Posts tagged ‘kirsten’

Kirsten Pipe Review Revisited

It’s been a year since my original review of the Kirsten pipe, and I’ve owned it a little longer than that, and I have to tell you…

I’ve come to resent this pipe. It doesn’t like me, and I don’t like it.

The meerschaum bowl rolled off my smoking nook and disappeared into some dark cranny. Which didn’t break my heart, because it was beginning to smell like something foul. Tobacco death.

Fortunately, as it were, Kirsten gave me an extra briar bowl reject (second, rejected for quality standards or discontinued). As a briar, it doesn’t reek to high heaven like the meerschaum bowl eventually did.

But, here’s my key complaints. First, the bowl, while deceptively large looking, is actually exceptionally small. I can get maybe two or three pinches of tobacco in there. The second complaint is that damnable upside-down volcano shape bowl.

Imagine a cup vs. a pitcher. A standard bowl, 3/4’s full, is fairly resistant to dropping embers on you. The Kirsten bowl is already shaped like a tilted pitcher. Tilt a little more, and hot ash comes out of your pipe and usually onto you.

I don’t know which has put more burn holes into my clothing; the cheap matches from India, or the Kirsten. And I’m leaning towards the Kirsten.

Now, I’ve heard of a few people making custom regular-shaped bowls for the Kirsten, but it’d be cheaper as a whole package just to buy a different pipe. I see the custom bowl as some dimwit like me, who didn’t want to admit his mistake, and decided to fix it quietly and not tell anyone.

So, since I can’t come up with an “accidental” way to break this thing as an excuse to replace it, maybe the briar bowl will roll off of my smoking nook (a Sears Craftsman radial arm saw….niiiiice, huh?), and roll into some 7th level of Hell.

Wow, pipe regret. That never happened to me before. Okay, once, but that’s another story for another time.

Kirsten Pipe Review

storefrontAbout, say, 6 months ago, I bought a Kirsten pipe directly from their brick-and-mortar store in Seattle on Nickerson street. What’s cool about the Kirsten is that you can “build it yourself” using pipe components they provide. The pipe is very unique, using a radiator stem to dissipate heat, and any liquids generated from smoking are captured in the stem as well. This is usually the liquids created when the pipe tobacco is moist, and the moisture condenses as the tobacco burns. Nobody wants to say “drool,” but you get the idea. Think of the burble you may hear while smoking your regular pipe. If you’re familiar with brass instruments, like bugles, there’s a “spit valve” that can be used to drain the pipe and if you don’t have time to drain the pipe, the valve can be turned so no liquids get into and escape out of the bowl.

I went to the store instead of ordering online since it wasn’t that far from where we live, and there’s something viscerally satisfying handling a pipe instead of looking at it online. Especially when it’s a funky pipe like the Kirsten. The store was comfortably cozy and not brightly lit, but had a large window providing additional light. The majority of the store is actually made up of smoking accessories and other pipes, but the Kirsten pipes are in the front case.

basic Kirsten designThese are the four basic components of the pipes: the stem, the mouthpiece, the bowl, and the valve. The first three can be intermingled for the most part to create the pipe, but the valve depends on the style of the stem. There are also smaller parts that may eventually need replacing. This includes screws, adapters and “o” rings. Just guessing here, but I’m thinking that the “o” rings would wear out first. As it is, these rings should last a long time.

After playing with the parts for an hour while my wife rolled her eyes, I chose a quarter-bent stem with a large bulldog meerschaum. My thoughts were that this combination should make for an extremely cool smoke, and it does just that. However, on hindsight, because of the slightly different characteristics of Kirsten bowls, the bulldog meerschaum is starting to remind me of a toilet bowl. All it needs is a little water tank. It doesn’t occur to most people, but I think it’s kind of odd. According the Kirsten website, the meerschaum bowls are carved, not pressed.

It’s a great smoke, but the stem’s a little strange looking, like Falcon pipes.

Perhaps I’ve mentioned this, but I smoke hot. That’s why I wanted to try the Kirsten. Because I smoke hot, the smoke itself is cool because of the stem design and meerschaum bowl, but I gotta tell you, that stem gets hot! I end up gripping the mouthpiece, because it’s the only part of the pipe that stays at a comfortable temperature when I start puffing like a choo choo train.

mouthpieceThe mouthpiece is interesting. It serves a function beyond just drawing the smoke. It actually has a ramrod extension, and it’s to accommodate cleaning the stem. You want to drain the stem before you clean it. This gets a 10 on the gross factor. You pull out the stem, and tip the pipe forward, and way more goop comes out than you’d imagine. You look at it and think, “Holy crap! That’s what’s stuck in my regular pipes when I smoke!” To clean the stem, you disassemble the stem, leave the valve out, wad a tissue into the stem, and use the ramrod to push the tissue all the way through the stem. It’s like cleaning the barrel of a gun.

The mouthpiece presents a challenge to the normal pipe cleaner. The hole to the stem isn’t open like a normal pipe. The ramrod creates a slight obstruction at the tip. This makes the pipe cleaner get stuck at the bottom of the mouthpiece. In less rambling words, it’s hard to put a pipe cleaner through the entire mouthpiece. But it can be done. You put the pipe cleaner in until it stops. Then, carefully, you move about 1/8″ of an inch up the pipe cleaner and firmly push it in. You do this a couple of times, and eventually enough of the pipe cleaner sticks out of the bottom of the stem and you can just pull it through.

If you have nimble fingers, you can take the bowl off before you clean the stem. The bowl is just finger-tightened onto the stem. Putting a bowl on the stem proved challenging for the granddaughter of the man who started the company, but I was able to do it pretty easily. There are three holes you want to keep clear. One is on the valve, and assembled, sits in the stem, under the bowl. Then there’s the hole in the stem itself, and if you separate the bowl from the stem, there’s the hole in the bottom of the bowl.

