Bowl Coatings - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Part II | The #1 Source for Pipes and Pipe Tobacco Information

G. L. Pease
Last month (see Part I), we asked the the question, “why coat the bowl?”
and looked at some of the common reasons coatings might be used. Response to the article was just what I expected it would be, with people taking up residence in one of the three camps I mentioned—hate ‘em, rather not have ‘em, don’t care—though one respondent did say that he does prefer coated bowls. Now that the soup’s been stirred a little, we’ll talk about what these things, dreaded, tolerated or accepted, are, and how they might affect the smoking characteristics of the pipes to which they’re applied.

First, though, we need to take a step back and recognize the unfairness of painting all bowl coatings with the same broad brush; every pipe maker has his own recipe, and they’re not all created equal. Some, probably even most of them, are not only harmless to the overall smoking qualities of the pipe, they may actually benefit the smoker during the break-in by softening the sometimes harsh taste of virgin briar, and possibly presenting a somewhat easier cake-building experience. I once despised all bowl coatings, but over the years that I’ve been investigating them, and the pipes using them, I’ve come to have at least a tolerance, if not respect for some recipes, whilst my loathing for some others has remained intact.

To continue the discussion, I’ll start by grouping coatings into three general categories, the first of which isn’t really a coating at all.

For purely aesthetic reasons, some pipe makers will stain or dye the interior of the bowl to present a more consistent appearance with its exterior. During the staining, it’s nearly impossible to prevent the some of the finish colour from finding its way into the bowl’s chamber, either the result of inevitable drips or through penetration, and some find this unsightly. Depending on the dyes used, or if a pipe is subjected to process such as oil-curing, it can be difficult, even impossible to sand the interior sufficiently to eliminate the discolouration that can often be blotchy and unsightly. The simple solution? Stain the inside as well. Indeed, some factory-made pipes are simply dipped in stain for the sake of production throughput. Smokers are sometimes vocally critical of this practice, complaining of the bad taste the stain leaves during the first smokes, but the flavour eventually goes away, and these pipes will ultimately behave just like their non-stained counterparts. (In fact, I’ve often heard that the harder the break-in, the sweeter the ultimate smoke, though I tend to think of this as justification for the rewards of a battle hard-won.)

Next comes what I’ll refer to as the general class of organic coatings. These are used by many pipe makers, and probably, today make up the majority of interior applications in higher-grade pipes. They are usually based on carbon powder or charcoal, and some sort of binding agent, often a protein (buttermilk, yogurt, egg whites, gelatin, for instance) or a sugar. Even Dunhill, at various points in their history, have suggested that, “A little honey applied around the tobacco bore can speed carbon formation.” (I’m surprised they missed the marketing opportunity to sell expensive little black vials of honey, complete with white spot and applicator brush. If these should find their way to market, remember you read it here first. I’ll demand royalties.)

 

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In my experience, these coatings can range from neutral, still allowing the taste of the briar to come through in the early bowls, to presenting a slightly muted but pleasing taste. One exception to this notion of “natural equals neutral” was exhibited by a pipe I was given by a maker with the expectation that, after assuring me that his coating was made from 100% edible substances, I would smoke it as he made it (he knows I sometimes remove coatings) in order to fairly evaluate what I thought of his recipe. The black layer was applied fairly thickly, and during the first few bowls, the pipe tasted a bit like I was smoking my tobacco from a charcoal briquette, but, after a few bowls, the residual charcoal taste was gone, and is became a superb smoker. Ultimately, a success, though I found no real advantage to the coating, and probably would have preferred the taste of the bare briar over that of Kinsgsford.

But, overall, as a group, these organic coatings are at best nearly undetectable, and at worst, inoffensive, possibly serving to polish some of the sharp edges of naked briar during the initial break-in, and over time, becoming completely transparent to the smoker, neither enhancing nor detracting from the long-term smoking qualities of the pipe, and they may help with initial cake formation. They’re easy enough to get rid of if you really don’t want them; a damp paper towel is usually all that’s required. But, since they seem to do no harm, and may provide some benefit, why go to the trouble?

The third and final group are the inorganic coatings. The most commonly used formulae rely on so-called “waterglass,” a hydrous form of sodium metasilicate (Na2SiO3). When a liquid solution is combined with powdered carbon, and sometimes pumice or other materials, a slightly adhesive “paint” is produced which can be applied to the bowl’s interior. It will dry quickly to a durable surface, and when hardened by the heat of smoking, the coating forms an anhydrous, glass-like layer, an impenetrable barrier between briar and burning tobacco. Proponents of these coatings feel that they offer superior protection against burnout, along with the same sort of easier break-in and cake formation that the organic coatings deliver. There was a time when these coating formulations were much more widespread, though in recent years, it seems more makers are using organic coatings.

These are arguably the most controversial of the lot, and may be the cause of much of the overall ire levied against all coatings. My own experience with them has been less than happy-making, and in discussing the subject with quite a few pipe-smokers, I’m apparently not alone. I find the initial bowls of pipes with these coatings to offer an often harsh, acrid taste that never seems to go completely away, though a thick cake does seem to help in these cases. But, a few pipes I’ve had, even after dozens of bowls, just never really found their sweet spot, or developed the smooth richness that a seasoned briar is expected to offer.

Many years ago, I acquired a well-used pipe made by a maker who used a waterglass coating. The pipe had been carefully smoked by its previous owner, whose taste in tobacco is similar to my own. When I got it, it had a fairly thin, beautifully maintained cake, and it had been meticulously cleaned. I filled it with a favourite mixture, and lit up, finding the resulting smoke to be off tasting. Interestingly, I also noticed that the shank built up moisture more rapidly than I usually experienced. Even a dozen bowls and thorough cleaning and reaming back to the walls did nothing to improve things.

To satisfy curiosity, and in the hopes of redeeming a beautiful pipe, I ended up cutting the chamber back to pristine, bare wood, not an easy task, and treated the pipe like a brand new one. The initial smokes tasted of virgin briar, and within a few bowls, the pipe was already smoking much better, with noticeably less moisture finding its way into the shank, reinforcing the hypothesis that the glass-like layer of silicate can, at least in some cases, interfere with the porosity of the briar, one characteristic of the best smoking pipes that is so highly prized. I’ve subsequently repeated the experiment with several other pipes, each time with similar results. Some people seem to get along just fine with these coatings. I, apparently, do not. Tobacco choice and taste preferences may play a role, here, but for me, for the tobaccos I prefer, for my smoking style, my tastes, leave the waterglass in the bottle, please.

One thing that many makers claim about their coatings, irrespective of the formulation they use, is that they serve to protect the briar during those critical first bowls. This is a very difficult claim to get a measurable grasp on. Most burnouts are the result of a flaw in the briar, usually a soft spot, or a void just below the surface of the wood. When such a pipe burns out, there’s no way to know if a bowl coating of any kind would have prevented it, and if it does not, there’s no way to know if it was the bowl coating that was responsible for its durability, so all we really have is anecdotal evidence. (As I mentioned, the only two pipes I’ve ever owned that burned out had heavily coated chambers.)

