Lucky Briar Strike... maybe

Ernie Q

Well-known member
Patron
Sales
Old Ted Award
I've been worried.

The briar situation has gone from amazing to crappy in about the last 3 years. Demand in Asia is way up, and the way they work, they just go to the mills and plop a briefcase full of cash down and say "We'll take it all." and the mills seems to be capitulating. In January, I bought from Spain and they sent wood that they'd had for 2 years. In May, they offered to send me "new" wood in June. Someone bought them out meanwhile.

Add into that my own government inspectors being a little too "letter of the law" on this stuff sometimes, and suddenly I'm looking for an exemption or an inspection or something and that's all just a huge headache.

It's just nice to see a door open where other ones might be closed or more difficult than they used to be.
It does kinda suck when your Customs department is run by Dudley DoRight.
 

Russ H.

Mr. Fruity Pebbles
I was reading through this thread and I have often wondered about pipe makers who live in the region such as Italy having much better opportunities at getting their hands on top grade briar and others around the world having a very difficult time getting extremely good briar blocks—kinda like—hey I live here and will buy all your best stuff—you can ship all this other crap to who ever will buy it. I often envision opening up a big burlap bag, or a box—dumping it all out and looking at all the blocks and saying to ones self—hhuumm—most of this stuff is kinda iffy, and I guess I’m stuck with what is not what I hoped for at all. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I often wondered if certain people have special connections with briar providers where they kinda get first dibs on the very best stuff.
 

Ozark Wizard

Well-known member
Patron
Sales
Old Ted Award
I was reading through this thread and I have often wondered about pipe makers who live in the region such as Italy having much better opportunities at getting their hands on top grade briar and others around the world having a very difficult time getting extremely good briar blocks—kinda like—hey I live here and will buy all your best stuff—you can ship all this other crap to who ever will buy it. I often envision opening up a big burlap bag, or a box—dumping it all out and looking at all the blocks and saying to ones self—hhuumm—most of this stuff is kinda iffy, and I guess I’m stuck with what is not what I hoped for at all. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I often wondered if certain people have special connections with briar providers where they kinda get first dibs on the very best stuff.
Most of the world's supply of uni(sea urchin) comes from the west coast of the US. Try finding it. It's all swept up by foreign markets. Perhaps the growers hold some back for personal use. I think it's the same thing going on with briar.
 

Sasquatch

May Cause Drowsiness
Staff Member
I was reading through this thread and I have often wondered about pipe makers who live in the region such as Italy having much better opportunities at getting their hands on top grade briar and others around the world having a very difficult time getting extremely good briar blocks—kinda like—hey I live here and will buy all your best stuff—you can ship all this other crap to who ever will buy it. I often envision opening up a big burlap bag, or a box—dumping it all out and looking at all the blocks and saying to ones self—hhuumm—most of this stuff is kinda iffy, and I guess I’m stuck with what is not what I hoped for at all. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I often wondered if certain people have special connections with briar providers where they kinda get first dibs on the very best stuff.
Obviously if you can wander up the road and buy a briar cutter dinner and ply him with wine once a month, you might get a better crack. Some guys have standing orders with cutters - I'll buy 2000.00 bucks worth a year every year, and I need it to look like __________. *And it's not just perfect straight grain blocks, it might be INTERESTING blocks, or extra wide, or whatever*. But as demand increases, those standing relationships maybe get overlooked sometimes.

To me, all my business dealings are relationships, I want to be on good terms with people and buy from and people I sell to. I don't give cutters a hard time, I give them money and hope for the best. Between labor issues, political issues (the mail in Greece didn't work for a few months), mafia stuff, foreign investors, growth in certain sectors.... briar is a weird industry. I try to be nice to cutters, I ask what they can provide, I don't ask for 100 perfect wonder blocks.

So yes, there are back room deals, yes, there are guys who get better briar, and basically they deserve it. I have no idea what Roman Kovalev pays for wood or who he buys from. But he has unbelievable wood, and makes the most of it - he deserves it. When I get a really unbelievable block I think "Jeez I should sell this to Kovalev and see what he'd do with it."

I don't need incredible briar for most pipes - that is, I don't need perfect ultra dense linear grained wonder blocks. I need clean, well cured wood. I don't hardly even care where it's from, although I do have some preferences in terms of how it works, how it stains etc... even how it smokes. It's nice to have a few special pieces around for sure, but largely, I am matching sandblasts to briar that is maybe a little less ring-dense, or has a few more pepper spots in it, I am using poorer cut stuff for rustics or old-school grain patterns in blasts. I do lots of that stuff, in fact it's very much part of my business model.

Cleaning up these blocks I can't say for sure where they are from (I am trying to get more info out of WP). They aren't algerian, color and feel are wrong. I don't think they are greek, they are very white, and the greek stuff is more yellowy. Real lumpy cut, very white, pretty hard, and mostly pretty grain dense, I'd guess Calabria. But I mean, I got some Albanian briar a few weeks ago, and ... I didn't even know there was such a thing. So this could honestly be from any number of mills in any number of countries, and .... I just don't care a ton. It's briar, it looks clean, it's pretty crusty, ready to go, I'm in.

Now if I start making pipes with this stuff and people report that it tastes like Roundup or something... that would be an issue. But I trimmed up 70 blocks and thought "Yeah, that smells like briar."
 

Sasquatch

May Cause Drowsiness
Staff Member
Does Windsor Plywood have more than one retail store, and more important, more than one warehouse? Looking for old stuff in NA warehouses sounds much more productive than trying to get good current stuff from the Med.
Windsor is a national chain here, they have stores across the country. Some of them probably have a piece or two of briar. But they all order from the same warehouses, distribution hubs that the chain owns. So this guy looked to see how many blocks were "in the system". That number is now zero. And I doubt they'll restock an item that took 5 years to finally sell (at a big discount) without some prodding.
 

