GLASS PIPES 101
by Ken Kulow
Founder, Chameleon Glass
Why Choose Glass?
Flavor Enhancing Glass tobacco pipes were developed to provide a pure smoking experience by eliminating the competing tastes of metal, wood and other porous or burnable materials, in effect isolating the natural flavor of the tobacco. Whether enjoying a beautiful handpipe, bubbler or a pure glass hookah you can be assured that high quality glass will not impart any undesirable flavors or tastes. Our line of tobacco accessories are designed specifically for the discriminating tobacco connoisseur.
There is no doubt that icon level glassblower from the Grateful Dead tour days, Bob Snodgrass is the Godfather of artistic borosilicate hard glass in this country. Inspired by Bob's innovation, in the early 1980’s glass artists began experimenting with silver and gold fuming processes in an effort to change the visual characteristics of glass handpipes. What was discovered was that a thin layer of pure gold and/or silver applied to the inside or the surface of the pipe created a unique phenomenon once tobacco was introduced to the product. The tobacco particulate, combined with the precious metals refracted the light much like a prism, causing the pipe to change colors. Additionally, different tobaccos produced different hues ensuring completely unique handpipes based on individual usage.
One key characteristic of glass is its ability to not only be cleaned repeatedly but also sterilized, killing harmful bacteria. Wood, metal, and stone pipes cannot be thoroughly cleaned due to their inherent porosity, allowing various bacteria to lurk in your pipe. A thorough cleaning of glass handpipes via commercially available cleaners, or a common dishwasher will return your handpipe to its near original state. This provides the user with a clean palette for a completely new and different color changing experience.
Unlike metal, wood, or other manufactured pipes, each Apache Blaze glass handpipe is hand blown by glass artists. While we strive to ensure consistency and keep our products true to their cataloged likeness, no two pieces are exactly alike. Each Apache Blaze piece is truly a one of a kind original and uniquely your customers.
Types of GlassA brief primer on ‘hard’ glass, known as brand name Pyrex, and as its scientific name borosilicate (boro) can be found on Wikipedia, which may be a good place to start depending on your familiarity with the various types of glass. This article will neither dig into the cutting edge lampworking techniques developed and utilized in the domestic pipe making industry, nor address functional advances inherent in the application of scientific glass blowing technique or materials.
The Genesis of Color Changing Glass
Artists have worked with common ‘soft’ glass for millennia because of its low melting point and permissive molecular structure that readily accepts colorants. The drawback is and has always been its relative structural strength. For self-reinforcing shapes, like vessels (dishes, vases, bottles etc.), structural strength was less important. For non self-reinforcing shapes, like those of sculptures (organic forms such as human, animal or plant) with crystalline structure ‘dead ends’ (fingertips, wings and flower petals) where the lattice abruptly ends, structural strength was more important. Borosilicate, or ‘hard’ glass, lacks valence shell electrons to give or take so it essentially bonds to itself and does not need self-reinforcing structure to create a circular bonding path. Boro is the only glass strong enough to hold up over time in sculpture. No problem, unless you actually want that glass flower sculpture to have color.
There were in fact depression era boro “colors” — translucent greens and blues that occurred sporadically due to contamination in the crucible,. However, boro by its very nature (low porosity/high melting temperature) resists the addition of colorants. For almost a century, borosilicate was only available in colorless clear.
While clear was acceptable for casserole dishes, artists doing sculptures pined for colored boro to add the visual pop color creates in their work. Enter Richard Clements, a lampworker among the artists constrained by the lack of color available in boro. Richard approached the color issue differently than the glass factories. Instead of finding a way to chemically change the boro molecule to achieve color, he decided it was easier to sneak unbonded colorant in between the boro molecules (interstitially), which, since it was colorless, would cause the boro to assume the color packed in between its molecules. To avoid chemical bonding issues, he utilized oxides which also did not lend themselves to bonding, but would turn color (strike) once they were reheated during the artistic phase of the creation process. In fact, Richard created the first iteration of Chameleon Glass as far as color changing raw materials are concerned.