To get some numbers, I corresponded with several pipe makers and sellers regarding defect rates. Specifically, I was interested in how many uncoated bowls were returned for burnout, in order to get a baseline. The responses were anywhere from a low of “zero in 17 years,” (about 3000 pipes) to a high of 15 pipes out of about 11,000 (0.13%). Collectively, the burnout rate was less than 1 out of every 1000 pipes made/sold. Interestingly, one seller replaced 3 out of about 3200 pipes sold last year, two of which were coated bowls. One maker reported 3 returns out of approximately 2500 pipes, two of which he said were his fault for making the bottoms of the bowls too thin. Another maker of about 300-400 pipes per year has not had to replace a single burnout in the last five years.

It would seem the “protects the wood” argument might have to be taken as an article of faith, but as mentioned in Part I, even if a it affords only very slight protection, it might be well worth the pipe maker’s efforts, providing the quality of the smoke is not compromised.

Bowl coatings have gotten a bad rap from some critics, and I suppose I’ve often been one of them. A few bad experiences can tend to shape our impressions more deeply than is rational, but that’s human nature. In the final analysis, it comes down to personal preferences, and armed with a little more knowledge, we can make more rational choices. We consider things like briar quality and construction details along with aesthetic appeal when we’re considering a pipe purchase, and bowl coatings are just another dimension in the decision making process. I’m not nearly as critical of them as a whole as I once was, nor as quick to run into the workshop to remove them from a newly acquired pipe, though I still advocate for naked briar whenever possible. Most pipe makers will tell you, in vague terms, what they use, so if it matters to you, just ask. Let’s just not condemn the whole barrel for the sake of a few sour apples. And, if you don’t like the way a coated pipe smokes, you can always remove it and start anew. Just remember that doing so will likely void any warrantee the pipe maker may offer.

Your turn.
-glp

[Read Part I Here]

Since 1999, Gregory L. Pease has been the principal alchemist behind the blends of G.L. Pease Artisanal Tobaccos. He’s been a passionate pipeman since his university days, having cut his pipe teeth at the now extinct Drucquer & Sons Tobacconist in Berkeley, California. Greg is also author of The Briar & Leaf Chronicles, a photographer, recovering computer scientist, sometimes chef, and creator of The Epicure’s Asylum.

See our interview with G. L. Pease here.

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67 Responses to “Bowl Coatings - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Part II”

  1. rlunderhill said:

    I don’t like the taste of stain’s blending with my tobacco.

    The first thing I do is take a wire brush to the bowl to remove it. Then the pipe smokes better.

  2. oldtom said:

    Good article.
    I have no problems with bowl coatings.
    I’ve never seen ‘waterglass’ used but I did try some several years ago to repair a potential burn-out in an estate pipe. I don’t even know where it can be purchased.

  3. bentmike said:

    Interesting article for sure. Thanks Greg!

  4. briarblues said:

    Greg, another well written article with lots of food for thought.

    Personally, a “bad” chamber coating is a deal breaker for me. When looking at a new “brand / carver ” I allow only a one pipe trial, if it comes with a coated chamber. If I find it mutes flavor or has a flavor ( usually acrid ) the pipe is dead to me, and gets sold. I will not purchase another pipe by the brand or carver again. There are so many other possibilites, that I will not waste my taste buds on a foul tasting or muting chamber coating.

    When I do find a brand or carver that uses a palatable chamber coating, I am more than happy to share that information with my friends and clients.

    I have heard a few carvers say that “water glass” does not offer any taste. Maybe to them it doesn’t. To me, it does. It mutes tobacco flavor, except for the burning acrid taste I get. If I see that crystaline sheen or any other indication of this chamber coating, the pipe is of zero interest to me. Sadly there are a number of well known carvers using “water glass”. Carver’s I’d like to support. But I do not collect “dust collectors” or “rack slot fillers”. I collect pipes that all get smoked.

    I am glad you penned this and dearly hope it gets read by those that are using a “sub standard” recipe or begins the wave of no chamber coatings at all.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

  5. Lawrence said:

    Excellent article!
    About a third the way through I was wondering if a good coating would possibly mitigate burn through.
    And poof in the next paragraph an observation addressing that very point.
    Another good read Greg….
    Thanks!

  6. docwatson said:

    Excellently compiled article again and sure to garner a good share of responses.
    Put me in the category that it’s all about personal preference much like tobacco.

  7. dhintonca said:

    Again, a nice article, Greg. I’ve never experienced burnout in all my 50 years of smoking, and I’m still uses some of my original pipes! Some have been lost or gifted but the rest are just fine. Having said that, I also look at the coating last (if at all) when buying a pipe, and I generally do the honey coating for the first (full the first time, too) bowl!
    I suspect you may get a fair bit of dissension on this topic and I look forward to it. Thanks for all your great writings!

  8. chrono said:

    Both articles are great, Greg. I’d really love to hear the return rate for the companies like Peterson or Savinelli that turn out tens of thousands of briars a year.

    Ultimately, I don’t know why we complicate this issue so much. Bowl coatings serve one of two purposes: they are there to isolate the smoker from the briar, or the briar from the smoker. I personally don’t understand why pipemakers would want either. If you don’t want your tobacco to interact with the pipe and for the smoker to taste the pipe you should make pipes from brylon, meerschaum, graphite, etc.

    Why deprive smokers of those early bowls that can provide a completely different experience from when the pipe is broken in? I think the answers are pretty simple - cover your rear in case the briar in a particular pipe is unknowingly flawed or poor tasting. I can understand that. You’re in the business of making pipes, and you need a consistent product from an inconsistent material, and one that can please right off the bat because your briars are expensive, and one bad experience can turn off a smoker from your line forever. That is one of the reasons I have the utmost respect for makers that don’t coat their bowl. It’s all out there for the smoker to experience - good or bad, right from the start.

  9. banjobob said:

    We all tend to perceive subtle differences, sometimes those differences aren’t even real, they could be caused by what we had for lunch before smoking a pipe.
    I’ve had perceptions that caused me to dislike certain characteristics for years.
    I’ve avoided Panel shaped pipes for decades simply because I had a panel shaped pipe in the 80’s that tended to burn hot, yet when a Sasieni 4 dot panel was given to me, I realized I’d avoided Panel shapes for all those years for no good reason at all.That Sasieni 4 dot panel is a fantastic smoker, and I’ve had to adjust my attitude.
    It’s difficult to be sure our perceptions are based on real facts.
    I prefer uncoated bowls, but those that came with a coating all end up exactly like all the others, and now I can’t tell which pipes came with a coating and which came without a coating.

  10. peterd said:

    My overall preference is for non-coated interiors…as I normally use a very fine layer of sourwood honey as a starter for building cake. In 52 years of pipe smoking I have never burned-out a bowl and have always been very careful in cleaning and reaming.

    Many times I will lay this fine layer of honey even in those bowls already pre-treated. Of course, I do not pre-treat meerschaum or cobs.

    I can appreciate those that buy pre-smoked or new pipes wanting nothing in the chamber…however, I do not intend to sell any of my pipes and never have. At some point, they will go to my 5 sons.

