Briar Age

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Jan 24, 2019
I just ordered an unsmoked Upshall made in 1987.
Many people extol the virtues of briar that is 10 yrs old, or 50 yrs, or whatever. This pipe is 32 years old, plus some number of years before it was carved. So my question is, is that 32 additional years of "desirablity" , i.e. better smoking quality, for the briar ? I suspect it doesn't work that way, but it's all a mystery to me.
Opinions ?


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Sep 19, 2019
Liplapper Lane
I'm given to understand that the older, the better, where briar is concerned. I believe I read that pipes used to be made out of 80 - 100 year old Erica arborea but that it's now being harvested from 40 year old plants as a matter of convenience. Once harvested, the aging becomes a matter of drying, which also improves the product. I'm not sure how much more benefit is received once the stummel has finish applied. Seems it might seal the wood negating further aging but I stand subject to correction. In any event, older is better.
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Preferred Member
Nov 13, 2019
not sure if it's briar quality or age but any unsmoked pipe that old has been better to me than a newer similar pipe if that makes sense.

again, I don't know if this is due to manufacturing, briar quality, or age.

the wood won't really be "sealed" as it's still got open grain bare minimum in the shank.. probably the bowl as well.
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Nov 12, 2014
As a contra-position to the old pipes will crack discussion, I bought a pipe that was made from French stummels turned around WWII but never finished. They were subsequently finished and sold through SP at a very reasonable price. Great smoker and no issues.
I had a 117 year old KB&B that had the shank split horizontally after the first smoke.


Preferred Member
May 11, 2017
Ok ... it boils down to this

1. A old pipe which is unsmoked is likely to crack when smoked. The owner is lucky if it does not


2. An old pipe which is unsmoked will smoke fine. If it cracks then the owner is unlucky.

I am in group #2 since my anecdotal evidence states ... all my very old (upto 90 years old) has smoked fine. Did not crack.

Let’s hear all the anecdotal evidences


Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
Helena, Alabama
The Briary has put out hundreds of pre WW2 stummels that were finished out for shop pipes. I have several, along with a box of turn of the century stummels that I finished myself.

But, it could be that something about that pipe splitting had been waiting for all of those years for the chance to split. We probably will never know the whole story going on inside that one particular briar.


Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
Just addressing this particular instance, not the principle of the whole question, that briar should be sufficiently dried to exhibit any benefits of aging. I suspect there are specific limits to how much drying is needed, but this pipe has passed that point long ago.
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Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
I could be totally wrong here, but I always thought that 'older is better' when it comes to briar referred to the age of the shrub when the burl is pulled from the ground
That's correct to a certain extent. Once the wood is out of the ground that's the end of it. How the wood is processed plays a role, the quality of the wood plays a role, the area from which it is sourced, etc, etc. But when someone refers to 50 year old briar, they're referring to the age of the burl in the ground.

Rainer Barbi wrote about what he considered the best age range for briar, between 35 and 60 years of age, and the ridiculousness of claims about 100 year old and older briar being better, because of changes in the capillary structure of the wood as it became very advanced in age that made such wood a poor choice for making pipes.

There is a certain romanticism surrounding ancient wood. In the '20's Kaywoodie claimed to use 100 year old wood. People would wax rhapsodic about Barling's old wood. But in the 1920's Barling produced a pamphlet called "The Romance Of The Barling Pipe" wherein they specified that they looked for burls that were about 60 years old. Only in their 1962 catalog do they mention wood being between 80 and 120 years of age.
There is a prime age for everything and then there is decline, whether it's wine, tobacco, wood, or people.

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