The Anatomy of a Bamboo Billiard
Why would any carver wish to make a pipe with a piece of bamboo root stuck to a piece of briar at one end and a piece of rubber to the other? I suppose for this we have to thank Sixten Ivarsson. Being as resourceful as he was, in a time when briar was just about unobtainable, he was the first to use it. And as aesthetically pleasing as this turned out to be; it resulted in quite a few problems.
Briar, Ebonite and whangee (the posh name for bamboo) are very dissimilar materials. Any pipe-smoker, who has walked into his man-cave on a cold winter’s morning to find all his prized briar bowls falling off their mouth-pieces, would be able to attest to just how different these materials really are. Architects have tried solving the problem of two different materials meeting by either covering the joint or highlighting it. But our inventive pipe carver does not want to spoil his beautiful flowing lines and curves by either covering the joint or highlighting it. So he spends the better part of a day trying to get the joints as smooth and unobtrusive as possible, using needle files, minute pieces of emery paper and hours and hours of buffing.
OK, so he has managed to join the various pieces as elegantly as possible, but how did he do it? From my ‘research’, I gather that the accepted method nowadays is to use some sort of stainless steel tube, both for joining the stummel to the shank and for a tenon. I know that some carvers use a thin-walled, smooth stainless steel tube - mainly for lining up the various pieces - and a two-part epoxy glue to stick the whole lot together. In my opinion, this is far from secure enough. In the not too distant future, the joint is bound to fail. Other manufacturers use a pin driven through the bamboo and into whatever material they use as a tube, but this is just plain bad and ugly. Still others use a threaded tube. I know Bo Nordh painstakingly drilled a hole through a bolt and I guess if it was good enough for Bo, then it is good enough for me. Yes, you can tap a piece of bamboo and yes, with enough patience, you can line it up the way you want it. Using this method, you would be able to make the joint without using any glue, but for the fact of preventing the various pieces from turning and becoming misaligned.
So, our frugal carver has managed to utilize a small block of briar, or perhaps he has managed to ‘save’ a stummel after he succeeded in breaking off the shank. But why would anybody feel the need to buy such a creation? Well, for one, whangee is incredibly strong, much stronger than briar of similar dimensions. It is also very beautiful and very light. As for my own rapport with whangee; it is somewhat of a love-hate affair - lovely to behold, but sheer frustration to work with.
Furthermore, most pipe-smokers hold the opinion that the absorbent nature of whangee makes for a cool and dry smoke. But does it really? In my illustration, you will note that the total length of contact between the smoke and the whangee is only about 25 mm or 1 inch, that is the distance between the blue threaded rod on the left and the red smooth tenon on the right. I am sure that some connoisseurs would be able to detect the very small difference this might make, or at least claim to be able to do so. But let us, for argument’s sake, assume that the pipe has been constructed as per the illustration. You buy it, you wait patiently for it to arrive through the mail and as soon as it does, you load it with some of your favourite tobacco, sit back and sink into the bliss of billows of cool, dry smoke.
But after a while, say about two weeks or so, of enjoying your new pipe, you notice that the centre portion (about 1 inch or so) of your beautiful whangee shank is starting to take on a bit of a ‘patina’. But, oh dear, this ‘patina’ is not the prized patina that comes with age. No, this is the ‘patina’ of tobacco juices and spittle seeping through the absorbent and porous walls of whangee. The same walls that allegedly resulted in the cool and dry smoke you so much appreciated. At first, you think this rather nice, but as the ‘patina’ changes to brown and yucky blotches and the cool dryness turns sour; you soon change your mind. As an aside, I am of the opinion that the worst thing one could use to clean one’s pipes is alcohol. Why? Because alcohol dissolves the tars and oils, lowering the viscosity to such a point that it can easily seep into the briar. Salt and alcohol baths for estates? Are we cleaning them or just managing to drive the ghosts deeper into the woodwork? For a long time, I used to clean my pipes with a solution of dishwashing liquid, being of the opinion that this would not dilute the gunk, but far more effectively remove it. I must say, my pipes used to taste very clean, sort of lemony, but to my shame, I have to admit that I have reverted back to alcohol, it purely being so much more convenient.
And all this brings us to the piece here being offered for sale. I know many carvers utilize a tube right through the length of the shank (remember Dunhill's inner tube patent?), but this can only be achieved by using the above mentioned thin-walled and smooth tube, with its resultant weak joint. Alternatively using a 6 mm stainless steel bolt, with a hole drilled through it, the length of the whole shank, would result in way too much extra weight, negating another of whangee’s attractive properties.
Yes, I do know of many ingenious carvers, but no, I do not know of many carvers who would start out carving a pencil shank billiard, break of said shank and then, instead of trashing it and watching TV, attempt to take a 20 mm rod of Acetal, turn it down to 6mm, drill a 3.8 mm hole through it, thread it on both sides, slash his fingers whilst drilling 6 mm holes through about 7 pieces of whangee and finally being satisfied with one, thread his Acetal tube through the length of it and eventually is able to assemble this pipe:
Will it smoke? I guarantee it. Will it last? Well, unless you drive over it with a tractor, it most certainly will.
Material: Very old briar
Length (A) : 150 mm
(Yes, I have managed to keep it down to a reasonable lenght)
Bowl height (B) : 43 mm
Bowl diameter (C) : 32 mm
Chamber depth (D) : 36 mm
Chamber bore (E) : 20 mm cylindrical
Weight: What only 24.6 grams?
Draft-hole: 3.8 mm
Tenon: Army mount, no less!