  11. chimney said:

    Greg, Great articles. I do not think you will see any royalties on Dunhill honey unless they can source it from Denmark - sorry. I have been fortunate in over 35 years of pipe smoking in never having a problem with coatings, burnouts or breaking in pipes. My Father, who was a pipe smoker for almost sixty years, advised me early on to ignore all the honey coatings, smoking half filled bowls, charing with a red hot poker (some people swore by it) and just smoke a new pipe as nothing, except perhaps the hot poker, will change it by any noticeable amount. Just in case this sound insufferably smug I have had just about every other problem including a run of three years where every pipe I bought bit like a viper or a terrier - Peterson, Comoy, Barling (strange material - ceramic i think) hang your heads in shame. I know I have just tempted fate so comprehensively that my next new pipe just must taste so foul I will be glad when it burns out! Still no worries I have a corn cob in the my pipe drawer that I have been meaning to try.
    Although I have never seen a burn out it does sound like a bit of a misnomer. Inspired by the excellent pipe reviews on Greg’s website I have broadened my pipe purchasing to Danish and Italian makers who mostly happen not to coat their bowls. I have fired up with full bowls from the very first smoke and smoked in my usual too hot fashion. The result? All the pipes have smoked great from the off. Conclusion? Well seasoned bare briar is not combustible and gives a (faintly) pleasant backdrop to a smoke. Therefore I think the point you make that burnout is to do with flaws in the briars is correct and so no coating is likely to help as what is happening is a sort of stress fracture. So what is coating for? My theory is that it is mainly intended to cover unpleasant flavour from poor or under seasoned briar. This probably goes for the subtle coatings (a bit less to hide?) as well as the ghastly sounding water glass. Having said all that I am currently smoking a Stanwell (Danish manufacture) that I am pretty certain was coated and it smoked like a dream from the off. My only firm conclusion is that I think we should all follow Michael’s (Briarblues) example and if we are sold a dud smoker never buy from that maker again as there are so many great pipe makers plying their trade now.

  12. fredhanna said:

    Thank you, Greg. Is there a list anywhere of pipe makers who use water glass coatings? I think that having such a list would be a service to those of pipe smokers who will not buy pipes with water glass coatings.

  13. Eric said:

    I do not like bowl coatings at all, most of the fun of getting a new pipe is the naked briar bowl.

    I just recieved one with a cracked coating in the bowl, so I had to return the whole pipe, didn’t know if it was just the coating that was cracked or not and I am not spending the time to remove all the coating, nor would they probabley accept a pipe back if it had been.

  14. latakiapipes42 said:

    Although there is no arguing with Greg, or his refined palate, over which he has no control, he definitely went easy on the pipe makers, as he pretty much has to if he doesn’t want to jeopardize his close friendship with many of them. There is just no excuse for making extra, unnecessary work for oneself unless one is hiding something, and considering the perfidy of so many pipe makers (you might be very unhappily surprised at what you find under those black coats)it makes no sense. Look, has absence of bowl coatings hurt Castello? What about Rad Davis (who is smart enough to have listened to both Greg and his customers…way smarter than most pipe makers…who in general are not exactly the intellectual elite of the world, are they?)or Vollmer & Nillson? No, it hasn’t hurt them at all and probably helped. And far and away, the most knowledgeable pipe maker, pipe man and whatever other category (except buyer of new pipes) you want to put him in is Paul Perri, a 3rd generation pipe maker who slept under a pipe work bench when he was apprenticing in Calabria, Italy about 20 yrs. before Garibaldi was born. Paul can look at the chuck marks in the bowl of a new pipe and by their pattern can tell you what factory it was made in. No crap. Anyhow, he doesn’t coat his bowls. (And if he did, he would use a long, tedious method to garner the most palatable part of a naturally charcoaled comestible.)
    But, pipe makers work in isolation, rarely meet their customers and get to think, especially if their pipes sell well, that they know everything and the customer knows nothing. Not, I suppose, an untypical attitude among the ignorant.
    Gee, now that I re-read this, I see that I, like Greg, am being overly charitable.

  15. kcghost said:

    I just don’t have a problem either way. But, then I have the palate of a troglodyte.

  16. edanderson said:

    I hate bowl coatings to pieces! When buying new from the carver that coats, ask for it’s removal. When buying from a etailer I sand or wipe it clean. I find that new briar tastes just fine and never had a burnout. Besides, I like to see what I’m smoking my tobacco in.

  17. glpease said:

    “But, then I have the palate of a troglodyte.” This made me chuckle. If you think about it, though, our ancestors from millennia past likely had more acutely developed senses of taste and smell, as their survival would have depended on it.

  18. cortezattic said:

    Thanks for an informative and nicely illustrated article. Keep ‘em coming!

  19. armac said:

    I much prefer uncoated bowls, but won’t hesitate to buy simply because of a coating. But on several occasions, after the purchase of a new unsmoked pipe, I’ve been known to remove the coating. Interestingly, I’ve never found a flaw in the bowls of those where the coating was removed. One of my pet peeves with coated bowls, howvere, are those where the coating is allowed to run down the length of the draft hole. Sure makes for a bitter tasting first or second smoke even after several pre smoke and Everclear soaked pipe cleaners have been run through.

  20. lessechler said:

    Great article Greg, as always. For my own part, in the 40 years I have smoked a pipe I have never had even one burn out. However, more than half of these had no bowl coating so I do not have much to compare to. I do notice that having a bowl coating on a pipe seems to allow the cake to build up faster. This is important to me because I am a virginia smoker rather than an english smoker. I do smoke some english occasionally and in fact try to break in a new pipe with a medium english blend. The cake seems to begin easier that. I do not know if others will agree but an english blend is a great new pipe smoke, and after perhaps 10 bowls I switch to VA.

    Lastly, on the subject of bowl coatings I find they are at worst, of no consequence and at best they promote the building of cake. Also, most if not all the bowl coatings I have experienced on a pipe are made from activated charcoal and some binding agent. A very adequate bowl coating can be easily made at home with the following components: Saved fine white ash from past smokes, activated charcoal and some binding agent - I use Ameretto liquer. Take a spoon of ash, a spoon or less of charcoal, mix together and coat the inside of the bowl with the liquer on your finger. I dust the inside of the bowl with the dry mixture and either smoke right away or let sit for 24 hours. I have not known the coating to have any flavor when the pipe is smoked. - Les

  21. rnewcombe said:

    Those were really excellent articles, Greg, both Parts I and II — well written and thought-provoking. I also enjoyed reading the dozens of interesting comments.

    I used to buy pipes without coating mainly because I enjoyed building a cake from scratch.

    But so many of the artisan pipes that I was buying had coatings, and it occurred to me that I really could not tell the difference.

    Most of the pipes that I like best actually have coatings that were made of water glass mixed with charcoal, though I also like pipes that use sour cream or some other food product in the coating. The truth is, I really and truly cannot tell the difference.

    One time I bought an expensive pipe with an ivory band from a world-famous high grade pipe maker who routinely used water glass and charcoal in his bowl coatings. I smoked the pipe a few times and the ivory band developed a crack, so I sent the pipe back to the maker. I said that as long as you have the pipe, I would appreciate it if you would sand the inside coating out — from his coating and my smoking — and leave it as close to raw wood as possible.

    He did so, and what he sent back looked like a brand new pipe with virgin wood inside. In fact, I was struck by the beautiful grain that I saw inside the bowl, which was grain that he had hidden with his coating.

    But when I started smoking the pipe again I could not tell the difference, and I really was trying to pay attention to whether the water glass coating had interfered in any way with my enjoyment of the pipe. I decided that it had not. In fact, I was annoyed with myself because I had to build a cake from scratch, when previously it was just right. However, the cake returned after only a handful of bowls.

  22. Gray said:

    One of the most interesting and informative articles I’ve read. Thanks, Greg. I will look out for the inorganic “glassy” coatings in the future, as I can see why they very well may keep the briar from doing its job (heat and moisture absorbing). It’s good to know that these are not as common now.

