Sunday, October 5, 2014

Briar Burl and the Ebaucheur de Pipes

The briar burl (in French la souche de bruyère aka broussin) is the root burl of the Erica arborea (heath tree). It is also the key raw material behind the briar pipe so cherished by Pipe Smokers around the world since the 1850's.

From the Chapuis-Comoy catalog 1930, Courtesy Chacom

When cut from the tree is has the approximate shape of a ball.

From the Chapuis-Comoy catalog 1930, Courtesy Chacom

The briar is naturally light brown on the outer part of the burl and turns to a rose colored brown which deepens to reddish brown the center. This last section of the briar burl is not good for pipes as it splits during the drying process of the wood. 

Courtesy Le Musee de la Pipe et du Diamant (Saint-Claude)

The Ébaucheur uses his saw to cut the burl into Plateaux (a slice of the entire ball) or smaller rough cut blocks called Ébauchons

The plateaux and ébauchons are boiled for up to 12 hours before being laid out to dry. A good briar will have a drying time of at least a year. 

Séchoir d'ébauchons, From the Chapuis-Comoy catalog 1930, Courtesy Chacom

Here is a video of the last ébaucheur de pipes (aka scieur de pipes) in Corsica, Antonio Salva, who started in the profession in 1946. He demonstrates this key step in the birth of a briar pipe.

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