The mold is lubricated and the roll is laid in one part of the two-piece mold; the thin end of the roll being bent into the stem shaped end of the mold. Because the roll needs to be hollow, a thin rod is threaded through it. And this will become the stem. However, care is taken not to pierce the entire roll at this stage. The second part of the mold is pressed down by hand on top of the first. As a result of excess clay, it is usually necessary to remove this piece of the mold and fettle away the excess clay before repositioning the mold so that the two pieces of the mold align with no clay between them.
Rod being put into roll in a clay pipe mould -note not fully inserted
The chest(vice) with empty pipe mould The prepared mold is mounted in the ‘chest’ – a vice. In order for the process to work, the stopper is lubricated and positioned in alignment with the hole in the top of the mold. As a consequence, when gin press lever is pulled down it forces the stopper into the top of the mold. Because of the tight stopper to mold fit clay is pushed throughout the mold. This results in a hollow bowl. As result of excess clay in the mold before hollowing, this excess clay is extruded out through the slot above the bowl. However, the excess clay is not a problem. And by using a wire tool, excess clay is cut away in the slot and discarded.
gin press – a clay smoking pipe making device stopper in the empty mould
cutting away excess clay at the slotThe rod is now pushed through the final short distance to join the stem with the hollowed-out bowl. But before removing the rod a small piece of clay on the end of the rod must be removed through the top of the bowl (this is called a ‘doddle’). Because failure to remove the doddle would result in the re-plugging of the stem as the ‘doddle’ comes of the rod as it is withdrawn! Only now can the pipe be removed from the mold and the rod withdrawn. Now, the pipe is set aside to dry. Racks, called ‘dozening’ boards (holding 12 pipes – I dozen) are sometimes used to hold the ‘greenware’ (unfired) pipes.
As the pipe dries it will become very fragile and care must be exercised in handling it.
Fettling clay smoking pipe – a ‘post pressing’ procedure.
Where the two parts of the mold join a seam, or part of a seam, is left on the pipe. As a consequence, a process called ‘fettling’ is done when the pipe is dry or ‘near dry’ which removes ‘seam’ clay from the pipe. This results in an improvement in the appearance of the pipe. However, as mentioned earlier it is very easy to break the ‘greenware’ pipe especially during fettling. The seam clay runs along the length of the pipe. Only when the top of the bowl is fettled to give a smooth appearance and once the pipe is dry it is ready for firing.
The clay smoking pipe making process.
Firing clay smoking pipes. Why ‘fire’ pipes?
Because clay tobacco pipes need durability they need to be fired. Firing in a kiln turns clay to pottery. Pipes may be fired through a pottery group or sympathetic potter. But you should expect to pay for the process. However, if you have access to a kiln you may fire the pipes yourself, but you will need to know how to do it, or enlist the help of a potter.
Early stages of firing.
It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the firing process in detail. However, some points are worth mentioning. Because the pipe is dry to the touch it will have shrunk between 5 and 8 percent. However, ‘Dry to the touch’ clay still contains between 20 to 25% water of crystallisation. During firing this water will be driven off and this can be destructive. As a result of water boiling during this early part of the firing steam has the potential to blow apart the clay pipe. So, it is necessary to drive this water off slowly. Therefore, during the first part of the firing the temperature is increased slowly.
Firing to finished temperature.
Gradually the temperature is increased over 8 – 9 hours until the final temperature is reached. Different top temperatures give different results. For example: you may fire your pipes to 900C, this will give a “bisque” pipe. But a bisque fired clay tobacco pipe will be porous as in a ‘biscuit’ and may adhere to the lips. While pipes fired to this temperature will have achieved some strength they may be easily broken. 960c – 1000C is the traditional firing temperature for pipes. However, pipes fired to a higher temperature (1100C) will be stronger and may become vitrified.
About the Tinderbox firing and glazing process. What you put in your mouth is important – hygiene is important.
In the interest of hygiene, I twice fire my clay tobacco smoking pipes. Once fired to bisque temperature and, when cool I apply a glaze and fire a second time to a higher temperature. This second firing gives a glazed tip – like the finish on a cup or plate. This makes the pipes my customers buy online hygienic and taint free. Some pipe makers varnish or wax their stems in a post one firing process avoiding the second firing but this can impart a varnish, or wax taste when smoked. As a result of twice firing, my glazed tobacco smoking pipes don’t taint!
Packaging and freight.
Tinderbox packaging for clay pipe shipping – with small information booklet
If you buy a Tinderbox clay tobacco smoking pipe on line it will be packed for postage in a polystyrene case for shipping. I ship all over the world without breakage. Bulk pipes were traditionally packed in wooden boxes for sale.
Tinderbox packaging for clay pipe shipping – with information booklet
Shire Album no 37 Clay tobacco pipes. Eric G Ayto Shire publications.
Clay smoking pipe maker,
Richard Lees, Tinderbox © 2019