  23. wayneteipen said:

    Saying a precarbon coating doesn’t protect the briar is like saying wearing a coat in the winter can’t protect against hypothermia. Sure, you can still get hypothermia while wearing a coat but it lessens the risk.

  24. monkaywrench said:

    I’ve never tried a waterglass coating but have smoked a few coated pipes with mixed results. In general, I’ll stick with un-coated pipes or just remove them myself if I’m just that in love with it. Thanks for a very well written article.

  25. Al said:

    My experience with coated bowls on new pipes is limited:
    Boswell - no problems with his coating
    Peterson (low end, Arans) - hated it, easily removed it from subsequent pipes

  26. Al said:

    Can a waterglass coating be removed?

  27. yohanan said:

    It doesn’t matter either way for me, I have smoked a couple of new Savinelli’s with no coating, and had a pleasant experience with the both of them during the break in process. I have also smoked a few Peterson’s that had a coating and the experience was not pleasant, and a particular aran still continues to be unpleasant, so I will continue to smoke the proverbial hell out of it. I have not experienced a burnout from either a coated or non coated bowl.

  28. oldmaus said:

    Thanks for a very informative article Greg!

  29. jeffcandelaria said:

    Can someone identify the pipe in the first picture of this article or know of one like it? I have no opinion on coatings. Pipes are beautiful, I like what I smoke and smoke what I like. Coating or not, enjoying time with my pipe makes me happy.

  30. gaget said:

    From Tad Gage — I am knowledgeable on everything, but an expert on nothing important! It is truly amazing the response Greg’s thoughtful articles have attracted. Here’s my two cents worth: I think a good bowl coating on an estate pipe is better than reaming a pipe to and beyond the wood, as some sellers do with impugnity to present the pipe as “lightly smoked,” when, if fact it may have hammered with goopy aromatics or whatever.

    Briar doesn’t absorb tar or flavors (cut a pipe in half and you’ll see this for yourself). So this is all about the surface interaction between the tobacco and the pipe or coating.

    A good bowl coating can provide a good, new base for making the used pipe your own, if the previous cake was carefully removed and a bowl coating applied. But bowl coatings do remove the smoker from the taste of the wood. Does reaming to bare wood re-establish this pipe-tobacco relationship? I’m not sure, but I sure hate removing some of the bowl.

    As to new pipes, I have come to the conclusion that I would rather start with a pipe that has no bowl coating. I have bought a number of new, uncoated pipes that smoke fabulously from the first bowl. I think the opinion that new pipes will always taste bad for the first few smokes is a complete fallacy, and a hangover from 40 years ago. Likewise, there is no need to use honey or some weird mixture to coat the bowl is fallacious. Yes, it’s a good idea to smoke a new, uncoated bowl slowly and carefully for the first few bowls is a good idea, but the taste of the briar is the ultimate contribution a pipe makes to the tobacco.

    However, I respect the decision of pipe makers to coat their bowls, and I will say that I’ve never had a bad tasting Jim Cooke pipe, and he’s a proponent of bowl coating. I totally enjoy his new pipes. Hence, my reluctance to say bowl coating is always bad. However, I have also enjoyed uncoated bowl first-smoke pipes from E. Andrew, Rad Davis, Steve Weiner, and others.

    Staining a bowl is really a faux pas, and I wouldn’t buy or smoke a pipe with any stain or shellac in the bowl.

    Bottom line: I’m a proponent of keeping bowls reamed as thin as possible without digging into the wood. I want to smoke a pipe, not its cake. If I wanted a completely neutral taste, I would favor meerschaums or the Porsche Pipe. I like to taste the wood, and I believe most briar without flaws is capable of withstanding the heat of the tobacco if you don’t smoke too hot or fast. And if there is a bit of nutty sweetness contributed by the briar (which still doesn’t burn, but may heat up a bit), this is all to the good.

  31. glpease said:

    Tad wrote: “Briar doesn’t absorb tar or flavors (cut a pipe in half and you’ll see this for yourself). So this is all about the surface interaction between the tobacco and the pipe or coating.”
    Tad, I have to strongly disagree with this statement, even though I know, or think I know its genesis. Briar most certainly DOES absorb flavours, as anyone who has attempted to exorcise the ghost of 1Q past from a briar fully knows. Even after reaming it back to bare nekkid wood, a good soak with alcohol will extract a great deal of “stuff” from the wood. And, it will still smell of 1Q for dozens, if not hundreds of bowls. (A friend had a Castello that he’d smoked nothing but virginias in for five years, yet when I got a whiff of the smoke from his pipe one day, the previous owner’s aromatic was easily detectible.
    For that matter, some of my oldest pipes are so richly imbued with tobacco-y goodness that I could fill them with lawn clippings and sawdust, and probably get a delicious smoke out of them.
    Soaking a bowl in water will not show any penetration, it’s true, but, water is a very different molecule from the non-polar organic compounds that distill from smouldering tobacco, and the heat gradient that results from smoking the thing has a huge impact in the transport of these compounds into the structure of the briar.
    Further, I’ve had more than one pipe maker, and a couple of restoration guys tell me many stories about stains and dyes migrating right through fairly thick bowl walls when they were working on the things. Some briar is more porous than other briar, but the notion that briar does not absorb tars or flavours is fairly simply falsifiable, and not scientifically valid.

  32. Kevin said:

    jeffcandelaria said: “Can someone identify the pipe in the first picture of this article or know of one like it?”
    -
    Jeff, that pipe is from my personal collection. I bought direct from the pipe maker Donald Kesling at the Kansas City show in June 2011. I took that photo back then when the pipe was brand new. It is Italian briar, part smooth, part rusticated with stabilized Buckeye Burl in red-colored stain and white acrylic stem.
    -
    You can see full photos at these links:
    http://pipesmagazine.com/wp-content/2011-articles/kansas-city-pipe-show/kesling-kevin-01.jpg
    http://pipesmagazine.com/wp-content/2011-articles/kansas-city-pipe-show/kesling-kevin-02.jpg
    http://pipesmagazine.com/wp-content/2011-articles/kansas-city-pipe-show/kesling-kevin-03.jpg
    -
    Don’s site is: http://www.keslingbriarpipes.com/

  33. lessechler said:

    It is also my view that a flavor or essence can and does permeate a bowl wall. If you do not believe this just acquire a pipe that has that dreadful Erinmore smoked in it. A pipe of this type will take a lot of work to bring back to normal and that must include a reaming of the wood just a bit. From experience I know that the essence of the aromatic or other tastes does soak into the wood a bit, but lucky for us that bit is very shallow and a proper reaming will help a lot. A pipe making friend of mine used to do have a “stinky pipe renewal” process and it worked very well but he had to sand the interior of the bowl. Personally I have used every technique I ever heard about to get the stink out of a pipe but only this one method (a secret he will not divulge) worked. I tried the salt method. I used a boiling alcohol flush out, reaming down to the wood and other methods but nothing worked until my friend used his method. And, there was a one smoke essence similar to the chewing gun Juicy Fruit noticeable on the first smoke. So, with these facts in evidence I cannot agree with the assertion that the stink has NOT soaked into the wood at least a bit.
    On the subject of bowl coatings I mentioned above a way to make your own bowl coating at home and I urge readers to check that out and get back to me if they have any questions.

