How a Pipe is made
Here we would like to describe you the different phases necessary to make a pipe and its various types. First of all it is important to make a distinction between freehand pipes and turning pipes) according to pre-defined models. Starting from a piece of briar, (blocks or plateaux, we will tell you later about the difference) there are two possibilities.
The first one is the well-known freehand like Savinelli Autograph or Artisan. In this case, the shape is drawn on the piece of briar following the wood features and the artisan's spur of the moment.
The second possibility is that of creating a pre-defined model with precise proportions studied in advance and with technical and aestethical tested features, as for example in the Giubileo Oro. Those who have never visited a pipe manufacturer could now wonder about futuristic machines which, once you insert a piece of briar, a finished pipe is realised, ready to smoke and even packed! Of course, it is not like that. The briar pieces are given the right sizes manually using dedicated equipment.
It is not possible to buy briar blocks with pre-defined sizes for a specific model: there are only hand cut blocks at the lumber mill, which have minimal size requirements and therefore one is different from the other. When they get to the pipe manufacturer, the go through a specific making called turning of the bowl: the pieces are one by one lathed using 2 paired blades which create at the same time the hole of the chamber and the outside bowl shape up to the shank height.
A second turning creates the shank and the final milling of the chamber bottom part. These are called 'machine' making. Now, it is time for the artisan to act for the following 90 phases of making.
The most important are: manual carving, to give a round shape to the chamber bottom linking it with the shank: useless to say that extremely precision and great sensibility are crucial. Then there is the stem choice and the concerning assembling,polishing (external pipe surface smoothing) and perfect fitting between shank and stem. All these finishing phases are repeated many times with thinner and thinner sandpaper, as to make the pipe surfaces perfectly smooth.
The pipe has to be coloured. Colours are applied manually and removed through special fans. There is not a pre-defined colour, but various colours which wisely used, allow the briar streak to be better enhanced. After there are different waxing which give the pipe an homogeneity to the touch typical of quality product only. The last making to remember is the painting, even if this is made before some waxing. In this case there are big differences among all the makers. The painting is the phase which makes the pipe shines, fixing at the same time the colours previously used. Unfortunately, it is often used a transparent varnish sprayed on the pipe which hides both imperfections and stucco works, but has the terrible flaw of not giving the wood the possibility to breathe. Only few makers produce the pipes shine using a natural product. This procedure had the disadvantage of not hiding the small flaws, sometimes it even enhances them, but it leaves the wood breathe, making every smoke pleasant and natural.
Once explained the making, we can now say something about the briar. It is bought in blocks or plateaux. These latter have bigger sizes and a better flame because they are cut only from the log outer part which is the oldest (the heart is instead the younger and less streaked: plants grow up from inside to outside and not vice versa). The blocks are of two different types: the M type ebouchons for straight pipes and the R type ebouchons (generally used for the bent ones). Not all the blocks are less streaked, sometimes it is possible to find very beautiful ones. But the final judgment can be given only when the pipe is finished.
An important thing to say is that it is not always true that plateaux are not used for pre-defined turning shape pipes. The plateaux choice is made after the whitening, which is done to make the wood streaks more visible and to show some flaws. Another essential process for the raw material is the drying which has to be slow, long (at least two years) and totally natural, without stretching( like hot air furnaces or desiccator ) which could alter the wood integrity.
To sum up, without due respect for free shape pipes, when a flamed, flawless, pre-defined model appears, we have in front of us something unique and very precious; in a free shape pipe you can always correct something (with due restrictions) about the line while in the first case it is nature which gives us a perfect piece; probabilities here are definitely less.