The Causes of Burnout
I have been asked a question about burnout in pipes that I thought the
group might also be interested in reading. It follows:
Chet Gottfried writes:
I have one question about a burnout: Where does it occur on a pipe?
And I always wonder, wouldn't a person notice the side of his pipe giving
way? I would think burning "wood" should have its own characteristic
aroma. Or have a particularly hot spot on the pipe itself.
When I estimated I've smoked my first Stanwell between 7000 and 10,000 times,
I'm probably being conservative, since on holiday trips I might smoke the
same pipe half-dozen times or more in a given day or two or three times
in a row. (What's a person to do, tired after an international flight, and
on another 7-hour train ride?) Yet its bowl seems pretty much intact (or
I'm sure you would have told me). Incidentally, its stem is an excellent
fit. (I usually prefer looser to tighter stems.)
Chet is one of those lucky and or very careful smokers who has never
had a pipe burn out on him. A pipe burnout occurs when the inner bowl of
the briar burns along with the tobacco. After charring and making ugly black
cracks inside the bowl it can actually burn through to the outer wall of
the pipe. Most smokers will generally quit smoking the pipe before that
happens; though some persist until you can put your fingers through the
holes in the bowl.
This reminds me of a trick Curt Rollar and I played on Jack Weinberger when
we were working for him. We took an old second that he had forgotten about.
We burned through both sides of the bowl with a blow torch and generally
scorched the hell out of it and broke the stem to boot. We placed it in
a box with a stores label on it addressed to Jack and made it look like
UPS had just delivered it. We included a note that said that customer complained
pipe was smoking hot; please replace. He went on all afternoon about that
pipe. How could anybody have smoked a pipe into that condition . He couldn't
believe it. Finally we had to tell him as he was going to call the store
owner about it. Jack had a pretty good sense of humor so it was all right.
Burnout's can occur for a variety of reasons or combinations of reasons.
The most common cause of burnout is lighter abuse. When a pipe is new and
relatively unsmoked it is vulnerable. The interior walls of the pipe are
literally naked. Intense flame as produced by a lighter being sucked down
the bare wall of a pipe will certainly cause it to char and crack. Unless
immediately fixed will certainly lead the pipe to burnout. A suggestion
to avoid this would be to use matches until the pipe develops a carbon cake.
Don't try to ignite the last flake of tobacco with your lighter. Tobacco
is cheaper than a pipe and a little can be sacrificed in order to preserve
it. My second suggestion is to never use a lighter at all even after a pipe
is broken in. As this is impractical for a lot of people I would suggest
using a lighter with care.
Sometimes a pipe will burnout in the first or second smoke. This can be
caused by an unseen flaw lurking between the inner and outer wall of the
pipe. A flaw is not made of wood but rather dirt or other impurities where
the burl grew. The flaw is a definite weak spot ready to give way at the
first hint of heat. For this reason most companies warrantee their pipes
for a certain length of time. Usually if a pipe is going to fail due to
material defect it will generally happen quickly. Most pipe companies only
guarantee their pipes for 90 days for this reason.
Burnout that occurs over a period of time is generally due to hot smoking.
Hot, or fast puffers are going to put a lot more strain on their pipes than
those who puff coolly and sedately. Given enough time and heat the inner
bowl walls will weaken and begin to char and crack. This is not the fault
of the pipe; its only a piece of wood and is subject to the forces of nature.
If you re a hot smoker try to stay with thicker bowl wall as this will serve
to delay the degradation of the briar.
How often does burnout occur? I've never kept track of how many I've made
and how many have been returned to give an exact answer. I'd quess that
2% might be a reasonable conjecture. Pipes that are taken care of cleaned
and rotated; reamed when necessary can last a lifetime. Briar is tough stuff;
though its not indestructible. Mark Tinsky
American Smoking Pipe Co.
HC 88 Box 223
Pocono Lake, Pa. 18347