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let's talk quality

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let's talk quality

Post  houstonron44 on Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:06 am

We all recognize that there is a probable difference in pipes made by companies that pump out hundreds of thousands verses small firms that produces at best a few hundred pipes a year. That's not to say that all or even most small firms make better pipes. Now the big guys make some very nice pipes but they also make some average pipes promoted for one reason or another as great, read expensive, smokers. One promotion that's commonly used is "hand made".
The difference between "hand made" and "made by hand" is similar to nomenclature used on Swiss watches; "Swiss made" verses "made in Switzerland". "Swiss made" means at least 50% of a watch's parts were made in Switzerland. "Made in Switzerland" means the entire watch was made and assembled in Switzerland.
"Hand made" means some significant finishing of a pipe has been done by hand using small tools and sanders including belt sanders. The term 'significant' as a percent varies widely company to company, region to region and country to country and may be as little as 5% of the work. Truly fraudulent are those pipes where the "hand made" appears only on the stem while the whole pipe is suggested to be hand made. "Made by hand" almost universally means the entire pipe was made using only small tools and sanders and usually belt sanders. Some purists won't use belt sanders.

One more small discussion here. Other quality issues to follow. I want to explore what is the big deal about pipes that have straight grain. I must admit that straight grain (hereinafter SG) is attractive. If I have a pipe at some function (smoking permitted) where I don't know many of the guests, I prefer to flash a good looking pipe. To start, does SG mean a great pipe? The simple answer is no. The complicated answer is still no. Why not? First, there are several types of SG. We have SG, 360 SG, Flash, angel hair and angel hair full. SG itself is misleading to most pipe smokers. Unless the grain is tight, SG is little more than just a pretty adornment. How can you tell if the grain is tight? Usually you can look at the birds eye on the rim and heel. If the 'eyes' are large and/or widely spaced the grain is not tight. We will have to continue this discussion in a further post.

houstonron44

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More about Straight Grains (SG)

Post  houstonron44 on Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:16 am

We see the description '360 SG' much more often than it really occurs. It should mean SG shows completely around the pipe bowl. More often than not the grain is a mixture of SG and Flame grain. Another term often used is Strong SG. Oddly enough, what sounds like a plus is actually a minus. Strong SG is where the lines are very distinct. If the lines are that apparent, the grain cannot be tight and that's what we really want. Tight grain is less porous which is an important factor in choosing a fine briar pipe. Flame grain is as varied as paint horses. Loosely defined, you can picture Flame as SG but at a slant rather than vertical. A better description would also say that Flame grain is usually less well defined than SG. Flame grain can vary greatly in the width of the 'lines' on a single area of a pipe. The 'lines' can fade out and reappear further across the pipe. They can start thin and widen suddenly as the Flame merges, separates and/or blurs. Think of it as multiple drunk drivers failing to drive in straight lines, even suddenly crashing together or some drivers going completely off the road and only a few of them make it back to pavement. One of the more attractive flame grains is not individually named as far as I know but it's easy to spot. The grain lines all start closely packed at the heel of the bowl and radiate out at different angles. Think of a male peacock in full feather display. Another confusion about Flame grain is names chosen by makers to describe very high quality: Fiamma, Flamatta or Flamattia to name a few. 90% of the time those names or series have little or nothing to do with Flame grain.
Angel Hair grain and Angel Hair Full in the next post.

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Re: let's talk quality

Post  raftergtex on Fri Apr 06, 2012 11:12 am

Ron, for what it is worth (and I admit that I am still undecided about this), my own opinion after working with many blocks of briar is that grain is mostly decorative, i.e., it looks nice. To the extent it denotes the fact that the block in question came from the outside of a burl, I do think that is better wood for smoking than the interior wood, but the configuration of the grain does not seem to make much difference. To me, there are more important factors for smoking quality, which a retail customer often has no way of knowing: the weight of the block, which supplier did the block come from, where was it harvested, was it properly cured and prepared prior to shipment, etc. Proper drilling, moreover, is at least as important. A perfectly grained block of briar can easily be made into an unsmokeable pipe without attention to detail. For these reasons, I do think you have a better chance of getting a good smoker from an artisan pipemaker. He simply spends more time on it and, not having huge orders to fill, is free to order and use the best blocks available. He also will more than likely drill the airway slightly larger (5/32 for me) than many factory pipes. I personally think this makes a very big difference. Just my two cents ...



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Said where I was going

Post  houstonron44 on Sun Apr 08, 2012 2:21 pm

I too believe that grain makes little difference about whether a pipe is a great smoker or something else. I have several SG pipes with very high grades that are only fair in likability. It's a pity we pipe smokers have limited knowledge regarding briars and regions. We have almost no access about those who harvest, initially block and cure the briars prior to sale to makers. Other than identifying with a type of briar cure process, the best we can do is discover a brand or maker that is consistent in his/her product.
I do wonder if briars are like wines in that there are good and bad years for different regions.

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Re: let's talk quality

Post  Oldmaus on Sun Apr 08, 2012 2:51 pm

Seems like since it takes so long for briar to grow to maturity that what year the harvest occurred would not matter much....now where it grew is likely a factor in my not so educated opinion Smile

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Briar maturity

Post  houstonron44 on Sun Apr 08, 2012 4:10 pm

I don't think many pipes made in recent years are or have used briars older than 15 years with the majority much younger than that. I read an article that said briars 25 years old is as good as it gets. I have had good luck with oil cured, Italian pipes but all of those makers that I know of have stopped using that process. Only R. Wiley still uses it, to my knowledge, and his output is too high to give me much confidence in his process. I have purchased several Wiley pipes and I think I'm correct that oil curing alone does not tell us much.

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