  34. jimbo44 said:

    I read a viewpoint in a forum the other day that impervious coatings such as waterglass enable the smoker to taste the tobacco without contamination from the briar and I suppose that is true (although Greg makes the point that those coatings can themselves create a contaminating taste). There is sense in that view if there is a risk of bad tastes from ill cured briar (and who can tell in advance?) but my take is that I enjoy the addition of briar taste to tobacco; if didn’t I’d smoke meerschaum or clay.

    The application of the coatings then minimise the risk of initial “sappy” taste but, even then, unless totally gross, it cooks out pretty quickly (and may even improve the later experience - Fred Hanna’s maple syrup analogy).

    I’ve had burnouts (some down to youthful poking about or poorly shaped pipes) but the most severe was a coated pipe (no names as the maker replaced it without question as a flaw in the wood he hadn’t seen and certainly wasn’t deliberately covered up).

    So, does it matter? Good tobacco I believe is a more significant contributor but I like my good tobacco a bit briar tinged.

  35. glpease said:

    Les, I’ve had a pipe or two that was so permeable that my hands would smell like tobacco juice after smoking them. And, that’s the point. I’ve read many times that ‘briar is not permeable.’ It takes only one example to disprove that statement, and I’m aware of many, many examples. Yet, the myth persists; repetition is not proof.

    In fact, the ability of the briar to absorb moisture, tars, some of the more offensive molecules during the smoke is one of the reasons it is a superior material for making pipes. If not for these advantages, we’d all still be smoking clays.

  36. toddjohnson said:

    Greg,

    First, I’d like to make an editorial petition that your article name be changed to “Bowl Coatings–the Bad, the Worse, and a Whole Mess of Anecdotal Evidence to Support My Claims”

    We all know how much you despise bowl coatings. This is a drum you’ve been beating for well over a decade. The problem is that you make your arguments by shear weight of personality and support them using only anecdotal evidence and the notion that you have supernatural powers of taste that mere mortals could not possibly imagine.

    So let’s take it at face value that you are, *indeed* a “supertaster” as it’s commonly referred to. If this is the case, then you actually experience taste *differently* than the rest of us. While science cannot fully explain it, the cause seems to be a genetic abnormality which heightens sensitivity to flavors–especially bitter flavors. Despite the misleading moniker, being a “super taster” doesn’t make one a “better” taster, it just means one experiences taste in a bizarre and uncommon fashion. What then is the value of your personal anecdotes about taste for the rest of us? Would not this ability actually put you at a disadvantage when trying to translate your peculiar version of “taste” to an audience who can not experience it in the same way?

    I think there is great value in the ability to articulate ones experiences–and you do that exceedingly well–but assuming that those individual experiences are somehow objectively “true” is audacious.

    I don’t doubt that you may experience bowl coatings as “acrid,” but using a lot of big scientific words does not mean you’re doing “science.” While I find your entire article something of a diatribe, I would like to pick out two specific points to take issue with.

    1) You claim that water glass bowl coatings are “anhydrous” meaning, I assume, that they basically turn to “glass” and cause moisture to pool inside the bowl. You then back this up with a story about when you once smoked a pipe with a water glass bowl coating and it smoked “wet.” While I’m sure Wikipedia characterizes sodium silicate as “anhydrous,” the same cannot be said of sodium silicate bowl coating solutions. The addition of activated charcoal whose absorption properties are nearly unsurpassed amongst organic compounds, actually makes such mixtures extremely absorptive and, in my opinion, contribute to a drier smoke. The latter is an opinion that you are welcome to reject. The former can be tested and proven correct. If, as you claim, water glass bowl coatings do not allow moisture to escape the tobacco chamber and enter the bowl walls, then water, when dropped on such a mixture should bead up and remain on the surface. It does not. In fact the opposite is true. Water, when dropped onto bare briar, forms beads and takes a long time to absorb into the wood, while water dropped on a mixture of sodium silicate, activated charcoal and pumice absorbs and dissipates almost immediately. Please take a moment to view the brief video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBnnvwDIYQA&feature=youtu.be

    2) You also suggest that claims about a bowl coating’s ability to protect a pipe during break in can only be backed up by “anecdotal” evidence and, by my reading, seem to suggest that such claims are spurious at best . You then support this with anecdotal evidence about two coated pipes you burned out. One characteristic of sodium silicate that makes it such an apt candidate for use in bowl coatings is its fire resistant properties. Yes, eventually, if subjected to enough heat, briar coated with sodium silicate will burn. However, a layer of sodium silicate, activated charcoal and pumice about the thickness of a layer of paint will delay combustion for a very significant period of time. Again, I have conducted an experiment to demonstrate just how significant is the level of protection afforded your briar pipe by a thin layer of bowl coating, and you can view a video of the experiment here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=kcDMaHT1khI

    I am curious to know your thoughts.

    TJ

  37. wayneteipen said:

    Todd, thanks for tackling some of the myths that pervade our hobby. Your experiments confirm some of the logical conclusions that I have come to based on the information that is out there. Unfortunately, there will still be some for which logic won’t prevail over fantasy in their minds but at least, for those who value logic but have been duped by myths, there is a chance that they will be won over to reason. This information, coming from a pipe maker with as much clout, knowledge, and experience pulls much more weight than from someone like me with so little experience or reputation.

  38. briarblues said:

    Good Day All

    All interesting points. I guess I must be a “supertaster” as well, as I also detect a very acrid taste from many number of chamber coatings. As far as the wetness issue and “water glass”, I have never found that. Why? Because of my “genetic abnormality”, as you so gently put it. It does not allow me to get more than 1/3 of the way down a bowl, thus there is little to no moisture to measure. If I choose to try and quit enjoying pipe smoking I will indeed purchase 4 or 5 pipes with “water glass” chamber coatings. Guarenteed to end my pipe smoking pleasures!

    As far as protection from burn out, I again have to side with Mr Pease. In my near 40 years as a pipe enjoyer the only 2 pipes that burned out both had a pre coated tobacco chamber and both occured within the first 2 bowls. I have never had a non coated chambered pipe burn out. I also do not get the acrid taste when breaking in an untreated chamber.

    There are many “myths” foisted upon pipe buyers. There are many opinions on these “myths”. I can only offer my opinion, from my years as a pipe enjoyer and pipe seller.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

    Who has just found out he has more than one “genetic abnormality”.

  39. toddjohnson said:

    Mike,

    I’m sorry you take umbrage at my use of the term “genetic abnormality,” but you should take it up with the New England Journal of Medicine, not with me. On the bright side, apparently being a supertaster gives you a higher resistance to cold and flu.

    We could go on collecting anecdotes–like yours–for ages, but in the end what we would have is a pile of anecdotes. Are you also of the opinion that water glass seals the bowl and keeps moisture from passing through? Do you have any anecdotes to support this?

    I have a colleague who makes pipes and coats every bowl. One collector wanted him to make an uncoated pipe and he did. The guy burned it out. So I guess that’s my incontrovertible anecdotal evidence. Are you convinced now? Didn’t think so.

    My goodness, can we really not break free from the mythology and cronyism that dominates these discussions? I know you and Greg are BFF’s, but surely you have something other than “me too” to contribute here.

    TJ

  40. lessechler said:

    OK, it seems to me that we are all having just too much fun arguing about this issue, but in closing (for me) I will end my own comments with the following - Alfred Dunhill stated that a bit of honey coated on the inside of a bowl was a help in building cake.
    Although none of us are or ever were perfect, it is my view that old Alfred had almost certainly forgotten more about pipe smoking than any of us will ever know - so bowl coatings can or do have some benefit and I am willing to be guided by the teachings of the old master. Les

  41. briarblues said:

    Todd;

    I am not speaking to the New England Journal of Medicine, and thus take no umbrage with them. Sadly I have yet to find I have any extra abilities to fight colds or the flu.

