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 and kill me if you find one of these on my person. Online, “The Pipe Guys” -whoever 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.

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. Okay- I guess some judgment.

13: The Oom-Paul
I always thought the Oom-Paul name 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
Tape a pot to the end of a 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, round 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 around 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 straight- 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 thicc walls and squat look. The shape 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 pornography 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, even though I described them as my favorite in the previous entry. 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!

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