This process was picked up in the U.S. by Northstar Glassworks in Portland, Oregon. Northstar not only spawned a host of well known alchemists including Roger Paramour, Paul Trautman, Henry Grimmet and Momka Peavey, it's arguably one of two reasons I am sitting here writing to you today instead of churning out an endless supply of light bulbs for General Electric. But, I digress. "Striking" reds, greens and blues were immediately embraced by artists, but were only used in certain applications due to the imperfect nature of ‘striking’. Put bluntly, then as now, sometimes striking colors turned the right color, sometimes it didn’t, and there is not a huge amount that Northstar or any of its offshoots could do about it. Variables as arcane as barometric pressure over Portland caused wide variation in the end coloration of the colored glass.
Glass that changes color when re-heated is said to “strike”. The most dramatic example of this are the borosilicate colors in the ruby family that strike from a clear to deep red simply upon reheating.Today’s Cutting Edge Raw Materials
Flash forward to the present and the topic for which I type. Today’s raw materials are light years different than the first few pots of red arsenic oxide put out by Mr. Clement. They still require a deft hand to shape and heat, but the chromium sparkle of moss has become legendary in its own rite. For a synopsis of another sparkly substrate used in our products, read the Why Dichro? article also accessible on the website.
According to the major producers of these raw materials, the raw materials that pipe connoisseurs look for are not being shipped out of the country and are, therefore, only available to lampworkers in the U.S. I know this list will be dated within six months, (and that’s a good thing!), so I will endeavor to keep it current. For now, here’s what to look for:
Red Elvis – A super dense, rich, non-striking red.
Alien Tech – A striking color that defies placement on the palette – it turns a different color depending on how you use it.
Red, Orange & Yellow Crayon – Three colors that utilize cadmium, a notoriously difficult element to include in glass. I specify ‘crayon’ because the crayon version is remarkably easier to work at temperature without the signature ‘boil’ marks of lesser cadmium colors.
Blue Leprechaun – A chromium based color that catches light, magnifies it and throws it back at you in a million points of light.
Marlee – A meld of Red, Green, Yellow and Black colors that are formulated to get past the fact that these colors don’t necessarily like each other or work well together, that are extruded as once solid multi colored rod.
Slyme – The new bo$$ in town. Translucent or worked into opacity, this color POPS when paired with opaque dark colors and creates visual interest humans find hard to look away from.
Amazons – Striking brownish reds, blues and greens that are inherent in all of the “organic” movement designs; very earthy and variegated.
I know I have missed plenty, but if you get any single application or combination of these colors, you will have a visually pleasing, cutting edge piece to enjoy for some time.
Why Not Imports?
Many of you have asked why cheap imports are not the way of the future. Without waving the flag because it suits our business, there are some extremely good reasons why imports are NOT the future of glass tobacco accessories.
This is Important Stuff Tobacco is a controlled substance. Some people are surprised by this, but one needs only try and buy tobacco to find that most states require a purchaser to, like alcohol, be 21 years of age. As a controlled substance marketed to adults, accessories for use with tobacco are also controlled. Walk into any tobacconist or pharmacy and try to buy a pipe (glass, wood, corn-cob, you name it) or other accessory such as RYO equipment and you will find the same age restrictions applied to the accessory as well as the tobacco. Well, U.S. Customs restricts these types of accessories to domestic manufactures, with exceptions given only to members of SMA and only for specific RYO products. All other items for import are regarded as contraband because of the controlled nature of the product. Imported glass pipes are illegal contraband!
Importers of glass pipes typically do not support SMA activities because of expense and especially because of regulations concerning the design and manufacture of tobacco accessories. There is also a great deal of accountability required for SMA condoned imports. None of the large importers in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston or Miami conform to SMA guidelines. To get around these guidelines, importers simply do not blow a hole at the bottom of the bowl.
Consumer Read This!
Because the bowl has no hole upon entry, the importer then drills a hole in the bottom of the bowl. Most of the importers care so little for the end consumer that the noxious glass dust from the drilling process is left inside the pipe, only to be inhaled by the consumer during first use of the pipe!
