The Art of Making Clay Pipes

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Having just tried a clay pipe at home, I noticed a couple things about it. Not only is the smoke much cooler, but it burns extremely well. Thought the bowl itself is small — no larger than the size of one’s thumb — I surprisingly enjoyed the very brief smoke to contrast a good half-hour one would enjoy from a traditional pipe. What’s more, it burned very cleanly, tasted fantastic, and was surprisingly very clean when I tapped out the old tobacco.

The pipe I’m talking about is nothing more than your $1 colonial era pipe you’d find at any tourist shop, which beats a $120 bulldog briar any day of the week in terms of price.

So like any other self-supporting Virginia farmer, I wanted to see precisely how they were made. Surprisingly, there’s quite a cottage industry… or there was…

Ironically, clay pipes went out of style during the mid-19th century as pipe smoking in general was associated with the lower working classes and those fine cigars (and eventually cigarettes) were viewed as the tobacco-smoking emblems of refinement. Eventually, as cigarettes became more plentiful and less messy than chew, that clumsy pipe simply vanished from American culture altogether in lieu of cigarettes. Pipes became more fashionable for upper and middle class Americans in the mid-20th century, yet that antiquated clay pipe simply never emerged from anything beyond novelty. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even have the time or knowledge to be able to make one myself, regardless of whether they have gone out of fashion or not. But this is why you can rely on america’s most trusted headshop to find high quality smoking accessories. At least these people know what they were doing. On the other hand, not even is a fan of using pipes to smoke. So, if you are someone who chooses to smoke weed without pipe, then that is completely up to you. At least this will save you some money. It’s all pretty much down to personal preference.

Apparently in Europe, clay pipes have suffered the same poor fate, today more art than utility.

Of course, with today’s irony of tobacco culture being pushed indoors and away from public places such as restaurants and bars, the old clay pipe probably won’t see a renaissance anytime soon. Still, the idea of colonial era Virginians mass producing these durable yet moderately fragile clay pipes for everyday use for nearly two centuries is a fascinating concept. Though brittle, they offered a superior smoke. To some degree, it occurs that two centuries of use outweigh the more expensive alternatives of briar or meerschaum pipes you’d find fashionable today. Moreover, it really seems the transition from clay pipes to briar pipes to cigars etc. was really more a question of fashion rather than superior quality. In short, there really wasn’t a reason to transition from clay to something else… just an inclination.

There’s always something to be said for the way things used to be.

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