Rating your pipes

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Brunello

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I've always known that a handful of my favorite pipes were somehow 'better' simply because I gravitate toward them most often. But recently something happened to make me assess how I would rate my pipes, and more importantly, how I would place a monetary value on performance relative to any new purchases. Since one of my favorites is a pre-transition Comoy Blue Riband (that didn't cost me that much back then) I decided to look on eBay to see about adding another to my collection. When I saw one offered I thought I would go "all in" with a max bid of $150. But in the last minutes that bugger ended up selling for $550.  Jeez!!

That got me to making comparisons on cost versus performance and basically rating all my best pipes. Unlike Tobacco Reviews which is a helpful resource for finding out about new tobacco blends, there hasn't been any real systematic method for evaluating and comparing quality of pipes (that I know of), so I developed six criteria and awarded points for each: draw, moisture, bowl heat, neutrality, bit comfort, and balance/ergonomics. I didn't rate bowl capacity or aesthetics, though those may be important considerations for somebody else. Would it be helpful to have a survey on this topic? Something like TR with ratings in the agreed categories and in the end it spits out an averaged score? That is probably beyond the scope of what we could do in this forum.

Four pipes in my collection got a "10" rating, but only the 'collectible' Comoy would command any kind of elevated resale price. None of my new "9" pipes cost more than $160, while one estate pipe that I picked up for only $35 managed an "8." With so much available in this less stratospheric price range I've never been able to justify saving my pennies for a true artisan pipe. The one that nearly tempted me was an Il Duca Morta for $350, and that's considered entry level in some circles. Who knows if it would have proven to be a perfect "10" but I imagine a sense of style comes into play with these kind of pipes.

Anyhow, what factors do you consider when you talk abut your best or worst pipes?
 

RSteve

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For me, the rating is based solely on whether I enjoy smoking it. I've had many "high grades" that weren't worth a s*** as smokers. My two all time favorites that are great smokers, but now are probably worth pennies are an Ashton and a Charatan's Make. Neither had a stem when I bought them from a dealer, although both were unsmoked. I had acrylic stems made for each. I have not treated them gently.
 

Mikem

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To me the biggest factor is in how the pipe smokes. Does it smoke hot, good air flow etc.? How does it handle English blends, Virginia's or aromatics? I have pipes in the $50 to $100 range that are better smoking pipes then one that I paid $300+ for. Again depending on the blend I'm smoking in it at the time.
 

Ranger107

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Since the most I have paid for any pipe so far was $150, the Pete new rosslare from smoking pipes, I guess I have yet to reach the rarified level of most on here. However, I find it hard to believe any pipe could smoke better than the Don Carlos bent egg I scored off eBay for $90. In my book on a 10 scale it's an 11. Best smoking pipe I have ever had. Would be hard to convince me that a 5 or 6 hundred dollar pipe could be 5 times better.
 

Brunello

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I see RSteve has been sleuthing in the archives again, looking to find a hornet's nest to poke!

I had forgotten about this post, though a similar one on upper-tier production pipes touches on some of the same ideas. Most of the responses have focused on cost having little determination on how good a pipe will smoke. I agree. I have a $50 pipe that I use all the time and one I got on deep sale (one of those 25% off deals) for $125 that I hardly ever use. It may not be fair but once burned, I won't buy another from that brand (Mastro de Paja) even though I really like the aesthetics. Lately, I've been asking myself, cost aside, what is it exactly that makes my seven top A+ pipes better than the others I own? Surprisingly, they all have these key factors in common:

Attention. Is it fussy or forgiving? Can I walk away and two minutes later it is still lit and ready to go? Tobacco cut and packing aside, I speculate that something about the ventilation within the stummel makes a difference.

Draw. Does it trace my breath accurately, or is there any lag or resistance?

Clenching Ergonomics: since I mostly clench, balance of the pipe is important. I used to think material made a difference (vulcanite vs. acrylic) but two of my new Design Berlins with acrylic stems are among my most comfortable. Verdict: thickness matters, not so much material (for me)

Less important: hand ergonomics, heat, moisture (I'm not a drooler so not a big issue for me, maybe to others), neutrality (some pipes accurately convey differences between blends while some pipes impart their own character).

Not rated: bowl capacity, aesthetics, cost.

Finally, an interesting YouTube channel on the mechanics of making pipes: J. Alan Pipes

.
 

