I suppose this can’t really be called an “age-old debate,” but as pipes take on a new generation of smokers, many are asking the same questions: what’s the difference between a handmade smoking pipe and a factory made smoking pipe? Will a factory made pipe smoke well? Which one should I buy? In the interest of setting the record straight, we have decided to put forth a write-up of the pros and cons of both handmade and factory made smoking pipes, effectively clearing up the needless confusion once and for all! So we hope.
It should first be said that the object of the game we call pipe smoking is simply to get some tobacco in a hole and light it on fire. If one wanted to accomplish this using a ram rod to shove some Captain Black into a cored zucchini, one could do so. However, that’s unadvisable, as Captain Black is a poor quality tobacco. As to the ram rod and the zucchini, different strokes…
Factory Made Pipes
While “factory made” may invoke images of greasy gears humming and hunch-backed ogre men mindlessly pushing buttons, pipes like those from Peterson and Stanwell are actually made by skilled workmen. The raw block is cut mechanically, but the drilling, fitting, and finishing is completed entirely by hand. That’s why even factory made pipes don’t come without a price.
However, factory made smoking pipes are more economically priced than handmade pipes, mostly because of the efficiency with which they’re made. For a beginning pipe smoker, this in itself can be a decision maker. Still, you’ll find that even the most prodigious collectors often have a few factory made pipes in their cabinets, since walking the town or fly fishing with a thousand-dollar pipe in your mouth isn’t practical. On a special occasion, though, one might choose to pull the high-grade out of the holster.
Aside from price, availability is another advantage of the factory pipe. So your favorite billiard is burned out or broken? Buy another one!
Because factory made pipes are drilled mechanically, there is a slight chance that the drilling can be innacurate. This could mean some unpleasant symptoms like moisture accumulation in the bottom of the bowl and in the shank. Just as a hot day feels hotter when the humidity is high, wet smoke is hot smoke. The aesthetics of factory made pipes are another area of disadvantage. With limitations imposed by the machines used to cut the wood, certain of the more dramatic shapes are just not possible to achieve.
Some of the advantages are quite evident. Aesthetically, handmade smoking pipes will always have the upper hand. Dramatic shapes, fantastic grain quality, magnificent sandblasted finishes, contrasting stains, asymmetrical curves, and countless other possibilities exist when an artisan is limited only by his imagination.
Secondly, you’d be hard pressed to find a true high-grade pipe that was lacking in the mechanics department. Precisely drilled and fitted, these pipes can typically smoke to the very bottom with less moisture accumulation, and therefore a drier and more pleasant smoke, so you’ll get the most out of those top-notch tobaccos.
There are two conceivable disadvantages with handmade pipes. They can be very expensive. I mean anywhere from $500-$5,000! That’s a pretty penny, indeed.
The second potential issue really rests with the smoker. There are people making pipes out there that just aren’t true artisans. You don’t always get what you pay for. One pipe maker might think his diamond studded pipes are worth fifteen thousand dollars, but that doesn’t mean they are. It’s absolutely imperative that you do your homework on an artisan before purchasing their work.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that both types of smoking pipes have their purpose, and your decision will be based on how a pipe fits your lifestyle. You will likely end up with some factory made pipes, and perhaps some handmade pipes as well. Most smokers do. Hell, you may even end up with a zucchini.