Briar pipes are not made from rose briar, as might be expected; but from the shrub, the white Tree Heath, Erica Arborea. This plant only matures sufficiently for pipe making in Mediterranean countries from whence it is imported.
The name briar comes from the French ‘bruyere’ which means heath root and is echoed in our top standard range ‘the Litchbruyere’.
The seasoned root is sawn into blanks called ebauchons and is then turned in two stages on a lathe to produce the interior of the bowl and the start of the external outline. The rest of the shaping is done by hand using rotary files and sanding discs.
Following this initial shaping the grading procedures begin; the better quality pipes going on to be pre-carbonised. This involves using a gas heated metal tool to turn the inner layer of the bowl to carbon to assist in ‘breaking in’ a new pipe. The next stage is to choose and fit a stem and sand both parts of the pipe together, to ensure a perfect transition at the joint. An aluminium condenser/filter can be fitted at this stage or on larger pipes a 9 mm cartridge filter can be substituted.
Once sanded the quality of the briar becomes clear and the pipes receive a second grading based on the closeness and regularity of the grain, absence of flaws and harmony of shape.
Finishing is done using rotary sanders and high speed cloth mops if a smooth finish is to be applied (a hand carved rustic finish is also available in the De Luxe range, as well as a sandblasted finish). Traditional alcohol based stains are applied by hand and rubbed in to enhance the grain. The colours available are shown on the colours page. The finishing coat is rubbed on and buffed to a high gloss finish. At this stage the pipes are again inspected to determine the final grading and stamped accordingly.
A Word About Grading
Briar is an unpredictable material and only experience allows a pipe maker to spot the cracks, soft spots and awkward grain that could give trouble later in the life of the pipe. In some cases these can be filled and become invisible and inconsequential in other cases they lead to that pipe being rejected outright. In practice the finished Blakemar pipes of even the lowest saleable quality look immaculate.
The pipes offered here are several grades above this level. The Litchbruyere is grade ‘A’, the highest possible, whilst the De Luxe is ‘XA’, still very fine. ‘A’ is the very finest briar – flawless and beautiful – but, as in all walks of life, occasionally even the flawless can be bettered. When a Litchbruyere has had its initial staining and it can be seen to have an exceptionally beautiful straight grain throughout, it is withdrawn and upgraded. Less than 1% of pipes will reach this level. It then receives a special polish treatment to further enhance its beauty. Not every shape or size is available in this grade as maybe only 5 or less will occur in any batch of root. Therefore prospective owners of these very special pipes should check our currently available stock on the ‘Straight Grains’ page.