Behold the Lowly Stinger

Blog by Steve Laug

Not too long ago I laid out the various stingers I have removed from the pipes that have passed over my refurbishing work table. I don’t know why I have kept them all, but I have. Most of them came from pipes that are no longer in my collection. I was reminded of this photo that I had taken in the past because of a stinger I removed from a Comoy’s the Guildhall pipe. The shapes and sizes of stingers and the size the mortise in the pipe to accommodate them is as varied as the inventors who came up with the “brilliant” idea in the first place. Fundamentally it is designed to act as a condenser to draw out and trap the moisture in the smoke of the tobacco. The burning tobacco in the bowl creates moisture as it burns. As it is drawn into the mortise it either naturally condenses on the walls of the briar or metal shank by simple cooling or its condensation is enhanced by the introduction of the metal apparatus that is commonly known as a stinger.

The basic concept is that the stinger provides multiple surfaces on which the moisture is condensed and collected. Theoretically, the smoker is to clean the stinger after each smoke and thus remove the debris of the condensation before the next smoke. Doing this would provide a clean surface for each smoke. The built in stingers that are a part of the screw in tenon were made to encourage taking the pipe apart while it was warm and the cleanup would be relatively simple. However, judging from the many pipes I have cleaned over the years this theoretical assumption of cleaning the apparatus between smokes never happened – or at best rarely happened. The juices and moisture from the heated smoke hardened into a dark tarry substance that often welded the stinger and tenon into the mortise until the time I decided to take it apart and clean it at my table. The sheer amount of “gunk” in the shank of pipes with stingers versus those that do not have stingers seems to prove the effectiveness of the stinger. It truly seems to work in condensing the moisture from the smoke. Though that should be no surprise – the introduction of a metal tube or apparatus into the path of hot/cooling smoke drawn through the shank can only attract moisture.

All that being said I question the validity of the supposed effectiveness of the apparatus. It seems to me that the introduction of the metal stinger into the shank, no matter what unique or strange design, in fact exacerbates the problem of moisture rather than reduces it. I have smoked many pipes without a stinger and had very few issues with moisture gurgling in the shank. And those that do can be tweaked to not gurgle at all. I have also smoked pipes with the stinger in place and struggled with gurgles and moisture in the stem and shank. I still recall an old pipeman on skid row where I worked showing me how to put my thumb over the bowl and flick the pipe to get rid of the moisture. It was not a pretty sight but it was very effective. Once I removed the stinger from the tenon I found that the same pipe would smoke dry. That led me to conclude that the stinger, while certainly working to attract moisture, may actually create more moisture. In its design the stinger was also believed to calm down hot smoking tobacco and remove tongue bite. This claim assumes that the tongue bite is caused by the moisture in the smoke. While this may be true in part, I believe it is also the effect of heat on the tongue generated by too energetic a puffing cadence. The hard puffing on burning tobacco in the bowl heats up the briar so why would it not also affect the tongue? I have found that when I slow the cadence I slow the likelihood of tongue bite. So in my opinion, the stinger’s effectiveness in alleviating tongue bite may be exaggerated. Or maybe it is just the constricted draught on the pipe that makes the likelihood of tongue bite reduced, for in my experience it seems that no matter how hard you puff on the pipes with stingers the draught is the same – constricted.

In looking at the many stingers I have collected over the years I have noted both similarities and some very distinctive differences. I only took photos of the ones that are removable and to be honest over the past months I have added at least another dozen variations on the theme. The pieces pictured below can be grouped into four categories – tubes, blades, round balls, twists/spirals. When I removed them from the pipes they all were equally dirty and tarred. All of them had a brown lacquer like substance under the tar that was almost permanently bonded to the aluminum of the apparatus regardless of the shape. In the next section of this article I will give a description of the shape, structure and function of each stinger within the particular group to understand the concept behind their design.

