Pipes and Pipe Smoking 101 – The Briar Pipe
Briar is the grained burl joint between the stem and roots of the Heath tree, which grows on rocky slopes on the hillsides of Mediterranean countries. This burl is very tough, close-grained, and porous. It will not crack when exposed to heat. Good briar is hard to find, as the larger shrubs take a very long time to mature. The most suitable root may be 80 to 100 years old, and the finest pipe briar may be from a shrub that is over 200 years old.
The easiest way to tell if you have a well-aged briar is by the weight. A pipe made with well-aged briar will be very light in weight. If you hold two similar pipes together by the stem, the lighter, more balanced pipe will inevitably be made with older briar. Top-quality pipes such as Peterson, Erik Nording, James Norman and Savinelli (just to name a few) are fashioned with at least 80-100 year-old briar.
Many of the inexpensive pipes, like Dr. Grabow, are made with very young or flawed briar. These cheaper pipes often rely on filters to keep the smoke cool. In the case of Dr.Grabow, the filter does an excellent job. I always recommend this pipe to newbies, or smokers on a budget.
A properly aged briar does not need a filter because the briar is extremely porous. Briar pipes are rated by the purity of the grain. A perfectly straight grain or Birdseye grain, like the Peterson Shannon #106 (little tight-grained swirls), will command a higher price. These pipes are purely for aesthetics and prized by collectors, and those who enjoy the finer things in life. They do not smoke any differently than a less-than-perfect grain; you can also save a considerable amount of money if you are not concerned with aesthetics or grain quality.
If you really want to find a good affordable pipe, you might want to opt for a sandblast briar. The briar used for these pipes have flaws in them, such as very ugly (or no grain) or little holes (or pits) in the wood. The sandblasting process involves using a high-pressure pen-like device that creates an abrasive finish on the burl. It also gives the pipe a unique layered look that many smokers find attractive. We carry a nice selection of premium quality sandblasts from famous manufacturers such as Molina Milano, the Rattray Old Gowrie Prince, the Wessex Standard, and the famous Savinelli Piuma, just to name a few. These pipes, functionally, tend to smoke cooler than other styles because the hard wood actually distributes heat more evenly.