My wife doesn’t smoke, but she has this thing about hippos, so I bought her this. Found it on eBay…
Let me preface this by saying I’m a pipe smoker, not that I smoke pipes. At least that’s how I see it. A person who smokes a pipe may smoke once a month, once a week, maybe once a day. A pipe smoker almost always has a pipe dangling from his lips, and a surrounded by a sweet smelling cloud of tobacco for as much of the day as possible.
So I abuse my pipes. I smoke a single pipe all day, letting it cool off between smokes, and then rotating to another pipe the next day. I have 7 “live” pipes that I rotate through. I say “live” because I have a few pipes that are barely hanging together thrown into a desk drawer should there be some ungodly emergency, and all my other pipes mysteriously disappear. Hey, it could happen.
Anyway, like I said, I abuse pipes. I’m a chimney, I drop them; you know, everything they tell you not to do. But I do clean them inside and out, even reaming them and sweetening them when I need to.
Still, I punish my pipes, and they’re kind of expensive, between $50 and $80 on the average. I do have one horribly expensive pipe, a meerschaum skull, but I never smoke it. Considering the damage I wreak, I decided to muck about with cheap pipes, not estate pipes, just to see what happens under the kind of conditions I put one through.
So, the pipe you see here ran me about $18. There are cheaper, but you don’t know what they’re made of (I’ve smoked a weird, plastic like pipe once that ran me about $5). This is the basic briar with a vulcanite stem. No maker’s mark, just a stamp saying it was made in Italy, so I call it my “frah-gee-lay” pipe (see A Christmas Story). You can click on these images to see a larger view.
Now, remember, I smoke a pipe all day, but only once a week. Let’s take a look at this pipe a week later. Here you’ll see that the finish has started bubbling, creating air pockets underneath. In one corner, the finish has already chipped off a small amount. You can also see that the stem has already discolored. Again, you can click on the images to see a larger view.
So again, I wait a week, and smoke the pipe all day. At this point, the damage is extremely visible. Every place the finish bubbled, has now chipped open from handling. Okay, I kind of chipped at the edges so they’d look smooth, but on the whole, the damage is just from handling.
Again, the key here is that I didn’t expect it to handle the abuse well, and that wasn’t the point. I just wanted a cheap pipe, regardless of how bad it would eventually look. You can’t beat a new $18 pipe with a stick just because it looks ugly. As long as the briar and stem remain intact, I’m perfectly happy with it.
I thought I’d share with you one more cheap pipe. This is a meerschaum-lined pipe I got off of eBay for something like $7. My rotation on this pipe was a lot harder, and it payed the price. You can see the damage to the bowl. The edges of the meerschaum lining have broken off, I’ve managed to actually smoke the pipe hard enough to destroy the bottom of the meerschaum, and the bowl itself is cracked. This pipe lives in my “if-every-pipe-on-the-earth-disappeared” junk drawer, ’cause, you never know…
So how have my more expensive pipes held up under the same brutal handling? Virtually no damage to the finishes, except where I’ve dropped them, and minor discoloration to the stems.
So here’s my point: I wouldn’t recommend smoking any really expensive pipes unless you’re a collector. I’ve seen $5,000 pipes that would never touch my lips. I’d never buy them, but I sure as heck wouldn’t do much more than dust them once in a while. The range of $50-$80 is reasonable as good pipes go, and will survive regular use very well. But still, a really cheap pipe still smokes well, despite how it ends up looking, and isn’t that the bottom line?
Of course, one week later, I ended up buying another $80 pipe. Hey, it was my birthday!
I’ve been thinking about buying something from AAA for some time. I like the way they give all the pipe dimensions, including depth. I bought a lovely Peterson once. The picture looked great, but there were no listed dimensions. The problem was, when the pipe came, it was dinky. I’d say I could put my pinky in the bowl, and I couldn’t fit my whole nail only in there. I know some people like that sort of thing, but it wasn’t what I was going for.
I’m very happy with the pipe. It’s got an interesting finish. I’ve never owned a burnt meerschaum. It’s got a lot of fudge room for me to mess up, but not show horrible disfigurement. Although, as you might imagine, I have already managed to drop it once. This is from the same guy who managed to set his fingers on fire before, so don’t act surprised.
The pipe is already coloring nicely, good fit on the stem, just all around nice. I know there are fancier meerschaums (duh), but I wanted something simple I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about actually smoking.
Anyway, I hope you like it. Well, actually, I don’t care if you like it or not, but I do, and that’s all that’s important.
Oh, and new gravatar!
Looks like shit at 36×36, but it looks very nice at 80×80.
I have a Meerschaum I really like to smoke. Not a collectable, not some delicately handled pipe, not fancifully carved; just a pipe I enjoy smoking. It’s been dropped who knows how many times, scratched up, and been the subject of strange experiments involving heat guns and beeswax. Basically, it’s a beloved beater.
That being said, for the second time, I managed to drop it directly on the lip of stem, breaking the lip. Nasty sharp edge. It’s not like a tough vulcanite stem.
Since I’ve been through this before, I ordered a stem replacement from Cup O’ Joes, but after ordering it, I wish I had seen the one from Tobacco Barn as it’s much less expensive.
On getting my replacement stem, I had to carefully unscrew the existing stem tenon “receiver” from the shank portion of the pipe. See that “carefully?” Well, I managed to break the shank. Duh!
Okay, there’s no easy way to repair a broken meerschaum. Most say to give it up. On the more laborious side, there’s a recipe using powdered chalk and the white of an egg. Now mind you, I told you at the start that this is a pipe I enjoy solely for smoking, and it’s already worn and torn, so I used the fastest, least attractive fix I could think of: superglue gel. The gel is ideal for porous surfaces. Mind you, it leaves a glorious scar across the repair if you’re less than careful…uh, like me. It’s not worth the investment of replacing the pipe (although I do plan on eventually replacing one of my briars with another simple meer) and the damn thing still smokes beautifully. I touched up the scar with a special paint marker I bought for a Halloween project a few years ago, so it blends with the shank.
So I finally carefully screwed the “receiver” into the repaired shank. Voila, good as…well, it works. And the shank? Just another scar that says, “I love you.”
Okay, that just sounded wrong on so many levels.
Thought I’d tell you a little about meerschaum dust pipes. When meerschaum is processed or carved, dust is created. Rather than waste the dust, some meerschaum pipe manufacturers will mix the dust with an emulsifier and compress the whole thing into a mold.
Meerschaum dust pipes are heavier, less absorbent, and don’t smoke as well as true meerschaum. While it may not be important to you, they’re also less valuable.
There’s no strenuous regulation of meerschaum pipes, so the only way to increase the odds of you getting a true meerschaum pipe is to buy from a reputable dealer. Also, the quality of the carvings are a good indicator. Good carvers usually don’t waste their time manufacturing dust pipes and the level of carvings are impossible to mold. S. Yanik is an example of one amazing pipe carver, and I feel guaranteed that my S. Yanik pipe is genuine meerschaum. It’s impossible to press that level of detail on the pipe.