Blog by Steve Laug
The matter of bit/stem shapes can be confusing when speaking about our pipes to others or inputting information on stems into database programs such as Pipe Smokers Unleashed or P&T Foundations. I have been asked several times to put together a simple article on the shapes of stems. So here it is. It is not rocket science or anything profound, it is just a simple method that I use in differentiating stems. I have found several pictures that are from different websites to help with the explanations.
There are three basic stem shapes SADDLE, TAPER AND COMBINATION. The MILITARY OR STICK BIT stem is a variation of one of the other three. The stems can either be straight or bent according to the shape of the pipe. Each stem shape also has variations on the theme – gentle taper, fat taper, long taper, thin taper etc. Same with the saddle there are variations on the saddle – 1/2 saddle, full saddle, etc. Both of these also come in geometric shapes Diamond, Triangle, Square, Round and Oval.
The stick bits or military also come in the same shapes though the taper is fairly standard. Add to the confusion regarding bits, the Peterson faux military or stick bits which have a tapered tenon that fits the shank and the various freehand stems that have unique shapes and you get the picture.
Tenons are either push style or threaded. The push style can be integral to the stem or can be a Delrin insert. Both hold the shank by friction. I personally find the push tenon more to my liking than the metal or bone threaded tenon. The threaded tenon is screwed into the matching threads in the shank of the pipe. In both the bone and the metal versions these are often over or under turned in estate pipes. Generally, heating the tenon allows the tenon to be readjusted to fit properly.
The shape of the bit from the button forward is also varied. I was able to find the following picture that spells out the various shapes of the bits. There are basically five bit shapes that also have variations in their form according to the pipe maker or manufacturer. These are the standard straight bit, fishtail bit, p-lip bit, denture bit, wide comfort bit and the double comfort bit (stepped bit that was developed by Charatan). The bore on the bits is generally a single bore as pictured below. But the double bore or twin bore was also developed to make a bit more bite resistant.
The slot or airway in the button also has three variations – the circle or orific hole, the straight slot and the oval. The descriptions are pretty clear from the names of the airway or slot. The orific or circle is exactly as it sounds. It is generally used on older pipe stems – both meerschaum and briar. I have found it on pipes from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The oval and straight slots are similar. The oval is a reworked and opened slot. The oval gives the opening a wider more open draw.
It would be great to hear if others of you who read this have further explanations that add clarity to the discussion. Please feel free to post a comment to this regard.