...Also, I mentioned a Part 2. Trust me, I have been working on it and it will be coming soon. I promise, I haven't forgotten. Just needs some more writing and a few pictures to make the details clear. -- 2/8/12
This is a step-by-step guide laying out the process and methods I've learned in making pipes. I don't do this professionally and I would discourage anyone from trying to make a living at it (save for those who are in fact professional pipe makers). I only do it because I enjoy carving and I've always admired the craftsmanship, variety, and beauty in pipes -- so I wanted to try my hand at it; even though I don't smoke. Most of my pipes go out to close friends as gifts and to others as favors.
Please note: I'm sharing instructions for tobacco pipes. I'm serious. That's not tongue-in-cheek. Both the work that goes into a decent tobacco pipe, and the demands imposed on its design (namely the fact that the chamber must withstand prolonged heating without cracking, burning through, or radiating that heat to the outside of the bowl) far exceed those used for weed.
For anyone who isn't familiar with the terminology of pipe anatomy (and believe it or not, I wasn't until I decided to sit down and write this guide for everyone to use), I included a crude sketch in this step. The general concept of the diagram was adapted from http://fujipub.com/ooops/anatomy.html, but I only included the parts that I'll be referring to.
And finally, note that this is part 1. This will take you through making the stummel. The reason I chose to split this guide is that the stem requires a lathe, and not everyone has a lathe. If you don't have one, and you don't know a friend willing to let you use his, don't fret: There are many businesses that specialize in pipemaking materials and tools, but more to the point, pre-formed stems. If you go this route, you'll just have to make sure your mortise is drilled to the right depth and diameter for the stem you order. A good variety of different pre-formed stems can be found at http://www.pimopipecraft.com/.
Step 1: What You'll Need
The good news is, other wood species work just fine. Briar is the gold standard because as a material, it meets the heat tolerance demands, it's easy to carve, and it's pretty when finished. However, other woods can be just as heat tolerant as briar. As a rule of thumb, most any nonporous, relatively oil-free hardwood will work just fine. Cherry is a good example of something that works -- there are many professionally made cherry pipes sold in shops. Not to mention, it's good to have a suitable native species if you're inclined to harvest your own blocks! Oak is a good example of something that you shouldn't expect to work -- there are small pores running along the grain in oak that can cause problems in the chamber... You want air to be drawn into the chamber from the top, not from tiny holes in the bowl, because combustion will happen wherever oxygen is introduced to the already-working reaction (so the walls of the chamber will slowly burn away).
My personal favorites are olive, cherry, and argentine osage orange... in that order. As beautiful as osage is, it needs a lot of "smoking in" to build up the char that blocks out the interfering flavors from the wood (which, unlike cherry, aren't very pleasant). Before I get to tools, I want to mention that although cocobolo would seem like a great pipe wood candidate, it can be risky. It's oily, and allergic reactions have been reported from its dust. The same holds for other rosewoods (or formally, species in the Dalbergia genus). You should always research a wood species you're curious about trying before you try it. Remember: Generally speaking, the only thing you want to draw is the byproducts of tobacco combustion, and nothing else. Although on the other hand, if you're smoking in the first place, you're probably not very concerned about health risks ;-)
- A power drill (which would be useless without drill bits). It doesn't have to be a Milwaukee drill, but I personally love mine so I don't mind doing a little pro-bono advertising for Milwaukee here.
- A caliper (MUCH easier to use than a length of wire to guage depth)
- A compass (optional, but it can help with visual aids)
- A bandsaw
*If you don't have a bandsaw, a coping saw will actually work just fine. I've used one before when I didn't have access to a bandsaw and the only difference is that it takes a little longer to complete the cuts.
- At lease one knife suitable for carving. Pro bono advertising doesn't apply to Flexcut. I'd be happy to do some product placement for them here, but not without a check... or some more Flexcut knives.
- Sandpaper, from 80 to 400 grit.