    Indeed Greg and I are friends and we disagree on many things pipes, tobacco, music, guitars etc.

    You and I both know that there is virtually no way to prevent burn outs when some clients must use a torch lighter. It matters not if the chamber is coated or not. The same holds true for puffing overly hard and creating a furnace at the bottom of the bowl. Watching 2 candles under 2 thin pieces of briar shows that the coating you applied did not burn as quickly as the bare briar. I also noted from a quick side view that the coated pieces flame did not appear to “reach” for the bare briar, thus suggesting it reflects heat. I’m not so sure that is what a pipe is supposed to do. It is my opinion that the pipe walls are to absorb and disapate heat. If the coating retards the heat from disapating, will the end result not be a hotter smoke? I believe it will. Or at least the steam / smoke generated towards the smokers mouth will be hotter.

    I have already explained the moisture issue. If I can’t smoke a full bowl with a water glass coating, I cannot say if the pipe smoked wetter nor not.

    I can say that the taste of some coatings is so bad that I will not buy pipes knowing in advance the coating has water glass. I will not buy a pipe with a chamber coating that I may not easily remove with a damp clothe. Those are not myths, but facts and my preferance.

    There are a number of carvers that do not use a chamber coating and their results show very few burn out issues. All of these carvers are highly respected and I’m sure you’re not trying to say that they are incorrect in what they are doing. You just have different methods and offer a different looking end product.

    As for my super taste buds …… that I doubt very much. I would actually venture to say the opposite. My taste buds have been deadend by too many years of eating far too spicy foods. There are however certain things that do make my mouth tingle and not in a good way.

    What you do with the pipes you carve is your business. The bottom line is offering the best possible end product to any and all potential clients. Those that use water glass or other offensive chamber coatings will not have me as a buyer, more than once.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

  42. briarblues said:

    Hi Les

    In all my years I have never tried the honey method. I suspect that it would work well on 2 fronts. It is sticky and thus any cake would stick well. Plus with the high sugar contant are allow for a quicker cake build.

    There is an Italian brand that coats their chambers with a very thin layer of oil and a sticky susbtance, which I always assumes was honey. Their pipes do break in very nicely.

    As I have sated there are some good chamber coatings. What Larry Roush uses, what Brian Ruthenberg use, offers no off taste and having smoked pipes made by Brian that have come with and without a chmaber coating, could not tell the difference.

    Every single pipe I have ever tried with even the slightest hint of “water glass” has burnt my mouth. I might as well fill my mouth with tobacco and light it on fire. I am sure many wish I would so it would shut me up.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

  43. toddjohnson said:

    Mike,

    Yes, I’m sure that you and Greg disagree on a number of things. You and I have that in common.

    What you and I apparently agree upon is the fact that, given enough abuse, *any* pipe can burn out. Is it possible, though, to prevent a burnout in a coated pipe when it *would* occur in an uncoated pipe? Yes, I believe so. The sum total of what you’ve said so far is that you don’t like water glass bowl coatings and won’t buy a pipe that has one. Okey doke.

    As for your impressions of the video I posted, I think you’re groping at straws, and frankly, it doesn’t become you. Perhaps the bare briar is so awesome that, for the sake of the coated briar, it actually chose to suck heat over to itself in order *not* to hurt the feelings of the coated briar. Who knows? Maybe bare briar is *that* special.

    I’m not normally a betting man, but I would like to make a proposition. Our shop manager, Michelle, is a PhD in the social sciences. I would like to have her run an experiment/contest in Chicago. I will make 10 pipes from identical French stummels that were produced in the same factory from the same briar. They will have identical mouthpieces. You can choose your favorite tobacco. You will have 6 minutes to smoke each pipe for a total of 60 minutes. Some of the pipes will be coated, and some of the pipes will be uncoated. The entrance fee is $1000 USD. If you can ascertain which pipes have a water glass bowl coating and which pipes don’t, with 100% accuracy I will pay you $5000 USD. All the money from the entrance fees will go to charity. I will not make a dime, and you can demonstrate your prowess to the world.

    I am ready to start signing up contestants/subjects as of now.

    TJ

  44. briarblues said:

    Todd

    Yes, I am sure there are numerous things we agree and disagree on, as there with many others.

    We do not agree that a chamber coating offers any protection from burn out. My reasoning for that is, the fact that I have never had a non coated chamber burn out. The only two pipes that have, carried a pre coated chamber. Pretty simple, and maybe not the most scientific experiment, but the proof of failure lies only in the two with the pre coated chambers. I cannot even fathom how many pipes I have smoked over the years.

    Your offer for Chicago sounds interesting, but sadly I will not be able to participate, as I will not be able to attend the show this year.

    I’d say we both have a fair understanding of briar. So you must agree that within a burl that has been cut into many pieces the density varies with each piece. Even within each single block the density varies. Some areas more than others. So 10 like sized bowls, cut from one burl, could vary greatly, or very little.

    On the same token the challenge is not fair as neither of us can tell what lies within each bowl. It could be that all the bowls with uncoated chambers have a hidden flaw below the surface and each could burn out right away, and the same could hold true for any with a pre coated chamber.

    Also on the 10 minute time limit. If the first pipe tried has a coating that does “bite” it will hyper sensitive the pallet on the other 9. This would be even more apparent when smoking 10 un smoked pipes in a row.

    I suggest that in the uncoated chamber, when a sand pit lays beneath the surface there is the possibility for the sand particle to expand into the chamber. With a pre coated chamber I strongly believe that the sand particle has no option, but to expand towards the bowl exterior and thus cause the burn out.

    I am sure you have tried a variety of recipes when developing your chamber coating. The one you currently use is one I am sure you believe to be superior and do the job for which it was designed.

    I then ask you why others that do not apply a coating feel as strongly as they do. Surely if burn out has not been an issue for them there can only be a few other reasons for its use.

    Cosmetic I understand, but then again, I know your skill set is high enough that you could fine sand the chamber interior and offer a highly presentable finished product.

    Granted fine sanding is time consuming and must be done well, lest one alters the chamber shape with aggressive sanding. So then is the chamber coating applied to save time?

    I have heard some suggest ( not me ) that some carvers apply a chamber coating to knowingly hide visible flaws in the chamber. While I can understand how some might think this to be possible, I am of the mind that any carver that wishes to have a long career as a pipe carver would not be foolish enough to risk their reputation. All it would take is one person removing the chamber coating and finding a healthy sand pit, and the carver’s future is finished.

    So I guess we shall agree to disagree. In my little blonde brain I see chamber coatings as not needed, as they are ineffective, and deter the buyer from seeing the beauty of the pipe chambers interior along with the exterior. On the latter point, as a pipe buyer, when I purchase a non smooth pipe and view the un coated chamber and see beautiful grain, I shed a tear, as I know the carver was looking at an exterior that was similar, until a flaw reared itself and forced the carver to either sand blast or rusticate. Then as buyers we get to truly understand just how cruel a mistress briar can be.

    I would like to apologize for my post replying to Les. It was done in haste, while trying to answer the phone and converse at the same time, and thus there are numerous spelling mistakes.

