Why Briar?

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Crawley1066

Member
Oct 14, 2014
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United Kingdom
www.jpcleather.com
Fairly new here but I had some morning musings which got me thinking - be great to see what you guys think...

I’m a hobbyist Wood butcher and I’m about to start my first Pipe project - nothing fancy, just a pre-drilled kit (in case I make a right mess). Got me wondering though, why briar?

To be more exact, why briar most of the time? I get the wood has a natural fire resistance, but isn’t that related to its density and hardness? On the janka scale, briar’s about there with hickory, pear, apple, boxwood less hard than ebony and lignum (but an ebony/lignum pipe might cost a bomb...).

I may have answered my own question there on the cost vs appearance side of things, but you can get some lovely figured wood comparable to briar’s hardness; I just wonder why I don’t see it used more often?
 
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civilwar

Preferred Member
Mar 6, 2018
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Other woods are used like olive or morta. Strawberry wood is also used, but that's a briar. In a blue moon you can find a pipe made from cherry. I've often wondered about Iron wood for a pipe.
 
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Crawley1066

Member
Oct 14, 2014
161
403
United Kingdom
www.jpcleather.com
Other woods are used like olive or morta. Strawberry wood is also used, but that's a briar. In a blue moon you can find a pipe made from cherry. I've often wondered about Iron wood for a pipe.
Ironwood would be stunning! I’ve seen it used a fair bit on knife scales and they always looks great. I just wonder why it’s not done more in the commercial setting. Fully appreciate it can be theoretically - but I wondered if there was that much of an aversion to it to not make it viable and why that might be (unless I’ve missed something fundamental about the properties of briar that no other wood has of course).
 

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greeneyes

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Jun 5, 2018
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Told another way, it was a broken Meerschaum during a trip to Napoleon's birthplace.
 
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Crawley1066

Member
Oct 14, 2014
161
403
United Kingdom
www.jpcleather.com
A lot of African woods seem to me like they would be conducive to making great pipes. Keep in mind though that some woods give off some pretty nasty toxins when heated/burned. Some are also very detrimental to the respiratory system in the form of dust, so working them could be a challenge.
Absolutely! Some are stunning in figure too. I’ve got some tambootie to make a snare drum for my colleague at work. Hand planing it made my small shop smell so strongly of spicey nutmeg, even through the full respirator; but the respirator’s on for a reason. 😅 definitely not one to make a pipe from.
 
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mso489

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Feb 21, 2013
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I think people have made tobacco pipes out of every wood and many other materials available, so it is the preferred wood after four hundred years of trial and error. The other wood that is about as successful in my experience is Mountain Laurel in the U.S. However, it does not have the lavish grain, and after World War II when it was used as a pipe substitute to briar, pipe makers went back to briar with ardor, hence the stamp "Imported Briar" on so many pipes at the time and even a few today. Plenty of good pipes are made of other things. I even have a pocket pipe made of cocobolo, but it is somewhat a hazard to work with, so may not be the best choice. The French were the first pipe makers to do briar pipes on a commercial scale and it has predominated ever since, with good reason. Nothing wrong with all the other woods, but overall, over time, briar seems to win.
 

Country Bladesmith

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May 2, 2020
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Ironwood would be stunning! I’ve seen it used a fair bit on knife scales and they always looks great. I just wonder why it’s not done more in the commercial setting. Fully appreciate it can be theoretically - but I wondered if there was that much of an aversion to it to not make it viable and why that might be (unless I’ve missed something fundamental about the properties of briar that no other wood has of course).
Ironwood is very oily. Usually oily woods are quite toxic when used in that way. Not sure about ironwood specifically, but I wouldn’t chance it.
 

sasquatch

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Jul 16, 2012
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Briar has a very high silicate content, and it's actually part of the lattice-structure of the wood. This means a) it's real hard but more importantly b) it doesn't burn like "regular" wood. On top of this, briar is treated off the hop, it's boiled and dried, and this imparts a stability that no other wood I know of has. It is fairly stable through hot/cold and wet/dry cycling, where most woods will eventually burn or more likely crack. Add into this equation that because of the type of plant and the curing processes, it doesn't taste like much of anything? There's no wood that's even close to being as good. Morta proper is barely even wood (again, properly, morta is a petrified wood, where minerals are being exchanged into the very fabric of the oak) and suffers its own problems yet, chief of which is that it comes in one color, and if you don't want black, you're in trouble!
 

chasingembers

Captain of the Black Frigate
Nov 12, 2014
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See, and not to start a fight, but that brown stuff, that's just oak. Not very old Morta = pretty old Oak in my book.
If you want to split hairs, bog oak is the more common name of morta, so it's all just really old oak.
 

yaddy306

Preferred Member
Aug 7, 2013
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Regina, Canada
Briar has a very high silicate content, and it's actually part of the lattice-structure of the wood. This means a) it's real hard but more importantly b) it doesn't burn like "regular" wood.

Sasquatch, where did you get this from?

In "Characteristics of briarwood" by Tsoumis et al (1988) the authors state that the high temperature resistance of briar is NOT due to silica, because the silica content of briar is low. Rather, the heat resistance is due to extractives, or low potassium or calcium content in the wood.

Characteristics of Briarwood, Holzforschung - International Journal of the Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Technology of Wood | DeepDyve - https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/de-gruyter/characteristics-of-briarwood-6bg0zDqcxq
 

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