Blog by Steve Laug
I have used a homemade bowl coating on the inside of pipe bowls that have had varying degrees of damage. This bowl lining is a way of adding a layer of protection to the briar until a natural cake is formed to insulate the walls of the pipe. I remember getting the recipe for this mixture from a pipemaker friend of mine. I have since modified it slightly to make it work better for me.
The mixture has two basic components – sour cream and activated charcoal. You can also substitute plain unsweetened yoghurt for the sour cream. I know that sounds utterly disgusting to you who are reading this and you have visions of it spoiling and stinking up your pipe permanently. You must be thinking the same thing I did when I heard about the combination. I remember thinking, “Forget about worrying about ghosting your pipe from tobacco, now you are asking me to put dairy products in my pipe”. I can tell you from quite a few years of using the recipe that you do not need worry about that. The amount of the mixture that you are putting in the bowl of your pipe is negligible and when it dries/cures it creates an almost rubber bowl coating that leaves no residual taste in the bowl.
My pipe maker friend used a charcoal for aquarium filters that he bought at Walmart and then ground it with a mortar and pestle to a powder before using it. That was too much of a mess to my liking and added yet another thing to clean up after the work. So I buy activated charcoal capsules from the health food section of a local pharmacy and use those instead. Not only is it cleaner but I also find that the food grade charcoal is ground much finer than I can grind the aquarium grade. I have had a jar of capsules that I have been using for over 10 years and still have lots left for future mixtures. I generally mix the charcoal from four capsules with two table spoons of sour cream. I have yet to get the exact amount of mix that I need per bowl but I often will coat several bowls at a time so very little goes to waste. I open the charcoal capsules and shake out the contents on top of the sour cream. I choose a bowl that is large enough to allow me to stir the parts together easily. I have a dentist’s spatula that I got as a gift from holymolar for the mixing tool.I stir in the charcoal until the mixture is evenly blended and no white sour cream is showing. The paste that is created is a dark grey/black in colour and is thick enough that it will stick to the walls of the pipe bowl. I use the spatula to apply it to the walls of the bowl. I spread it on fairly thick and don’t worry about it clumping or bunching up. I am more concerned with getting the mix on the walls at this point in the process than I am in spreading it out evenly throughout the bowl.
Once it is in the bowl I use a folded pipe cleaner to spread it around evenly on the sides and bottom of the bowl. I always put a pipe cleaner in the airway to keep the mixture out of the airway at the bowl bottom. I work the paste until it is evenly spread out and the entire bowl surface is covered.
I then set the bowl upright on a pipe rest to dry and cure. In 24 hours the surface is dry to touch. In 48 hours it is ready to smoke. I load a bowl carefully and when I am smoking it I am careful to not scratch the surface with my tamper for the first few bowls. When I tap out the dottle at the end of the smoke I am careful to not damage the bowl coating until I have run at least 6-9 bowls through it. At that point it is hardened sufficiently and the new cake has begun to form on top of the coating. Even the finely ground charcoal powder leaves a rough surface on the side of the bowl. I have found that the rough surface is what facilitates the building of a good cake in the bowl. I used this bowl coating for quite a few years now with no ill effect. It works well to protect the bowl of damaged pipes and give them time to build up a cake that protects the briar from burn out. If there is any residual taste (and honestly I can’t taste one) it is short lived as the tobacco is burned in the bowl. It has worked well from me and I thought I would pass it on. If it works for you that is great. If you choose to not use it that too is fine.