Types of Pipe

Briar pipeBRIAR

The briar pipe owes its existence to a French smoker who journeyed to Corsica in the 1820’s. Arriving on the island and discovering that his prized meerschaum pipe had been shattered in transit, the Frenchman asked a local artisan to carve a new pipe from the wood of the bruyere, or heath tree, which grows extensively on the island. The smoker was so delighted by the finished product that he sent heath wood and roots to France and began manufacturing the bruyere, or briar pipe.

Today, the briar pipe is the most popular pipe in the world. Briar is the closely-grained root burl between the stem and roots of the White Heath, “Erica Arborea” a large bush that grows on the mountainous hillsides of Mediterranean countries, like Greece, France, Italy, and Algeria. Maquis is the French word for a hillside densely covered in by the White Heath, Underground, The burl grows underground. It is tough and close grained. The climate is an intensely hot summer with a showery winter. Good briar takes a long time to grow. The most commonly suitable root is 30-80 years old. Younger it is too small and older it may develop cracks and fissures. The most suitable root may be 60 to 80 years old, and some of the finest burls have been growing for over 250 years.

Good quality briar is cut into “ebauchons” at the sawmills. It is then boiled at the sawmills to kill all insects and bacteria and draw out the natural saps and resins. Then it is aged by the pipe maker, from 2- 7 years, on average. The longer it is aged the better. Briar pipes are created using sanders, lathes and drill presses. Briar wood is, hard, light in weight and at times may have beautiful grain. A quality pipe will have no fills or putty. A fine straight grain briar pipe will command a premium price.

Meerschaum pipeMEERSCHAUM

A German word meaning literally, “sea-foam”, alluding to the belief that it was the compressed whitecaps of waves. Meerschaum is a mineral – hydrous silicate of magnesium – one of the most porous substances found in nature. Composed of the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor millions of years ago, meerschaum is found in red clay deposits. Meerschaum deposits of the highest quality are found only in one place in the world – Eskisehir, in central Turkey. Turkish craftsmen today still carve meerschaum pipe bowls by hand, favoring busts of Cleopatra, Bacchus, and other gods and notables.

Corn Cob pipeCORN COB

The American Corncob pipe. It is made from a length of hollowed-out corncob, often with a wooden stem and an inexpensive plastic mouthpiece. The corncob is an American invention. John Schranke, a Dutch immigrant farmer living in Washington, Missouri, first whittled pipes from corncobs as a hobby. In 1869, Schranke brought one of his creations to the shop of a friend, Henry Tibbe. Tibbe improved the pipe by filling in the uneven surfaces with plaster of paris, and then he began to market the pipes. A hundred years later, corncob pipe production stood at around 10 million per year. The president of the largest corncob pipe manufacturer in the world still uses Tibbe’s workshop as his headquarters.

Calabash PipeCALABASH

A South African gourd that is bent when growing to form the pipe shape. The gourd is the cut from the tree when the desired size is reached, dried, and then fitted with a cork gasket to receive a meerschaum bowl. Calabash pipes are probably the coolest, driest smoke you will find. They are large, delicate, and inconvenient to carry around.


Clay pipes with small bowls were favored in England, the story goes, because in the first days of tobacco smoking the Englishman’s desire for the leaf far outpaced the supply; to indulge frequently, then, the Englishman had to content himself with a small pinch at each light-up.
The clay pipe had the distinct disadvantage of heating up rapidly, which might also explain why its bowl was so small. The French, true to form, developed clay-pipe making to a fine art, molding their pipe bowls to depict religious, military, and domestic scenes.

There were two basic types of clay pipe popular in seventeenth-century England, the cutty and the churchwarden. The small cutty, equipped with a stem of about three inches, was the more popular among the general populace, selling for as little as three for a penny. But the cutty stem was often so short that a pipe took on the nickname of “nose warmer.”

The churchwarden was fitted with a stem of some eight to ten inches, and a more decorated bowl. As a rule, the wealthy opted for the churchwarden, and frequently bought elegant cases in which to carry their prize pipes. When the lower classes began smoking churchwardens to emulate the rich, the case was still beyond their means, so many an Englishman took to carrying his long pipe in a hole cut through his hat brim.

Washington Irving, in his History of New York, presents a tongue-in-cheek account of Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam who were ardent smokers of the long pipe until their leader, William the Testy, proclaimed smoking illegal. The furious populace refused to obey the edict, so William compromised by permitting smoking only from short-stemmed pipes. But the short pipes brought the bowl so close to the smoker’s face that the fumes “befogged the cerebellum, dried up all the kindly moisture of the brain and rendered the people, as vaporish and testy as the governor himself.”

The clay pipe is now but a curiosity piece. Only a handful of clay-pipe artisans remain to satisfy the smoker with a taste for the unusual.


Commonly called a Sisha or hubble bubble. The hookah is middle east tradition. In most Middle Eastern and North African coffee houses you can order a mint tea or coffee and a pipe. The water pipe, a popular means of smoking in the Near East for centuries, was probably invented by the Persians for smoking hashish. The earliest water pipes were called nargeelehs, from the Arabic word for coconut, since the coconut was used as the base for the first hydro-cooled fumigators. Later, the Arabs fashioned more elaborate pipes from glass crystal.

The hookah is a kind of water pipe with a number of flexible stems, called narbeeshes, each from six to thirty inches long. British officers in India often employed servants called burdars, whose sole duty was to attend to their master’s hookah.

In a water pipe, smoke is drawn from the bowl into the base, where it is cooled by water vapor and then drawn through the stem. Some Persian men were so partial to the taste of smoke-flavored water that they regularly forced their wives to smoke four or five bowlfuls of tobacco or hashish in succession to produce a well-flavored drink.