Whether you plan on dressing up as General MacArthur for a costume party or just enjoy smoking a pipefull of fine tobacco, this project is for you!
Corncob pipe smokers will tell you that smoking a good cob pipe imparts a special flavor to the experience. One that you've made with your own hands makes it that much more enjoyable!
Please read through the entire process before starting your project, then return to the beginning and follow the steps in order.
NOTE: This Instructable is not intended as an endorsement of smoking or tobacco use in general. Tobacco use has been determined to be hazardous by the Surgeon General of the United States. It is a means of producing a historically accurate and functional reproduction of the pipe used by General Douglas MacArthur.
Step 1: What You'll Need...
- Large ear of corn, as close to 2 inches in diameter as you can find.
- Bamboo gardening stake (thin and UNPAINTED)
- 3/4 inch countersink drillbit (Speedload type, as the shank fits into the screwdriver handle)
- Swappable-bit screwdriver handle
- Swiss Army Knife or other small, sharp knife
- Assorted small drillbits (You'll need to select the correct size to use when the time comes)
- Power drill
- Fine-toothed hand saw (hacksaw) or a bandsaw
- Wire coathanger
Most, if not all, of these items can be found at any large home improvement center that has a garden center. (Home Depot, etc.)
Farm Markets are a good source for the ears of corn.
Step 2: Selecting a Good Ear of Corn...
Most food-grade corn that you'll find in a supermarket will be unsuitable for this project. Generations of selective breeding has led to corn with more kernel and less cob.
Suitable ears of corn can often be found in farm markets. Fresh ears of corn will require an extra step; drying. Before continuing, the cob must be absolutely dry. This can be done in a toaster oven at low heat after removing all the kernels with a sharp knife. Some toaster ovens even have a 'Dry' setting. Honestly, it's just faster and easier to jump to the next paragraph.
The fastest way to get going with this project is to find a garden store that has the decorative multi-colored corn, often called 'Indian Corn', that people often hang on their front doors around Thanksgiving. Select an ear of corn that is as close to 2 inches in diameter as possible. Larger is better!
WARNING: It is imperative that you ensure that the corn has not been treated with any preservative substances. These could be EXTREMELY hazardous to your health. (As if smoking isn't already hazardous enough...)
Corn cobs are comprised of the following layers, starting from the outside:
- Kernels and soft material
- Dense woody layer. It is this layer that provides the strength of the finished pipe as well as walls of the bowl. If it's too thin, it will burn through when used. This is the reason we look for large-diameter ears of corn.
- Pith. This is the soft, spongy material that will be removed to form the bowl of your pipe. The core of pith should be around 3/4" in diameter in an ideal ear of corn.
Step 3: Selecting a Good Piece of Bamboo for the Pipe Stem...
You'll need to find a piece of NATURAL bamboo that has a sufficiently large channel down the center to draw through. Generally 1/8" is the minimum. You can determine the channel size by looking at the larger end.
WARNING: It is imperative that you ensure that the bamboo has not been treated with any preservative substances. These could be EXTREMELY hazardous to your health. (As if smoking isn't already hazardous enough...)
Once you've found a length with a suitable channel, you're ready for the next step.
Step 4: De-Kernelling the Cob...
Grab the stalk and leaves and snap them off.
Working with the dried decorative corn is easy. No knives or other instruments are needed. Just start at the fat end, where the stalk used to attach, and use your thumb to "push" the kernels off. I know this sounds like a long process, but it goes pretty quick.
When you have a cob free of corn kernels, proceed to next step.
Step 5: Cut the Bowl Section From the Cob...
Using your fine-toothed hand saw or bandsaw, carefully cut the dome at the fat end of the cob so it is flat and even. This will be the top of the bowl.
Move down about 5 inches and make another cut. This will be the bottom of the bowl section.
Step 6: Hollowing Out the Bowl...
In this step, you'll remove most of the pith, the soft, spongy substance from the area that will become the bowl of your pipe.
Rather than using a power drill for this step, we'll be using the countersink bit and hand screwdriver. This will reduce the chances of the soft pith in the core of the cob building up on a rapidly turning drill bit and splitting the cob.
Snap the bit into the screwdriver handle and position the point of the bit in the center of the fat end (top) of the cob. Rotate slowly while applying pressure to begin to dig out the pith. Remember to back it out frequently to remove buildup from the bit.
Continue this down to a depth of about two inches (estimate by using your screwdriver or finger as a gauge).
Step 7: Making the Pipe Stem...
Using the fine-toothed saw (or hacksaw), make a cut immediately past a joint (toward the widening side of the bamboo stalk) between two segments of the bamboo. This joint will make it easier to grip the stem with your teeth.
Make a second cut about 6 to 7 inches on the other side of the joint. What you should be left with is a section of bamboo with a bulge from the joint at one end and a smooth shaft all the way to the other end.
You'll notice that the joint end is blocked. Take a 1/8 inch drill bit and, by hand, push in and rotate the bit to pierce this blockage.
Next, use a straight section of your coathanger to push all the way through the bamboo tube to remove any soft material. Run it through several times.
Blow through the tube repeatedly to remove any leftover dust.
Finally, carefully use a small sharp knife to cut away 1/2 of the circumference of the end without the joint on an angle. This is the end that fits into the bowl section.
Step 8: Making the Stem Hole in the Bowl Section...
Using your finger as a depth gauge, measure the depth of the bowl. Use this measurement to determine where to make the stem-hole in the side of the bowl section.
I used the reaming tool that is hinged at the center of my Swiss Army Knife to make a pilot hole first, before using a drill bit. This is not absolutely necessary but it might help prevent cutting on an angle with the drill bit. I highly recommend it.
Select a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the narrow end of the pipe stem you made in the previous step. Clamp the bit into the chuck of the hand drill and carefully drill down the hole you made with the Swiss Army Knife.
Step 9: Fit the Stem Into the Bowl...
With the angled cut facing upward, fit the stem into the hole you just drilled. It must fit very snugly.
If it is too large to fit, forcing it will split the bowl. Use the same drill bit again while moving the drill slightly side-to-side and up-and-down to widen the hole a bit.
If the hole is too loose, you'll need to make a wider stem. Select another section of bamboo and perform step 7 again.
Step 10: Your Pipe Is Finished!
At this point, you should be holding an authentic General MacArthur style corn cob pipe. It can be shaped a bit if you like by holding rough sandpaper around it and rotating the cob, but remember not to take too much off.
If you are a pipe smoker and intend to use this pipe for smoking, you'll have to be a little delicate on the first few bowls smoked. Too much heat before the bowl has become 'seasoned' may cause the woody lining to burn through and damage your creation.
It may help to speed the process of seasoning if after finishing the first few smokes, instead of dumping the ash out, clamp your thumb over the top opening and shake the pipe vigorously up and down. This will lay down a fine layer of ash along the inside surface of the bowl which will become part of the layer of carbon that develops as the pipe is repeatedly used.
WARNING: Keep an eye on your pipe for the first couple of smokes. An improperly cut bowl may allow the woody layer to burn through. Ensure that the pipe is completely extinguished before leaving it unattended.
Whether intended for decorative or actual use, I hope you've enjoyed this project!