December 4, 2021

Carving Pipes Out of Wood | A Detailed Guide

Learn to carve pipes out of wood. Seems like an easy task, right? But, carving pipes out of wood is actually much trickier than you might think. Pipes have curved surfaces and are a bit of a challenge. A good tutorial will help you get started by showing you the steps to carve a pipe out of a piece of wood.

List of Types of wood to use when carving a pipe

  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Black Walnut
  • Oak
  • Olive
  • Rosewood
  • Manzanita
  • Mesquite-wood.

How do you cut a pipe out of wood?

Cut Out the Pipe

Look for a design of your choice. Cut out the pipe stencil and trace it two times on a piece of 3/4 inch wood. Trace the pipe making sure the stem is parallel to the wood grain. Tracing it against the wood grain makes the stem fragile and sometimes breaks. Cut out the two pipe shapes using a saw of your choice.

Drilling the Bowl

You will need a 13/16 drill bit, a drill press, and a C clamp. Line up the two halves of the pipe and clamp them together at the bottom. Draw a straight line from the top right corner to the bottom left corner and another line from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.
Drill a hole where the two lines intersect. Put your 13/16 drill bit in your drill press. Start drilling so that the point on the bit will go straight into the center of the pipe bowl. Go down an inch and stop there.

Dig Out the Airway

Look for a diagram of the pipe airway that you should carve. Copy this onto your pipe cutouts. The drawing of the airway is on the inside. Use a Dremel or a rotary tool to carve this out and avoid going down too deep in the stem. Line up the two halves of your pipe so that the airway is on the inside. Put your lips to the end of the stem and blow. If the blow is successful, keep carving until you can.

Glue the Two Halves Together

Get some strong wood glue and dab a bit in the blank spots where you have not carved anything. Put some on the stem because when you put the two halves together, the glue will want to seep into the airway and block it up. Clamp the two halves together and allow them to dry.
Take it out of all the pressure and blow hard into it. If you blow through, continue with the process. If you fail, place the tip of a flathead screwdriver on the seam where the halves met and tap the top of the screwdriver using a hammer to split them apart. Sand all the glue off and carve the airway a little deeper, and then try to glue them together again.

Cut Out the Stem

You are allowed to use a hack, or a band saw. Mark a line down each side of the stem, showing where you want to cut. Widen it at the end where you will blow through. Cut your pipe into a vice and tighten it around the bottom. Cut down each line you drew.

Sand the Stem

Use a Dremel or rotary tool to carve the corners off of your stem. Use some 80 grit sandpaper and sand the stem a little bit. Change to 150 grit sandpaper and sand the stem some more. Keep changing grits until you get to about 500 grit.

Carving and Sanding the Bowl Section

Cut off all the corners of the bowl with a hacksaw. Do not cut too deep into the pipe. Once you cut your corners, use the 80 grit sandpaper and sand the bowl section. You can also sand by hand, although it takes time. When done with the 80 grit I went to some 150 grit. Sand by hand with 150 grit and move up through the same grits used on the stem.

Finishing Your Pipe

Use wood stain but do not stain it if you plan on smoking it. The reason is that when you light it, the pipe will go up in flames and burn to ash. Coat with lacquer and only if you are not going to smoke it. Mineral oil is safe from the flames.
Mineral oil is a food-safe finish and is used to finish a smoking pipe. Dab a bit of mineral oil onto a piece of 1500 grit and wet sand your pipe. Wet sand the pipe, polish it off with a rag or paper towel.

What is the best wood to make a pipe out of?

Briar is the best material for making pipes. It comes from Erica Arborea or heath tree. It has a high heat tolerance, respiration, hardness, and beautiful grain. Once harvested, the briar must be boiled and dried to remove sap and moisture.
Control the process to prevent the briar blocks from drying too quickly. If that happens, it splits or fissures in the wood. Briar is cut along and across the grain.

How do you carve a simple pipe?

  1. Start with a kit.
  2. Draw your design.
  3. Begin with a saw.
  4. Secure the stock.
  5. Shape with rasps and files.
  6. Sand.
  7. Bend the stem.
  8. Apply finish.

How do you make hand-carved pipes?

  1. Cut Out the pipe.
  2. Drill the bowl.
  3. Dig out the airway.
  4. Glue the two halves together.
  5. Cut out the stem.
  6. Sand the stem.
  7. Carve and sand the bowl section.
  8. Finish your pipe.

Carving out the bowl

Put your pipe in a vice and cut off all the corners with a hacksaw. Do not cut too deep into the pipe. Sand with 80 grit sandpaper and sand all the bowl sections. You could sand by hand, but it takes a long time.

Clearing out the airway

Make a diagram of the pipe airway that you should carve. Copy onto your pipe cutouts, so that when you put the two halves together, the drawing of the airway is on the inside. Use a Dremel or a rotary tool to carve this out and go down too deep in the stem. When done carving, line up the two halves of your pipe so that the airway is on the inside. Put your lips to the end of the stem and blow.

Choosing the design

Choose a design of your choice from the Internet or draw out your pattern design on one side of the block. Two intersecting lines show where the airway and the tobacco chamber should be drilled. Base your design on those lines. Take a look at pipes before you start, and pick a shape that looks simple.

Sanding it down

After scraping, sand with 220-grit and work up through 400-grit, finishing with 600-grit. Be careful as you sand the material. Sanding scratches are easily detectable by the user. Use mineral spirits to remove sanding dust and reveal any scratches you still need to sand out. The stem also needs sanding.

Applying a finish

The type of finish you choose depends on the final outlook you would want for your pipe. If you want to change the color of the wood, try an aniline dye. Apply the dye between grits of sandpaper and sand back to the surface to produce contrasting colors in the grain. Test first on scrap material.

David D. Hughes
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