What are pipes made from?
BRIAR- The majority of pipes sold today, whether hand-made or machine made, are fashioned from briar. Briar is a particularly good wood for pipe making for a number of reasons. The first and most important is its natural resistance to fire. The second is its inherent ability to absorb moisture. The burl absorbs water in nature to supply the tree in the dry times and likewise will absorb the moisture that is a byproduct of combustion. Briar is cut from the root burl of the heath tree (Erica arborea), which is native to the rocky and sandy soils of the Mediterranean region. Briar burls are cut into two types of blocks; ebauchon and plateaux. Ebauchon is taken from the heart of the burl while plateaux is taken from the outer part of the burl. While both types of blocks can produce pipes of the highest quality, most artisan pipe makers prefer to use plateaux because of its superior graining.
MEERSCHAUM- Meerschaum (hydrated magnesium silicate), a mineral found in small shallow deposits mainly around the city of Eskişehir in central Turkey, is prized for its plasticity which allows it to be carved into many decorative and figural shapes. Along with clay, meerschaum represented the other common medium for pipes before the introduction of briar as the material of choice in the mid-19th century. Meerschaum is a very porous mineral that absorbs elements of the tobacco during the smoking process, and gradually changes color to a golden brown. Old, well-smoked meerschaum pipes are prized for their distinctive coloring. In selecting a meerschaum pipe it is advisable to determine if the pipe is indeed carved from a block of meerschaum, and is not made from meerschaum dust collected after carving and mixed with an emulsifier then pressed into a pipe shape. These products are not absorbent, do not color, and lack the smoking quality of the block carved pipe. It is not always obvious. Some collectors believe that some pipes marked "solid block meerschaum" may not be genuine. With no uniform grading authority, it is difficult to be sure in the case of an unknown maker, unless you are purchasing it from a trusted, well informed tobacconist. Be wary of inexpensive pipes from untrusted sources. Also look for the quality of the carving. Better carvers are unlikely to waste time carving composite meerschaum.
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