Briar pipes are the most common form of pipe found today and are carved from the burl on the root of the White Heath tree. This substance is a perfect medium for pipe smoking as it is hard, porous, and fire resistant while also beautiful when carved, sanded, and polished. Often briar pipes are stained various hues to provide a range of colors from light to dark and from plain to ostentatious. Metals, plastics, and organic materials such as horn or antler are often applied to augment beauty and functionality. Briar pipes range in prices based on quality of briar, craftsmanship that goes into the making of the pipe, and the curing process the pipe under goes. Collectability is ultimately set by how these factors marry into the final product.
Quality of Briar is determined by several factors including color, weight, age, grain, and cleanliness. Whiter color of the briar is prized over red and darker coloration. Older briar almost always smokes better as the larger pores tend to filter better. Grain effects price as tighter, straighter grains add to the beauty and desirability of the pipe. Cleanliness, meaning no pits, fills, or abnormality of grain, does not always hamper performance but certainly does increase the value of collectability.
The proper curing of a pipe does most directly influence performance as any pipe smoker can tell you. If a pipe is properly cured then the “break in” period is greatly reduced. Various methods of curing are implemented by different carvers but the most popular include soaking or boiling the briar in either alcohol or oil. These processes are designed to force the sap from the briar and allow the pipe to breath when smoked. Often briar is stored for decades before entering into any curing process to enhance the desired results.
The individual craftsmanship that is displayed in each pipe certainly directly influences both performance and beauty as proper drilling, carving, and balance are essential to overall smoking enjoyment. Care must be given to how the draft hole is drilled, the uniformity of the bowl, the thickness of the wall, the balance of the stem, the exploitation of the individual grain, and so on. Each facet of the carving process can either make or break the final pipe and imperfections such as sand pits can arise at any point.