Today we are honored with some gentlemanly insight from James Niehaus of Perfect Cuts & Miters. He has a wellspring of wisdom in woodworking and crafting projects built from raw materials. I have a great amount of respect for anyone with this kind of experience and passion, so when James contacted the Modern Day Gentlemen with his request to write a Guest Article, I readily accepted! When he suggesting the topic of how to make your own pipe, I couldn’t have been more pleased! Please enjoy this knowledgable and helpful guide to crafting one of our most beloved pastimes, the pipe.

And please do check out PerfectCutsAndMiters.com. You will find some extremely helpful guides there as well to help on your other various woodworking projects!


Making your own pipe can be a fun activity that proves your manliness to the world. While there are those men that will choose to make a pipe with their bare hands, we’re going to recommend that you use some larger tools and machines to make your life a little easier. Ideally it is best if you have access to a lathe, band saw, small table saw, or drill press. If you don’t have access to the larger and fancier equipment, hand and power tools can work as well!

Basic Materials:

There are two essential pipe materials that you will need to fabricate the perfect pipe. The first is the briar and the second is the stem. These materials are vital to making a good pipe, so we’re going to tell you more about each of them below.

The Briar:

In ancient times pipes were made from all sorts of things from clay to corncobs, but the state of the art material for making pipes is briar. Briar is a type of wood prized in pipe making for its hardness, heat tolerance and respiration. Briar is a fairly expensive wood due to the harvesting process. First, the tree must be 40 years old before it’s ready to be cut down. Once cut, the wood undergoes a process that removes the moisture and sap. This process is extensive and involves boiling the wood and then drying it. While that might sound simple, the process has to be time controlled to prevent the wood from drying too fast.

The Stem:

When you pick out a stem for your pipe you’ll most likely want to pick a stem made of vulcanite or ebonite. This type of stem is rubber-based and is flexible and comfortable in the mouth. However, it’s also prone to yellowing and teeth marks. An alternative option is to get an acrylic stem. Acrylic is hard and not as comfortable, but it won’t discolor or show marks. You can buy injection-molded stems that are designed to fit any pipe, or you can handcraft your own stems by purchasing the raw materials. Buying pre-made stems is probably the best option for most first time pipe makers.

Making Your Pipe

Drilling:

Once you have your stem and briar, you’ll need to start drilling your holes. Before you actually pull out your machine, make sure you know precisely where you need the holes and mark them appropriately. It’s best to drill your holes in the following order: drought hole, mortise and tenon, and then the chamber.

Shaping:

Once you’ve done the hardest part of drilling holes, it’s time for the fun of shaping your pipe. The easiest way to do this is with a sander, either a disc or belt sander will do! Using various grits, you can begin shaping your pipe using a coarse grit and working your way up to a finer grit as your vision starts to become a reality. If you don’t have a sander, you can use a lathe, dermal, rotary tool, or even files and sandpaper if you’re really determined.

Sand It Down:

If your shape is perfectly how you want it, then it’s time to get out the sand paper and start working it by hand. Start with 120 grit sandpaper and work your way up to 600 grit to ensure a smooth pipe. Trust us, this might not seem like that big of a deal, but you’ll want to spend plenty of time on this step to ensure that you don’t hate holding your pipe.

Staining:

The staining options available are vast and greatly depend on personal preference. You can choose to pre-stain for greater grain contrast, or jump straight into staining. Apply the stain by the manufacturer’s instructions being careful to avoid the chamber.

Buffing:

The last step is to buff your pipe. You can use a dremel or rotary tool to do this fairly easily, or you can set up a bench grinder with a buffing surface. Buff your pipe once without anything on it. Then buff it again after adding carnauba wax using a flannel wheel.

There you have it! You now have a manly and functional piece of art that’s ready for your indulgence!

James Niehaus

James Niehaus

Founder at Perfect Cuts & Miters
James owns and operates a cabinet shop specializing in fine furniture, reproductions, and custom architectural fixtures. He is a master cabinet maker, writes for woodworking magazines and loves giving advice to new woodworkers. He also teaches woodworking throughout the country in colleges, woodworking clubs, schools and seminars.
James Niehaus

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