The only freehand I have ever owned was this Former. The stem looks like the rest of you guys freehands. The grain on this thing was insane, wish I had a better pic. I sold this thing a long time ago as it was big and heavy.
As to the OP, now that you mention it, every freehand I've owned had stems where the tenon seemed to barely go into the shank. Have a couple consequently where the stem as a result falls out easily. Good thing I don't clench.
That was back in the good old days when pipe makers could buy a premade acrylic stem for $3 instead of spending hours making a stem from rod stock....I've never liked the tenon sticking out of the mortise look...and I actually like making stems....
I've seen this on non-freehand shape pipes, and own one or two, but it tends to look like the least labor-intensive (cheapest) way to do this. It's not terrible, and if the price is right, and you like the pipe otherwise, it's acceptable. But it is the drill and push, and don't look back, way of installing a stem. Okay but minimal. Usually the shank is drilled, and the stem is cut, so they look like they fit ... though some aren't. It's a design point that I notice and that requires a decision, yeah or nay.
Really this is just a thing where you have a pipe shaped in 15 minutes, and a stem grabbed from the pile and jammed in, it's that simple. This was a way to save time and money, which is what factory pipe making is all about, usually.
I don't know if it was just mine, but I had a Preben that I fully inserted the stem on. The shank eventually cracked. It's the only pipe I ever had that happen to. My near worthless advice, proceed with caution.
sas', it's true that factory pipes are done on an assembly lines, and any handcrafting is secondary to production. However, the push-bit pipes that fit only the drilled hole in the shank are quite different from most factory made pipes where the stem and shank are precisely matched, whether by cutting the stem to the shank, or trimming the shank to the stem. Most factory pipes are produced carefully with considerable precision, and if the line carvers are good and have experienced supervision, and there is quality control, you end up with beautiful pipes in most cases. So you can't put these plug-in stems off on factory pipes. I've seen artisan pipes with the same approach, some photographs of them on this thread. The original post here asks about the most basic matching of briar and stem, and this occurs with both artisan and factory pipes, but not on most pipes in general, where care is taken to match up the flow and design of shank and stem. White Spot and Dr. Grabow both do this, both often incredibly well.
And the direct answer to that question is that these type of stems have a little bit of taper on them, the "lock" like a military mount. So you can drill out a pile of stummels with whatever drill size is fitting, and if you are .001" out on tolerance, it doesn't matter - the stems will insert and lock up whereever they choose to lock up. It's a can't-miss proposition (and it explains why if you jam and ram these stems in, you can crack the shank). And leaving some space on the stem makes sense on these plateau type shank ends - they aren't flat, there's nothing for a stem to sit against.
It's true, some of the least "lovable" pipes I've come across at antique stores and flea markets are freehands knocked out during the craze in the 1970's and 80's following the crest of the original and often striking Danish versions in the 1960's and onward. Most of them, it's not just the stem. That's the least of it. The briar is barely worked at all, just enough that it isn't a block of wood.
My thought is that it is more of an aesthetic design statement by the artisan rather than a haphazard misfit.
Personally, I like the look but I am also like freehand pipes.
I realize Peterson makes quote 'factory' pipes but I have a number of Peterson's and they are great smokers. The vast majority of Peterson pipes have the stem flush with the shank, others I think are purpose built stem standoff.
Embers, that is an impressively original freehand. It strengthens my sense that the Danes and other freehand makers embraced this off-handed style of stems as a sort of flourish and rebellion against all the trimming and fitting of stems on most pipes. In this case, it looks especially cocky and in-your-face in a good way. The shaping on the briar dismisses any notion that this isn't a finely crafted pipe. I get the idea. Then the cheap, careless versions came along and made it look haphazard and shoddy. It's like all the high school kids who picked up e.e. cummings lack of capitalization and punctuation, but without his mastery, and just wrote poorly.
I thought the military bit was a metal to metal joint between shank and stem designed to make breaking down a pipe under fire less likely to crack the briar. The legend went that the original joints were made out of shell casings, in the long slow times between combat actions.