    To further this topic it might be better suited to be carried on in the forum section and not in the comments section. I’d be very interested to get comments from other carvers on both sides of this topic as well. It can only help to educate pipe buyers. The better informed the buyers are, the better chance they will have of buying pipes that will perform the way the prefer them to.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

  45. roberted5 said:

    Great article,
    After 25 years of pipe smoking only one burnout.After 4th bowl it went like a flare.Bowl got hot enough to do damage to fingers,3/4 of outside turned black and burnt briar filled the air.Carver replaced pipe and said it’s rare but can happen to any pipe no matter what type or grade of briar or coating.
    I prefer bare bowled pipes,but I have bought coated bowls.

    Maybe someone can answer this question:
    Three of my unsmoked pipes with coating,from same carver,have been in storage for 4-5 years.After these 5 years a white powder is on the surface of black coating.Bare bowl pipes from same carver clean as when new.Pipes are in drawer,in sock,in box and kept at room tempature.
    Any idea what the white powder may be?

  46. latakiapipes42 said:

    What is all this business about anecdotal and verifiable evidence? My little brain is spinning. But I will say that all those great Castello pipes that people say they love smoking because of the briar’s great taste is not anecdotal at this point. And there are a lot of other brands that don’t coat, sell well and haven’t busted their makers with burned-out returns. In short, coating isn’t needed. It’s extra, it’s a waste of time and money and at best, people with indifferent palates don’t mind it.
    Adding black stuff of any material to good briar seems perverse, but then, I’m not a big fan of heavy stain, either (although that at least goes on the outside of the pipe and doesn’t impact the taste and probably makes the pipe look better).
    I’m leaning toward a fist fight to settle this. (Whoa…don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not proposing that I be in that fight.)

  47. lordofthepiperings said:

    Wonderful article again Mr. Pease.

  48. thirdkey9 said:

    Thanks for your insights, attention to detail and well written explorations per our unique and rich culture.

  49. bigpipeguy said:

    I have smoked several thousand high grades - and have had three pipes burnout - all uncoated Castellos - and one was a FLAME - FIRST BOWL - UGH. My greatest smoking pipes have had bowl coatings - Dunhill magnums, two true Sasieni magnums, a couple of magnums bowls, Ilsted magnums, magnum/giant Chonowitsch’s etc. - you get the picture. On the other hand there are few pipes that smoke a great as my magnum Castellos - all had uncoated bowls. So the point - is there a right and wrong way - who knows - the ultimate question - after 25 - 50 bowls does anyone really think about the bowl interior as it was when you first got the pipe?

  50. foggymountain said:

    Do you know what coating Dunhill uses? I prefer it to the bare briar. It eliminates the woody taste and breaks in very quickly. Never had a problem with it.

  51. glpease said:

    Todd’s exhibition of flaming briar is certainly dramatic, and demonstrates the point that his coating renders the briar significantly more fire-retardant than bare wood. I’d like to see similar tests performed with organic coatings, which I suspect would not perform as well. Of course, I’d like to see experiments that more closely model actual pipe smoking, with temperature control, predictable flame fronts, heat-hardening of the briar prior to testing (the first part of the break-in process), and so on. I’m sure the silicate coating will still outperform bare briar with respect to its fire-retardant properties, but I strongly suspect real-world results will not be nearly as flamboyant, hence my aspersions on the experiment’s real world relevance.
    This test, however, also inadvertently demonstrated something I find even more interesting, and that is that it took nearly two minutes over an open candle flame, at temperatures that could be as high as 1400˚C , for the bare briar to begin smoldering. The briar’s natural fire-resistance is impressive. Smoldering tobacco is generally in the range of 300-600˚C, rather lower than that of the candle’s flame.
    In the roughly 160 years that pipes have been made from briar, millions upon millions have been produced, purchased, and smoked, some of them still in use many decades later. A few tens-of-thousands of pipes produced more recently have had coated bowls. So what? Apparently briar is a sufficiently robust material for the application that burnout rates are actually remarkably low. (I’m continuing to gather data, anecdotal or statistical, but every time I get a response, it remains lower than 0.1%, and some pipe makers’ numbers are so low that I have to consider them outliers.)

  52. glpease said:

    Regarding the term anhydrous: Anhydrous does not mean dry, by the way. Sodium silicate powder in its usual form is a hydrated molecule, meaning there are water molecules bound to the silicate molecules. In this form it is definitely soluble (in water, but not in ethanol, by the way, for those who want to get rid of it), which is the reason you can make this magical paint out of the stuff. When the solution dries normally, the water is still bound, just as it was in the powdered form, and it is still soluble. When the coating is subjected to heat of about 200˚C, however, those water molecules are unbound, leaving behind the now-insoluble, anhydrous form behind. Since this is well below the temperature of burning tobacco, that coating is going to be nicely cooked. And, anhydrous. And insoluble. And impermeable. No matter what other components the coating may contain, the liquid layer at the interface is what is binding it to the briar. No matter how thin that layer is, it is insoluble and impenetrable. Like glass. Maybe that’s why it’s called “waterglass…”
    By the way, the water experiment is even further away from real world smoking conditions than the flame experiment. The distillates from burning tobacco behave more like oil than like water, and the temperature gradient of the briar plays an important part in how those distillates might penetrate the wood. Todd, you, yourself, have shown photographic evidence of stain penetrating the briar of a freshly finished pipe (and many pipe makers have reported the same thing). For you to then passively imply that briar is not absorbent is disingenuous.

  53. withnail said:

    I don’t like the idea of some strange coating on the inside of my pipe bowl, but I also dislike the taste of raw briar. My favourite treatment on a new pipe is a simple pre-charring. My favourite carver uses a metal form, the same shape as the bowls he carves, that is heated with a propane / oxygen mix to make it white hot. A second or so on there puts a nice even charcoal coating on the inside of the bowl.

  54. edanderson said:

    withnail, I like that treatment. Who is this carver?

  55. toddjohnson said:

    Greg,

    Glad to see you actually respond since it’s your “scientific” feedback I’m specifically interested in hearing.

    You made the following comment recently:

    “There’s nothing but sketchy actuarial support for any claim that coatings ‘protect’ the bowl from burnout. The only way to substantively prove this would be to have two identical pieces of briar, subjected to identical stresses, and see if the coating mitigated damage in any measurable way. (I’ve heard anecdotes about a pipe maker testing his bowl coatings by torture-smoking the pipe with a Hoover. I don’t buy it) Since this isn’t practical or even possible, all that is left is inference.”

    However when confronted with the results of such a test where the “prophylactic” effect of a bowl coating *is* measurable–and significant, I might add–your only real comment is “Wow, ain’t uncoated briar great?” Yet, above, you almost seem to take it as a “given” that such a bowl coating solution will indeed “outperform” bare briar when it comes to an abusive heat test. Which is it, man? If you’re going to speak as an “authority,” at least hold your ground and show some consistency in your argument. I’m much better at hitting a moving target when dove hunting than myth busting.

    With respect to the coating being “anhydrous,” again, you offer no support for your claims in the “real world.” You simply say that any coating, if one of its component parts be sodium silicate, is “anhydrous. And insoluble. And impermeable” once “cooked.”

    The problem is that making even scientific claims with no demonstrative “proof” no more makes you a “scientist” than misspelling “flavour” and referring to a vacuum cleaner as a “Hoover” makes you European.

