In this article I will tell you about main pipe shapes. About straight and bent pipes, classical pipes and freehands, about advantages, disadvantages and features of different shapes.
How to choose a smoking pipe?
If you have just decided to try smoking pipes, the most important thing is not to start with a bad one. Your first pipe should be technically flawless, made from good briar. Otherwise you run the risk of getting wrong impression about pipe smoking, so you will not like it, having no idea how fascinating this hobby may be.
So how to choose your first smoking pipe?
I. Hand or teeth?
The first thing you have to decide - will you smoke in your teeth, or you will hold it in your hand. It depends on whether you have enough free time to smoke your pipe while postponing other businesses.
If you have such an opportunity to be smoking a pipe in your favorite chair in the evening after work, resting from the daily routine, you will not need to keep a pipe in your mouth. It is much easier to hold in your hand. In this case, I would advise to choose a longer and more massive pipe.
If you plan to smoke a pipe while driving or at work, you need free hands, so you will keep a pipe in a mouth for a long time. It will be much easier to smoke bent pipe. Nosewarmers (pipes with less than 12 cm length) are very handy for mouth smoking too. But the most important thing is a weight. Even 14-15 cm straight billiard will be comfortable enough in your teeth if it weights not more than 40 g.
I myself smoke almost only while driving or at work. And now, typing this text, I keep in my teeth one of my pipes. So I am definitely "teeth" smoker. And my choice is a straight, not too short, but light pipe.
II. Pipe shape
It is not very important what pipe shape to choose. It's advisable to choose a straight pipe: they are easier in smoking and in cleaning. And it should be not too short: nosewarmers are much more difficult to smoke because of short bore. They are smoked hoter and need some experience.
A good solution would be to choose a smoking pipe with a long shank. For example - canadian or lovat. Long shank not only cools the smoke down, but also absorbs excess moisture. Of the two pipes with equal length the pipe with longer shank and shorter stem will give more dry and tasty smoke.
Bent pipes are much more comfortable in a mouth. However, drilling Bent is not an easy task, and that's why manufacturers often have to make some compromises in the engineering. For example, many bent pipes are impossible to clean with pipe cleaner whithout disconnecting the stem. Another typical problem of bent pipes is an acute angle over the bore in tobacco chamber - briar offen burns at that place. Meanwhile because of harder drilling bent pipes have different defects much more often than straight.
Of course, if pipe maker values his reputation, every his piece is drilled perfectly, even bent pipes. But if you are very limited in the budget and have to to buy low-cost factory pipe, better to choose a straight one.
III. Chamber size
The most important technical characteristics of a pipe is the size of the tobacco chamber: width and depth. The average size of the tobacco chamber is about 20 x 35-40 mm. There are pipes also with even 15x25 mm and 25x60 chambers. It's a bad idea to choose cush extreme chamber size buying your first smoking pipe. It's better to stick to the middle.
On the chamber size depends the taste and the duration of smoking. The taste is quite unpredictable: some of tobaccos are smoked better in wide chambers, some in narrow. My personal opinion - narrow (18 mm) chambers are better suited for full bodied flakes. Wide (21-22 mm) - for blends containing Latakia. the average diameter of the chamber is quite universal, so I advise to choose the first smoking pipe with 20 mm chamber diameter.
On the depth, of course, depends primarily the duration of smoking. A pipe with a chamber size 20x40 mm is smoked an hour and half or so. But tobacco use to change it's taste from starting smoking to the bottom of the chamber. Smoke becomes stronger and more bitter, as is already saturated with some products of combustion of the upper layers. If you want to smoke for two hours, it does not mean that you need a pipe with huge chamber. I would suggest two small pipes better.
Some pipe smokers prefer filtered pipes, some non-filtered. It's just a habit, which depends on what pipe was bought first. While choosing the first pipe, you decide will you use filters for whole life. It will be not easy to change a habit. So I advise to choose non-filtered pipe. Filter is really useless thing imho.
V. Bowl walls
There are two opposing advices according the thickness of the walls of the first pipe. Some recommend to choose smoking pipe with thick walls, while you have no experience of cool smoking. Others recommend to choose thin walls exactly for getting that expirience.
