Is bowl coating on your tobacco pipe a good or bad thing?
Do a quick search on tobacco pipe bowl coatings and you’ll find about a million different instances of smoking
enthusiasts arguing the merits of coated or uncoated pipe bowls.
What is pipe bowl coating?
Many pipe makers, particularly large factory makers like Peterson, paint the tobacco chamber of their pipes with a coating. Advocates for the coating say it offers a little help when trying to develop cake on a new pipe. The coating is also meant to protect the chamber from possible charing during initial break in.
Three varying opinions
Feelings on coated bowls fall into three categories: ambivalence, adhorance and acceptance. Some pipe smokers are ambivalent, they see the merits in both coating and not coating. They judge a tobacco pipe’s worth mostly by other factors. Conversely, those who abhor a coated bowl will not buy a pipe treated this way. In the last year or two, many smokers have fallen into the acceptance category--they may agree or disagree with the practice, but they’ve realized that, particularly with factory pipes, bowl coating is just the way things are done now.
The downside of bowl coating
The two most common arguments against bowl coating are:
Unscrupulous artisan producers
One of the biggest problems some collectors have with bowl coating is that they believe it is used to cover up problems with craftsmanship or flaws in the briar. This isn’t a problem for larger companies or quality producers. Do your research before buying a pipe and you should be fine.
Possible effect to tobacco’s taste
Some smokers believe the coating negatively affects the taste of the tobacco and keeps the briar from enhancing smoking. We can’t find any evidence to back this up, only the opinions of other smokers. For that reason, we consider it a non-issue.
Types of pipe coating
There are two reasons bowl coating is used on a tobacco pipe, aesthetics or protection.
When coating is used for purely aesthetic reasons, it is generally a stain similar to what goes on the outside of the bowl. This is done to hide drips of stain from the finishing of the outside of the bowl which are difficult to hide or sand away.
The second reason, for protection, results in two different types of coating--organic and nonorganic.
Organic bowl coating
No, we don’t mean actual organic, we mean edible coatings. Most coatings made on high-grade pipes fall into this category. The coating is a mix of carbon powder or charcoal with a binder like egg whites or a sugar like honey. The best of these coatings are generally not detectable when it comes to flavor.
Nonorganic bowl coating
Nonorganic coatings are often called “waterglass” and are a chemical solution combined with powdered carbon to paint the tobacco chamber. Pipe makers who use this type of coating believe it protects the pipe against burnout and allow for easy break-in. This is the type of coating most likely to be complained about and many smokers believe it inhibits the flavor of the briar completely.
Although we like to remain Switzerland in many of these debates and let you decide for yourself, on the topic of tobacco pipe bowl coating, we’re firmly going to fall down on the side of whatever the manufacturer believes is right for their pipes. Whether it’s a large factory maker or a small artisan craftsman, the pipe maker put the love and time into producing their pipes and we’ll trust that they know whether or not a coating is appropriate. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always remove it.