A Primer on Pipe Shapes

It’s time to talk about pipe bowl shapes, I guess. I should have done this long ago, but I didn’t, and I’m sure this won’t be comprehensive, but at least I’ll get to show off some pipes so that’ll be fun.

Today, I’ll rank 17 pipe shapes in terms of my personal preferences. This is just the moronic opinion of an internet stranger, so relax! I will say that different pipe-makers have diverging names for their pipe shapes, so when applicable I’ll try to call out the differences.

First, though, a quick tip on finishes: Pipes are generally either smooth, sandblasted, or rusticated, though sometimes they’re a combination of finishes, i.e., partially-rusticated. A smooth pipe is what it sounds like- briar that retains its smooth texture and has probably been oiled and polished. A sandblasted pipe has been hit with sand in order to eliminate unsightly flaws in the briar and accentuate the grain as the sand removed softer pieces of the wood. A rusticated pipe has been carved in some manner, generally to remove problem areas in a more artistic way. The grain of the briar is normally what drives the value of a pipe. Smooth pipes cost more, is what I’m trying to say. You’ll see a variety of finishes in the photos that accompany this post.

Here’s an incomplete pipe shape chart from Depositphotos user Ezhevica.

It’s a little weird ranking some of these more innocuous shapes. I don’t really hate any of them, but I’ve got to conform them all to a preference sheet. I’d smoke a cutty just as soon as I’d smoke a fan, if the cutty meant me getting some nicotine in my system. And oh- one more thing: all the pipes in this picture are from my own collection or my brother’s. Many of my brother John’s pipes, though not all, came from me or my dad. Some of his that came from our Dad were ones I’d never seen! 

17: The Cutty
The design of the cutty came from old clay pipes that featured a thin stem and an angled bowl with a little foot on it to rest on a surface. Briar versions exist, but here’s a clay cutty my brother has. I see no reason to elaborate on this design- a briar pipe of this shape won’t heat up to temperatures that will singe the skin off of your skeleton. I see no reason for a briar cutty to exist. Leave it to the folks who insist on smoking clays.

This Markus Fohr clay pipe -one of my brother’s- is a cutty. Notice the teeny foot.

16: The Acorn
This pipe looks like an inverted acorn. Ever walked under an oak tree and seen one of those? Flip it over and you’ve pretty much got the gist. I don’t have one at the moment, though an acorn is present in the shape chart above.

15: The Pickaxe
Again, it looks like a pickaxe, but made of wood! I don’t have one.

14: The Blowfish
Come up to me at the shoe store and kill me if you find one of these on my person. Online, “The Pipe Guys” -whoever the fuck they are- call this “a perfect example of beautiful asymmetry; it’s organic and graceful, but by no means overly delicate. The Blowfish takes the appearance of a squished ball, having a wide, bulging profile, and a more narrow face.” Sounds like they’re into some messed up stuff involving either pufferfish or mermaids- please excuse me to vomit.

I’m back. The shapes are compelling, but the cheapest true, briar, blowfish I’ve found on SmokingPipes costs north of $700. What are you doing with a $700 pipe aside from displaying it? Hey- no judgement here, but I’d rather put $700 into something I’d actually use, like a LEGO model of the Titanic.

13: The Oom-Paul
I always thought the Oom-Paul was onomatopoeic because that’s the noise a baritone sax makes when it’s following a fat guy around the grocery store, I guess it isn’t, though these pipes do look like they belong in the woodwind section. Also known as a Hungarian, Ooo-Paul pipes are hangers with a flat bottom, sort of like a stack with a curved shank. These tend to be big volume-smokers. My Dad loved them, but I can’t do it.

I’d call this Peterson 1309 -once one of Dad’s and now my brother’s- an Oom-Paul.

12: The Canadian
A Canadian is basically a billiard (we’ll talk about that later), but with a long, oval stem and a short, tapered mouthpiece. I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like these, but I don’t. Again- random internet idiot here: your mileage may vary. Ranking pipe shapes has been tough, but I guess that next up is the pot.

11: The Pot
Stick a pot on the end of your pipe and you’ve got a pot-shaped pipe. 

10: The Brandy
A brandy’s a billiard with a wide base that tapers towards the rim like a traditional brandy glass for those who drink their liquor outside of a solo cup. More extreme versions of the brandy are called volcanos. 

This sandblasted pipe by Johs is a good example of a Danish interpretation of the bent brandy form.

9: The Apple
Apples are similar to billiards, which again I’m aware we haven’t talked about yet (foreshadowing), but the bowl is rounder, like a peach or some other type of fruit. Like a billiard, the stem’s usually the same length as the bowl is tall: just think of an apple as a billiard with some chonk and you’ll be okay. I would call this rusticated Caminetto Business a bent apple. 

