Tobacco pipes come in so many different shapes, sizes, and styles that it can be challenging to figure out which direction to go in. A big debate you might see on forums and between tobacco pipe enthusiasts is if you prefer to have an artisan made pipe, or rather a factory made one.
Since we're all about making the pipe smoking hobby more accessible, we'll try to break down the main differences. Learning these differences will help you decide for yourself which type of pipe is a better fit for you.
We want to make sure to highlight the pros and cons of both artisan and factory made tobacco pipes. You cannot make a good decision without having all the information, and that is something we always want you to have.
We are going to throw in a quick spoiler here; just like almost everything that is in this glorious hobby of ours, your likes and preferences may differ from others, so pick what you like.
Artisan pipes, not just "handmade"
It is worth noting, before we begin, that what we're really talking about here is the differences between artisan and mass-produced pipes. Nearly all tobacco pipes are "handmade" to a certain degree. Drilling, fitting, and finishing are almost universally done by skilled human hands, even if the block gets cut mechanically, such as in companies like Peterson and Savinelli, two pipe companies that produce hundreds of pipes daily.
The distinction can lead to a lot of confusion. Pipes can be labeled factory, handmade, semi-handmade, or artisan, and the difference isn't regulated in any significant way. Generally, a truly Artisan pipe means that it is entirely handmade with great skill and care. It would not be wrong to compare the difference to buying an original piece of art or a print. The print will never be as nuanced as the original, but that doesn't mean it isn't an accurate portrayal that will bring you joy.
Advantages of an Artisan Pipe
Artisan tobacco pipes are generally, as the name suggests, small works of highly-individualized art. Aesthetically, these pipes are usually superior to factory-made pipes. After all, when coming up with a design for an artisan smoking pipe, the carver is only limited by his or her imagination.
Artisan smoking pipes are drilled, shaped, and finished with the careful eyes and hands of an artist who has spent years perfecting the craft. These pipe makers have apprenticed under masters, learning the ins and outs of tobacco pipes from those willing to teach. Since these pipes are an expression of the artists' history and vision, they typically reflect that in their one-of-a-kind prices. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to over $5,000 for one of these special pipes.
Disadvantages of Artisan Pipes
The first is pretty obvious; anything original is going to be pricey. While yes, the quality of the artisan tobacco pipes is a big reason for the high price, it is also only one of the reasons. Artisan pipes, being completely handmade, also take longer to be finished. It is that manufacturing timeframe that limits how many pipes an artisan maker can produce in a day. Fewer pipes mean a rarer product, and a rarer product naturally drives the price up more than something that is more quickly made. That said, if a $300+ investment isn't in your budget, standing firm on only wanting an artisan pipe that you can’t afford could prohibit you from enjoying a great smoking experience with a more affordable tobacco pipe.
Another often overlooked disadvantage is that when your pipe is one-of-a-kind, it could be hard to replace any broken parts. Even worse, if lost, it cannot be perfectly replicated.
For this reason, even the most serious collectors often have a factory made pipe or two.
Advantages of factory-made pipes
Conversely, factory-made pipes get made in large quantities, typically started by machines and then finished by skilled artisans. Although variations still occur, the basic shapes and smoke ability are much more consistent than artisan pipes. In a factory-made pipe, the superiority of design is sacrificed slightly for consistency. However, that consistency is a strong plus for companies who have perfected the process of making quality pipes at affordable prices.
A factory pipe can be made in nearly identical ways again and again. Of course, slight variations will still occur in both the briar and the stems. That said, in general, one Peterson Churchwarden will smoke pretty similar to the next. Add to this that these pipes are usually much more affordable and it's easy to see why new smokers, daily smokers, and even many collectors fill their pipe stands with factory or semi-handmade pipes.
Imagine taking your pipe out camping, or maybe on a relaxing fishing trip. Do you really want to risk damaging your expensive, one-of-a-kind smoking pipe? Or would you rather have a more affordable option on hand that will be great for smoking on the go or where the risk of damage is heightened? We suggest getting something less expensive that, while not disposable, is not something you will regret losing.
Here at TobaccoPipes.com, we carry a large variety of artisan and factory made pipes. We do this because we believe both have advantages, depending on the needs of the smoker. Don't get too caught up in which type of pipe you're choosing. What matters most is that you enjoy your bowl. You can do that with a basic corn cob or a high-end Savinelli Autograph--it all depends on your particular preferences.
