Why Briar & Not Something Else

I found this article by industry stalwart and knowledge base Russ Ouellette over at PipesandCigars.com, and thought it was worth a re-post nod, especially for those just getting involved in briar smoking pipes. Here’s a snippet, but for the whole read you’ll have to click through to Pipes & Cigars. Full Credit to Russ Ouellette and Pipes & Cigars for this fine article. You all should be following Russ on Facebook anyway.

Why Briar and Not Something Else?

russ-ouelletteFor anyone living in the last hundred years or so, when a smoking pipe comes to mind, the image is almost certainly is that of a briar pipe. But what is briar, where does it come from and why has it become the most popular material for making a pipe?

Briar is the burlwood of the white heath tree, which grows in the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Areas that are known for briar production are Corsica, Italy, Spain, France and Algeria, among others. The burl grows underground, between the root and the trunk of the tree. In the past, the whole tree was harvested to get the burls, but today we have methods for excising the burl while allowing the tree to keep growing.

Briar is a hard, heat-resistant wood with a pretty neutral aroma when exposed to heat which makes it ideal for making a smoking pipe. It also has the potential for stunningly beautiful grain as the wood fibers grow radiating from a central point to the outer bark. When the pipe is made, there are different types of grain that may appear. When the grain runs in a certain direction while exhibiting flaring, it is called flame grain. A similar grain with more even and parallel striations is referred to as straight grain, which, when flawless, is the most prized, as very straight graining in a piece of briar is rather rare. The end grain, which can be spectacularly gorgeous on a tightly grained block of briar, is known as bird’s-eye, as the cluster of pinpoints and whorls look like tiny bird’s eyes.

Because it grows underground, briar is prone to having little air pockets, sand pits and even little pieces of stone in it. This is one of the reasons that hand-carved pipes can be so expensive. Just briar-grainimagine taking a block of wood, shaping it perfectly, seeing remarkable grain, and then, right when you’re doing the fine sanding, a nasty looking hole about the size of a b-b shows up. And if the blemish is in the wrong place or too deep, you can’t even salvage it by rusticating or sandblasting the pipe. You can use putty to fill it, but pipes with fills are at the bottom of the price list, so many pipes of this sort are discarded or burned for heating fuel.

Another reason for the current price of briar is that the heath tree grows….. [CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICLE]

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