As a pipe smoker, there are many elements that contribute to the enjoyment of a good smoke. One of those elements is the pipe stem. The stem of a pipe can contribute or detract from the smoking experience, so it is a good idea to put some thought into the type of stem a pipe has prior to purchasing it.
Modern-day pipe stems are primarily made from two types of materials: vulcanite and acrylic. There are benefits and disadvantages to both types. Here is a brief overview of vulcanite vs. acrylic stems to help the pipe lover choose the one that best fits his or her needs.
Vulcanite pipe stems are made from a rubber that has been vulcanized using high heat and sulphur. This results in a pipe stem that is softer and grips better when held between the teeth. People that wear dentures may find vulcanite pipe stems more comfortable to use because the stems tend to be thinner than acrylic and conforms to the teeth over time.
However, vulcanite stems are notorious for becoming discolored because of oxidation. Not only is this discoloration unsightly, it can affect the taste of the tobacco, turning it sour and ruining the smoking experience. While the oxidation can be removed, it takes a bit of effort to do so because special cleaners and methods must be used; otherwise the pipe will be permanently ruined. Additionally, vulcanite stems are more prone to breakage and only come in a few colors.
Acrylic, also called Lucite, pipe stems come in a wide range of colors and patterns. Stems made using this material is easier to keep clean and maintain. They are also more durable and acrylic is resistant to oxidation. So pipe owners won’t have to worry about the stem breaking mid-smoke or becoming discolored over time.
At the same time, acrylic pipe stems tend to be larger than vulcanite stems and the material is much harder. For some people, particularly those that like to bite down on the stem, this may cause discomfort that won’t go away because the stem will not conform to their bites like vulcanite stems do. Denture wearers may also have a more difficult time using this type of pipe stem.
At the end of the day, deciding which one is best will come down to personal preference. Those that prefer to hold pipes in their mouths may enjoy using vulcanite stems. People who prefer pipe stems that are easy to maintain may be better served by acrylic stems.