Daily Archives: June 11, 2019

Briars vs. Meerschaum:  Right Brain – Left Brain – I Choose the Middle Way!

Blog by Norman Skiba

I have seen this discussion and argument in the past and even in the present on various pipe smoking forums.  New threads, old threads – they are all the same.  Personally I am kind of bored with the various arguments.  I have smoked both briar and meerschaum’s pretty much from the start.  In the 60’s and 70’s there was a lot of myth about pipes, briars, tobacco, and meers.  And there still is a whole lot of myths about these various things.  Many people that contributed to this plethora of facts, and opinions, and just downright incorrect information were either ignorant of the information, ego-driven to show their pedanticism, opinionated with an enough-to-be-dangerous knowledge, and people that in this case never smoked either briars or meerschaums, or smoked briars or meerschaums that were of decent smoking Quality to even begin to make a comparison as to the briar or meerschaum discussion at a credible level of discourse.  The creation of myths and biases still continue to this very day.

As stated earlier, I have been fortunate to have smoked both briars and meerschaums pretty much from the beginning of my pipesmoking journey.  Most people, if not all of the people around me were briar smokers and briar master pipe makers.  Most probably never smoked or owned a meer, and if they did, they never smoked it enough to make an educated opinion – just an opinion.  A lot of the myths and information that I learned, and I bet, most people in similar situations have learned are biased and twisted information,  some true – some partially true, and some just off the wall in any sense of possible truth.  As neophytes – how do we know what is credible.  The blind leading the blind.

As an old guy who has been around this journey into pipes and tobacco, I have to say that I have worked hard and went broke to have 3 nice pipe collections in my life.  2 of the collections were extensive and the last in my close to the end of life is extremely modest, but exquisite.  The first 2 collections had both briars and meers, but the predominant pipes were briars. (The types and kinds of pipes are a whole ‘nother story that may be pursued in another little blurb.)  I have always loved the meers – for aesthetical reasons, smoking Qualities, and the artistic carving and coloring experience for example. (Just like the shape and finish and grain of briars) They were nice pipes and smoked wonderfully.  I did notice a difference, yet I could not at the time explain it as such.  Again being surrounded by briar people I may have had some slant on that – i.e. an opinion or observations of this briar vs. meerschaum dynamic of the smoking Qualities that they offered.  This last tiny collection is predominantly meerschaum at the moment – 4 meers and 2 briars (I may get 1 more briar in the future due to my love of pipes and the briar made by a deceased famous pipemaker.)  But that would still make:  meer 4 and briar 3.  I have understood late in life during my sannyasin period as espoused in Hinduism, that 5 pipes are nice – 6 – 7 OK – and No More.  Now you may ask – ‘Why do you go from 5 – 6 or 7 pipes?’  Due to my love of Latakia and a wife who has asthma – I am forced to have to smoke outside and when raining or cold/very cold in my cold small shed.  I need some briars to smoke in the freezing cold where meers are technically possible to crack or shatter so the need for an extra briar or two.  I must say that the briars that I do have are wonderful pipes and wonderful smokers so I love them and do smoke them in the summer too.  Even if I lived in Bali where the weather is pleasant all year, I still would own my briars.  I love wood and I love grain.  But I have fallen deeply, in my old age like never before, for the White Goddess!  I have always had, and smoked, and loved meers; so this is nothing new; however, the Passion is just so Intense at this stage I cannot explain.  The meers I am smoking more during the summer/warmer weather because I love smoking them, and not just because of the weather.  Today for example, I had 3 bowls in the morning in a meer and later on when I took a break after working all morning outside, I smoked an old relatively conservative Preben Holm.  It was wonderful.  There is a difference, in a sense, in the briar experience and meer.  I have struggled to define it for decades and I just cannot.  However, the difference is not ‘a one is good and the other bad’ sort of difference that one thinks exists.  Maybe the term is characteristic(s)?  Maybe it will always be elusive and not definable.  It is so abstract – yet one knows it when it is understood/experienced.  It may just not be graspable in an ideational way or in word play.  It just must be experienced and appreciated each for what they have to offer.