When it comes to factory tobacco pipes and artisan versions, we have our preferences just like everyone else. We love the look and feel of a bunch of different pipes, and it is always a pleasure to talk about our favorites.
Our favorite artisan pipes.
When it comes to awesome looking pipes, we really must start with the Castello Flame. As we mentioned above, artisan tobacco pipes are not cheap, and this one certainly is for the hardcore collectors. However, we still marvel at the craftsmanship of this beauty.
The briar is carved on the bottom to look like a roaring fire, heating up the tobacco inside. Even the golden-yellow acrylic stem practically glows from radiating flame. If you are willing to spend the money, this tobacco pipe is certainly worth consideration. Castello has plenty of options available; take a look!
Another great looking artisan pipe is Neerup's Harvest Moon 3. This bent apple shaped pipe features a dark finish, providing an excellent contrast to the grain. Fitted with a brass and turquoise ring that connects the stem and the stummel, this is a much more affordable pipe for you.
An excellent option, this would be a great addition to any collection. You can check out all of the Neerup Pipes here.
One more artisan pipe would be this Altinay Meerschaum tobacco pipe. Meerschaum is a very moldable material, so and every meerschaum is hand carved. Being made this way allows meerschaum carvers to indulge in a lot of freedom with their designs. In this instance, we have a dragon claw grasping a barrel.
When you want to talk about interesting looks, how about this rustic and smooth combination by Ser Jacopo. This bulldog pipe takes a smooth pipe and adds a rustic look to it in the middle. This makes for a great looking pipe, with a good texture of both a smooth and rustic feel.
A great Italian brand, Ser Jacopo takes their inspiration from founder Giancarlo Guidi. The company has continued to make some magnificent handmade pipes, and we think you might find something here that you will absolutely love.
Finally, a pipe with a unique material comes in when we showcase the Davorin Denovic pipes. These tobacco pipes are made of morta wood, which is an old wood found in a bog.
This Rhodesian pipe provides an outstanding look. Its black stummel ringed with striations that add a unique texture, while also featuring an acrylic stem featuring wisps of brown that add a smoky look to the pipe. You can find more Davorin Morta pipes here.
Our favorite factory pipe
Remember, a factory pipe can still look amazing. Some of the tobacco pipes we love most are factory-made, and here are a few of those favorites.
You can't go wrong with a Rattray's Outlaw. This one is a smooth, gray pipe that makes the grain take on a smokey look. The short stem features an aluminum band that makes a great divider from the stummel.
If that's not your cup of tea, there are plenty of Rattray's that can catch your attention.
Another outstanding looking pipe is this rustic finished Savinelli Joker. The dark, rustic finish helps highlight the rich, red amber color of the wood. The black and red stripes on the band highlight the coloring this pipe has. Black and red, this is a dark pipe that looks outstanding and really pops with the finish's texture.
It is not often you find pipes that have a color other than black or tan. Sometimes you will have a reddish amber but more often than not, the smoking pipe will be one of those two. That’s why we really love this blue Chacom Atlas pipe. To start, blue is a pretty unique color for a tobacco pipe to have.
The black accents on the bowl help the blue really pop as well. This is a great pipe from an old and very well respected pipe manufacturer. Chacom offers a wide variety of pipes, so you can find something more traditional as well if you prefer.
Of course, we can’t forget the corncob lovers here either! Old Dominion may be a relative newcomer to the pipe making industry, but they make some very nice looking corncob pipes. We love the look of the Shenandoah, a classic poker with a bamboo stem.
Old Dominion produces a number of corncobs, as well as clay pipes, so finding something there should not be a problem.
Finally, we come to this Peterson Sherlock Holmes pipe. Peterson tobacco pipes have plenty of different lines, and they all look fantastic. We love the Sherlock Holmes line, mostly because of how the pipes look and also because of the tribute to the best detective ever written. In the novels, Sherlock Holmes is always smoking a Peterson, so the company decided to make a line dedicated to the master detective.
The one we are showing here features a smooth, dark wood that has beautiful streaks of the briar's flame grain. Featuring a sterling silver ring, this is a pipe that will look good in any collection.
Artisan or factory made, we love the look of pretty much every pipe. When purchasing a great tobacco pipe, you want to find something that fits your style and what you like. Find a pipe you like, and enjoy it. And don't forget the pipe tobacco too! The choice is yours.