Tag Archives: orific buttons

Whatever Happened to the Orific Button?

While I was sitting at my desk, looking over my pipe cabinet the other evening, it suddenly came to me that I could divide my pipes into two distinct groups – all grouped by the shape of the airway in the end of the button or stem – either round/orific or a slot. I have often wondered about the transition between the two types of airways as they each seem to come from two different time periods. What happened to the rounded one and when did the slotted airway begin to have ascendancy? I am not sure I can answer that question with any definitiveness but I want to look at both types and surmise what may have transpired to bring about the end of the orific button.

The pipes I would place in the first group are all older pipes with stems made of a variety of materials – amber, vulcanite, Bakelite and horn. In this group there are 45-50 pipes with this type of airway. All of them come from the mid to late 1800s and the early 1900s, literally another time and place. For some of them I can identify the time period they were manufactured and for some I have only the faintest idea of the era. The earliest dateable pipe I have is from 1912 – this is knowable from the hallmarks on the silver band on the shank of the pipe. The earliest ones in my collection appear to come from the 1850s and possibly earlier as far as I can tell. They have the filigree decorations, stampings and shapes of that earlier time. The stems, regardless of the time frame within this lot, all have a round/orific opening or airway in the end of the stem. The orific opening is a hole shaped like an O and is sometimes tapered into the airway from the outside. But often it is a straight shot into the airway with no variation in size. The button is generally oval/or round in all of them and the stem coming into the button is also thicker and more oval as well. There is not one thin stem in the lot. As a rule they are thicker and more rounded on the top so they are harder to clench. The two photos below show two different pipe stems from pipes that are in my collection. The first picture shows a horn stem with the orific or “O” shaped opening. The button on this one is quite oval and rounded. The stem itself is also oval and shaped similarly to the shape of the button. The second photo shows the same orific opening on a vulcanite stem. The shape of the button on it is an oval with pointed ends, like an American football. This stem is on a bulldog with a diamond shaped shank and stem. The blade or flat portion of the stem is crowned terminating in the button. The crown on the top and bottom of the stem matches the oval shape of the button both having pointed edges on the right and the left side.

Orific button1

Orific button2
I spent some time examining all of the pipes that I have with this kind of stem to observe similarities and differences. In looking at them I have found some interesting observations. First, it can be generally stated that when I received these pipes as estates that they did not have bite marks or tooth marks in the stem itself though there were marks/dents in the button surfaces on many of them. All had tooth chatter or tooth scratches on the surface of the stem regardless of the material. A second observation I made is that in the straight stems the airway is the same size from front to back or at the most minimally tapered from the tenon to the opening in the button. Holding the stem up to light and looking down the stem the airway is uniform. I would assume that the same would be true for the bent stems that are in my collection. Third, all take a pipe cleaner very easily. Fourth, all of them are thicker than my stems with slots. Fifth, at one level all are less comfortable than the thin stems. I say at one level, in that I find them uncomfortable when I am smoking them on the go or in the car as they are hard to clench. However, if I am sitting in my office or on my porch with one I find that the thickness is no detriment as I tend to hold them in my hand.

The second group of pipes in my collection is “newer” in age as a whole. As I observe this group of pipes I can make the following generalizations. I know that they are generalizations but that is my point in this article, I want to look at broad commonalities of each group. The buttons are thinner on the pipes throughout this group. They are flattened on the top and the bottom edges, which reduces the thickness of the button. The airway on the end of the stem is either a flat slot or a flattened oval that flares inward toward the airway in the stem. This slot becomes a funnel shape from the slot to the airway in many of the pipes. The drilling is also tapered and the airway flattened in the button end of the stem so that the stem can be significantly thinner. This is true in all of the pipes in this group regardless of the material that is used for the stems. In this group of pipes the stems are made out of vulcanite, Lucite, Bakelite and acrylic. All of the tapered stems have a more flattened profile, with more gentle angles to the taper from either the saddle or the taper from the shank to the button. The higher end pipes and handmade pipes all show a customization of the button slot. The machine made pipes generally have a straight line slot. Some of the machine-made pipes have slots that are very thin/ tight and will only take a thin pipe cleaner with effort. Others are wider and accommodate pipe cleaners easily. In my handmade/artisan pipes the slots are all of various shapes and adaptations. The one overarching theme in all of them is the flare on the inside of the slot that tapers back to the internal airway. The next three photos show a customized slot on three different pipes in my collection. Both pipes have vulcanite stems and both have oval shaped buttons and slots.

