Tobacco pipes come in countless shapes and sizes, which can be simply overwhelming if you’re looking to buy one. Furthermore, they can also be made from a variety of material, each with their own aesthetics and characteristics.
Whether you’re seeking to invest in a new tobacco pipe or you’re simply looking to learn about the different varieties of tobacco pipes, it’s worth learning about the different types on the market.
Therefore, this guide will teach you about the different types of pipe shapes and the materials used to make them:
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Different Tobacco Pipe Shapes & Materials
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Different Tobacco Pipe Shapes
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different pipe shapes and designs.
Broken down into into nine families:
- Apple Pipes
- Billiard Pipes
- Bulldog Pipes
- Calabash Pipes
- Canadian Pipes
- Dublin Pipes
- Freehand Pipes
- Sitter Pipes
- Curiosity Pipes
Apple Pipe Family
Recognisable by their characteristically rounded bowls, the apple family of tobacco pipe consists of somewhat rotund designs. A popular alternative to the Billiard, apple pipes are a large variety of variants with their own unique characteristics.
The shank of a typical apple pipe is often the same length to the bowl’s height and often features a tapered stem. Furthermore, it’s most often seen with a straight design but can sometimes be bent too.
Apple Family Variants
- Author: A chunkier alternative to the apple, the Author often features a slightly bent stem.
- Ball / Tomato: Compared to the apple, a ball pipe is slightly larger and usually bent with a saddle stem.
- Diplomat: An alternative prince-style pipe with a slightly bent, oval stem.
- Egg: Most commonly made in a bent configuration, the egg is essentially an elongated apple pipe.
- Hawkbill: A bent variant of the apple with a spherical bowl and exceedingly curved shank.
- Prince: Named after then-prince Edward VII, this design features a squat bowl with a longer and slightly bent stem.
- Squat Tomato: As the name suggests, a squat tomato is essentially a ball pipe that’s been pressed into an oval shape.
Billiard Pipe Family
Arguably the most quintessential and popular pipe family, billiard pipes consist of a smooth design where the cylindrical bowl seamlessly transitions to the shank. Typically, the shank is the same length than the bowl’s height.
While most typical billiard pipes are straight, there are a number of varieties that can feature bent designs.
Billiard Pipe Variants
- Brandy: With a bowl shape similar to a brandy or cognac glass, this design often features a slightly bent, tapered stem.
- Chimney: Also known as the stack or smokestack, the chimney is simply made with a taller bowl.
- Nose Warmer / Stubby: A billiard with a shorter stem and shank.
- Oom-Paul / Hungarian: Named after Paulus Kruger, the Oom-Paul has a tall bowl and is fully bent to comfortably hang from the mouth.
- Oval: Known as the “pocket pipe”, the oval is essentially a flattened billiard to render it more portable.
- Panel: A billiard with flat sides. If the shank is also panelled then it’s referred to as a foursquare.
- Pot: This billiard consists of a shorter bowl for quick smoking sessions.
Bulldog Pipe Family
The bulldog family is a particularly rich and diverse group of pipes. While all share common traits, they each feature distinctive characteristics that render them unique.
Most bulldogs pipes have of a bowl that leans forward with grooves along its widest point. Usually it’s straight but it can often be bent too. Meanwhile, a conventional bulldog features a diamond shank and tapered stem.
Bulldog Pipe Variants
- Bull-Moose: Similar to the Rhodesian below, the bullmoose is a bent variant with a thick and chunky design, and a lower bowl.
- Bullcap: Essentially a straight Rhodesian with a saddle stem and a wide bowl.
- Rhodesian: A very similar configuration to a bulldog except with a round shank instead of a diamond shape.
- Ukelele / Eskimo: An unusual design with a domed bowl and wide, flattened shank and tapered stem.
Calabash Pipe Family
An iconic pipe largely thanks to its association with Sherlock Holmes, its name initially referred to the material but is often regarded as the shape too. This is because the pipe was traditionally made from a dried calabash gourd.
However, with the rising popularity of briar wood, the shape persevered while the gourd itself became somewhat rare. The calabash has been known to be made from meerschaum too but this is relatively infrequent.
Most calabash designs are easily recognisable for their large conical bowls, which domes at the top with a flare. Furthermore, both the shank and stem feature a distinctive curve.
While this shape is usually carved by hand for briar and meerschaum, the original calabash versions use the gourd’s natural shape. These then feature a removable meerschaum bowl cap that is placed over the gourd.
Although calabash gourd pipes appear to be enormous, the removable bowl is quite small. However, the gourd’s natural properties are said to produce some of the driest and smoothest smoking experiences possible.