Of course, first of all, the choice depends on whether you will keep the pipe in the mouth or in the hand. If in the mouth, you just have to choose a lightweight pipe with thin walls. Meanwhile massive bowl is more comfortable for handling.
Pipe finish does not affect the quality of smoking. But it affects the price. The most affordable pipes are rusticated pipes. Also sandblasted pipes are usually inexpensive, expect some pipe makers who do really artistic hight valued sandblasting.
Smooth pipes are the most expensive, because not every briar block can become a smooth pipe. Some blocks contain small flaws, because of which pipe maker is to rusticate it or sandblast. Of course, this does not apply to cheap factory pipes: factories use to putty that flaws and cover with lacquer.
It's very important to choose technically well done pipe. The worst engineering mistake is too deep tobacco chamber. The bore must go right to the bottom of the chamber. If the bore goes a little bit below with a shallow groove, that's acceptable but not ideal. If above - it is absolutely wrong. When you try to finish smoking such pipe to the end, you just swallow the ashes.
If the bore went to the left or right, tobacco can burn unevenly. However, a small deviation within a millimeter or so is quite acceptable.
Choosing the smoking pipe, it's necessary to disconnect the stem and to look into mortise. Make sure that the bore starts exactly in the center of the mortise bottom. In bent pipes hole may have oval shape and be slightly below the center. It's not a bug, it's a feature.
The length of tenon is better to match the depth of mortise. Not every pipe maker attachs importance to this, but it's quite important. But you can't examine it in a pipe shop if you don't use to carry calipers :)
But the really easy way to check pipe engineering is putting a pipe cleaner through the stem slot. If it doesn't reach the chamber, there are definitely some problems with the pipe. The only exeption is calabash (usual or reversed) - a rare pipe architecture with a large cavity inside.
VIII. Stem material
Stems are usually made of hard rubber (ebonite) or acrylic. Ebonite stems are much more comfortable on the teeth, as this material is softer. For the same reason, they retain polishing worse. Acrylic mouthpiece is almost eternal: even with long regular use it will keep almost original appearance.
I advise to choose a pipe with acrylic stem for those who smokes a pipe in a hand. And definitely choose ebonite stem for those who hold a pipe in a mouth.
Cumberland is colored ebonite. This material is as soft and comfortable in his mouth as black ebony, but scratches are less noticeable on it.
IX. Factory or pipe maker?
Factory pipes are usually cheaper. Their prices start at $50. And even at this price you may find a fine piece with almost correct engineering. But it's better to choose from a few copies, so it's not a good idea to buy cheap pipes online.
If you buy cheap factory pipe, I recomend to remove lacquer from it. Sometimes you can do it with alcohol. If alcohol doesn't work, try a sandpaper. It will spoil the appearance of the pipe and open defects in the briar. But the pipe will better dry after smoking.
If your money allows, I advise to choose a handmade smoking pipe from pipe maker whom you trust. His personal reputation guarantees no problems with the engineering, good tasty briar, and fine finish whithout lacquer. And, of course, that will be unique pipe, accurately made with love.
So, which pipe to choose?
- Shape: not too short, better straight, better with long shank (canadian, lumberman, lovat, liverpool).
- Tobacco chamber: medium size (20 x 35-40 mm).
- Filter: no
- Finish: not important at all. Rusticated and sandblasted pipes are usually cheaper with the same smoking quolity.
- Engineering: check it, or choose pipe maker whom you trust.
- Mouthpiece: Ebonite if you smoke in the mouth; acrylic, if smoke use to handle a pipe.
- Factory or pipe maker: on the budget. If you buy a factory pipe, choose from several items, and it is desirable to remove the lacquer.
The rest does not matter. Over the time you will form your own preferences in shape, size, finish. But you can not know them in advance. If you love pipe smoking , your first pipe will not remain the only one. There will be others. And probably many many others :)
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These four classical shapes are very similar and often confused. They all have straight long shank, short stem and billiard bowl. The differences are in the shapes of shank and stem.