Alternative Woods Used For Pipe making

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A naturally cut Ropp cherrywood pipe from France, courtesy Roadrunner Estate Pipes

While briar root pipes are by far the most common wooden pipes, a wide range of other woods have been used. Times in which briar is scarce or completely unavailable (war, economic depression, etc.) have prompted curious carvers to explore the properties of alternative and more abundant materials. While softer, less porous or more susceptible to burning than briar, a temporary solution is often better than not smoking at all. The following woods have been used for smoking pipes to various extents:

  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Black Walnut
  • Oak
  • Olive
  • Rosewood
  • Manzanita
  • Mesquite-wood
  • Beech
  • Hickory
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Mahogany
  • Ebony
  • Jujube
  • Buxuse
  • Jichi-mu
  • Wenge

Many thanks to Missouri Meerschaum Company for their Underwriting support

Of all the woods listed, only Cherry remains common as a substitute for briar. Large-scale makers of cherry wood pipes are fewer in number, but include Ropp which has an extensive line of natural cherry wood carved from the wood and showing the actual bark, and the Missouri Meerschaum Co. which is better known for their corn-cob pipes. Ozark Mountain series, Maple and Cherrywood pipes

While now known for manufacturing Briar pipes, major Danish marque Stanwell began in 1942 as a producer of danish beechwood pipes. The political circumstances of the time made the importation of briar from standard sources such as the U.K. and France impossible. At the end of the war, normal trade resumed and imported briar became Poul Nielsen's wood of choice. Despite this, the company has not forgotten its humble roots and currently offers a commemorative beechwood pipe in its original bulldog design. The pipe is small, which was also a product of hard times. Tobacco, in addition to briar, was made scarce by the World Wars.


A fully-finished example of a morta pipe carved by Trevor Talbert

Another material of particular interest may actually be considered a stone rather than an 'alternative wood.' Morta, or partially fossilized wood, has been used to a limited extent in the making of tobacco pipes. The substance is formed when timber submerged in an anaerobic environment such as a peat bog is unable to decompose along normal lines. Instead, the wood begins the long process of petrification. In addition to his briar pipes, carver Trevor Talbert produces a line of pipes that uses 4,500 year-old oak morta from the marshy regions of north-western France. In comparison to briar, morta presents its own set of challenges; first and foremost of which is the process of acquisition. Morta must first be located and extracted from the partially submerged soft ground in which it lies. The process of "poling" uses long iron rods to probe the earth for the hard logs. Once identified, the material is arduously extracted in great quantity. As with briar, a great deal of raw morta must be gathered due to the fact that after removing damaged or flawed material, little usable wood remains. The morta is then carved into pipes by a process described in great detail here on Trevor Talbert's website.