Pipe ShapesSmoking of some kind has gone on for nearly as long as civilization itself and the use of some sort of pipe may be the oldest form of smoking known to man. Pipe artifacts date back to the earliest known civilizations in the Middle East and the Americas.

Tobacco remnants have been found buried with Egyptian mummies. In the Americas, native peoples smoked to signify important life events, including births, marriages, and signing of covenants. The Native American Peace Pipe originates from these people and how they used the sharing of a smoked substance in a pipe to signify a contract that had been made. This was often used as a way to signify agreements with outsiders in a way that both parties could understand.

Pipes in the sense that they are seen now were not developed until the 1500’s. Prior to that, stone was a popular substance that was used to hold tobacco, herbs, opium, and other substances. In addition, materials like corncobs and even gourds were used as the bowl of a pipe. Many older pipes that have been unearthed were carved in ornate shapes but still retained a rounded inner bowl (which is easier to make, clean and maintain than an angled surface) to hold the smoked substance.

Tobacco reached Europe in the late 15th century / early 16th century after Columbus navigated to the New World and back, but it was not until around the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) that pipe smoking gained recognition throughout Europe.

Just about every material known to man has been used to fabricate a pipe over the millennia. Stone, clay, metal, ceramic proved to be noncombustible in ancient times as dried tobacco was burned. As pipe smoking was refined, other materials found their way into pipe making. Refinements in the curing, blending and storage of tobacco produced a product that retained its essential oils and produced a more flavorful experience to the smoker. Around 1720 Meerschaum, meaning “sea foam,” is discovered in Turkey and becomes the highest regarded pipe material. Around 1840 dense briar wood pipes rose out of Jura, France and gained a foothold as they were much more resilient than the more fragile Meerschaum, clay and ceramic versions which predated them.

Today, there are a wide spectrum of materials being used to make tobacco pipes — everything from the lowly corncob through the painstakingly hand-carved Meerschaum and briar — are used to create pipes that are first, functional and, in some cases, true works of art. If you can somehow fashion a hole in which to place the tobacco and a stem through which to draw the smoke, it can be called a pipe.

NOTE: Chesapeake Pipe & Cigar makes choices as to what we feel are true tobacco-centric pipes. We do not carry products we believe are accepted as drug paraphernalia for the smoking of anything other than real pipe tobacco. We celebrate the deep history of real tobacco without supporting the use of illegal or illicit substances.

Corncob Pipes:

In 1869, a Dutch immigrant woodworker named Henry Tibbe first began production of the corn cob pipe in Washington, Missouri. Legend has it that a local farmer whittled a pipe out of corn cob and liked it so much he asked Henry Tibbe to try turning some on his lathe. That farmer may not have been the first person to make a corncob pipe, but he’s the one that started the corncob trend we still see today. Because the farmer was well-pleased with the results, Henry made and sold a few more in his woodworking shop. Tibbe’s pipes proved to be such a fast selling item, he soon spent more time making pipes for customers than working with wood, and began full time production of corn cob pipes. Tibbe and a chemist friend devised an innovative system of applying a plaster-based substance to the outside of the corn cob bowls. In 1878, Tibbe patented this process.

Grown in Missouri soil and handcrafted for over 143 years in the same Washington, Missouri, building, Genuine Missouri Meerschaum Corn Cob Pipes are an American Legend – making Missouri Meerschaum the world’s oldest, largest, and leading manufacturer of corn cob pipes. Since 1869, six generations of Missouri Meerschaum skilled craftsmen have believed there is no substitute for quality and excellence.

Meerschaum Pipes:

The noble Meerschaum is unique among pipes. Its mysterious properties make it a perfect smoke and, at the same time, a work of art; a pipe highly prized by the Connoisseur and beginning smoker alike. Meerschaum is a German word meaning sea foam. The geologist knows the light, porous Meerschaum as hydrous magnesium silicate. The pipe smoker knows it as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke. The mineral itself is the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor over 50 million years ago, there to be covered and compressed over the ages by layer upon layer of silt. Profound movements in the earths crust raised the creamy white stone of Meerschaum above sea level. There men eventually discovered it and created an incomparable pipe from it. The first record of Meerschaum as a pipe dates from around 1723.

