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Briar wood processing to create pipes

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Briar wood processing to create pipes

"Erika Arborea" briar grows in the Mediterranean region. In a weather that alternates cold and rainy winters with hot and dry summers, with some windy days. But not all individuals develop roots thick enough to generate good wood for pipe creation. Only some of them in stony soils, hard and infertile show this particular widening of their base, that raises some centimetres above ground and are always facing east. They generally develop just one, two branches at most.

The plant struggles to survive in such an hostile environment. It must collect the scarce humidity around and, due to this struggle, grows slowly, developing very thin capillaries, used to acquire and retain the small water quantity that its roots find. These capillaries are called grain in it's longitudinal form and bird eye in the edge.

We don't find any "Erika Arborea" briar plant that develops good roots facing Nord, where the soil is more protected, is softer and more fertile, developing several branches. Neither in place where the forest has been cleaned.

 

 In the picture above we can see on the lower left the main root that couldn't go through the stony base. Also there are some green spring branches that cause some of the spots that we will later find in the interior of the wood.

 At market, depending on the region it comes from, briar may be revered or hated, or receive mixed comments. Briar from Spain or France is seen as having lower quality than the one from Corsica, better rated. Well, my father always sold it to the Italians as did Jean Pierre Soler and I don't think they said it was Spanish. On top of that we must consider that people from the countryside recollect those roots to get a bonus and the intermediaries pay is low. In return, all roots are carved where a small bump is noted.

Summarizing: It looks like it's reasonable to assume that is more important to know under what conditions the root developed than the country of origin. Quality is determined by weather and ground conditions. 

 

 

Spots and imperfections

Any pipe artisan and pipe company knows how difficult is to find a piece without spots, completely clean. Every spring, with good weather, mild temperatures and rain, small branch sprouts appear on the burl. Later with the dryness of the summer, they die and disappear, but they went already deep in the wood and they left their imprint inside: those spots. It's not because any insects like it's usually said. 

What it is easy to find is some small stone that became agglomerate by the high pressures.

 

Treatment

As soon as the burl get extracted from the ground it needs to be protected from the wind and sun, making sure it keeps its internal humidity. Otherwise it will experiment server breakages inside. Because of that reason the burl storage space of a collector is always gloomy with a lot of humidity because they have to be sprayed daily.

The burl gets cleaned from roots, soil and stones and then it gets cut in half to see what does it have to offer us inside and with a circular saw and the good eye and judgment of the cutter we obtain the plateaux from the part with most flames and closer to the rough cortex and ebauchons from the interior part, sometimes using wood from the branch.

 

Next step is to boil them in water for 24h to extract all oils, impurities and tannins. Straight from this step, without delay, they have to be stored in a place without any air currents and its better to cover them with sawdust and blankets to let them curate for at least one year. After that time the place where they are stored can be opened and uncover the pieces to let them continue drying. Usually it takes still a couple more years to be able to work the wood in optimal conditions. But from there, the more they dry the better.

At the beginning of the past century the most famous brands bought big shipments to store them. As an example, we appreciate how valued Barlings from before 1962 are. They were made with wood stored 50 years before.

But time is money, what prevails is the "controlled drying", by means of adequate facilities. At the end, a percentage close to 25/30% of the wood treated with this system appear with visible cracks and are discarded. But the wood can also be damaged inside, although this is detected at the time of shaping the pipe. At this time they are treated with putty or sandblasted to hide these defects.

In my opinion, the drawing pattern of the most beautiful wood would be:
1- A fine and vertical flame with a bird eye on top and bottom.
2- Bird eye on both sides and fine horizontal flames.
3- Bird eye everywhere.
From here on, it would be lower quality woods.
The works in sandblasting that are carried out, some, reach a great beauty, but it is not necessary to use high quality woods, because although they are sold at very high prices, it wouldn't be smart to use those clean pieces.

And now the question: taking into account the number of pipe sketches with defects generated by the pipe industry, what did they end up with?
Well, did they have specks or exterior cracks that did not affect the inside of the bowl? Well, putty and varnish, sandblasting ... marketed by second brands ...

Example:

Barling: Michel
Dunhill: Parker, Hardcastle, Savory ́s Argylle.
Peterson: Irish Seconds, Shamrock, Erica , Captain Pete ́s , Kinsell

You will already know the saying: "a varnished pipe is like a woman wearing make-up ... we do not know what is hidden underneath .."

All the above only refers to the proper treatment and beauty of this wood. At no time has FUNCTIONALITY been discussed. But this is another issue.

 

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