In a post I made on an old thread on a forum recently regarding the briar vs. meer argument (edited and expanded here):

I do say that the meers do smoke drier and cleaner in many respects. I have had some meers that were sweet as in smooth and easy to smoke and enjoy and a few that were maybe a bit brutal if that be the word. Some had a warmth and a dimensionality to the smoke and the taste. I have had some briars that were – yech!  I have also had some briars that have that warmth that I mentioned for the meers.  Again – maybe the meers take a few bowls of a tobacco when new to achieve a warmth that is inherent in it – the pipe itself.  Even briars need to be broken in as such.  Again, each pipe, whether briar or meer can be special or a loser. I find the more I smoke the meers and they develop and are good in their way – the warmth and the taste of the tobacco opens up and improves tremendously.  Funny – similar analogies to briars.  No real answers here, just observations.  It boils down to a good pipe is a good pipe and one that isn’t may not ever be!  Briar and meer!

I choose the Middle Way of Buddhism.  Briar AND Meer.  Enjoy!



Flow Dynamics in Meerschaum Coloring – A Theory

Blog by Fred Bass

Here is another reflective piece by Fred Bass that I had in the files saved on my computer. I think it is time to resurrect this discussion. Anyone with contributions, thoughts or comments please note them below… thanks. – Steve

I’ve been giving some thought to the issues of flow dynamics as they relate to Meerschaum coloring. With little else but the most rudimentary exposure to scientific thought on flow principles long ago, my grasp of this concept is weak. Still, it seems a topic of interest to both myself and others. I offer these thoughts in the hopes that others will take some interest. The combination of burning tobacco and beeswax cause Meerschaums to color over time. OK, so what’s going on? It seems that heat will cause the wax to migrate into the Block. Continued heating/cooling cycles will cause the wax to migrate in a progressive manner, but at some point, the wax evaporates. This process works like a wick to the by-products of tobacco combustion and draws them into the Block, where they accumulate, in a progressive result of color, that changes character over time. If I understand it, this is the process that results in the patina that Meerschaum smokers prize. Is this what’s going on? Do I have a cogent theory in this line of thought?

An interesting observation to add to this is that Meerschaums that have been smoked for long periods of time, without rewaxing, may not demonstrate a well developed patina. When such a Pipe is rewaxed, it will quickly display colors. Like all coloring in Meerschaums, the repetition of rewaxing in concert with smoking the Pipe, will eventually produce coloring that does not quickly fade.

I believe that I’ve addressed the path of wax dissipation. Continued heating/cooling cycles will cause the wax to migrate in a progressive manner, but at some point, the wax evaporates. This process may account for wax loss, but certainly some will also be lost to friction on the Pipe’s surface. I’ve not taken any additives that the Carver may choose to mix in with the wax or the porosity of the Block into account.

Smoke from the tobacco smoking is giving the brown color, that is certainly a factor. The heat and the moisture of the tobacco are also involved. The Pipe’s shank usually starts to color first, as it is the site of major condensation via cooling, of the tobacco being smoked.

I agree that the wax protects the outer surface of the Pipe, which is not to say that it doesn’t migrate into the Block. As I understand it, the Carver blocks off the Pipe’s draft & the bowl, so that the wax does not get into the Pipe, but this is done to avoid having the first few smokes taste like burning wax. I also agree with you about the wax not being the coloring agent for the Block, but instead, it serves to wick the by-products of the smoke along it’s migration routes. The point that has me stumped, is the quick color shown by waxing Pipes that have not been rewaxed, but have been smoked. This suggests that some part (or all) of the nicotine, tars & moisture are already in the Block from smoking, but do not display this coloring as fast, if left without rewaxing. Even if the wax’s role is to wick and protect, how does it contribute to the Pipe’s color. Your idea of the wax serving to seal the Block from loss of these smoke by-products may be a demonstration of this idea. It is an interesting puzzle.

I’ve been turning this bit of a puzzle over in my mind, as it seems that it will not let me rest. Perhaps the wax, the heat and the burning tobaccos also interact chemically. This would explain how rewaxing a Pipe, that has been smoked for a long period of time, will produce coloring with a rapid permanence more dramatically than a Pipe that has been smoked less that has been rewaxed. It is also quite possible that the Meerschaum itself plays a part in this chemical interaction. I suspect that this has all been thought of before, and tested by Carvers. Such knowledge would enable a Carver’s work to stand apart from the competition, and not likely to be widely known, as with anything in the Meerschaum trades. So much is lost to us in the guarded history of the Carver’s art. 😉