Ranger107

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Bru, interesting summation. Would disagree on one point. I've had 3 Maestro de Payas and they all smoked great. Still have 2 and they are my better smokers. Following your lead I would have given up on Petes after I got the Jekyll and Hyde. Glad I didn't. My new Rosslare and the estate pot I just got off ebay are both great pipes.
 

ftrplt

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I fall in the "if it smokes well, I like it" group!!! Having acquired dang near 200 (no I haven't hand-counted every one, but my quick eye sweep does the math fairly well!) pipes over the years, I have a wide spectrum to enjoy. Many of my oldest are "seconds," although made from hard Algerian briar. Most smoke like a dream. I have a a 55-year-old Savinelli Sherwood Rock Briar square-shank saddle pot that to this day is an excellent and reliable smoker. Wouldn't trade it for the world. I also have one 1968/9 DH Tanshell billiard I wouldn't pawn off on my worst enemy!! Cost is not reflective of the quality of the smoking experience!!! FWIW FTRPLT
 

Ranger107

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I fall in the "if it smokes well, I like it" group!!! Having acquired dang near 200 (no I haven't hand-counted every one, but my quick eye sweep does the math fairly well!) pipes over the years, I have a wide spectrum to enjoy. Many of my oldest are "seconds," although made from hard Algerian briar. Most smoke like a dream. I have a a 55-year-old Savinelli Sherwood Rock Briar square-shank saddle pot that to this day is an excellent and reliable smoker. Wouldn't trade it for the world. I also have one 1968/9 DH Tanshell billiard I wouldn't pawn off on my worst enemy!! Cost is not reflective of the quality of the smoking experience!!! FWIW FTRPLT
Agree ftrplt. One of my best smoking pipes id a Sav Roma bulldog bought back in the early 90s so almost 30 years old. Another is a Stanwell pipe of the year from late 90s. Both great smokes.
 

Ranger107

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Agree ftrplt. One of my best smoking pipes id a Sav Roma bulldog bought back in the early 90s so almost 30 years old. Another is a Stanwell pipe of the year from late 90s. Both great smokes.
Oh, forgot about my Sav Estrella oom paul from the late 70s. A beaut.
 

RSteve

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I see RSteve has been sleuthing in the archives again, looking to find a hornet's nest to poke!
It's a great topic to discuss and I was surprised to see that there were no posts following the initial post. I came across it as I was contemplating starting a thread on the identical topic.
 

RSteve

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Clenching Ergonomics: since I mostly clench, balance of the pipe is important. I used to think material made a difference (vulcanite vs. acrylic) but two of my new Design Berlins with acrylic stems are among my most comfortable. Verdict: thickness matters, not so much material (for me).
I'm also a "serious" clencher and have one of these on every pipe:


Softy pipe bit covers, however I buy cheap copies at Amazon. I think my last purchase was for these.
 

Brunello

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Bru, interesting summation. Would disagree on one point. I've had 3 Maestro de Payas and they all smoked great. Still have 2 and they are my better smokers. Following your lead I would have given up on Petes after I got the Jekyll and Hyde. Glad I didn't. My new Rosslare and the estate pot I just got off ebay are both great pipes.
Ranger brings up a point here that may be worth diving a little deeper . . .

A couple years back I bought one of those inexpensive Golden Gate pipes from the Ukraine (from a seller in the U.S.) and for $48 delivered it was so good I decided to buy another two from this brand. Well, the subsequent two did not smoke nearly as well. If, by my current 10-point rating system (10 being an A+) the first one was a good value at an "8" the next two would score "7" and "5" - which means I paid just under $150 for one 8-rated pipe that I actually use. Not such a good value anymore.

I'm staying away from Mastro de Paja for the following reason: The stem is very uncomfortable, and it looks like all of them have the same kind of hard, thick cut stem. Might not bother somebody else (and I wonder if Ranger's are recent or older MdP and maybe they have changed how they do their stems?). I hate to put a softie on it which destroys the idea of having a pipe that appeals aesthetically (and it's like biting on a thick pillow). I could send it off to get a vulcanite replacement, or have the bit shaved down, but more expense for a pipe that even with a better stem would still only be an 8 or 9 in terms of how it smokes (for me).
 