Russ H.

Mr. Fruity Pebbles
@Sasquatch Thank you for the insight to what I was thinking about. It's nice to hear your opinions, and how you as a pipe maker think on the issue of getting the materials you need to do what you do. With many things currently supply issues hit many aspects of doing business with lots of people. The reason I pondered such things is that I simply was thinking--I wonder how much good vs crappy stuff you end up with when it comes to briar blocks when you buy them, and actually have them in your hands. As with any natural growing product there's gonna be quality that is all over the map--really good, good, mediocre, bad, really bad. Again--I deeply appreciate your insight into your world of pipe making. As with many things these days it's become much harder to get things with supply chain issues, regulations, and just all around availability of a lot of things. I know in my line of work things have become a nightmare to get the things I need to do my job, and as to quality--well I don't think some people even know, or care what that means anymore.
 

Sasquatch

May Cause Drowsiness
Staff Member
Yes, the quality/price/ease equation is a big deal. I think one of the reasons Mimmo got so popular is that he sells very little to no actually bad briar. There's always a spread, a standard deviation, around some or other theoretical point of quality - cut and grain would be two of the axes on the graph. And for a lot of pipe makers, being able to order the quality they want for the purpose they want, in sizes they want (including saying "Hey I make all kinds of long pipes, I need long skinny blocks.") is huge. And his grading was 1st quality, 2nd quality (which was usually great) and third, which was actually not a quality rank so much as blocks he'd selected for sandblasting due to grain. So for many pipe makers, that's the best go-to for getting briar that works for them, few failures, consistent product. Because of this, he's busy, and this means the wood you get is very very fresh. Mimmo suggests a two year wait. And I think it's more like 5 before the stuff is properly hardened up, evenly cured and really ready.

I've explored lots of other woods in the meantime - you come across some lot of wood on eBay, you buy from some retired pipe maker, introduced to another cutter through a friend... whatever. And it's all a series of revolving doors as regards the supply chain. I got 100 blocks from Greece, dropped on my door by Fedex, and the guy said "Hey what the hell even is this, we're all curious." and the next year it got hooked up in customs and rejected. So I can't get that wood anymore. Meanwhille on eBay I see some wood out in BC that Michael Parks imported ten years ago, and I snag that. Meanwhile the Jaume Hom mill in Spain closes for 5 years and then re-opens. Meanwhile it turns out Windsor Plywood has some blocks.

And I do think they have real differences - Algerian is softer, darker, and tastes a little cinnamony. Greek is a little more dense than Italian, a little slower growing I guess. The Italian stuff is generally stripey as hell, generally really white or a little yellowish, but never mahogany like Algerian. I think in the 500 or so pipes I've made, I've cut about 3 blocks and thought "Wow, that smells awful." and I just chucked those out, assuming the pipe would taste bad. The rest is briar, and I never worry that I am sending out a piece of wood that is going to smoke badly - if some is 5% better than others in some or another way... okay. But you can't nail it down. I can't. It comes down to how many pieces are great, good, useable, and trash in any batch for any price.
 

jpberg

Lifestyle Coach
Staff Member
Sales
Yes, the quality/price/ease equation is a big deal. I think one of the reasons Mimmo got so popular is that he sells very little to no actually bad briar. There's always a spread, a standard deviation, around some or other theoretical point of quality - cut and grain would be two of the axes on the graph. And for a lot of pipe makers, being able to order the quality they want for the purpose they want, in sizes they want (including saying "Hey I make all kinds of long pipes, I need long skinny blocks.") is huge. And his grading was 1st quality, 2nd quality (which was usually great) and third, which was actually not a quality rank so much as blocks he'd selected for sandblasting due to grain. So for many pipe makers, that's the best go-to for getting briar that works for them, few failures, consistent product. Because of this, he's busy, and this means the wood you get is very very fresh. Mimmo suggests a two year wait. And I think it's more like 5 before the stuff is properly hardened up, evenly cured and really ready.

I've explored lots of other woods in the meantime - you come across some lot of wood on eBay, you buy from some retired pipe maker, introduced to another cutter through a friend... whatever. And it's all a series of revolving doors as regards the supply chain. I got 100 blocks from Greece, dropped on my door by Fedex, and the guy said "Hey what the hell even is this, we're all curious." and the next year it got hooked up in customs and rejected. So I can't get that wood anymore. Meanwhille on eBay I see some wood out in BC that Michael Parks imported ten years ago, and I snag that. Meanwhile the Jaume Hom mill in Spain closes for 5 years and then re-opens. Meanwhile it turns out Windsor Plywood has some blocks.

And I do think they have real differences - Algerian is softer, darker, and tastes a little cinnamony. Greek is a little more dense than Italian, a little slower growing I guess. The Italian stuff is generally stripey as hell, generally really white or a little yellowish, but never mahogany like Algerian. I think in the 500 or so pipes I've made, I've cut about 3 blocks and thought "Wow, that smells awful." and I just chucked those out, assuming the pipe would taste bad. The rest is briar, and I never worry that I am sending out a piece of wood that is going to smoke badly - if some is 5% better than others in some or another way... okay. But you can't nail it down. I can't. It comes down to how many pieces are great, good, useable, and trash in any batch for any price.
You should consider oil curing your briar.
 

Cramptholomew

It's, like, Phyllis Diller funny.
Sales
Yeah but it means eating fish n chips all the time, otherwise the oil doesn't impart the right flavor.
There was a little independent convenience store two towns over from my home town. They made killer friend chicken, but the kicker was they made fries in the fried chicken oil. I’ll never have fries like that again. Some fried chicken French fry flavor briar might be worth oil curing in that stuff. You could just smoke the wood.
 
Top Bottom