so as to cover the multitude of defects in the briar. This category is popularly known as “drug-store” pipes. Heroes & Legacies have steered away from this category, as we feel they do not provide the necessary requirements and specifications for proper enjoyment of pipe smoking.
*The information on this page was obtained from the Ultimate Pipe Book, by Richard Carleton Hacker, available for purchase in our store.