The majority of pipes sold today, whether hand made or machine made, are fashioned from briar.
Briar is a particularly good wood for pipe making for a number of reasons. The first and most important is its natural resistance to fire. The second is its inherent ability to absorb moisture. The burl absorbs water in nature to supply the tree in the dry times and likewise will absorb the moisture that is a byproduct of combustion.
Briar is cut from the root burl of the heath tree (Erica arborea), which is native to the rocky and sandy soils of the Mediterranean region.
Briar burls are cut into two types of blocks; ebauchon and plateaux. Ebauchon is taken from the heart of the burl while plateaux is taken from the outer part of the burl. While both types of blocks can produce pipes of the highest quality, most artisan pipe makers prefer to use plateaux because of its superior graining.
- Saint-Claude Briar Pipe, c. 1855: A very early example from the time and place of the first briar pipes.
- Characteristics Of Briar is a very thorough and interesting research paper in .pdf format by G. Tsoumis, N. Kezos, I Fanariotou, E. Voulgaridis, and C. Passialis documenting the various characteristics of briar.
- See, My Visit to A Briar Sawmill, What Makes a Good Briar Pipe, The Art of Sandblasting, and Curing all excellent articles by R.D. Field. Also see 100 Year Old Briar?. Also Trever Talbert's excellent blog posts Sandblasting - Circles and Shanks and How to Read your Sandblast.
- R.C. Hamlin has also written an interesting article on this subject called The Briar Factor.
- So you think you're a "Briar Afficionado"? This is a short but extremely informative article by Rainer Barbi available here: