The majority of pipes sold today, whether hand made or machine made, are fashioned from briar (French: bruyère). Briar is cut from the root burl of the tree heath (Erica arborea), which is native to the rocky and sandy soils of the Mediterranean region.



The arid, rocky soil and harsh growing conditions mean the growth of the Erica arborea burl is slow, and it takes forty or more years for a plant to grow to a suitable size for harvesting. Local harvesters endure the backbreaking work of digging the burls out of the ground and transporting them to the cutting factory. Between harvesting and cutting, it is necessary to keep the briar wet so it does not dry too quickly and crack. Skilled craftsmen sit before open blades cutting the wet, irregular burls into usable blocks. Too often the burls prove unsuitable for carving purposes when they are cut open due to a rotten core or an embedded stone. Sometimes cavities, called sandspots, develop in the briar as it forms. At times these sandspots contribute to the varied, unpredictable pattern of the wood while at other times they are large enough to ruin a block.



After cutting the bowls, the wood needs to be cooked 36 hours, and after that they need to dry and rest for 9 months. Bags have to be turned around in the beginning every day and after a few months every week.



Briar patterns

  1. Straight grain refers to parallel vertical lines in the grain. The lines in straight grain wood may be tight and close together or loose and further apart.
  2. Flame grain is a pattern very similar to straight grain. The lines in flame grain patterns are not perfectly parallel, but fan out reminiscent of flames.
  3. Horizontal grain is made up of parallel lines much like the flame or straight grain, however they are oriented horizontally rather than vertically.
  4. Bird's eye grain consists of tight circular swirls clustered together.
  5. Random grain is comprised of lines that seem to be in no particular order.
  6. Sandspots are cavities and inconsistencies left in the briar as the tree interacted with insects, rocks, sand and other environmental hazards.


"I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgement in all human affairs."

Albert Einstein, 1950