Well no. At least, not often these days although they can be found. Flawless pipes. But that is getting to be a rarity as the quality of briar is dwindling rapidly and I hear from pipe makers all over Denmark that are complaining about the blocks they are buying from Italy, Sicily, Tunisia and Morocco and other places south of my present location. The best of it was Corsican but production there stopped about four years ago.
There are a number of things that can ruin a block of briar. Sand holes in the wood, inclusions (where a stone or other particulate has been enveloped into the wood) cracks, insect damage or just plain old holes or voids naturally occurring in the root. Pipe makers find these as they carve pipes, sometimes having to scrap the block after hours of work. Most are salvageable by sandblasting or rustication of the bowl but often the block only has one or two small blemishes to be seen on the surface.
Enter the filler. A kind of putty. What the contents are, I don’t know but it has the appearance of very thick reddish brown paint. Apply with a toothpick to fill the hole and allow to dry. Sand off the excess after it’s dried. Voila. Stain and polish and the blemish is invisible. And yes, they all do it.
The problem is, that to us mortals who buy pipes, these blemishes, called fills, are invisible. That’s the whole point. We aren’t supposed to see them. Eventually, however, we will. Because the filler doesn’t colour up the way the briar does as we smoke our pipes over the years. Finally, the fill becomes visible. Like the one pictured here. A lighter coloured spot in the wood. I don’t need to point it out. If you can’t see it, you’re blind.
Fills do not detract from the smoking experience. They have no effect on the mechanics of smoking. Nor do they affect a pipes flavour. They might annoy the eye, but not the pipe. I have been looking at my humble collection lately through a magnifier and have found a few. Surprisingly, not so many on my older pipes. One or two on some of my newer acquisitions. The one pictured here is on an old horn, made around 1920. So this is not a new invention by pipe makers. It’s an old tradition.
I’ve decided to ask both my pipe suppliers to make a point of laying the flawless pipes they produce to one side. I’m thinking of starting a new line…..