1. MINING – Meerschaum is mined in up to 450 feet of clay, sand, and gravel near Eskishehir, Turkey, and in Tanzania, Africa.
2. WASHING – The raw lumps of Meerschaum are washed to remove the dirt and gravel.
3. GRADING – The Meerschaum stones are graded into five categories with twelve qualities in each. Grading is based on size, density, color, and homogeneity.
4. SPLITTING – When the manufacturer receives a shipment of raw Meerschaum it must be split into smaller pieces for fashioning into pipes. A senior craftsman examines it very carefully, calculating precisely where the clumps should be split, much as in the cutting of fine gem stones. The many natural “fault lines” must be eliminated. As much as 80% of the raw material may be discarded at this stage.
5. CARVING – The Meerschaum blocks are soaked in water for 15 to 30 minutes to further soften the material to a cheese-like consistency before carving. Skilled craftsmen then fashion the Meerschaum into standard shape pipes or the magnificent sculptured pieces so highly prized by collectors.
6. HAND FITTING OF THE STEM – Before Polishing, a Meerschaum pipe is fitted with the stem or mouth-piece. In days gone by, stems were made of pure amber. Today, amber-colored Lucite is used almost exclusively. Pure amber is fine for collectors’ pipes, but for the steady smoker, Lucite is much better because it is stronger, more resilient, and more comfortable in the mouth.
7. POLISHING – Only the finest abrasives can be used for polishing the soft Meerschaum. This step is long and tedious as too much pressure would mar the smooth finish.
8. WAXING – How well your Meerschaum will color is largely determined by the waxing. The pipes are dipped in molten bees-wax as many as 8 times to ensure proper coloring.
9. FINAL INSPECTION – A specialist carefully examines each finished pipe. The slightest flaw even at this late stage is just reason for the pipe’s destruction. Finer quality Meerschaums are protected by a fitted case made for each individual pipe.

Briar Pipes:

A briar pipe begins as a Burl (or growth) on the root system of the White Heath Tree, a squat, hearty, shrub-like plant which grows primarily in the dry, arid, rocky wastelands around the Mediterranean Sea. Of all woods, the Briar Burl is unique for making pipes; its tough, porous and nearly impervious to heat. Burls for fine quality pipes can often be 50 to 100 years old when harvested for pipe making.

Once harvested, the Briar burls are cut by skilled craftsmen using large, circular saws to remove the soft and cracked portions, leaving only close-grained, extremely hard Briar wood. This remaining Briar is then rough-cut into small blocks, called ebauchons, in sizes and shapes suitable for fashioning into standard shape pipes. Some particularly fine grained Briar is left uncut in larger pieces called plates which are used for larger freehand pipes.

When harvested, Briar contains considerable moisture, sap and resin. The ebauchons and plates are boiled in water for several hours to remove much of the sap and resin. This is followed by long periods of drying (up to 2 years) so that all traces of moisture are moved from the wood. This careful curing and aging process is of the utmost importance in bringing out the finest smoking qualities of a briar pipe. It allows the pipe to breathe, to absorb moisture and oil from the tobacco, assuring a cool, dry smoke.

Once the curing process is completed, the Briar is ready to be shaped into pipe bowls. A variety of hand and machine operations are necessary to complete this shaping process. Generally, the more handwork that goes into the carving of the pipe, the higher the price. Once the bowls are shaped, they are fitted with mouthpieces or stems (either vulcanite or Lucite), hand finished, stained, polished and waxed. The new pipe is now ready to give many years of smoking enjoyment.