Brunello

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I'm also a "serious" clencher and have one of these on every pipe:


Softy pipe bit covers, however I buy cheap copies at Amazon. I think my last purchase was for these.
Yes I do use them on a few pipes without any issues, but on stems that are already so thick like the new Mastro de Paja I'm talking about, it becomes a real mouthful. My most comfortable stems are very thin, as in an extra thin Falcon pipe cleaner has to be squeezed through very gently. My vintage Comoys, an old Savinelli Capri from the 70s, I like those thin bits, and even though I'm a clencher 90% of the time I've never bit through or cracked a bit in all these decades. My new design Berlins are not quite that thin, but still fit very comfortably - no need for softies!!
 

RSteve

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I hate to put a softie on it which destroys the idea of having a pipe that appeals aesthetically (and it's like biting on a thick pillow). I could send it off to get a vulcanite replacement, or have the bit shaved down, but more expense for a pipe that even with a better stem would still only be an 8 or 9 in terms of how it smokes (for me).
For me, the softy is a necessity. I have both old teeth and expensive crowns. My most current dental bill was for $2300.
 

ftrplt

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Good post. Was the Dunhill a gurgler? Why don't you like it?
Nope, not a gurgler!! It's a bit thin-walled; no matter how slowly I puff/sip on it, the darn thing gets hot as the dickens. I was "learned" years ago that if you can't hold the bowl of your pipe against your bare cheek (the one ABOVE your neck!!) comfortably for 10 seconds, it's too hot!! This one is always that way! It looks good; smokes badly!! FTRPLT
 

Zeno Marx

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This made me concoct this situation.

Early in 2020, I bought another pipe from my favorite maker in a shape that is one of my favorite shapes, regardless of maker. Paid a below average price for it as well. Mighty expectations, to say the least. It's not much of a smoker for a couple reasons (both stemming from the same problem). The tenon is about 1mm too long, so there is some odd fluid dynamics happening in there that make this thing a dripper. You literally have to wipe around the stem/shank meeting now and again because it will drip tobacco juice on you. I could fix it, but I really don't want to mess with it. I keep thinking I should sell it, but I don't want to pass this lemon onto another smoker. I'd say 8 of 10 from this maker are very good smokers, and 2 of 10 are phenomenal smokers. I'm just throwing out some numbers here. The point is that this, in my experience, is one of the best makers, and I've felt this way for decades now. No, I'm not giving away my fishing spot. I'd rate this one a 3 out of 10.

A couple years ago, I picked up a Stanwell for cheap. I thought it was from the 80s, but when it came in a box from 2003, I was bummed. With a little research, it was indeed from 2003. Turned out to be much smaller than I prefer as well, and also a freehand shape that I normally don't like. My first Stanwell. Why did I buy it? Because of a couple things that would likely be boring to anyone else and because they're known to be a good value. I was in the market to experiment and to find another brand of exceptional value. Expectations on the low side, to be candid. From the first puff, I'd rate this pipe in the top handful of my all-time smokers. I've owned hundreds of pipes. Such a good smoker that I sometimes avoid smoking it because I'm worried it has a limited number of great smokes in it, and I don't want to run out of them. Mystical nonsense (and possible nonsense too). Briar from 2003 and not 1962? Small and kind of ugly (though, well designed in proportions and shape). Even had a charcoal coating, which I also normally despise. I'd rate this one a 9.5/10. I now shop more often for Stanwell than I do my secret, favorite fishing spot from above.

To keep in the spirit of rating...if tobacco can be said to be a subjective thing that rates 6/10, pipes would be 10/10 on the subjectivity scale. That's why I think you aren't going to see a site or database dedicated to rating pipes. There are exponential more variables in the pipe than in tobacco. I think this is also mostly why I'd rather look at pictures of pipes than listen to ANYONE blather on about a pipes. Other than something like consistently poor craftsmanship or junk wood sourcing, I don't care what anyone else thinks of pipes.
 

Brunello

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This made me concoct this situation.

Early in 2020, I bought another pipe from my favorite maker in a shape that is one of my favorite shapes, regardless of maker. Paid a below average price for it as well. Mighty expectations, to say the least. It's not much of a smoker for a couple reasons (both stemming from the same problem). The tenon is about 1mm too long, so there is some odd fluid dynamics happening in there that make this thing a dripper. You literally have to wipe around the stem/shank meeting now and again because it will drip tobacco juice on you. I could fix it, but I really don't want to mess with it. I keep thinking I should sell it, but I don't want to pass this lemon onto another smoker. I'd say 8 of 10 from this maker are very good smokers, and 2 of 10 are phenomenal smokers. I'm just throwing out some numbers here. The point is that this, in my experience, is one of the best makers, and I've felt this way for decades now. No, I'm not giving away my fishing spot. I'd rate this one a 3 out of 10.

