Briar Age

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sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
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Yep.

You've been very lucky.
Well, 30 to 40 years is one thing. A century, more or less, which IIRC was the age of your KB&B is quite another. But very old briars that have survived in very arid conditions are more likely candidates to crack when suddenly exposed to the high temperatures and steam caused by smoking. And according to Georged, really ancient pipes can undergo a bit of a structural change over decades of being exposed to air, akin to oxidation of the upper surface of the raw wood in the chamber walls. That's why I had George put a protective silicate coating over the walls of my 1883 Barling Magnum. My 1906 Barling is smoked regularly.
 

orlandofurioso

Senior Member
Dec 10, 2013
420
159
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.
Hi Jesse,

Long story short; is the Barling pamphlet to be retrieved ?
 
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cigrmaster

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May 26, 2012
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I remember when the guy who bought out the Upshall company and was selling his pipes all over ebay. He claimed the briar was 100 year old and the finest briar blaha blah blah. I think he claimed it was also Algerian briar which is alleged to be the best. Everyone who knows anything about briar knows the best comes from Newark NJ.
 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
11,594
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Hi Jesse,

Long story short; is the Barling pamphlet to be retrieved ?
You mean believed? I see no reason not to. There's nothing unorthodox about using 60 year old Briar. That doesn't preclude the possibility that Barling also used older wood, as they state in the 1962 catalog.

I'm not an expert on Briar so I talk with experts like cutters, carvers, brokers, and restorers, and parse that information into some general guidelines for myself.

But, just to reiterate how the age of a piece of Briar is defined, again this comes from cutters, carvers, brokers, and restorers, it's defined by how long it's been growing in the ground.

And that makes perfect sense. The lifespan of a burl determines its structure and that structure is fixed once the burl is harvested. The rest are processes at work on that structure.
 

cosmicfolklore

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Aug 9, 2013
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I don't doubt for a minute that the actual bush has to be old before it is harvested. That makes perfect sense.

But, back to the OP, briar has to be cured and aged, or else it has a nasty "green" taste. All of the pipemakers I have heard speak, talk about the quality and age of the briar they use. Skip Elliot buys up old stock and still will let it continue to age. A lot of pipemakers do this, from my understanding. And, the older the pipe, the less of those nasty oils that is left in the wood, to my understanding.

Funny, we haven't had a pipemaker comment yet. I would think @sasquatch or @georged could add some qualifications to this discussion.
 

paulie66scandinavian

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Jul 28, 2016
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I remember when the guy who bought out the Upshall company and was selling his pipes all over ebay. He claimed the briar was 100 year old and the finest briar blaha blah blah. I think he claimed it was also Algerian briar which is alleged to be the best. Everyone who knows anything about briar knows the best comes from Newark NJ.
Harris , That man claimed the briar used was from Greece
 

kcghost

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May 6, 2011
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Olathe, Kansas
This all very interesting. I know carvers like to claim their briar is the best (they got it from the sands of timbukto and its ancient) but I don't think they really know. Kind of like claims of something is the best when they mean their favorite. Of all the thing I have heard I think sable is the one I'd believe.
 

anotherbob

Preferred Member
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 ?
I bet it really could make a difference. I know it's not the same thing but musical instruments made from wood age. For years people tried to figure out why Stradivarius are so great and then technology advanced to the point where they could analyze it and found it was a combination of well crafted but no more so then the top instrument makers now combined with the wood aging and improving over time. You can hear the effect with old guitars too. I don't really know if pipes would do the same thing but I can say my 20 year old pipe isn't the same pipe it was 20 years ago and feels subtly different in hand then it did back then. Yes I don't know but it certainly is possible.
 