As you might have figured out by now, cleaning a Kirsten pipe can be a little more complex than cleaning your average pipe. Still, if you’re not real picky, you can clean it quick. Pull out the valve and the mouthpiece, and run a tissue through it. Easy money. I just like taking all the parts off, and reassembling them. It makes me happy.

Oh, and this meerschaum bulldog bowl design does not like being lit with a lighter. This is a pipe that I can only light with matches. It won’t light easily any other way. Also, because I did end up buying about one of the most expensive of combinations of their pipes, they threw in a briar second for free.

cross sectionThe bowl designs are not your normal bowl shape. The interior of the Kirsten is conical. This conical design requires the bowls to be a non-standard shape. I’ve read of pipe-makers making regular bowls for the Kirsten, but it kind of defeats the purpose of owning the Kirsten. Anyway, because of this conical design, if you ever have to ream the thing out, you’ll need their custom reamer. Also, the bowls aren’t as deep because of this design, so they don’t smoke as long as my regular pipes.

All the hooha aside, here’s my key points. The pipe’s components can be mixed and matched. The stem works to cool the smoke and collect moisture normally caused by smoking moist tobacco. It’s kind of a pain in the ass to clean depending on how much effort you want to invest in it. The bowls interiors are conical and this makes the bowls shaped uniquely. The bulldog meerschaum looks like a toilet bowl, and requires matches to light. All that said, it’s still a cool, comfortable smoke and I like it.

Paragon Wax For Pipes

A quick review of Paragon Wax for the Pipe.  I chose this product because it has a higher melting point than carnuba, it’s harder than carnuba, and it can be polished without using a buffing wheel. Also, it can be used on meerschaum.

You get 1 ounce for $10, which looks like a very small amount, but you don’t really need that much to do the job. You apply just enough to create a filmy glaze on your pipe, let dry, then hand buff.

I used a microfiber cloth to polish the pipes. The wax itself is a grainy texture when you apply it, and not recommended for rusticated bowls. I also wouldn’t use it for detailed, ornate meerschaum. They have another product, Halycon II for those.

I do use Arango Briar Pipe Wipe, so my briar pipes aren’t real dingy to start with. The Paragon Wax did a nice job of shining them up. I’m no expert, but they looked like they had a much stronger polish than what the Pipe Wipe left. I did have one pipe that I was really interested in. The finish had chipped and cracked away as it’s a favorite frequently used pipe, and I am a klutz. There, I said it. Klutz. I’m frighteningly familiar with the sound of a pipe bouncing off the ground. Anyway, while it did do a great job polishing the pipe, alas, the scars of battle remained on the pipe, and the damage to the finish looked about the same.

That brings me to my meerschaums. I have two smokers, and one decorative. I don’t touch the decorative, don’t ask me to, it’s my big skull pipe you’ll find elsewhere in this blog. One of the smokers is a Kirsten bulldog and the other a simple egg meerschaum. The Kirsten is charred from my many attempts to light the dang thing with a lighter instead of a match. The egg meerschaum was the victim of the Internet.

Here’s the explanation about the Internet thing: When I had smoked the egg meerschaum for a while, it didn’t seem like the meerschaum coloration process was happening fast enough. I’m a very impatient person. So digging on the ‘net, I found a couple of methods for accelerating the coloration process. While I won’t go into what I tried, I will tell you that I ended up completely removing the meerschaum’s finish. The surface was not glossy at all. If you’re a meerschaum user, you know what the finish of a new meerschaum should feel like. I don’t give a good description here, but let it be said that I did completely screw up the finish.

I bought the Paragon for the express purpose of trying it on my meerschaums. I tried the egg meerschaum first, following the directions. Yes, I RTFM’d this time. Anyway, almost immediately, an awful stain spread across the bowl. I flipped out, and took extremely, extremely fine grit sandpaper to the stain. I figured I had already ruined the bowl, it didn’t really matter. Once the stain was gone, I tried it again, and a new stain appeared. Again, I took some sandpaper to it. I did it a third time, and the same thing happened. Disgusted, I set the pipe aside.

I decided to try the Kirsten as I think it’s made of pressed meerschaum dust instead of carved meerschaum, so the meerschaum wouldn’t color anyway. Again, figuring it was a lost cause, I tried sanding the rim a little to take away the scorch marks. I applied the wax just to the rim of the pipe, waited, polished, and was surprised to see that the finish looked new. What I hadn’t removed with the sandpaper was still there, but the finish still looked like it had just been applied. Wow!

I happened to glance over at the egg meerschaum, and the ugly stain had vanished. What the heck?! I rubbed off the glaze, amazed to see how shiny the meerschaum became. The stain was gone, and while it didn’t look new, the finish look great. I decided to try applying a second coat to see what happened.

I put the wax on, and again, the pipe developed ugly stains. Then I watched the pipe, and the stains faded within a few minutes. I shined it up again, and it looked even better! I don’t know if the stain appeared appeared because of the near complete lack of finish or what, but it seems I had panicked hastily. Even the areas where I had sanded looked great.

I’ve applied numerous coats to my meerschaum and the finish has improved each time. And I might be wrong, but the coloration process looks like it’s accelerated a little. Maybe in drying, the glaze pulled the nicotine outwards. I don’t know, but like I said, knowing the complete disaster I had started with, I’ve been amazed with the results.

So that’s my experience with Paragon Wax.

I’d post pictures of the pipe, but I don’t have a good “before” picture so it’d be kind of pointless. You’ll just have to take my word for it.