Tubes: The first group I have collectively called Tubes. The basic design is clear from the designation – they are all open tubes. The four pictured below are all different lengths. Some of the tubes extended into the bowl of the pipe. The top left tube and the bottom right tube are a Dunhill Inner Tubes and they have an angled end that fit up against the opening in the bottom of the bowl. They are both different diameters based upon the size of the bowl and the size of the drilling in the shank. The first is from a Group 4 sized pipe and the second from a Group 2 sized pipe. The second tube down on the left side came from a no name pipe and sat in the airway pressed against the opening in the bottom of the bowl. It fit flush against the opening in the bottom of the bowl and also flush against the opening in the tenon. It thus was intended to provide a clean and direct airway into the stem. The interior of the tubes acted to cool the smoke on its way to the mouth. The first tube on the right has a hole on top of the tube where it extended into the bottom of the bowl. It thus provided a 90 degree angle for the smoke to travel from the bowl bottom into the airway. The tube extended into the tenon of the stem about a ½ inch. Once again the concept was to provide a clean airway that would not collect the moisture in the shank of the pipe and provide a cool smoke. The problem with this apparatus is that it was easily plugged by small pieces of tobacco that entered the rather large hole in the tube at the bottom of the bowl.

Blades: The second group I have called Blades because of a prominent bladelike feature included in their design. From the left of the photo, the fourth, fifth, sixth and eleventh stingers all have a variety of blades on the end of the stinger. The first three have a form like a shovel. The end is turned up like a scoop to collect moisture on the topside and the underside of the blade. Behind the blade on these three were three different ridges. The third ridge was slotted for the flow of the air to enter the stem. The fourth blade is extended and the same diameter from the front of the blade to the edge that rests against the tenon. There is a slight twist cut into the blade about 2/3 of the way down the blade that is intended to “spin” the smoke around the blade before it enters the slot at the top back edge of the blade. This “spinning” was intended to remove moisture. The fifth blade is tubular in shape. There is a portion that is scooped out of the tube with an airhole in the end of the scooped out portion. The flat surface of the tube collects moisture and also the blade does. The shape of the blade directs the air across a broad surface and into the airway of the stem.

Round balls: The third group I have called Balls because of the round ball on the end of each of them. From the left side of the photo – the first, second, seventh, tenth and twelfth as well as the first and third in the centre of the photo all are variations on the ball theme. The first, second (half ball), and seventh all remind me of trailer hitches. The ball is quite large in proportion to the stinger. The ball sometimes has holes drilled into it surface (like the Kaywoodie Stinger) and sometimes does not. Behind the ball is a flat ridge that is slightly smaller than the second ridge that rests against the tenon. There is a slot in this ridge that is aligned with a slot in the second ridge that through which the air/smoke is drawn. The interior and exterior surface of the ball collects moisture on the drilled balls and the exterior surface collects it on the undrilled ones. I find that the undrilled balls are significantly larger than the drilled ones, thus providing more surface area for condensation. The eleventh, twelfth, and the first and third in the centre all are all balls resting on top of cones with a slight ridge to no ridge below the cone. The cone is slotted to direct air/smoke into the stem. The cone/ball combination again increases the area of condensation for the smoke.

Twists/Spirals: The fourth group I have called Twists or Spirals to summarize the shape of each of them. From the left side of the photo below – numbers 8 and 9 and the second one in the centre have been grouped together in this category. These stingers are actually very unique. The 8th one is a spiral around a centre rod. The end of the spiral is flattened like a small blade, similar to a spear tip. The smoke follows the twist up to the point it enters the stem and the moisture is almost spun out of the smoke in the process. The ninth one is a more smooth and scooped spiral or twist. The tip is a flat, round disk. The smoke is dissipated around the disk and then travels down the spiral to the slot in the bottom where it joins the tenon. Again the spiral serves to spin the moisture from the smoke. The second stinger in the middle is really not a spiral in the same sense as the other two. It is two cones separated by two tire shaped rings. The moisture is given many surfaces to condense on before it moves through the slot at the end where the stinger sits against the tenon.

The diversity of the shapes and styles of stingers that have been created seems to be endless. Each new estate pipe I purchase that has a stinger, has one that is a variation on the ones above. Those pictured are representative of the creative energy that has been invested into making a cooler, drier, cleaner smoke for the pipeman. In my humble opinion, all of them achieve the same end. All of them collect moisture and may very well increase the moisture collected from the smoke. In the long run do they achieve what they were purposed to achieve? I leave that answer up to you. But to me they are appendages that are better removed from the shank and tenon. I have found that their removal holds the key to a drier and cooler smoke.

