Bamboo Shanks

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The basis for the following article was written by Tyler Lane for his website, and is used by permission.

Sixten Ivarsson Pipe05.jpg

Bamboo seems to be a material people either love or hate. I fall into the love it category, and before I explain how to use it for a pipe shank I want to explain why I like bamboo so much. Certainly aesthetics are a part of the conversation -- I find bamboo shanked pipes to be very attractive -- but that is not the only reason to use bamboo for a pipe shank. (I have heard comments from those that do not like bamboo that they feel the bamboo shank is often too skinny for the proportions of the pipe it is on. I agree that that can be the case, but it does not have to be.) Bamboo is a VERY lightweight material and it is often surprising how much weight is removed from a pipe by having the briar shank very short, and then a bamboo extension. If you are a fan of clenching a pipe in your teeth, I think you would become a fan of bamboo after you find out how light bamboo pipes can be. Also, bamboo is very absorbant, and as such it results in VERY dry smoking pipes. My driest smoking pipes are my bamboo pipes, hand's down.

I have heard some concerns about bamboo being fragile. While I haven't done any testing of the force required to snap a bamboo shank, I will say that for a short section of bamboo, the force will be a lot! One needn't worry about a bamboo shanked pipe any more than a briar shanked one, in my experience.

How to make a bamboo shanked pipe:

The first step is to drilll the bamboo. I do this by hand, with a 5/32" bit chucked into the headstock of my lathe (set at the lowest RPM). Conveniently, bamboo has a capillary that runs through its center to transfer. This capillary serves as a nice drilling guide. I simply start the hole, then bring the tailstock up to the back of the bamboo, and press the bamboo onto the bit using the tailstock. You will need to hold the bamboo as you do this in order to prevent it from spinning.

Once the bamboo is drilled, I press it back onto the drill bit and, using the drill bit as a mandrel, face off both ends of the bamboo so the ends are perfectly square with the hole through the bamboo.

On the side of the bamboo that will be epoxied to the stummel, a 5/32" stainless steel tube will be used. (Obviously the stummel need only have a 5/32" hole drilled in it. If you use a 5/32" draught hole, like I do, then there is no need for any sort of mortise hole in the stummel. Simply drill the 5/32" draught hole and square off the block to that hole.) The stainless steel tube serves the dual purpose of perfectly aligning the hole in the bamboo with the hole in the stummel, and serves to make the joint between the bamboo and stummel very strong.

Often times, a vulcanite transition piece is nice between the bamboo and stummel. This is best accomplished by drilling a piece of vulcanite with a 5/32" hole, facing off the vulcanite square with the hole, then cutting off a disc of the vulcanite to slide on to the middle of a piece of steel tube. (It depends on the size of the pipe, but 3/4" is a decent rough estimate of the length of tube that I typically use for this joint.) This tube is then epoxied in the bamboo and the vulcanite ring (faced off side toward the bamboo) to the face of the bamboo. After this has dried, mount the bamboo on the bit again and face off the other side of the vulcanite. The end result of this process will be a section of bamboo with vulcanite on one end with a stailess steel tube protuding from that end about 3/8"+ long.

On the end of the bamboo that is going to be the stem end, I then drill a 1/4" hole about 1/2" deep using the same method as was used to drill the 5/32" hole through the bamboo. In this, I epoxy a piece of 1/4" delrin that I have already drilled a 5/32" hole through. (Cutting grooves into the delrin rod is a good move in order to facilitate a strong bond with the epoxy.) I make the Delrin extend out of the hole far enough to serve as a tenon upon which to epoxy a ring of vulcanite to act as a transition piece between the the bamboo and the stem. (This is like the small vulcanite ring that is usually epoxied after the a stem inlay.)

Once the Delrin and vulcanite ring are epoxied in place and dry, I chuck the bamboo in the lathe using the tubing that is protruding from the other end, and face off the vulcanite ring and Delrin.

The bamboo is now prepared, and must now be epoxied to the stummel. At this point it should be obvious what to do: simply epoxy the bamboo to the stummel using plenty of epoxy on the tube and face of the vulcanite. Be sure to clamp this joint in place tightly until the epoxy has set in order to avoid a glue line between the stummel and bamboo.

To make a stem for the bamboo, you drill a piece of vulcanite with a 5/32" bit about 1/2" deep, then drill with a taper drill that is 5/32" at the largest point, to about 3/8" from the end of the rod. At that point, drill through the rod with a 1/16" bit. Before removing the piece from the lathe, face off the vulcanite square with the hole.

Epoxy a (~1") piece of 5/32" stainless steel tubing into the rod. This piece of tubing will obviously protrude about 1/2" from the rod, and this will serve as the tenon for the stem. The mortise is the 5/32" hole in the bamboo, and we have lined it with Delrin for strength and a nice smooth, snug fit.

At this point we have a bamboo shank! Now shape the stem and complete the shape of the stummel, and you will have a wonderful smoking instrument. One pointer: shape the stummel almost completely before you epoxy the bamboo on. You do not want to lose all the work of preparing the bamboo because you find a killer pit in the stummel after you epoxied on the bamboo! You may want to insert a piece of the rod into the draught hole as you shape the stummel in order to serve as a reference for the angle the shank will enter the stummel. This should give you a reference for making a nice shape that matches the angle of the shank. Another note: using the method described above, there is no separate mortise hole that allows for the stem to be on a different angle than the draught hole. This limits the angles that one can make and still end up with enough wood at the bottom of the bowl without having to have the shank enter the side of the pipe.

(I am afraid this whole page is dreadfully unclear. Hopefully with a little experimentation you will begin to understand what I am trying to communicate!)