A couple years ago, I picked up a Stanwell for cheap. I thought it was from the 80s, but when it came in a box from 2003, I was bummed. With a little research, it was indeed from 2003. Turned out to be much smaller than I prefer as well, and also a freehand shape that I normally don't like. My first Stanwell. Why did I buy it? Because of a couple things that would likely be boring to anyone else and because they're known to be a good value. I was in the market to experiment and to find another brand of exceptional value. Expectations on the low side, to be candid. From the first puff, I'd rate this pipe in the top handful of my all-time smokers. I've owned hundreds of pipes. Such a good smoker that I sometimes avoid smoking it because I'm worried it has a limited number of great smokes in it, and I don't want to run out of them. Mystical nonsense (and possible nonsense too). Briar from 2003 and not 1962? Small and kind of ugly (though, well designed in proportions and shape). Even had a charcoal coating, which I also normally despise. I'd rate this one a 9.5/10. I now shop more often for Stanwell than I do my secret, favorite fishing spot from above.

To keep in the spirit of rating...if tobacco can be said to be a subjective thing that rates 6/10, pipes would be 10/10 on the subjectivity scale. That's why I think you aren't going to see a site or database dedicated to rating pipes. There are exponential more variables in the pipe than in tobacco. I think this is also mostly why I'd rather look at pictures of pipes than listen to ANYONE blather on about a pipes. Other than something like consistently poor craftsmanship or junk wood sourcing, I don't care what anyone else thinks of pipes.
Hey Zeno, I'll listen to you blather on any day, always something interesting to add to the discussion. More raw data to file away in the deep recesses . . . I'll stuff that in my pipe and smoke it! :)

Now I'm going to look at you past posting on WAYS and see if I can figure out the fishing hole!! :p
 

Ranger107

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Ranger brings up a point here that may be worth diving a little deeper . . .

A couple years back I bought one of those inexpensive Golden Gate pipes from the Ukraine (from a seller in the U.S.) and for $48 delivered it was so good I decided to buy another two from this brand. Well, the subsequent two did not smoke nearly as well. If, by my current 10-point rating system (10 being an A+) the first one was a good value at an "8" the next two would score "7" and "5" - which means I paid just under $150 for one 8-rated pipe that I actually use. Not such a good value anymore.

I'm staying away from Mastro de Paja for the following reason: The stem is very uncomfortable, and it looks like all of them have the same kind of hard, thick cut stem. Might not bother somebody else (and I wonder if Ranger's are recent or older MdP and maybe they have changed how they do their stems?). I hate to put a softie on it which destroys the idea of having a pipe that appeals aesthetically (and it's like biting on a thick pillow). I could send it off to get a vulcanite replacement, or have the bit shaved down, but more expense for a pipe that even with a better stem would still only be an 8 or 9 in terms of how it smokes (for me).
Brunello, guess that's why they make so many different styles. I guess I don't understand the bit thing on your MdP. The older one that I had from the early 90s and sold was a good smoker and I don't remember it having a large or thick bit. My two newer ones, purchased in the last couple of years have somewhat thin flat bits. I compared them to some of my other pipes. I would say they are closest to my Petes, about the same thickness, not quite as wide. Closest to it actually was the new Vauen I just received, and very much like the one on my Don Carlos bent egg which I have pictured on here.

I have to agree on trying new brands, sometimes they are a great value, sometimes not. Example, the Road Towns that Paul told me about. Bought two initially, paid $60 for both and both are good smokers, rate them 8.5 or 9, so bought 3 more for $90, so $30 for each pipe. Of those 3, one is a good smoker, although small, the other two are so so, 1 maybe a 7, the other a 4/5. Thus, the 3 good smokers cost me $50 each, not $30. On the other hand, some value pipes are a great deal. Have a smooth bent billiard Crown, gotten from P&C on sale for $40, and it's very good, a 9 or 9.5. And the Stanwell I just bought from P&C on sale for $30 is great, a 9.5 or 10. Don't mind so much getting disappointed in a 30/40 pipe. I do get frustrated when spending $90 on what was supposed to be a good pipe, like the Pete Jeckyll & Hyde, and it turns out to be a dud, a 7 at best. But the more I listen to you guys, the more I am learning. Hope my new Design Berlin will be as good as yours,,lol.
 
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