On the Nature of Briar... A briar pipe begins as a Burl (or growth) on the root system of the White Heath Tree, a squat, hearty, shrub-like plant which grows primarily in the dry, arid, rocky wastelands around the Mediterranean Sea. Of all woods, the Briar Burl is unique for making pipes; its tough, porous and nearly impervious to heat. Burls for fine quality pipes can often be 50 to 100 years old when harvested for pipe making. And Briar Pipes…Once harvested, the Briar burls are cut by skilled craftsmen using large, circular saws to remove the soft and cracked portions, leaving only close-grained, extremely hard Briar wood. This remaining Briar is then rough-cut into small blocks, called ebauchons, in sizes and shapes suitable for fashioning into standard shape pipes. Some particularly fine grained Briar is left uncut in larger pieces called plates which are used for larger freehand pipes. When harvested, Briar contains considerable moisture, sap and resin. The ebauchons and plates are boiled in water for several hours to remove much of the sap and resin. This is followed by long periods of drying (up to 2 years) so that all traces of moisture are moved from the wood. This careful curing and aging process is of the utmost importance in bringing out the finest smoking qualities of a briar pipe. It allows the pipe to breathe, to absorb moisture and oil from the tobacco, assuring a cool, dry smoke. Once the curing process is completed, the Briar is ready to be shaped into pipe bowls. A variety of hand and machine operations are necessary to complete this shaping process. Generally, the more handwork that goes into the carving of the pipe, the higher the price. Once the bowls are shaped, they are fitted with mouthpieces or stems, hand finished, stained, polished and waxed. The new pipe is now ready to give many years of smoking enjoyment. How to Select a New Pipe…Due to the inconsistencies of nature and the conditions under which Briar grows, only a small percentage of the thousands of pipes produced each year will have a uniformly fine grain pattern and perfection of finish upon which a manufacturer will stamp his name. These perfect pipes, which may cost $100 or more, are sometimes called firsts and represent the pinnacle of the pipe makers art. Serious pipe smokers and pipe collectors take great pride in owning and smoking these fine pipes. The remaining Briar pipes may have tiny, natural surface flaws or sandpits, some of which are almost undetectable, some of which are large enough to warrant putty fills. While these tiny surface imperfections affect the aesthetic appearance of the pipe, they have absolutely no effect on the smoking qualities of the pipe.