anotherbob

Preferred Member
Pipes that go unsmoked for many decades run the risk of cracking when smoked.
I have to wonder about that because it seems to me that stories about pipes cracking when smoked has gone down over the decades. Like I remember older smokers talking about pipes cracking when smoked a lot more then younger smokers. For example almost every older smoker I knew claimed to have had at least one pipe crack and yet if we did a survey now I'am sure we'd get a pretty low number of people saying yes that happened to them. Might be something about quality control being higher and having more ways to pick up on issues in briar or maybe older roots that people say they used back then had desirable smoking qualities but also a better chance of cracking. I don't know but it seems like what I'am running my typing fingers about is plausible.
 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
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You can get some idea of the processing of Briar by reading catalogs by different makers, as well as their promotional material intended for their dealers use. Barling believed that air curing was the best way to go, so the wood went through several years of seasoning so that it had excellent dimensional stability. Comoy did the same.
Dunhill developed oil treatments to push the sap out more quickly and cut down on the curing and seasoning time. Sasieni did something similar.
I've yet to talk with any pro who says that briar just keeps getting better and better the more you let it sit on the shelf. The estimates for seasoning before shaping that I've been given run the gamut from 6 months to a couple of years.
 

jpmcwjr

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May 12, 2015
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Monterey Peninsula
Tightness of grain is more a function of growing conditions than age, either in the ground or on a shelf. I've not heard of anyone claiming that a particular curing process tightens up the grain, though that may be possible to a very small degree.
 

orlandofurioso

Senior Member
Dec 10, 2013
420
159
You mean believed? I see no reason not to. There's nothing unorthodox about using 60 year old Briar. That doesn't preclude the possibility that Barling also used older wood, as they state in the 1962 catalog.

I'm not an expert on Briar so I talk with experts like cutters, carvers, brokers, and restorers, and parse that information into some general guidelines for myself.

But, just to reiterate how the age of a piece of Briar is defined, again this comes from cutters, carvers, brokers, and restorers, it's defined by how long it's been growing in the ground.

And that makes perfect sense. The lifespan of a burl determines its structure and that structure is fixed once the burl is harvested. The rest are processes at work on that structure.
Sorry, English is not my first language and this was not a typo .
I meant if it is available , if it can be read, retrieved from the www . etc.
 
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Sonorisis

Preferred Member
Dec 24, 2019
691
2,171
I don't know anything about pipes cracking. I do know that wood takes time to acclimate to new surroundings. I could easily see how a piece of wood that was very dry could undergo a lot of stress if suddenly wetted (combustion byproducts) and heated. It's kind of like me getting out of bed in the morning -- slower, more gradual is better!
 

FurCoat

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Sep 21, 2020
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Clayton, NC
Pipes that go unsmoked for many decades run the risk of cracking when smoked.
Any recommendations on smoking such a pipe? I have a couple of unsmoked estate pipes with some age on them. I didn't order them as unsmoked but lo and behold they are virgins. Light honey coating maybe? The pipes are beautiful, I don't want to damage them.
 

saltedplug

Preferred Member
Aug 20, 2013
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We would not be interested in briar age unless we thought that it added to the smoke. But since no one talks about it, I have to wonder if it exists at all. No one says that they have, for a fact, a pipe with 50 y/o briar that makes a better burn or better flavor. No one. At most they are going to give the sage acknowledgment of the boards, "I'll bet it will be a good smoker" as a reply to someone's post about their new pipe, and who is then obliged to say the same when you post yours.

I'm a stickler for facts, or at least opinion, to back up any assertion that something has any property you claim. If indeed the briar's age makes a difference, I would like to hear how it makes a difference. If a pipe smokes better, how would you possibly separate that from the other parts of the pipe such as a comfortable bit or a shape that strongly appeals.

No doubt guys who say a certain pipe smokes like a dream are talking about something, but they can't tell you much about that saying why. And if they have a pipe with old briar that they feel makes a significant difference in the smoke, how much less able will they be to tie smoking characteristics to such a difference.

When I hear "the wood" talked about it is typically by a salesperson whose eye is on his commission and the bottom line.
 

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