Meerschaum is a mineral found primarily in Turkey. It is unique in that its plasticity allows for it to be shaped and carved into a plethora of figures and designs. A true meerschaum pipe will be carved from a block of the mineral and has absorbent qualities. Over time, quality Meerschaum will absorb elements of the tobacco and will darken. Low quality Meerschaum pipes are made from minineral dust and will not darken.
The most common material used to create a modern smoking pipe is briar wood. Briar is a hard, heat-resistant wood which comes from the white heath tree. White heath trees grow in Italy, France, Spain, and near the Mediterranean Sea. Briar can be carved into a variety of shapes and sizes. It can have a smooth finish or a rusticated or sandblasted look like the pipe pictured above.
Corncob pipes are an American classic. Think back to Little House on the Prarie and cob pipes smoked by Charles Ingalls. Corncobs remain popular today and are often recommended for beginner smokers becuase they require no break-in like briar pipes do. The pipes are made from dried cobs. The cobs are coated with a plaster and varnished.
Clay pipes have been around since the 16th century. They are, of course, made of clay and are molded into the pipe shape. Clay pipes burn very hot and lower quality clays can distort the flavor of the tobacco. High-quality clay pipes are touted for their ability provide a dry smoke and offer a pure tobacco taste. Clay pipes can be fun but are not always practical.
Contrary to popular belief, Sherlock Holmes did not smoke a Calabash pipe, despite modern images depicting him with a Calabash. A Calabash pipe is typically made from ground and fitted with a Meerschaum bowl. In some instances, other woods have been substituted for gourds. Calabash pipes provide a cool, dry, mellow smoke.
Pipes can also be made out of woods other than briar. In fact, Sherlock Holmes smoked pipes made from cherrywood, fruitwood and maple.
Metal pipes are fabricated from aluminum or other metals. They can contain a full metal bowl or more commonly, a briar bowl. It is believed that metal pipes can cool the smoke as it travels through the stem and can reduce tounge bite.
Morta is a unique wood that has been preserved by being buried for hundreds of years in peat bogs. As a result, Morta has earned the nickname of Bog Oak. Because Morta is essentially in the early stage fossilization, it does not burn out like some Briars and offers a neutral taste that can really bring out the flavors of the tobacco.
*Image is courtesy of Rick Black Pipes. Morta Pipe depicted is handmade by Rick Black. Visit him online at www.rickblackpipes.com
Brylon is a manufactured material made from a combination of resin and wood flour. These pipes were primarily made in the late 1960's but are still available today. Typically, Brylon pipes do not burn out and are easy to clean.
Pipes are made from a variety of materials. Each material has its own unique properties and can have an impact on the tobacco being smoked. As a pipe collector, I have enjoyed experiencing smoking tobaccos in a variety of pipes made with different materials. It is amazing how the same tobacco can take on a different taste or flavor profile depending on the type of material the pipe is made from.
Most new smokers will probably be more familiar with Briar and Corncob pipes. However, there is a whole pipe world to experience. So, for new smokers, my advice is to start with a traditional Briar or Cob and get the hang of pipe smoking. Then once you are proficient, expand your world and try pipes made from different materials.
*Copyright Rick Black.
Used with Permission.