Today, affordable synthetic versions are not uncommon due to of the pipe design’s aesthetic popularity.
Canadian Pipe Family
The Canadian pipe family consists of more-or-less four members that all very closely resemble one another. They’re easily identified by their extremely long shanks while the bowls are quite billiard-like in appearance.
The way in which they differ lies in the shape of the shank as well as the type of bit used.
Canadian Pipe Variants
- Canadian: A long, oval shank with a tapered stem.
- Liverpool: A long, round shank with a tapered stem.
- Lovat: A long, round shank with a saddle stem.
- Lumberman: A long, oval shank with a saddle stem.
Dublin Pipe Family
Very similar to the billiard shape, Dublin pipes can be recognised by their conical bowls. The interior is tapered, which offers an unique experience where the flavours are concentrated as the smoke progresses.
Each member of the Dublin family shares this overall characteristic but they have their own identifiable features. Meanwhile, the common Dublin pipe can be either straight or bent as well as feature a tapered or saddle bit. Furthermore, the shank may be round, oval or even square.
Dublin Pipe Variants
- Acorn / Pear: Essentially a rounded Dublin, the acorn features a curved shape with soft edges for comfort in the pocket.
- Cutty: Traditionally made from clay, cutties feature forward-leaning bowls and a slightly curved design.
- Devil-Anse: A short and rounded hybrid of a Dublin and apple pipe design with a slight bowl canter.
- Skater: With its pointed bowl that resembles a boat, the skater has an overall Dublin configuration and soft acorn features.
- Zulu / Woodstock: Also known as the Yacht, this curved Dublin has a bent shape for comfortably holding with the teeth.
Freehand Pipe Family
While freehand pipes rarely have a common design, they share the same concept and principle. In short, a freehand pipe is usually made by an artisan who wishes to follow the contours and grain of the briar wood that he’s carving.
This results in often ornate and elaborate pieces of art-work that are often admired as much as they are smoked. Nevertheless, there are a few designs that have grown in popularity to become contemporary pipe configurations.
Freehand Pipe Variants
- Fleur: A pipe where the bowl’s rim is sometimes left unfinished with a rustic effect that resembles a flower.
- Blowfish: An asymmetrical ball design to accentuated the wood’s birdseye grain, which appears as rings.
- Elephant’s Foot: Designed by Bo Nordh, this oddly-shaped pipe accentuates birdseye grain from the front.
- Horn / Oliphant: Essentially a slightly bent, tapering tube of finished briar.
- Nautilus: A pipe shape with no defining features and a shank that curves back to rejoin the bowl like a wave.
- Pick-Axe: A similar pipe to tomahawk below but with a panelled bowl.
- Ramses: Another Bo Nordh creation, the Ramses is an ornate variation of the Cavalier but without a hole at the base.
- Tomahawk: The tomahawk’s bowl features a pointed base that somewhat resembles a weapon.
- Volcano: A conical bowl with a rounded base to show a birdseye grain from the bottom.
Sitter Pipe Family
As the name suggests, sitter pipes are designed to be freestanding. This allows them to be safely placed on any flat surface between puffs or when they’re not being smoked.
A common sitting pipe is usually crafted from briar as isn’t too dissimilar to a Oom-Paul billiard but with a flattened base. However, there are a number of variations with their own features. Some of the most iconic types of sitter pipes are made from corn cob.
Sitter Pipe Variants
- Cherrywood: Not necessarily made from cherry wood, this is actually the bent version of the poker described below.
- Duke / Don: The duke can be recognised by using a removable vulcanite or bone shank rather than briar wood.
- Poker: Designed for setting the pipe down when dealing cards, the poker has cylindrical bowl with a flat base.
- Tankard: Rather than a cylindrical shape, the tankard often features a wider base.
Curiosity Pipe Family
Although the majority of these families were presented alphabetically, curiosity pipes have no real place to calm home, which is why they’ve been presented last. Nevertheless, that does not mean that they’re any less iconic than their categorised cousins.
However, these pipes share little in common except that they are unusual specimens indeed!
- Cavalier / Tyrolean: An old German design, these feature an capped hole at the base for removing excess moisture.
- Church Warden / Reading Pipe: Not a pipe design per se, these are any pipes fitted with extra long stems so that they can be smoked without blocking your line of sight.
- Falcon: A unique pipe featuring a metal shank that braces a removable bowl by the base.
- Vest-Pocket: An intriguing foldable pipe that can be slipped into a pocket.
Different Types Of Tobacco Pipe Materials
In this section of the guide, we’ll be exploring the various types of materials used for making tobacco pipes.
