Anyone who has ever considered having deep thoughts, being contemplative, philosophizing or signing up to be a patch-elbowed professor has likely, at one time or another, also considered smoking a pipe. Equal parts relaxation and ritual, pipe smoking has been a habit of gentlemen and scholars—as well as some rogues—alike. Now, it may seem intimidating to get into the same habit that heavyweights like Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway enjoyed, but fear not. Even they had to start somewhere. The logical place to dive in is by exploring the pipe itself and the different types out there.
Nice curves—anatomy of a pipe
As you may have guessed, in order to start smoking a pipe, you’re going to need one. And understanding its basic structure is going to be key. You don’t want to be that rookie in the pipe club who thinks everyone is saying “tendon” when in fact they are saying “tenon.” Your awkward joke about pulling a tendon will be met with blank stares. Avoid such embarrassments with our handy pipe anatomy graphic below. There will be minor variations among different manufacturers, but this will give you the general idea. It will also make you feel extra cool for being able to use the word “mortise” in a sentence.
Pipes, pipes, baby
There is no shortage of variety when it comes to pipe shape, style and personality. You could say that pipes are the snowflakes of smoking. They come in different sizes, have differing bowl geometry, are made from various materials, express different philosophies and tell different stories. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad (well, mostly), it’s just what you like. First, let’s get materialistic. Time to learn about some common pipe-making materials.
Follow in the great tradition of grandmas and snowmen around the world. Made from an actual corncob, this is a great beginner pipe. It’s durable, easy to take care of and disposable (not only because it will wear out, but because it’s inexpensive and won’t make you cry if you have to toss it).
Harvested from knob-like protrusions called burls found on heath trees, briar is hard, heat-resistant and basically the perfect pipe-making material. Like so many things that are good, a good briar is hard to find—the shrubs/trees take a long time to mature, so a proper and usable root can take anywhere from 80 to 200 years to become pipe-ready. Briar pipes are lightweight, porous and don’t need a filter. (A cheaper pipe will need a filter to help keep the smoke cool.) A better/more pure-grain briar will cost a pretty penny, but less-than-perfect grains smoke just as well, so don’t be fooled! Briar pipes are also easy and fun to make yourself, should you be the DIY kind. You should be—making stuff is awesome.
If you like the idea of smoking through fossilized sea creature shells, then the meerschaum pipe is for you. These pipes are also often carved into serious works of art—think castles and lion heads, cherubs and dinosaur claws. The highest-quality meerschaum is found only in central Turkey, so beware of fakes. Meerschaums give tobacco a unique, cool smoking flavor and absorb more moisture than briars. Meerschaums will start white and eventually turn brown as they get broken in, which is a pretty cool feature. Dragon-head pipe that turns color as you smoke it? Yup.
This gourd pipe will help you solve mysteries. Not really. But this is the pipe that Sherlock Holmes smoked, so that’s pretty cool. Traditional calabash pipes are made from a calabash gourd or wood and have a sloping shape and an upward curve at the end where a meerschaum or porcelain bowl is placed. Calabash pipes are hard to make and require more work than your average pipe, so they end up being more expensive. More affordable calabashes use wood instead of gourd.
Clay pipes have a long history dating back to Native Americans in pre-colonial North America. Good old Sir Walter Raleigh, when returning from his voyages to the new world, brought tobacco with him as well as simple clay pipes. They are pretty fragile, so they broke almost as fast as they were made. Their popularity has waxed and waned over the years, and they’re now more of a novelty nostalgia pipe.
From there, you can choose different styles of pipes, from Cavalier and Canadian to Bullmoose and Blowfish. There are lots to consider—just check out this handy pipe style chart!
Got a style all your own? Get inspired and check out these creative, hand-carved pipes and get building!