Slot 1

Slot 2

Slot 3

What have I learned from this comparative observation of both kinds of buttons/stem? What generalizations can I take away as I try to understand why the orific button was replaced with the slotted button? I can say unequivocally from my observations, that it seems the quest for ever thinner stems and the advent of “new” ideas regarding internal engineering of the airway from the bowl to the tip of the stem have brought about the end of the old orific button. I don’t know if anyone ever questioned its disappearance or mourned its demise. It almost seems to me that it just disappeared slowly and like the dinosaur left behind a few “fossil” remains to remind us of its presence.

Refurbishing a horn stemmed Bruyere Garantie Beautiful Swan Necked Pipe

I picked this old timer up in an antique shop near Vancouver, quite a few years ago now. When I got it the bowl was almost black and dirty. The rim had a good 1/8 inch of grime and tar built up so that it looked like a plateau top. The finish was so opaque that you could not see the grain through it. The stem was dirty and to be honest with you all, when I got it I had no idea it was a horn stem. I worked hard to get the oxidation off it and all I got was more of the brown tones coming through. There was tooth chatter on the top and bottom of the stem. The chatter was kind of white coloured. I asked several guys about the stem and they also did not even think about a horn stem. I had the pipe in my collection for about 5 years or more before it dawned on me that it was a horn stem.

This is a big pipe and it is elegant. It is 8 inches long and the bowl is a little over 2 inches tall. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Bruyere in an arch over Garantie. On the right side it is stamped St. Claude in script over Bruyere. Once I stripped it down there are a few visible fills in the briar but they blend in quite well surprisingly – no pink putty on this one. I cleaned the rim meticulously by hand with warm soapy water on a damp paper towel. I scrubbed it until it was clean. I then sanded the bowl to remove the varnish coat and grime. I had not learned many of the tricks I use now so it was one of the first old timers that I refurbished. I wiped the bowl down with Isopropyl alcohol once I had sanded the majority of the finish coat off the pipe. It took quite a bit of time to carefully wipe away the finish around the stamping without damaging that. The bowl was finally cleaned and smooth – I remember sanding it with 1200 wet dry sandpaper to finish. Then I stained it with a medium brown wood stain – I have no idea if it was an alcohol stain, it well could have been Watco Danish Oil for all I know!

The stem took quite a bit of work to sand it smooth. I cleaned it up twice. Once when I first got it and then again when I figured out it was a horn stem. It is a big piece of horn and quite pretty in terms of the sheen and depth of colouration in it. I used the method I spelled out in a previous post on polishing horn stems and it is like new. I sanded it with wet dry sandpaper up to 2400 grit and then buffed it with lots of carnauba wax. Later I used the micromesh sanding pads on it and really gave it a depth of shine. The pipe is a great smoking pipe and is definitely a sitting pipe. It is a handful. The first picture shows the finished pipe. I wish I had some before photos but this was found in the days I never thought of doing that. So all I have is finished photos. The next series of photos show the size of the pipe in comparison to a nice little bent billiard that is about a group three sized pipe. The grain is quite nice. Nothing striking in terms of straight grain but there are several spots with nice birds eye and then the rest is swirling grain that almost seems to have movement to it. The stem is multicoloured and has the old orific (round) airhole in the button.


Refurb on an Old “The Regent” – fit a horn stem

Just finished up with this pipe. I had a lot of fun with this one! It is an old horn shaped pipe. It is stamped The Regent and has a sterling silver band on it. The hallmarks are the reclined lion (sterling silver) the Anchor (Birmingham) and a mystery stamp – a five point star (no date sign like that on the British sterling sites). I was reading in Gary Schrier’s Calabash book this evening and came across a calabash with the same hallmarks. He said it was a Faux Birmingham made pipe. The calabash he had was a Manhatten made in New York City. The question is do I also have a Faux Birmingham pipe??

It was dirty and I reamed and cleaned the bowl and shank. It had a thick cake and a bit of cob webs in the bowl and shank. It also did not have a stem. It came to me as a bowl without a stem. I had an old horn stem in my can of scavenged pipe parts that was that right shape and whose tenon fit perfectly. It was about a 1/4 to large in diameter. I used my dremel to bring it close to a fit and then sanded it until it was a perfect fit. While I worked on it I removed the silver band in order to get the stem fit to be flush with the briar. When I was finished with the fit I polished the horn stem until it glowed with 400 and 600 girt wet dry sand paper, micromesh pads up to 4000 grit and then Tripoli and white diamond. Then I reset the band with a bit of superglue and then put on the stem and gave the silver a polish and the pipe a buff.

I have included a pic of the stem first to show you the look of the beautiful old horn stem. It has an orific button (single round hole in the button). It seemed to match the age of the pipe in terms of look.


The rest of the pics are of the finished pipe. Thanks for looking.