- Briar Pipes
- Non-Briar Wood Pipes
- Clay Pipes
- Corncob Pipes
- Gourd Pipes
- Meerschaum Pipes
- Porcelain Pipes
- Synthetic Pipes
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By far the most popular material used for making pipes today, briar is usually sourced from the root burl of Mediterranean heather. As it’s resistant to fire with natural moisture-absorbant properties, briar root is ideal for crafting pipes. It also produces a natural aroma that’s particularly pleasant for pipe smoking.
As it’s a Mediterranean plant, some of the world’s most famous and influential pipe makers are often found in France, Corsica, Italy, Spain, and Algeria. However, today the wood can easily be exported around the world to different workshops.
Furthermore, is rarely machine-made as the pipe’s quality is largely dependent on the wood’s natural grain. In this case, manufacturers will use blocks of briar cut from the burl’s heart, known as ébauchon.
Meanwhile, handmade pipes are usually made from plateaux, a block from the burl’s outer part, that offers superior grain.
Briar Pipes Finishes
Pipes made from briar can be finished in a number of different ways to achieve a variety of aesthetics. While some of these are chosen for the visual effect, others are sometimes used in order to hide any defects:
- Brushed: A lighter form of rustification, the pipe is wire-brushed to achieve a mildly carved finish.
- Carved: As the name suggests, the pipe is carved with ornate scrolling and imagery.
- Rustic: A stylised finish by cutting into the briar, usually chosen to conceal unsightly briar grain.
- Sandblast: A finish often credited to Alfred Dunhill, high-pressure sand is used to reveal the grain’s relief on the wood.
- Smooth: The pipe is buffed and polished into a shine for a high-gloss, varnished finish.
Non-Briar Wooden Pipes
Although uncommon, most types of wood can be used for making tobacco pipes. Today, non-briar wood is quite rare but historically reappeared particularly when briar was quite scarce.
As most wood is softer and less porous than briar, they’re more like to burn through. Therefore, it doesn’t offer an ideal smoking vessel and require gentle or irregular usage.
There are a number of other woods occasionally used for making pipes such as:
- Beech Wood
- Cherry Wood
Each have their own character and appearance. However, they are all relatively fragile in the sense that they easily suffer from burning. Therefore, they should only to be used sparingly or as temporary solutions.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, clay pipes were both affordable and extremely popular. Introduced alongside tobacco in the 16th century, they were the primary vessel used for smoking the leaf.
Clay pipes are rarely glazed or finished, which results in their distinctive white colour. Furthermore, they’re typically made in a cutty shape and the spur under the bowl is often a byproduct from the moulding process.
Similarly, clay pipes will often feature long stems and Churchwarden models are still in production. However, despite being very cheap, they’re renowned for being difficult to smoke as they have narrow stem bores and get very hot.
Nevertheless, proponents of clay pipes argue that the material provides a pure smoking experience as the tobacco isn’t tainted.
A throwback to the American Frontier, corncob is another affordable material used for making pipes. Reminiscent of Popeye, Douglas MacArthur and Mark Twain, it’s hard to avoid its association with the USA.
Produced by hollowing out corncobs that have dried over several years, they’re known for providing cool and clean smoking experiences.
While corncob pipes are sometimes regarded as crude, they’re highly recommended for beginners. As well as being inexpensive, they require no break-in time and are very easy to smoke.
Corncob Pipe Finishes
Like briar pipes, corncob pipes can be finished in a number of ways:
- Natural: The corncob is unfinished resulting in a rustic appearance.
- Stained: Using oil, the corncob is given a coating to darken to reveal its texture.
- Varnished: With varnish, the corncob results in a high-shine and glossy finish.
As we explained above, gourd pipes are largely associated with the calabash pipe family. An expensive material, crafting a pipe from a gourd is a labour-intensive process.
This is because the gourd is trained by hand while when green in order to create the distinctive shape. As the fruit grows, the neck of the gourd is bent every few days until it curves.
Often grown in South Africa, the gourd will harvested, hollowed out to remove the fruit and seeds, and then dried. Meanwhile, a removable bowl cap is often crafted from either meerschaum or porcelain, which sits on top of the gourd.
Despite appearing extremely large, which is likely why they have been so favoured for dramatic productions, the bowl itself is very small. However, the gourd creates an air chamber under the bowl, which is said to cool, dry and mellow the smoke for a unique experience.
Easily mistaken for cuttlebone at first sight, meerschaum is a soft white clay mineral also known as “sepiolite”. Composed of magnesium silicate, it features an opaque and off-white colour that can range from grey to cream.
