By Kurt Huhn

       After the article in the last newsletter, you should have a very good idea of what tools you'll need to make something roughly pipe-shaped out of a briar hunk and stem. This time around, I'm going to look at the types of tooling you'll need to take that hunk of wood and plastic and put a finish and final polish on it.

       There is one book that will be mentioned whenever pipe making is concerned, and that's PIMO's Guide To Pipe Crafting At Home. This book is a great piece of reading for anyone interested in pipes and provides a good introduction to the craft of pipe making. However, it is largely aimed at folks who may make around a half-dozen pipes a year, not for someone interested in pursuing the hobby as a second career or retirement income.

Sanding the Pipe Smooth

       Here we come to, seemingly, the most low-tech part of pipe making. However, there are a few choices here as well. You can choose to hand-sand the entire pipe, or you can try to power sand as much of it as you can. In the interest of time, some pipe makers will use sanding discs of increasing grits and do as much as possible that way. A belt sander is typically not preferable here due to its unpadded and aggressive nature (custom-built rigs aside), so I don't suggest attempting this route. You can, however, use the same disc setup that you used to rough shape your stummel as long as it's padded and non-aggressive. You don't want to create flat spots on your wood; you want to smooth out the ones you created while rough shaping.

       Whether you hand sand or use a disc, you will need a selection of grits ranging from whatever you use for rough shaping up to 600 or 800 grit. You may choose to sand to higher grits when just starting out, but it isn't truly necessary once you get your technique down. Except for stems, which are pesky things to get smooth and scratch free. For stems, consider wet/dry sandpaper in grits up to about 1200.

       I suppose the rest would be history, but it's not over yet. And hopefully it won't be relegated to history, since these articles will document my journey and help all aspiring makers get started on theirs. In the coming articles, I'll explore the breadth and depth of pipe making as encountered by a beginner, with topics such as where to source your wood, what tools to use, construction methods to employ, and even a discussion on aesthetics. I hope you'll enjoy reading the articles as much as I will enjoy writing them.


       Anything that chews wood will be good for this step. Whatever you have laying around your workshop that can be used to make textures will work well--dremel, wire wheel, wood chisels, nails, sand blasters, etc. One tool that has gained popularity is a collection of plumbing bits from your local hardware store, some concrete nails, and all put together in a very medieval-looking device that's used to chip chunks away from your briar. More on this tool in a later article, but you can probably find an example without too much trouble just by Googling for "briar rustication." Sand blasters are expensive and require expensive air compressors, but they render one of the most sought-after finishes in pipedom. For this reason, long-time pipe makers save their pennies to get one of these or at least work deals with other makers who have one.


       Believe it or not, the tool that gets the most use while applying stain is a pipe cleaner. Some folks will use brushes or cotton daubers, but, without a doubt, a pipe cleaner is the most prevalent stain application tool in the trade of pipe carving. A pipe cleaner, folded in half and given a twist, is one of the most accurate tools.

Buffing and Polishing

       This is the final step of most pipe making. For this step, a variable speed buffer is very helpful, but you can certainly use a low-speed motor (1725 RPM) with great results. A selection of wheels mounted to arbors and mounted on a lathe can work wonders. However you choose to turn the wheels, you will need one for each step: brown tripoli (linen wheel), white diamond (linen/flannel mix), carnauba (flannel), and final buff (flannel). In addition, you may consider using an aggressive compound like 925 rouge on a linen wheel (or even a felt wheel) as the first step in polishing your stems. Get wheels that are a minimum of 6" in diameter, and no more than 9." The surface speed of larger wheels will be too great, and you will end up burning your wood and removing your finish.

       So, at the end of the article, what have we mentioned?

  • For drilling holes: drill press or lathe, tobacco chamber bits, forstner bits, regular drill bits.

  • For shaping the stummel: sanding discs mounted on a motor or lathe or a belt sander/grinder.

  • For making the stem tenon: Pimo tool, metal lathe, or the use of delrin tenons.

  • For shaping the stem: files, the same tool you used to shape the stummel, metal lathe, and/or dremel.

  • For sanding the pipe smooth: sandpaper of increasing grits up to 600 or 800, possibly a padded sanding disc.

  • For rustication: anything you have laying around your shop that can chew wood, dremel, wire wheels, specialized tools.

  • For buffing and polishing: polishing compounds, linen and flannel buffing wheels, something to drive the wheels (lathe, motors, drill press, buffer).

      What tools should YOU use? That really depends on you. The reason why there's no One True List of tools to use for making pipes is because every pipe maker on the planet uses a slightly different load out. No workshop is furnished exactly the same, and every pipe maker uses different techniques. In coming articles, I'll describe in detail the techniques and tools that I've settled upon and the stumbling blocks I experienced along the way. They might not work for you, but hopefully they'll provide a starting point for your own experimentation and help you get settled more quickly.