I’ve never made a pipe, myself, but I know plenty of pipe makers, and each one uses slightly different methods. For most people, especially for those without a well-equipped workshop, the easiest way to try your hand at making a pipe is to buy a hobby block. These are pre-drilled briar blocks that have a stem already fitted. All you need to do is to shape it and finish it. The rough shape can be done using a band saw or coping saw, and the edges taken down with files or a belt or disc sander. For that matter, you can probably do the majority of the shaping with a Dremel Moto-Tool. Note that I said that you can probably shape it, because I would wind up turning it into an amorphous lump that would frighten little children.
The main reason I’m writing this is because we sell a lot of these make-your-own pipes, so a lot of people are doing it, so I wanted to give you a few tips that might make the process a little easier. So the first thing is to address the stems. Even if you buy an kit for a bent stemmed pipe, the stems themselves are not bent. Once you’ve shaped the pipe, you’ll need to bent it. The simplest way to do it is to remove the stem, insert a pipe cleaner into it and heat the stem. The safest way I’ve come up with is to but some boiling water into a coffee cup, let it cool down a few minutes, and put the button end into the water, checking it after 10 to 15 seconds. I recommend wearing gloves when handling the hot stem. Use more time if needed, until it’s fairly pliable. Use something solid and cylindrical to use as a form to bend it around to make sure you don’t put a twist or kink in the stem. Choose the diameter of the object based upon how severe you want the bend to be. Just let it cool for a while and you can move onto finishing.
One caution about staining – don’t use regular wood stains. Most of them have a petrochemical base and will give off a bad smell when heated. You should only use wood dye, which is different in that it has an alcohol base, or you can use what most pipe makers use, which is leather dye cut with alcohol. Many people like a contrast staining, To achieve this affect, apply a dark stain first, and when dry, fine sand the pipe so you can see the grain. Then apply a lighter, contrasting stain, and you can commence polishing.
To put a shine on the pipe requires finer and finer sandpaper. When the pipe is smooth, you’ll want to use a medium compound on a buffing wheel (low speed only) to start the shining process. Follow with a finer compound and then finish with carnauba wax. Of course, if you want a matte finish you can stop at any point where you feel satisfied.
If you decide to give this a try, send us a picture of your finished work. It may wind up in a future issue of the P&C catalog. You can email your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org.