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Friday, January 12, 2007

Bamboo Review

Bamboo! Today's pic isn't a pipe, but a pipe component. I love bamboo-shanked pipes. My first one was a 56 Dunhill and I've never looked back. I've made a lot of them over the years, but I sort of slacked off a few years back because for a while, it seemed like EVERYBODY was making bamboo-shanked pipes! But, now that the craze has faded a little, I'll probably dip my toes back in the water. I thought, for a change of pace, I'd post a little something about the varieties of bamboo.

There are a lot of suppliers for this stuff - It can be had from pipemaking material suppliers and also from numerous sources. It isn't actually bamboo rod that's used, but the shoots of the roots. And there can be quite a bit of variety! Different collectors like different things- some want the whitest, others golden, still others like the ragged natural look. In the photo here, I've shown four different types of bamboo that I have here from four different sources.

Going left to right, the first is a stalk of what some might call "high end" bamboo - selected for whiteness and pre-cleaned, meaning that all the little rootlets and nodes have been removed for convenience. I find the material almost flavorless to smoke, and it's interestingly different from the golden-colored, shorter piece second-from-left. That bamboo is from a source that was aged, and it's around twenty years old. I don't know if, like briar, it has darkened naturally with age, or if the wood itself is differently colored, but what I do know is that it is much tighter and less ragged in its grain fiber structure. I cut an end off the white piece and it emerges sort of ragged looking, while I can cut an end on the golden piece and it emerges shiny and flat as briar. It has another aspect I favor too - flavor. I find that older bamboo stock to have a really enjoyable flavor influence on tobaccos. Those who prefer total neutrality wouldn't like it, but for myself, I find it an excellent enhancement to most blends.

The long curved piece was from a friend, who grew it himself. Lacking specific cultivation, it's gnarlier and darker and more prone to surface stainings than the white bamboo, though I don't find the smoke any different. Some would consider it inferior, but I believe it is simply an alternate look, more natural, wilder, less artificial. It's more a matter of matching the bamboo effect to the pipe than of ranking the bamboo in a convenient 123 scale of quality.

Finally, on the far right is a beautiful stalk from a supplier who ships the bamboo "rough" - i.e., with nodes and rootlets still attached. They're easy enough to remove, though it does make a bit of extra work for the pipemaker. And at times, I've even left them in place for specific effects, such as the general twisted look of the Jack of the Lantern pipe. It's funny how simple pipes are, and yet how much info and variation there is if one even starts digging a little.