Briar Quality in Dunhill

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psperrytops

New member
Sep 15, 2016
11
0
I have read a lot about briar quality in Dunhill, and I know some fans prefer the older Dunhills to the newer ones. But my question is more related to briar supply. I understand there are basically three sources for briar: Italy, Algeria and Greece. Italian briar as I understand can only be supplied to Italian pipe makers leaving the other two available for international distribution. As I understand it, Dunhill is very selective with their briar, taking only the finest, regardless of source. My question relates to availability of this finest briar to independent custom pipe makers, whether in Europe or the United States. There are some very high priced one of a kinds made by custom pipe makers that even exceed the price of the higher end Dunhill (root briar, for example). Do these pipe makers have access to the same sources, which I presume they do, but does Dunhill, and possibly even Castello in Italy, get first pick because of their greater volume and position/presence in the market? Does Dunhill get first pick before other pipe makers because of their volume and luxury branding?

 

kenbarnes

Senior Member
Nov 12, 2015
351
5
Hi psperrytops.

Historically, We (James Upshall) bought plateaux briar from the Arta Company, Arta, Greece and Achaiki, Patras, Greece. The sizes that we bought were Extra Extra quality Large plateaux, Extra Extra PLSLL (Large Large PLS) PLSL (Large PLS). PLS which is the smallest plateaux normally went to Stanwell, Preben Holm and other Danish makers. Dunhill bought ebauchon blocks from the same saw mills which are smaller size blocks and normally cross-grain.For large Extra Extra Plateaux a bag would contain 9 dozen blocks. For approximately the same price, a bag of ebauchon blocks could contain 24 dozen - 50 dozen blocks in a bag. Dunhill used these ebauchon blocks for machine turning their catalogue shapes whilst we used the most expensive blocks for hand-turning. I know that in the 1970-1980s Dunhill would also source AB bowls (clean bowls or bowls with small sandspots) from some French manufacturers and others.

Today I buy finest quality plateaux blocks from two sources in Italy and Achaiki in Patras has also offered to supply me with plateaux. I live in the U.K. I hope this helps.

 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
25,907
78
Are briar blocks sold at auction, by contract, or wholesale at set prices? Is briar only available the places you mentioned, or is it the labor force that is lacking at other locations? Harvesting briar seems like incredibly heavy work.

 

sasquatch

Preferred Member
Jul 16, 2012
965
3
Briar "quality" is very subjective. Naturally if every Dunhill piece was perfect physically, there would be no need for sandblasting. In fact every one would be a "DR". Such is not the case.
Quality briar comes in many forms - smoking quality is one thing (probably based on curing process as well as region). Looks are another.
There's lots and lots of very good briar - I just bought some yesterday at the Chicago show, with help from the cutter even. If you have the money, honey, they have the goods.

 

kenbarnes

Senior Member
Nov 12, 2015
351
5
Are briar blocks sold at auction, by contract, or wholesale at set prices? Is briar only available the places you mentioned, or is it the labor force that is lacking at other locations? Harvesting briar seems like incredibly heavy work.
Hi mso489

blocks come at a more or less standard price. There are some batches that are ok and some that are beautiful. Extra Extra (that's the quality)Large Plateaux costs between $40 -80 per block. I usually by the biggest blocks, not to make big pipes, to have 'enough room' to find the grain and bring it out.

In the 1980s I remember contacting a saw mill in Corte, Corsica asking if they could supply me with top quality briar and they replied that the saw mill was closed down although they could open it again if I wanted to buy some briar.

The whole process is, to my mind, exhausting. I once tried to dig out a burl of briar in the foothills of Arta. I was pretty fit in those days and boy was it exhausting! Once the burls arrive at the saw mill, a lot more work is required to produce one block of high grade plateaux briar. The other day, a briar cutter sent me a breakdown of the yield he gets at his saw mill, which I found fascinating.

"we cut more or less from 90,000 to 120,000 kg a year of fresh briar and only 30% will be blocks for pipes (70% wood for fire); of these 30% of blocks yielded, 70% will be ebouchons for factory production (small blocks for making catalogue shapes – ‘series turning’) and 30% plateaux in 3 grading: the 30% plateaux yield is: TOP level I super 10%; II grade good 30%: III grade for sandblast 60%.

If I consider only the top level plateaux (10% of the total plateaux) 90% are for brandy (apple) and Dublin shapes and free-style and perhaps only 10% for billiards and if the shank is long only a few blocks a year for a Canadian. On the low grade you have more possibility to find a Canadian and a billiard shape but the quality of the wood is not as nice as the first grade."
 

folanator

Preferred Member
Nov 24, 2015
694
18
Amazing insight here. Thanks so much.

Q: Why is it harder to find a block suitable for a top grade Canadian?

 

folanator

Preferred Member
Nov 24, 2015
694
18
Probably because the length of the shank in a Canadian shape is longer than in any other shape.
I understand that.
Just don't get why a flaw would be more critical for a shank as opposed to the bowl. They both are similar surface areas.

 

warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
7,346
26
Shank is more fragile than the bowl. Ergo, any weakness in the shank deserves more consideration than one in the bowl. That's my guess.

 

sasquatch

Preferred Member
Jul 16, 2012
965
3
There's lots of big briar, and lots of perfect briar. Perfect big briar is ... pretty rare.

 

saltedplug

Preferred Member
Jul 24, 2016
1,912
2
The wood. The wood. The wood. One maker uses Triple XXX briar from the famed heath trees in outer Saskatoon, and then oil cures it and air cures it for another 20 years. Castello air cures for 10 years. The wood. The wood. The wood. But I ask you, if you have any favorite woods, just what did they do for you?
"Oh, I find the Triple XXX oil-cured consistently gives me a rounder smoke."

"Oh? What do you mean by "rounder" and how would you describe it?"

"Oh, can't rightly say."
Now there may indeed be something to what you say. But until it can be measured and the pipe community can find that same roundness, it has no reliability and is just another selective perception used to market pipes.

 

sasquatch

Preferred Member
Jul 16, 2012
965
3
Bit more to it than that, salted.
Maybe Ken will play a game with us: three blocks here Ken, which one do you want?