Pipe Stems Loosening When Humidity Increases?

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Mar 28, 2018
Green Bay
Ok, full disclosure- I posted this in another thread, but thought the topic worthy of its own thread. I lived in New Mexico for several years and really began piping in earnest while there. Then we moved to the Seattle area, and I found all my stems were loose, and needed help of beeswax to stay tight. Then we moved to Colorado a few years ago, and all those beeswaxed stems got super tight again, and I removed it. Now it just may be me, but doesn’t wood swell when wet and shrink when dry? But my pipes all seemed to do the opposite. Any other similar experience?



Starting to Get Obsessed
Jan 1, 2018
Another factor is specific gravity. When making pipes you have to let the briar sit for some weeks to months while the wood is getting used to the gravity change from different elevations. Vulcanite and Lucite also reacts to specific gravity also which is another factor you may have to consider while moving to different locations.



Jul 16, 2012
Yes. When humidity increases, each of the "rods" that carry liquid in the wood expands (the xylem). So just like the old iron ball and ring thing, where if you heat the ring it goes over the ball... so it is with the wood. Higher humidity means a looser fit, low humidity means the shank literally gets smaller and that mortise gets tighter.
"Why does a stem tighten up when I smoke it then, smart guy?" The answer is that you apply humidity only to the inside of the mortise, and it swells, while the outside of the pipe does not.
We see vast humidity swings here in the Canadian prairies - it's 70% RH through the summer, drops as low as 2% in the winter. Some of my pipes move a lot, some move hardly at all, but in general, they are looser in the summer and tighter in the winter.
FWIW I have no idea what "specific gravity" could be.



Starting to Get Obsessed
Jan 3, 2018
Because ebonite shrinks more than cold wood.
Me not long ago I took two old pipes not smoked for 30 years, the pipes had almost the game at the beginning but since having been smoked they are tightened.

No doubt that the very dry wood has re-inflated a little to moisture.



Can't Leave
Aug 3, 2017
mikefu - I have found this to be the case also. Last Jan I was in Mexico. Took a brand new un smoked Ryan Alden pipe with me. 2nd day there was able to have some time for a bowl. Stem was very loose. Smoked it ( carefully ) but the stem remained loose, as well the other 3 pipes had the same issue. Returned home to Vancouver BC, and after 3 days back the stems had all returned to normal. I suggest that before you do any bees wax to tenons, allow the pipes some time to get used to the new location. If after a week they are still loose, then maybe add a touch of bees wax.

Michael J. Glukler

May 8, 2017
Sugar Grove, IL, USA
With respect to the briar, I can state with 100% certainty that the mortise will become larger as its moisture level increases. Restated, the stem will get looser as humidity increases. I have a set of unsmoked pipes which unfortunately had a stubborn musty aroma. During the course of my efforts to eliminate those odors, I tried placing the bowls in a Dutch oven with a UV bulb, then carefully adjusted the lid to maintain 180F for about 12 hours. This process, of course, dries the wood. Upon removal, the pipes with silver bands had shrunken enough that they fell off. The mortises had shrunken to the point that the stems could no longer safely be reinserted. After a couple of weeks of rest, however, everything returned to its original size. BTW, the musty aromas were eliminated in the briar.



Feb 21, 2013
Whew, talk about counter-intuitive. If I hold any of this in mind, I'll feel I have some special knowledge in the pipe sphere. In damp weather the doors in my house stick, but I think this has already been covered in the context of pipes.



Nov 24, 2015
I am having the same issue with a punto d'oro corallo de mere poker that I am re-finishing. Cant get the stem to fit right. I bee waxed it and it was still a little lose so I did the tea candle thing. But that just melted all the bees wax and made it worse. Uuuugh...



Dec 6, 2012
Robinson, TX.
All I know is don't do what I did. I had a pipe with a loose joint connection. A pipe smoking "friend" said it was an easy fix. Just get a low flame lighter and roll the tenon around the lighter for 7-8 seconds, and then lightly press the end of the tenon down on a hard surface. That tenon went from Beagle to Bulldog and to this day I've never been able to get the dadgum tenon back into the mortise. :oops:



Can't Leave
Jun 29, 2016
I've had luck with heating the tenon then expanding it with an old narrow ice pick that has a very gradual taper. I've also tried it with a carpenter's awl but that taper was too aggressive.



Staff member
May 12, 2015
Carmel Valley, CA
Heating alone may put the tenon back to its original shape. Then, pressing down on it while warm should expand the diameter a bit, with somewhat less risk of flare than pressing inside the tenon.

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