Zebra pipes?

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Senior Member
Jan 4, 2010
I seriously don't wish to step on anyones toes, or disparage any of the pipe makers out there with this opinion, but I'm going to just express it, and see if anyone else out there feels the same. Or not.
Pipe grain. I konw most pipe smokers love looking at a well grained pipe. The more and the straighter, the better. Or the better they can see the birdseye on their pipes, the better they like it. Or a combination of the two.

And I agree. To a point.
Grain to a pipe, is like stripes to a zebra. I also like to look at the graining on my pipes as a handle them, and show them off. Why, the same pipe could cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars more if the grain is angel hair straight.

The amount of grain often determines if it is going to be a Charatan Crown Achievement, or just a lowly Belvedere. Or a Dunhill Dr 3 star, or a plain Bruyere.
But in the past 15 or 20 years, I don't know exactly when it started to show up as much, pipemakes have taken it a little too far, I feel.
Looking at my meagre collection of pipes, I am trying to select some to illustrate what I mean.

I chose three American Smoking Pipes, not to pick on Mark Tinsky, as I think he is a wonderful pipe maker ( I just ordered a pipe from him, and love it ) but they just happened to be what I have on hand. It could equally apply to Charatan, Dunhill or Chonowitch.
Pipe staining. Pipe staining is an art. Mostly learned through long experience.

But staining a pipe to show off the grain to best advantage has become an means to an end I think.

When a maker finds that the pipe he just carved is sort of plain looking, he (or she)has resorted to contrast straining to make the best of what he is given to work with.

I don't know who started contrast staining, but sometimes I wish they wouldn't do it quite so much. Some say the Danes started using it first. I don't know if that is true or not.
With a well grained brair, why would they need to add a contrast stain to make it look better?

Of course the answer is clear with a poorly grained bowl. To highlight what grain is there.
But I would prefer a normally stained pipe. If you want to dark stain it, fine. If you want to stain it with a lighter one, that's fine too. You can still see that the bowl has nice grain.

Taking a poorly grained pipe and applying a contrast stain on it is like yelling

"hey! look! I have some grain!

It looks flashy to me, where a single color stain has a classier look. Let me show you what I mean.

The bottom pipe was made in 1989 I believe. Dark brown stain but still with nice graining.

The middle pipe was made in 1994. A lighter stain, but still not too bad.

The top pipe was just made for me in Dec. 2009. It looks good, except compared to the bottom pipe, it appears splotchy.
I don't know if it's the brair used, or the type of staining, but pipes made years ago with just a single color on the bowl looked better to me.

Maybe it's the era we are in. The "Look at me" era. The flashiest,loudest, most garrish seem to get noticed the most.

While the quietly subtle, classy, and tasteful are ignored.
Ok. Maybe I need to just get a life. Or maybe sell some of my " zebra pipes". I'm sure there would be a lot of takers.



Smoking a Pipe Right Now
Staff member
Nov 16, 2008
St. Petersburg, FL
That's pretty interesting Max. I learned something new today.
Another way to affect color is to do contrast stains. Typically this is done by staining the pipe a dark color, then sanding the pipe again until the dark color only remains in the grain of the pipe. It is convenient that the most absorbent part of the wood is the grain, as this will really highlight a beautifully grained pipe. Once sanded, the pipe can be restained a lighter color.
Source: http://pipedia.org/index.php?title=Staining