Due to the inconsistencies of nature and the conditions under which Briar grows, only a small percentage of the thousands of pipes produced each year will have a uniformly fine grain pattern and perfection of finish upon which a manufacturer will stamp his name. These perfect pipes, which may cost $100 or more, are sometimes called firsts and represent the pinnacle of the pipe makers art. Serious pipe smokers and pipe collectors take great pride in owning and smoking these fine pipes.

The remaining Briar pipes may have tiny, natural surface flaws or sandpits, some of which are almost undetectable, some of which are large enough to warrant putty fills. While these tiny surface imperfections affect the aesthetic appearance of the pipe, they have absolutely no effect on the smoking qualities of the pipe. These pipes, often referred to as seconds, are sold at more reasonable prices, under numerous brand names and represent the very best values in pipe smoking. Other bowls may be selected to be sand-blasted or carved to create a rugged, pleasingly rough texture. Most pipe smokers have several of these sandblast or hand carved pipes in their collections.

Briar pipes are available in a wide variety of standard shapes, well over a hundred in fact. The choice of shape is a matter of personal preference; some pipe smokers have a single favorite shape, others have dozens of different shapes in their collections. Briar pipes are also available in unique, one of a kind Freehand pipes. These extremely beautiful pipes follow no particular shape, but are carved according to the grain and size of the Briar.

Metal Pipes:

Google “metal pipe” and be greeted with page after page of plumbing supplies and marijuana pipes. Hidden within those responses will be a handful of links to true metal tobacco pipes. Metal tobacco pipes are almost always a combination of a briar or meerschaum bowl combined with a metal base and stem and usually finished with a standard material mouthpiece. The history of the metal pipe finds its roots in the hands of pipe smoking engineers that longed for a cooler smoke. Their practical solution was to replace as much as the smoke airway as possible with metal, which would cause the tongue biting moisture in the some to condense and collect before it made it to the smoker’s mouth. Between the end of WWII and the mid 1970’s, metal pipes were some of the most popular pipes both in the United States and Europe.

With the advent of indoor and at work smoking bans, pipe smoking in general went out of vogue. Around that same time, tobacconists seemed to lose their passion for the value priced metal pipe and lower priced pipes in general as they cultivated their pipe business with higher quality / higher priced briars and meerschaums. The exception may have been corncob pipes, which had a deep rooted position in Americana and an annual reminder of their existence in the Christmas song, Frosty The Snowman. During that lull in support, these engineer designed pipes still found some fans and the main players, Kirsten and Falcon continued to produce product.

Recently, a new generation of engineers / artisans have begun modernizing the metal pipe with higher end finishes and high tech designs. this goes hand in hand with a surge in mid century modern decorating, the establishment of the craft beer industry and the use of reclaimed materials in many areas of life. Japan’s Tsuge has been a leader in this movement, bringing sleek lines and interesting material mixes to the old standard aluminum stemmed metal pipe design. Learn more about Metal Pipes — The Metal Pipe Movement >>

Filter vs Non-Filter:

There is what seems to be an ancient debate over whether a pipe should or shouldn’t sport a filter. The main question that comes up when considering a filtering system is whether it is being requested for the user’s health or pleasure.

You should not be inhaling smoke when enjoying your pipe, so a filter is, in the opinion of many, superfluous when it comes to making pipe smoking more or less healthy. One major drawback to many filtering systems is that they tend to affect the taste of the tobacco—for the worse—if not kept meticulously clean. With that said, in some parts of the world, particularly Central Europe, pipe filters are quite common. In fact, many of the unfiltered pipes available in the United States and elsewhere in the world have been “re-worked” to accommodate a filter for the European market only.

When looking to a filtering system to make your pipe smoking experience more pleasurable, users often cite the filter as making the smoke less bitey and sweeter. However, if not properly maintained, a filter can have the opposite effect and reduce or ruin the tobacco’s intended flavor.

Pipe filters come in three basic forms — pass-through filters with a filter element inside, absorptive filters and condensers.