This Caminetto Business pipe is a bent apple. At least, to me it is.

8: The Author
The author has a wide, wound bowl with a flat bottom and thick stem that curves in order to hang from your mouth. People smarter or more annoying than me -take your pick- say the author’s stem is 1/8 to 1/4 bent. The Savinelli 320 shape, as seen in this pipe, is an author. The prince shape -named after Prince Albert who later became King Edward VII- is similar, though less beefy and with a longer stem. 

The Savinelli 320 KS is an author.

7: The Poker
A poker is a pipe shape that will sit on your desk, armrest, or llama carcas since its comprised of two cylinders that are connected at ninety degrees. A Cherrywood is a similar pipe, with a curved stem and angled base. My Savinelli Alligator is a poker. I like the way it looks, and appreciate its utility. If I could get a jumbo poker I’d smoke it in the car incessantly.

The 311 KS shape, seen here in the Alligator finish- is Savinelli’s poker shape.

6: The Bulldog
A bulldog is a cool pipe with a diamond-shape shank that leads into a bowl that’s made up of two truncated cones that face opposing directions. Normally, bulldogs have a pair of grooves cut into the briar near the transition between cones, but not always. This Savinelli Punto Oro is a classic bulldog.

This saddle-bit Punto Oro is a classic bulldog.

5: The Rhodesian
A Rhodesian, such as my Peterson 999 Donegal Rocky, is a bulldog -bent or square- with a round shank instead of a diamond one. I just like the way these look a little more than their brethren, the bulldog.

The Peterson 999 is a rusticated, bent Rhodesian.

4: The Tomato
A wide pot that looks like a compressed tomato is a tomato. I would probably call my Bari Ruby 8006 a tomato. When I got back into smoking pipes, a Neerup sandblasted tomato was on the top of my list. I love the thick walls and squat look. It reminds me of myself.

3: The Billiard
I’ve heard the billiard described as the most common shape of straight pipe, meaning that the stummel and stem don’t curve upwards to hang from your maw. The billiard has a straight stem and a straight bowl where the length of the shank and height of the bowl are about the same length. A taller billiard is usually referred to as a stack. My Oscar Tiger is a rusticated straight billiard. 

Savinelli’s 128 shape, seen here in the Oscar Tiger finish, is a classic billiard.

2: The Dublin
A Dublin is a billiard with a flared-out bowl. It’s my favorite shape, without question. This Peterson Irish Whiskey is a classic Dublin, though SmokingPipes calls my Nording Seagull a bent Dublin as well, though I’m more likely to categorize it as a freehand. The Dublin is similar to a shape known as a Zulu, Woodstock, or Yachtsman -names all popularized by different manufacturers- which are all pipes with similarly-tapered bowls accompanied by a bent stem. 

John’s Peterson Irish Whiskey is a Dublin shape.

Personally, I think they’re all interchangeable unless you’re overwhelmed with pedagogy. SmokingPipes, for instance, lists my Ropp as a Zulu despite its straight stem. The Dublin is my favorite style of machine-made pipe.

SmokingPipes calls my Ropp Zulu a Zulu, despite its straight stem.

1: The Freehand
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was a kinky bastard. During the 1964 case Jacobellis v. Ohio, he declined to define his personal threshold for what constitutes porno and insisted that he knew it when he saw it. Here’s Stewart’s actual quote:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Freehand pipes are the same way. I know them when I see them, and though they’re not lascivious, you will too. They don’t follow any prescribed shape aside from what the carver wants to do with the block of briar they’ve got, and they’re far and above my favorite shape and beat the venerable Dublin/Zulu/Cherrywood/Yachtsman by a country mile in my book. This Extra by Erik Nørding is a great example of a freehand.

A Nording Extra freehand.


Extra Bonus: The Fan
Remember when I said I was a hypocrite in the Dr. Grabow review? Well, nothing’s changed- I’m still a hypocrite. I abhor the artisan blowfish shape, but I absolutely love fan pipes. But what are they? The fan -also called a bridge- is a striking design that uses the natural plateau (the rough edge) of the briar to create a fan-shaped, triangular stummel that connects directly to a stem. Neerup just had a new one for sale on SmokingPipes for $179, but I just bought a drone and I missed it. The remaining examples are all handmade Savinelli Autographs that start at around $700. No, thanks!

Floor Sweepings: Medico Filters- Making a Name Instead of Inheriting It

A MEDICO pipes ad from 1962 courtesy pipedia.

Something about the Medico name makes me feel like the company behind it makes healthy products. You know, like a cancer-stick made endorsed by a doctor. Try as they might, though in their advertisements, Medico was a cheap, Dr. Grabow-type drugstore brand of pipes was under the purview of S.M. Frank & Company, which otherwise made pipes under the Kaywoodie, Yello-Bole, Reiss-Premier, DeMuth, Heritage and Frank brands. Today, S.M. Frank turns out Kaywoodies, Yello-Boles, Medicos with a headquarters in New Windsor, New York. I had a great Kaywoodie Campus straight bulldog that looked like the bowl of a toilet but was an integral part of my college years! 