18 thoughts on “Behold the Lowly Stinger

  1. Paul

    I generally smoke 9mm pipes. I never have trouble with moisture in the stem. When I have smoked the without the filter tin a filter pipe I find it generally unpleasant. I like the nicotine but have no use for the cancerous tar, which is what builds up on the stinger of the one pipe I have that came with one, marketed as a “metal filter”. I have also bought 9mm metal filters online which are simply a short 9mm aluminum slug w/ 3 grooves in it that are effective, but difficult to clean and easier to drop on the floor while doing so. My interest in stingers is for removal of the tar without having to search the web for filters becoming more and more scarce. But an effective and easy to clean stinger would be great. The health hazards of smoking have been known since the practice began. I think the purpose of stingers was not for moisture reduction per say but to remove the tar from the smoke, teeth and lips of the smoker.

  2. StPaulPiper

    First, I think it says something about your site, that you’re still getting comments on a post from 2013! Second, I think that the bottom line on stingers was mainly to introduce more surface area for moisture to collect, rather than dripping down the shank and bowl bottom to plug the draft hole. You’ll notice that they mostly provide a way for moisture to drip off without going into the stinger draft holes, whether it’s from blades, balls or diagonal slicing. And as people have said, it might help cool the smoke more as well. Would it help on a 40 minute smoke? Nah. But on a 15 minute? Maybe? I like my large-shank pipes the best for dry smokes – and buy 9mm filtered pipes all the time (and omit the filter).

  3. Joseph Sugar

    So it seems to me that the real solution is charcoal filter like the 9 mm filters that Vauen pipes use. Just throw it away after every use and put in a new filter. Or, as grand marques like Dunhill pipes, nothing between the burning tobacco and your mouth. Whatever health damage that causes on the long run, the world we live in today, dying sooner is a benefit.

    1. rebornpipes Post author

      Depends on the stinger design. If it is not an integral part of the tenon (like Kaywoodie) it is often either pressure fit into the vulcanite or it is threaded and can be unscrewed.

  4. Michelle Martha Giddley

    where can i purchase stingers? I know they are considered “old fashioned” by some…but I have been looking for stingers as a gift.

  5. Chris landry

    There sure is a lot of information about stingers. There is more information than what the stingers actually do !

  6. blenheimbard

    Actually it is trying to make a feature out of a nagging problem. Either turbulence or variance in the air channel will allow the gas to expand, and until someone finds a way to repeal Boyle’s Law, expansion leads to cooling and condensation. Even with the most precise drilling there can be slight variances in the size of the channel, there are turns such as where the air hole meets the bowl, and seldom is the tenon so precisely fitted to the mortise that there is not a bit of a gap where they meet.
    anyone who has smoked a calabash knows how cool they smoke, and how moisture collects in the space below the bowl. Peterson took this and designed the “system pipe”, and deliberately put an expansion chamber and a “well” to collect the condensation… and patented it, and defended the patent vigorously as they could for its life.
    It is one thing if you are making prestige pipes, Dunhill, Ashton, and all the other grand marques, but what if you are making factory pipes? Well the answer was not to worry as much about the drilling precision, but use that self same Boyle’s Law and build in an expansion chamber (a la Peterson) but either put an absorbent “filter” to catch and hold the moisture, or put in a stinger a.k.a. condenser on which the moisture and tars will collect and keep them from entering the stem. the various shapes show attempts to maximize the surfaces and effectiveness of the collectors. and the ones that look like little spoons on the end, at least one maker said they could be used to clean the bottom of your bowl.
    take the stinger out, more expansion > more condensation, but where does it go? either back to the bowl and a wet heel or up that vulcanite straw we call a stem and into your mouth. YECH. You better be compulsive about using pipe cleaners if you have removed the stinger. IMHO

    1. rebornpipes Post author

      Compulsion in cleaning is a necessity. You are absolutely correct in what you say. The stingerless chamber becomes a condensation chamber like the Peterson well and collects much condensation that needs to be regularly removed for a clean smoke. Thank you for your comment.

      1. upshallfan

        Steve, have you ever encountered a pinned in place stinger? Someone on the pipes magazine alleges some came this way (a pin thru the tenon holding the stinger in place) that makes no sense to me.

  7. upshallfan

    The stinger must have been the pipe era’s equivalent to building a better mousetrap. I assume that aromatic tobaccos were the predominate favorite of the time. They tend to smoke pretty wet, so pipe companies must have always been scheming to come up with a drier smoke than their competitors. What an array of styles! I don’t have a lot of experience with stinger pipes, but thought them pretty useless. Where era pipemen really clamoring for a solution or was the stinger an answer to a question no one was asking?


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