The pass-through filter includes the 6 mm American type (Dr. Grabow and Medico), the 9 mm European style which usually uses activated charcoal, the ring-type filter for Falcon pipes and the ones that use silica crystals, among others. This type of filter is fairly effective at removing particulate matter (the visible part of the smoke), and thus will reduce tars and nicotine. If you inhale, this may make the practice marginally safer, but all it will really accomplish for the person who doesn’t inhale is to reduce the flavor.

The absorptive types include the Savinelli Pipes 6 and 9 mm balsa filters and the Brigham Pipes maple filters. In both cases the units are effective for soaking up water from the smokestream, but little of the actual smoke is removed, and the result is a drier experience which may also help to keep the smoke cool by taking steam out of the flow. The pass-through filters also remove moisture, but they have the drawback of reducing the flavor. For an example of a pipe with an absorptive filter, check out these Savinelli filter pipes.

The last kind of filter really isn’t a filter at all. The condenser fits into, or is part of, the tenon of the stem. Its express purpose is to disrupt airflow, and due to the fact that they are made of metal which tends to be cooler than the smoke, the excess moisture will tend to condense on or around the condenser so it never reaches the smoker’s mouth. Pieces, also known as “stingers”, are only modestly effective according to most pipe enthusiasts.

In addition to these three basic filtering forms, there are endless variations that have been employed over the years — Porcelain Wine Pipes, Cavalier style pipes and the popular Peterson of Dublin “System” pipes are a few examples of methods that have been employed to successfully manage the tobacco smoke for a more pleasing experience.

Pipe Screens:

The pipe screen is designed to keep raw tobacco, ashes and embers out of your mouth. Quality pipe tobacco is cut to such a size that the use of a screen is unnecessary. However, when you get to the bottom of the bag or container, the “crumbs” might need the help of a screen to keep everything where it should be.

Pipe Design:

Any pipe will always have numerous design elements incorporated within it, that allow us to gauge the pipe’s design effectiveness.

  • Overall shape: The quality as found in some individual object defined as the pipes general body form.
  • Texture: The characteristic structure given to the exterior of the pipe. It has both a visual and especially tactile quality.
  • Accessories/Ferrule/Adornments: A subordinate or supplementary part of the pipe used mainly for convenience & attractiveness. Can sometimes contribute to a general effect of the pipe.
  • Stain Color: Coloration that penetrates the briar.
  • General flow of the lines: The consistent, orderly and pleasing arrangement of the general pipe parts. From shank to bowl and including the stem.
  • Balance: An even distribution of visual weight.
  • Nuances: A subtle difference or distinction in expression.
  • Intangible elements: Those items that are not definite or clear to the mind. Often accompanied by a distinct emotional response.

Does It Make A Difference?

It’s almost universally accepted that different pipes can smoke differently and taste unlike one another. Much talk about wood sources, curing methods, airway diameters, stem funnels and cycles of the moon as they affect the way tobaccos taste can be found scattered all over the Internet, in books, and even, occasionally, in the darkened back rooms of tobacconists’ shops.

I will say that anything that cause the smoke to cool will produce a more pleasant experience. Whether it a long stem like a Churchwarden or a metal condensing basin, a cooler smoke is a better smoke.

But, the million dollar question is “What’s right for you?” In the movie Sideways, Paul Giamatti’s character waxes poetic about the taste of a wine — noting being able to feel the sunshine on the grapes at dawn and whatnot. His companion responds with “It tastes good.” The point is that some people notice things and some don’t. Giamatti knows why he likes the wine while the other guy just knows he does. Some people will notice differences consciously and some will just gravitate to certain pipe features over time as they come together to produce a deeper unconscious pleasure. That’s why seasoned pipe smokers own so many pipes — selecting either consciously or unconsciously the “right tool for the right job.”

No matter how you progress, if you stick with it long enough, that first corn cob pipe will eventually lead you to more and different pipes. So buckle in and enjoy the ride!