Briar Age

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craig61a

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Apr 29, 2017
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Just noticed this is a nearly year old thread...

I’ve smoked unsmoked pipes from the 80’s in the last few years. Never had a problem. Still have unsmoked pipes from the 80’s, one of them being an Upshall. I guess the warranty won’t cover cracking now...

I’ve heard of 100+ year old unsmoked pipes cracking. My guess is the hardening, shrinkage, and drying of the wood over many decades doesn’t allow for any resiliency.

My home was built in 1937. Over the years, on projects where I’ve had to cut or drill into old wood, there have been instances where cutting this old wood was like cutting steel. Dense, hard stuff.
 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
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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.
My bad. Some of The Romance Of The Barling Pipe can be seen on the Pipedia Barling page. Otherwise I don't know of any other place it can be found. Tad gage was kind enough to contribute that material to the page.
 
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Papamique

Member
Mar 11, 2020
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For me, an excellent smoking pipe when it comes to taste is a briar pipe that the tobacco tastes the same as when smoked in a meerschaum pipe. There is a bitterness/sourness I can taste in many briar pipes. The exceptions have been pipes that have been well cured like Barling, Sasieni, vintage Dunhill, and castello pipes. It is a purity in flavor that makes me sit up and take notice. This is the only way I can describe a “good smoking” pipe - to me.
A question I have often wondered (and what I read the OP to be asking) is-“does the briar continue to season after the bowl has been turned and finished or only when bare wood”?
 

jpmcwjr

Preferred Member
May 12, 2015
17,267
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Monterey Peninsula
Call it seasoning or not, all pipe materials - save Brylons- change over their existence.

As to " There is a bitterness/sourness I can taste in many briar pipes." you may be a candidate for the hot water flush.

You can put your location in your Profile—(please!—because people will forget!) That will save questions in the future as to where you live when you later mention local stores, weather, tobacco prices, availability, regulations, location of photos, wildfires, air quality, etc., etc..
Under your avatar, (top right, left most of three symbols) you choose "Account Details", which brings up "My Account". "My Location" is halfway down. Whatever you're comfortable with- town, city, county, state. Just country if you must.
 
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Papamique

Member
Mar 11, 2020
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865
Thanks. I did the water flush “thing” long before seeing it here and it was ok but did nothing for this taste. They are not dirty pipes. Some have been estate but others NOS and a couple new production. I will stick with the pipes that smoke great-for me.
I no longer do the water flush as I prefer other methods.

I am not here to learn basic pipe smoking tips such as cleaning my pipes, choosing them, packing, lighting, etc. Not because I know everything but because I have been at this for 30 years and have settled in on what I like and don’t like and am quiet happy.
 
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wayneteipen

Senior Member
May 7, 2012
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Moisture in the environment ebbs and flows in minute amounts through all wood with the changes in the humidity in the environment. Where I live, the winters are extremely dry and the summers are very humid. There is as considerable difference in the woodwork in my house if I don't humidify in the dry winters; especially when I heat with the wood stove which sucks even more moisture out of the air. This ebbing and flowing of small amounts of moisture can carry leftover tannins out of the wood and improve the neutrality of the pipe over many years. The tannins in briar are what can give them an off, "green" flavor. At the briar mills, briar blocks are boiled after being cut to leech out most of these tannins but not all of them. The water from the boiling process in the large vats turns red/orange with tannins. A good briar mill will change their water frequently so the tannins don't over concentrate the water and hinder the amount of tannin pulled out of the wood. These days, because of the increase in demand from briar mills, many blocks reach the pipemakers still somewhat wet inside from the boiling process. A pipemaker that has deep supplies of briar blocks can afford to let them sit to dry in their shop and use the driest blocks they have. A pipe can certainly be cut from a wet block and will dry relatively quickly once the tobacco chamber and airway is drilled but it may spend some time continuing to dry; especially over the course of the next few years. In my shop, I notice a significant difference in the moisture content of newly cut blocks and blocks that have been sitting for several years. When you drill the tobacco chamber of a new block, you can see the moisture pushed to the surface of the wood. For that reason, I let my blocks sit in my shop to continue to dry for at least three years. It seems to me (at least in my midwest environment) that 2-3 years is the sweet spot for the moisture to balance with the environment. Beyond that, the blocks do still age and tannins continue to slowly leech out of the wood but the process slows significantly it seems when theirs less moisture to pull out of the wood bringing tannins with it and so aging longer seems to net diminishing returns. One big difference you can often tell between a newly cut block and an aged one is it's weight. New, wet blocks are heavy and old, dry blocks are light.
 

