I’ve posted about this pipe on G+ and Facebook recently, but thought it was worth a proper blog posting because it is a finish that raises a variety of issues. This is a pipe finish that I’ve been working on for a while, which I’ve informally been referring to as bleached bone – It isn’t a stain, but rather a leeching of color from the outer wood to leave it as pale as possible. It’s a complex process and takes about a week to pull off, so it isn’t something that’s going to turn up on our less expensive pipes, but at this point I am prone to not use it on any of our pipes… at least not in this current look. Whitening the wood has some excellent applications that I’ll get into, but there are a lot of potential problems with this from a brand owner’s perspective as well.
When I posted these pics initially, the comments were split in two – Collectors all said to leave it white so it could color with use, and other pipemakers all said they’d stain it because white pipes just didn’t age well. That’s my main concern here. It looks nice in the photos – Very nice, in fact – but it isn’t quite so ideal in person. The white varies in tone, fading between bone and a very pale tan. While this look is great for a pipe colored to mimic actual bone (And I intend to use this on some Halloween designs in the future), I’m less sold on the aesthetics on a “normal” pipe. The bigger problem is in how it would color over time. Collectors seem to look at it and see meerschaum or normal unstained briar – That is, something that will darken evenly and beautifully. I look at it and see a mess 2-4 years down the road. The thing about ordinary unstained briar is that it colors with smoking but also with handling, from the sweat and oil of our fingertips. This pipe would work the same, but normal briar starts from a brown-ish color and just gets darker. This, unfortunately, would more likely start out white and go pinkish, with dark brown stains along the outer edges from handling. Couple that with rim scorching, random color picked up from sources smokers would normally never even think about (Your brown pipe might pick up faint touches of red from the color of your shirt pocket interior, but you’d never know it. Here, ANY little color streak will stand out vividly), and I’m not sure I’d want someone showing this to someone else at an expo as an example of my work.
This is one of those issues you have to consider when you have your name on something. Not just, “Does it look good enough to sell today?”, but, “Is it still going to look and perform well 5-10 years down the road?” The problem here is that I can’t really even do anything to protect it. Waxes and shellacs carry their own color tint and even the lightest mist-over of natural finish would tint the whole thing yellow. I joked on G+ that I should just encase the exterior in acrylic, but unfortunately that’s about the only way to keep this surface looking good. I’ll probably put some serious time this year into experiments with different finishes to see if I can find something that could offer some color-neutral protection, but for now it just makes me nervous.
Despite these misgivings, this briar bleaching process does offer one huge advantage for me – Truer color reproduction. There’s a reason most pipes are stained some variation of red or brown. They’re color relations to the base color, brown, and don’t show major changes as the stain wears and the pipe darkens with use. Other colors are more sensitive, such as yellows and greens. Bleaching the briar first allows much better green stains, because highlights become a lighter green instead of highlighting to brown. I’ve been absolutely delighted with the results from a lot of the green pipes I’ve made lately where I employed this technique. I suspect that my background in visual arts probably makes me slightly over-obsessive about color fidelity…
So, after much deliberation, I think this one is getting stained. Green, maybe, but I won’t make the final decision until I’m sitting at the staining desk. Or maybe not. We’ll see… In any case, this pipe will be going with me to CORPS, in some color or other!
In other news, I just received today some intriguing new e-cig goodies – A tank system for my Janty that will avoid the refill/filler media issues of cartridges (While bringing its own new issues with it, such as tight draw and problematic liquid feed) and also a pipe tobacco liquid flavor from a blender that prides themselves on making high quality tobacco blends – A flavor area that e-cigs have not exactly excelled at. I’ve tried it – So far, so good. I am still not sold on the pipe tobacco flavor, but this vendor’s version of RY4 (A common flavor vaguely comparable to “burley” among tobacco blenders) is the best I’ve had yet. Alas, the other new item I wanted to try, a Delrin drip-tip (Designed for on-the-fly feeding of liquid to the atomizer) arrived DOA. This is an advantage briar pipes will never yield up to electronics – They just work, and without electricity, even!