Continue reading “Floor Sweepings: Medico Filters- Making a Name Instead of Inheriting It”

The Westminster iTouch E Pipe is an Ironic Millennial Statement

I turn thirty-two in November so I’m a millennial, part of that anathematized cohort responsible for killing off TGI Friday’s and face-to-face interaction. That being the case, I think I’m one of the least-millennial millennials there is.

That might be the most-millennial thing a millennial has ever said.

Continue reading “The Westminster iTouch E Pipe is an Ironic Millennial Statement”

Floor Sweepings: Dead Doctors Recommend Kaywoodie

Image courtesy Pipedia contributor Sethile.

We all know that the tobacco industry’s always been more full of shit than a state fair Porta-Potty. Although we continue to smoke anyway, here’s an ad from the old S.M. Frank & Co., Inc., the maker of Kaywoodie pipes, overripe with the butt truffles. 

Continue reading “Floor Sweepings: Dead Doctors Recommend Kaywoodie”

Pipe Review: The Great Rossi Piccolo is No Woodwind

I realized that I might have been a little harsh on the Dr. Grabow during the last review, so I spent $48 on a Rossi Piccolo to compare it to. It’s the cheapest pipe from a major manufacturer I could find, excluding Brigham, whose rock maple inserts I find contrary to my personal set of beliefs. 

If you’re interested, Brigham has a lineage of quality pipes that, in their President Helm line approaches the $200 range. They incorporate plateau-crowned bent Dublin shapes that are close to Nording freehands and look really nice. Their cheapies aren’t my thing, though- I simply don’t like filtered pipes.

Continue reading “Pipe Review: The Great Rossi Piccolo is No Woodwind”

Tobacco Cuts: Square Pegs in Round Holes? Sometimes

I’m more into pipes than I am the tobacco I smoke in them. As it turns out, my brother’s the opposite! When a couple of new tins came to our house with some new-to-me cuts, I figured I’d have to learn about them. Here’s

Ribbon Cut

Peterson Standard Mixture, a ribbon-cut tobacco.

Pipe tobacco comes in a variety of cuts. Probably the most common is called Ribbon Cut. This will be your Carter Hall, Half & Half, Sir Walter Raleigh, and whatever else you might pick up from any Tobacco Barn or pharmacy. They burn consistently since they’re finely sliced and diced, and they’re easy to make but age quicker than other types. Most of what I smoke is ribbon-cut, and the definition is simple- if you pull tobacco out of your pouch or baggie and it plies into your hands in ribbons, well, it’s ribbon cut. Peterson Standard Mixture, which I’ve pictured here, is storied pipe-maker Dunhill’s mix, rebranded, but with the same recipe of smoky Latakia, Oriental, and Virginia tobaccos.

Of course, within the kingdom of ribbon cut is a phylum that includes a ton of variations like shag (longer strands with a finer cut- if you’re a hillbilly, think the difference between long- and fine-cut dip), loose (long and thin ribbons), granulated (small strands), fine (like what’s found in a cigarette), broad, cross, crimp, and coarse. 

The bottom line is that ribbon-cut tobacco is a great place to start when smoking a pipe, not only due to its commonality, but also because it smokes really, really, well.

Flake

Cornell & Diehl’s Low Country Edisto is a flake mixture.

Flake tobacco’s a step aside from ribbon cut, in that blended tobacco is blended and added to a binder before it’s pressed into bricks and cut into sporadically-shaped strips. It ages better that ribbon cut based on its larger surface airing out, but smoking flake is a bit of a process: When I do it, I take the strips and fold them back on each other before it becomes a plug the size of your pipe bowl. Then you’ve got to stuff it down in in a way that won’t clog everything up.

If that’s too taxing, you can rub the strips into something that resembles ribbon cut and then load your pipe like it never happened. I’ve got some here in the form of Cornell & Diehl’s Edisto. It’s been a dream to smoke.

Cake, or Crumble Cake

Cornell & Diehl’s Pirate Kake is a crumble-cake tobacco. That’s all the samples I have of different styles.

Crumble Cake is not a Boswell blend akin to their perennial favorite Christmas Cookie. Actually, you could call cake tobacco a plug or a bar and, millennial though I am, I wouldn’t be offended. All are different words for a pressed block of tobacco that hasn’t been cut into flakes and takes the characteristics of a nicotine-infused brownie. But eat it at your own peril! The advantage of this over a plug type of tobacco is that you can pinch of a piece of the brownie into your pipe without using a $143 pipe knife similar to what I bought my brother for his thirtieth birthday. Cornell & Diehl’s Pirate Kake is a good example of Crumble Cake tobacco. This type of tobacco originated with an eye towards preservation.