sasquatch

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Jul 16, 2012
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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.
I'm totally two-faced about this, because I don't really dig on the "older pipes are better than new ones because of the wood" stance, and at the same time, if you asked me to make a pipe that was a superlative smoker out of the gate and 100 smokes in, I'd grab the older wood I have around here, it simply isn't the same as fresh briar. But there's lots of ins and outs - I have old briar in the shop that I don't think tastes great (but it smokes dead dry, freaky dry), and I have old wood from a different mill that I think does taste great, almost sweet. I also have "new" wood that is only a couple years old and which is universally lauded, every pipe I've made from it gets rave reviews... Like Wayne, I tend to think that briar is aging on a curve and the first two or three years are really "steep" in terms of what is accomplished... I'm not sure much changes between 10 and 20 years on the shelf.

There's lots of very good wood out there, and our processes of cutting, boiling, and selecting are probably better than ever. I never sell a pipe hoping it won't crack. I know it won't because the wood is that good (unless the pipe is horribly abused). I think when factories were producing half a million or more pipes a year, a lot of stuff slipped through.

I don't think even magic briar can overcome bad internal geometry and bad stem work, and lots of pipes have both. The briar is necessary, but not, I think sufficient, to put in in logical terms. So to me, an Upshall (or anything) from 30 or 40 or 80 years ago may or may not be amazing or a total dog, and it depends largely on how well the pipe is put together. If there's a secret about why some pipes are great smokers, Barling, Dunhill, Castello, it's because they were built very simply and very carefully. Even in the early days Dunhill was sourcing at least two different briars - Alfred About Smoke claims that Bruyere pipes were all Calabrian, and Shells were all Algerian. Total BS? Maybe. But at the very least, some Dunhills were Calabrian, and some Algerian. And all Dunhills for that.
 

jpmcwjr

Preferred Member
May 12, 2015
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OTOH, I have about 15 pipes I acquired in the 60's, and stopped smoking them ca. 1970. When I resumed in 2014, they were just fine, and I am smoking them regularly now.

One perhaps major difference: They were not subjected to arid conditions, and were also very acclimatized to the conditions where I live when I did resume.
 
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oldgeezersmoker

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Oct 7, 2016
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I think when factories were producing half a million or more pipes a year, a lot of stuff slipped through.
I first met Edsel James, known as “Mr. Dunhill” back then (there is a Pipes and Tobacco Magazine article about him that uses that moniker) in the early 1980’s. I asked him about how he got into Dunhills.

He bought them at a Nashville drug store.
 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
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OTOH, I have about 15 pipes I acquired in the 60's, and stopped smoking them ca. 1970. When I resumed in 2014, they were just fine, and I am smoking them regularly now.

One perhaps major difference: They were not subjected to arid conditions, and were also very acclimatized to the conditions where I live when I did resume.
Hi Jon,

I think the issue is with pipes that haven't been smoked for close to the century mark.
 

wayneteipen

Senior Member
May 7, 2012
420
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I can see how a sudden drastic change in moisture and temperature could cause an aged briar pipe to crack; especially if there was a particular weakness in the wood. I've seen some briar that appears perfectly normal have soft pulp areas or unseen fissures, pits and similar flaws that may not hold up well to the sudden changes after being unsmoked for decades and being as dry as a bone. Moisture and temperature changes makes wood expand and contract. Like any wood, if it does so too fast, there can be parts of the wood that expand and contract at different rates causing it to split and crack.

I imagine there are precautions that can reduce the risk of an old pipe cracking if it hasn't been smoked in a long time like slowly and gradually exposing the old pipe to warmer temperatures and moisture levels so that the wood can adjust to the conditions of smoking more gradually. For a cherished or collectible pipe, it might be worth the effort.
 
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warren

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Sep 13, 2013
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A briar pipe is, from what I've seen over the years, a big, thick, hunk of wood. Guitars may be susceptible to changes in humidity but ... a chunk of hardwood? I doubt it.
 
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mso489

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Feb 21, 2013
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I have no expertise on the age of briar or its sourcing, but one observation I would make is that briar quality may rely more on the connections of the pipe makers than their ability to pay big. I've noticed for example that the Algerian briar in the old U.S. factory pipe Bentons is unusually good. My pipes, which are Iwan Ries house pipes from days of yore, are light for their size, have a smooth fills that have lasted for decades, and are probably some of the better briar I've seen. Likewise, Johs, who does moderately priced artisan pipes, seems to have access to the good briar, light weight, durable, and good looking in sandblast, smooth, or semi-rusticated. Established artisans and some old outfits like Benton sometimes offer premium briar at non-premium cost.
 

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