    I am just a craftsman peddling his wares, but you are the “Dark Lord.” Surely you have a suitable laboratory–what with all that tobacco blending you do–to perform some basic experiments to back up your claims. I would like to suggest one such experiment. Take a piece of wool, put a thin layer of my bowl coating on it–I will send you some–put the wool in a mini muffin tin and bake it in the oven until you’re sure the coating is sufficiently cured, and therefore “anhydrous.” Fill it with water. If no water wicks into the wool, I will give you a smooth Sixten Ivarsson as your prize. If water does get into the wool, you agree to stop casting aspersions on those of us for whom this is not merely a hobby, but our sole source of income–the means by which we support our families. Maybe we could even do it in Chicago in the tent–in front of a large crowd–and the winner can toast himself with a drink from his anhydrous wool cup. Does this sound reasonable, or is it too much to risk? If you’re game, I’ll bring the muffin tin, the wool, the toaster oven, and the bowl coating–which I’ll mix in front of you.

    Or, if you’d like, you can choose muskets or sabers, and we can meet at dawn and settle it that way. :) I’m putting it all out there, Greg. If you know something that Bo, and Tom, and Jess, and Jody, and Micke, and Former, and Anne Julie, and Cornelius, and Garbe, and Barbi, and Gotoh, and Ilsted, and Balleby, and Per and Ulf, and Teddy, and Pohlmann, and Adam Remington, and I don’t know, then *please* educate us!

    TJ

  56. lonestar said:

    “If you know something that Bo, and Tom, and Jess, and Jody, and Micke, and Former, and Anne Julie, and Cornelius, and Garbe, and Barbi, and Gotoh, and Ilsted, and Balleby, and Per and Ulf, and Teddy, and Pohlmann, and Adam Remington, and I don’t know, then *please* educate us! ”

    Win.

  57. edanderson said:

    “If you know something that Bo, and Tom, and Jess, and Jody, and Micke, and Former, and Anne Julie, and Cornelius, and Garbe, and Barbi, and Gotoh, and Ilsted, and Balleby, and Per and Ulf, and Teddy, and Pohlmann, and Adam Remington, and I don’t know, then *please* educate us!”

    Have both a Jody and Pohlmann that came coated. Cleaned out easily with a wet paper towel. Waterglass? I think not.

  58. toddjohnson said:

    Ed Anderson said:

    “Have both a Jody and Pohlmann that came coated. Cleaned out easily with a wet paper towel. Waterglass? I think not.”

    Think what you like Ed. Jody and I have been close friends for 13 years, and cut our pipe making teeth together. Is his “recipe” a bit different than mine? Yes. Does it contain water glass? Yes.

    Why *couldn’t* it be water glass? Is it because you’ve *heard* water glass coatings are insidious and have to be removed with a chainsaw and a solution of borax and acid? That’s my point! Just because you “think” something doesn’t make it true.

    As for Brad, it’s been several years since he and I have made pipes together. Perhaps he’s changed his bowl coating recipe since 2009.

    TJ

  59. edanderson said:

    Thought provoking post Todd. I’m open for whatever is true in this debate. So are you saying if I bought one of your pipes coated with your recipe I could easily wipe it out with a wet paper towel?

    I only ask as I’ve had experiences with coatings that required a “chain saw” to remove. I assumed (based on what I read on the internet - can’t be posted unless true ;) that they must have been waterglass.

    All I want is the truth about all this despite my thoughts and (personal) biased opinions.

  60. Kevin said:

    You can’t handle the truth! j/k. Sorry, couldn’t resist. ;-)

  61. georged said:

    Bowl coatings are like a treatment for car tires that prevents them from suddenly becoming cans of spaghetti and meatballs: eminently desirable, but wholly unnecessary.

    If coatings offered statistically significant protection from burnouts, the point wouldn’t still be argued after 150 years of briar usage. It would simply be a given, understood and accepted by everyone who made briar pipes. For economic reasons if no other. Nobody would risk losing hundreds of dollars tomorrow in order to save pennies today.

    A taste improvement, then? No. The highest praise for a coating in that regard is being undetectable or “flavor neutral.”

    Aesthetic considerations? That’s pretty much a wash. About as many like a dark, pre-smoked look as enjoy seeing grain inside the bowl.

    Which means the REAL reason for all the fuss (obviously) lies with the same top secret government agency that was responsible for the Apollo moon landing hoax, and for the same reason: Extraterrestrials demanded it. An agreement was reached with them shortly after the Roswell incident that they could have anything on Earth they wanted in exchange for the stealth technology utilized by their spaceships, and what they chose was bowl coatings in tobacco pipes. Go figure. The campaign has been underway ever since.

    And people thought pipes were dull.

  62. wayneteipen said:

    georged, your argument is as plausible as some of the myths circulating throughout our hobby. ;)

  63. briarblues said:

    Good Day All;

    Todd are you telling us that - Bo Nordh, Tom Eltang, Jess Chonowistch, Jody Davis, Jorn Micke, Former, Anne Julie, Cornelius Maenz, Ingo Garbe, Rainer Barbi, Gotoh, Poul Ilsted, Kurt Balleby, and Per and Ulf ( S. Bang ) , Teddy Knudsen, Brad Pohlmann, Adam Remington, and you, all use “water glass” in the recipes of their chamber coatings?

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

  64. glpease said:

    “If you know something that Bo, and Tom, and Jess, and Jody, and Micke, and Former, and Anne Julie, and Cornelius, and Garbe, and Barbi, and Gotoh, and Ilsted, and Balleby, and Per and Ulf, and Teddy, and Pohlmann, and Adam Remington, and I don’t know, then *please* educate us! ”
    Win.

    .
    Win? Little more than an appeal to celebrity, “proving” nothing. I could offer an equally impressive list, a much longer one, of celebrated pipe makers who either do not coat their bowls, or who use only organic coatings, and that list would also be proof of nothing. But, considering the hundreds of millions of pipes that have been made and smoked over the last 160 years without any sort of protective coating, I will continue to suggest that the protective aspect of these silicate coatings is a red herring.
    .
    There was a time when some pipe makers thought that lining bowls with asbestos was a swell idea. A likely scenario is that one or a couple tried it, demonstrated its efficacy, and others followed suit. No one today, I hope, would apply the same “logic” that those makers knew something we don’t. (I am not equating silicate bowl coatings with asbestos, simply making the observation that the reasoning is equally ludicrous.)
    .
    No amount of bowl coating will keep the seemingly endless parade of straw men from bursting into flame at the touch of a lit match of scrutiny. I do love a parade.

  65. toddjohnson said:

    There is no such thing as an “equally impressive list,” Greg. That’s the point. I’d love to have a conversation about this in Chicago. Will you be there?

    TJ

  66. toddjohnson said:

    Oh, and as for the straw men, the match of scrutiny, and all the other poetic distractions, the ball’s in your court. I have lit said match of scrutiny, and from the smell of things here, your erroneous claims are getting a bit toasty. Perhaps you’d like to demonstrate their veracity rather than blathering on endlessly without actually saying anything. I have demonstrated that sodium silicate provides significant protection in the event of abusive smoking practices, that it is not in fact “anhydrous” before being “heat cured,” and have offered to demonstrate publicly that it is *still* not anhydrous after heat curing. The only thing you’ve demonstrated is that you’re not willing to put your money where your mouth is. If you’re certain you’re right, show us. I would LOVE to see it. After all, every parade needs a clown.

    TJ

  67. georged said:

    Still arguing about dinosaur repellent, eh?





 

 


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