Arguably, meerschaum is the clay pipe’s younger cousin as it was first recorded for crafting tobacco pipes in the early 1720s. Like clay, meerschaum’s natural properties allow for a cool and flavourful smoke as its porous membrane draws moisture and cake into the stone.
Known as écume de mer in French, sepiolite was first discovered in Italy but was soon popularised in Vienna. Most meerschaum pipes are remarkably ornate in appearance with fine engravings and elaborate designs.
A rarity today, porcelain pipes are usually exotic European antiques inspired by earlier Chinese models made from ceramic for opium. They experienced a short period of popularity during the 18th Century and were often produced in France, Germany and Austria.
During the 19th Century, they were produced mainly for the military and would feature imperial emblems and coats of arms. Usually, the bowl was made from porcelain while the shank and stem could be crafted from horn, bone or wood.
As porcelain is non-porous, it never experienced much popularity outside of central Europe where meerschaum and briar tended to be much preferred.
The 20th Century witnessed much experimentation with a variety of contemporary materials for making pipes. Outside of metal falcon pipes, the 1960s would introduce plastic, Bakelite, and resin pipes.
In 1963, pyrolytic graphite was used to line plastic bowls but fell out of production by the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, a high-temperature resin could Brylon would be introduced in 1966, which is still used today.
Not only are synthetic pipes quite cheap but they’re also very resistant to burning out. While they do have a niche following, they’re often overlooked in preference for traditional materials.
Different Pipe Stems & Bit Shapes
While there are a great variety of pipe shapes and designs, there are surprisingly only two general stem configurations. While they may vary in length or curvature, the general shape is restricted to either a tapered stem or a saddle stem.
Difference Between Tapered & Saddle Stems
Tapered stems are the most common and as the name suggests, start flush with the shank and slowly narrow towards the bit. Meanwhile, saddle stems narrow down shortly after the tenon into a thin, oval strip.
Overall, the difference is marginal aside from their appearance. However, some argue that saddle stems are more comfortable when the pipe is clenched between the teeth.
Additionally, there is a third design known as the combination stem. Often a bent stem, the top has a saddle design while the bottom tapers.
Finally, the bend or curve of a stem is usually measured in fractions. For instance, you may have a 1/4 bent billiard or 1/8 bent Rhodesian pipe.
What Are Pipe Stems Made From?
Pipe stems can be made from a greater variety of materials. Today, they’re typically made from acrylic and other synthetics such as Bakelite, plastic or even Ebonite.
However, they can also be made from horn, ivory, and bone, which is quite rare today. Meanwhile, most vintage pipes have stems made from vulcanite, a synthetic rubber material that can be buffed into a shine.
Different Pipe Stem Bits
While the majority of pipe stem bits are standard, you come sometimes find a small variety of niche designs such as the following:
- Wide Bit: A wider bit than the usual standard.
- Fishtail Bit: The stem widens at the bit to create a greater surface area.
- Double Bore: The bit’s interior features a second bore to resist crushing by the teeth.
- Double Bit: The stem that has a second, thinner section before reaching the bit.
- Denture Bit: A bit with a curved, circular top.
- P-Lip Bit: A rare bit that essentially has a circular, nozzle-like tip.
What Are Pipe Filters?
A development during the 20th Century, many modern pipes have are designed to be fitted with filters if the smoker chooses.
Often made from thick cotton or grains of carbon wrapped in paper, filters are designed to absorb excess tar and nicotine. Several widths such as 6 or 9 mm are available on the market that will fit different pipes.
Using a filter is a matter of personal preference and advocates believe that they drastically reduce tongue bite. On the other hand, the majority of pipe enthusiasts claim that pipe filters do very little except reduce the flavour of the tobacco smoke.
What Are Stingers?
On some older estate pipes, you may discover odd-shaped metal spikes protruding from the tenon. Also know as a metal arrester or evaporator, it’s designed to reduce the amount of moisture travelling up the stem by reducing condensation.
Meanwhile, some enthusiasts argue that they’re designed as early filters or cools the smoke. However, there is little evidence to support this theory.
Few pipe smokers are fond of stingers and the majority are thrown away when discovered on an estate pipe. Most pipe enthusiasts believe that they do little to improve the experience and only restrict the draw.
Meanwhile, a small number of smokers claim that there is a noticeable difference and continue to enjoy using the stingers on their pipes. Fortunately, most stingers can be easy to remove with only a minority actually being permanently integrated into the stem.
Now that you have learned all about the different types of tobacco pipes, take a look out our related guides:
- Cigar Lighting Guide & Best Lighters
- How To Smoke A Pipe
- How To Pack A Pipe
- Best Tobacco Pipes To Buy Online
- Tobacco Pipe Homepage
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