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Thursday, June 21, 2007

When Briar Attacks

Biz Stuff - I just finished a nice website update, posting new Talbert Briars, new Talbert Mortas, and a new Ligne Bretagne Collector. Some of these pipes were already on the site, having been uploaded individually over the past few days.

I work with very good quality briar, so generally I don't have a lot of discards. However, it has been a long time since the last catalog update for a reason - I just ran through four discards in a row, three of which were near to being finished pipes. As a group, they illustrate several interesting points about pipes and pipemaking.

The long and slinky freehand calabash-ey shape in the pic was a real tragedy - It had fantastic grain, a great shape, and some amazing bird's-eye on display across the front. This was one where I shaped the pipe first and then drilled the bowl, because the grain of the block was so extraordinary that I had hopes for a very high-grade smooth. Unfortunately, after drilling and moving on into the fine sanding stages, I uncovered a small sandpit that grew... and grew. I kept sanding down trying to get rid of the thing because it was near the bottom of the bowl on the back side, but it just hung in there. When I finally sanded past it, I worried for the bowl, and the calipers told the story - too thin. In fact, the wall where the spot was had become so thin that you can actually see light shining through the wood if you hold it under a bright lamp!

And then there is THIS piece -
Another pipe that was rough-shaped prior to drilling to ensure that the bowl alignment perfectly matched the direction of the wonderfully straight grain. It also had good odds of being a high grade smooth, and all looked well.... Until, once more, the final stages of sanding! Note the size of the green pin in the picture here. Now, note how much of the pin has sunk into the tiny, narrow little split that appeared on the side of the pipe during further sanding!



Shaping the pipe before drilling is often promoted as a safeguard against such problems, but as you can see, it's still quite possible to waste a lot of working time and still end up throwing a pipe out. For myself, I mix and match - I don't stick strictly to one specific method for shaping and drilling, but instead use different techniques depending on my goals and impressions of the specific block. Any given pipe might be lathe drilled, press drilled, drilled on the big drilling rig, or freehand drilled. While shaping the pipe before drilling helps you to avoid obvious flaws and especially grain deficiencies, you're left investing a good chunk of work into a stummel which could end up exposing hidden flaws during drilling, after you've already worked out the whole design.

Like this, for instance...



In this case, the grain in the block was diagonal so I simply drilled the bowl at an angle with the grain, and found myself looking at an amazing internal split in the briar about as long as my fingernail's width. But, at least a lot of work wasn't wasted on this one! Another for the junk heap. Although, it does bring up one subject which has often rankled me - There are people who like bowl coatings and people who don't like them, and that is all well and good, but there is also a class of people who actively promote the idea that coatings are used to hide flaws in briar, and this is stunningly insulting. I could easily putty in that split and coat over it and no one would be the wiser, but instead it is going into the trash (Though I'd be happy to throw it at the head of the next guy I see going on about, "Coatings are just used to hide flaws.") I have a whole basket of similar discards accumulated over the years that I could have turned into money if putting coatings into bowls was about flaw-hiding - It's an easy break-in and protection issue only, no more.

So, after four discards, I hope I've used up my bad luck for a while to come!