If the cake is made of pressed ribbon-cut tobacco, it’s called crumble cake. Easy as that!

Plug

I originally had plug tobacco categorized in the “Others” segment of this post until I was greeted by four tins of Cornell & Diehl’s Dreams of Kadath that my brother bought. Plugs are similar to cake or crumble cake; they’re the pressed tobacco that gets cut into flakes, which allows the smoker to decide how narrow or thick you want your tobacco strips. John’s Neerup tobacco knife will come into play here.

Plugs of Cornell & Diehl’s Dreams of Kadath.

Others

There are a few more I should mention: First is ready-rubbed tobacco, which is somewhere between ribbon-cut and flake. Second is Cube-cut, which takes flakes and cuts them into cubes, just like those elementary-school base-ten division squares we all remember from the 80s and 90s. Rope tobacco is an expensive-to-make, rolled tobacco made through large machinery. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter that in your pipe-smoking journey. I haven’t. 

Photo courtesy Blendspace user J R

Various cuts of tobacco age and smoke differently. I don’t have the brain-span or ability to screw with the different cuts aside from trying to enjoy them all, but I find that ribbon tends to be my favorite since it’s so pedestrian. I’ve found both Edisto and Pirate Kake easy to deal with and pack, though, so if you’re one to sprint past the old-school ribbon cuts of Carter Hall or Hall & Half, let me know! 

Presbyterian Mixture is ribbon-cut.

A thing that rose up during my teen years was meta-gaming. Essentially, this was using the glitches of a video game to play the game by taking advantage of its details and quirks- similar to how we all passed those stupid Scantron tests in middle school we’d otherwise fail. There’s a certain amount of that in the pipe-smoking hobby that I’d like to avoid. I know what I like in a pipe, but I’d like to experience new tobacco as it comes to me, in whatever form it arrives. That said, things like burn rates and flavor consistency don’t mean a pickler’s fortnight to me. I’ll explore them all as they come. 

Nevertheless, different people have different approaches. Beyond different mixes or toppings, there are many types and textures of tobacco to enjoy Maybe this will help draw you into one. 

Floor Sweepings: Vintage Dunhill Shield Ad- A Boon and Comfort?

Photo Credit: Pipedia user Yang.

I think we’re all in agreement that protection from the elements is important. It’s a basic human need, if you believe that Maslow guy! 

Alfred Dunhill, the proprietor of Dunhill’s Motorities -a type of brick-and-mortar precursor to the JC Whitney catalog- thought so too. He launched his patented Shield Pipe in 1904 behind the idea that its unique design would prevent all manner of on-the-go types (the sportsman, the yachtsman, the automobilist,” etc. from having to relight their pipe due to the wind in their face. 

Unfortunately, the first car windshield was also introduced in 1904, and the pipes were initially unpopular. That changed over time, though, and you can still buy new ones today starting at $500 or so. 

Photo credit: SmokingPipes

I find these to be unbearably ugly. I’ve never seen a pipe that bore more of a resemblance to an old woman’s toilet except for -maybe- a white briar estate Kaywoodie bulldog I used to own. The mental image of a miniature geriatric gingerly crapping out my favorite ribbon-cut into the bowl alone would be enough for me to never consider buying one, if the price tag didn’t already preclude me from doing so. 

A boon and comfort to every pipe smoker, indeed.

Pipe Review: I knew it! Dr. Grabow’s Grand Duke really sucks

A blindfolded reach into my cornucopia of personal failings reveals that I’m a hypocrite. I realize this pretty often, and it burbled up into mind yesterday when I was going through some of my posts here. It’s unfair for me to sit here behind a keyboard and dunk on a shitty pipe like a Dr. Grabow that I’ve never smoked before, I figured. I sat there ponderously for a few seconds before I realized that I’d better get one. So I did.

Continue reading “Pipe Review: I knew it! Dr. Grabow’s Grand Duke really sucks”

Let’s Build a Tamping Machine

I was reading about the use of Linkman’s Automatic Smoking Machine to preseason Dr. Grabow pipes churned out during the 1930s and 40s, a device so preposterous that it was featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which was then, in turn, featured in Grabow’s own advertisements. If you read this blog on Monday, you have too! I thought the Linkman machine was ridiculous, but then I pondered a little further: When I first started smoking a pipe, I hated breaking new ones in, just HATED it. I despised the bitter smokes, I abhorred the tongue bite, and I loudly condemned dealing with tobacco that tasted like you’d wadded it up and lit it on fire (well…). 

Continue reading “Let’s Build a Tamping Machine”