Pipes, A Short History of
1840 – Briar pipes make their debut in France. Europe being the center of finance and fashion at the time, briar from the white heath shrub and known for tight pores,excellent taste and ability to withstand the heat, was expensive then and expensive now.
Early 1700’s- Meerschaum, clay-like hydrated silicate of magnesium hailing from Asia Minor, is perfect for carving and is thought to provide by many a better, if not close, briar smoking experience. True Meerschaum today must be exported from the likes of Turkey and neighboring countries and is expensive.
So what did the common man use prior and during the Briar and Meerschaum onslaught? Gourds, iron, chalk, clay and ‘other woods’.
Other woods acceptable, readily available and low cost are fruit woods, like pear and apple or even olive, along with maple. The term ‘acceptable’ means you can make a pleasant tasting pipe that moderately holds up to the heat and stains moderately, due to the medium to light fiber density.
Do not use-to-make or smoke pipes, beautiful as they may be from highly toxic woods like Yew and Milky Mangrove (see toxic wood database online for more info). Avoid Ash pipes, as they make a nasty smell when burning and violate the taste of your tobacco.
My favorite by far is Myrtle wood, a medium to tight grained fruit tree with exquisite figuring, as it provides a soft spicy sent while smoking and maintains a cool bowl. I have not experienced staining with my Myrtle but it is a possibility from new growth. I like to combine Myrtle with a Maple stem, as the woods complement one another in taste and the Maple lends to bending without cracking.
Myrtle wood grows only in a small area on the Pacific Coast of the US, and has therefore never been ‘Discovered’ as an excellent pipe making material.