Pipes come in such a wide variety of shapes and styles that it is easy to be overwhelmed at first. When you take a closer look at all the pipes in any pipe shop you can start to see different groupings that begin to categorize all the options available to you. If you are selecting a pipe for yourself or someone else you may want to consider these groupings to better aid you on your quest.
Straight vs. Bent: Over 75% of pipe smokers in the USA today prefer pipes with some sort of bend in the shank and stem. This was not always so as in the 1940’s through the 1950’s straight pipes were in fashion. Most pipe smokers will only smoke one or the either. Aesthetics aside, straight pipes are better for smokers that enjoy a pipe while reading, computer work, or any other activity that requires use of the hands as smoke is directed away from the eyes. Bent pipes are more comfortable for relaxation, sitting, or chatting with friends. Notice that today most pipe smokers do not smoke at the office or work but at home! Therefore bent pipes are in higher demand as the pipe is associated less and less with vocational activity.
Large vs. Small: Size does matter! Pound for pound, a larger pipe is going to smoke better as the briar acts as a filter. This axiom only works when dealing with pipes of the same quality briar. Often a pipe smoker will feel uncomfortable with a larger pipe and desire a smaller one and so he should find a shape and size that fits. The best rule of thumb is to hold the pipe in your hand. If it feels too small or large then it probably is. If the pipe is not comfortable to you when you buy it, you will set it on the mantle and tell everyone how pretty it is while wondering why you do not smoke it more.
Rough vs. Smooth: Apart from the size, the most noticeable feature of a pipe is the finish. At first the colors are noticed but upon a closer look you will notice that some are smooth and some are rough. The smooth pipes have a more refined appearance that displays the grain pattern. The rough pipes have a more rustic appearance and often act not only as a smoking instrument but a worry stone as smokers that own these pipes are often seen rubbing the finish with their thumbs. The better rough or rustic finishes are sandblasted so that the pipe smoker can enjoy the grain as well. Some pipes are carved to give the appearance of grain patterns.
Traditional vs. Freehand: Two schools of thought compete here in pipe crafting. Traditional pipes are carved to resemble shapes that have been popular for years and are often sought by those whom remember dad or grandpa smoking his pipe. These shapes are favored by the British pipe masters and carefully reflect the history of past pipe making. Freehand pipes are more whimsical and are carved to rest comfortably in ones hand. These shapes vary from pipe to pipe and are each truly original.