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Monday, April 03, 2006

A Bit about Bits

Today's post starts off with the latest news - I've just posted three more new Talbert Briar sandblasts to the catalog. All three are neat, but two are exceptional bargains, even for the poor US buyers suffering from the exchange rate blues (and this has improved substantially - US folks who may have been put off in the past by the unfavorable exchange rates of the past couple of years have much better prices today). We have been cranking hard to try and build up some inventory during this pre-Chicago show business slowdown, when sales annually drop off for a month while everyone saves their pennies for Chicago.

I am making a concerted effort to try and get some actual inventory onto the site catalogs, to pull a little ahead of the "always sold-out" look. While that may (often falsely) give the impression that a pipemaker is "hot", it has the unfortunate effect of really hurting site traffic - if the catalogs are all sold-out every time someone visits, eventually they will stop visiting!

The topic today is the pipe bit, or maybe the degree of variation thereof. People have a lot of different ideas about what makes a "good" bit, and pipemakers have a challenging time trying to straddle the different desires - which are often going in opposite directions, as with the "more open draw, but thinner too" requests. I'll toss out some thoughts on a couple of common bit types and we can develop the dialog from there.

One type of bit, which I have typically favored, is the slightly thicker design that allows for at least a 2 to 2.2mm draft hole. I am speaking here of size top-to-bottom, not side to side, as I believe the best performance is achieved with an oval V-cut internally, to keep the airflow optimal. The reason I like the 2mm+ bit is for easy cleaner passage - a hole of this size will allow even extra-fluffy pipecleaners to be smoothly passed through down into the bowl. It also has another characteristic which is both advantage and disadvantage. The bit slot is large enough to allow tool entry for polishing and smoothing, and is also large enough to allow easy inspection... which is to say, if the interior of the slot isn't smoothed and finished, it's obvious. I try to create a smooth, rounded cone shape in my bits, without any edges or corners, and typically use a series of small 1.5mm Dremel jewelry bits to smooth and finish the interiors.

A second kind of bit, also very popular, is thinner and uses a smaller draft hole from top to bottom, typically 1 to 1.5mm max. The smaller top-bottom size allows the bit to be cut thinner while still retaining strength against bite-through (Remember, the outside diameter is really chosen by the inside diameter desired, not vice versa). I debate about switching to making this type of bit a lot, because I often hear about how collectors prefer thinner and thinner bits, and the design offers a couple of nice advantages to the maker - aside from a thinner profile, the slots are easier to create because they aren't as large and open as the ones described above. Essentially, one works in a 1mm drill bit and grinds it back and forth, and voila, one has a slot. There isn't room for insertion of the usual shaping and polishing tools so a good bit of interior finishing work is saved. The disadvantage with these sort of bits is in easy cleaner passage - while the hole can be widened to the same general size while keeping its low top-to-bottom, 1mm just doesn't allow a fat cleaner to pass easily. I've got some very thin bits that I have trouble even getting a normal cleaner to pass through without some twisting and fiddling.

Of course there are plenty of other bit styles - thick, rugged pieces designed for heavy clenching, and uber-thin delicate styles meant never to be bitten. I've been thinking for some time about whether to change my bit styles or not, and thought I would post a little poll here to see what others favored. If you have the time, read through the options in the poll to the left and let me know what you prefer. The readers of this column are the market, after all, and my goal is always to try and give buyers the best pipe for their desires.