Glass dust is 100 times MORE DANGEROUS THAN ASBESTOS!Not only is the dust a horrible leftover of the drilling process, drilling leaves permanent stress in the glass surrounding the new hole. Residual stress is the number one reason for failure (cracking/breaking) of glass pipes over time. It is exponentially more prone to failure where the glass is constantly expanded and contracted by heat. Most notably this occurs at the bottom of the bowl where heat is concentrated during the lighting of tobacco, and is precisely where importers drill and impart enormous amounts of residual stress. Most importers also do not anneal the glass. Annealing ovens are expensive and are often not available in the third world countries where they manufacture the pipes. Ovens also draw enormous amounts of electricity, again, often not available in these countries. Annealing is the same process used in the production of steel to allow the molecules to flow back into re-alignment after the steel has been shaped and formed. In much the same way, glass flows back into it’s polarized alignment and strongest state once properly annealed over the course of several hours in a specialized glass-annealing oven.
You pay a lot for your glass pipe whether it is imported or domestic. Shouldn’t it last a good long time? Imports don’t. Imported Glass fails 100x more often than domestically produced products simply because of the drilling process and the fact that the finished product is not annealed properly.
As an aside: Always wanted a glass sex toy, but could never afford it? Ohh, but now there is one in your price range? Guess what, it’s probably imported and was most probably not annealed. The same truth of glasswork in pipes is even truer for sex toys due to the thickness of the glass. Sex toys average a requirement of 3x the annealing time of pipes. So, buyers beware! There are no limitations or restrictions on the country of origin of sex toys! Be careful where you put that thing, and while its there, if it is a cheap imitation, don’t push the limits too far, you may be surprised at how brittle solid thick glass can be!
So, don’t get off on a tirade that we are espousing some one-world order, we're not. One should know, however, that according to readily available videos on the internet, customs documents, and numerous articles by National Geographic, Amnesty International, Green Peace and others, indentured child servitude (child slave labor) is rampant in developing third world countries. It’s not just that the items are cheap; it’s why they are cheap. Children die making imported glass pipes on a daily basis. Some of you who have been to these countries to source fabrics, bags, beads and the like have seen these “factories” up close and personal. Do you really want to support people who chain five year olds to a stake in the ground? Labor is the key ingredient in glass pipes, so to make them cheap, one must have cheap labor. Importers typically pay less than five cents a day for a child to be enslaved for their use. Care to be educated and disgusted at the same time? Take a look.
Okay, so your response is something like…child slave labor was rampant in America at the turn of the century during our industrial revolution, so while it may be wrong, maybe it’s their turn? Well, flawed as that statement is from a human dignity perspective, how about your checkbook? In December of 2003, the main importer in Miami was busted in a customs sting. He was busted not only for contraband, but also for what he was doing with the cash he had collected from several smoke shops in the greater Miami area. That importer was attempting to use the cash to pay for a container of Chinese made AK-47 assault rifles. Perfectly legal, except that the cash was also to bribe the Chinese manufacturer to change the destination from the US over to Palestine mid-shipment so as to avoid any customs intervention in the US. I mean, really, just what we need in the Middle East—more guns. And just what we need for our industry—glass pipes tied to terrorists.
Now, back to your checkbook. Many of the stores who had purchased the contraband were served with civil forfeiture warrants through customs and were accompanied by DEA officials. The stores were stripped of all tobacco accessories (some lost more than $100,000 in inventory) because the agents “could not differentiate” between the items, so that everything was seized in an effort to “not miss any legitimate evidence” against the importer. After the link between the glass pipes, cash, guns and terrorists was made, a wave of store search and seizures occurred in the greater Miami area. Hmmmm, how unusual. Go figure. Since the initial link was established, several of the major importers have been busted, most recently in Los Angeles, where the single largest producer of chemical pipes, bongs and other glass ornaments was confiscated.
Imported Pipes = Child Slavery + Terrorists + Dangerous Glass Dust + Lousy Quality + American Artists Out of WorkAll our products are made exclusively in the good old USA!! A cautionary note : the disappearance of several American glass manufacturers has spurned a noticeable increase in the volume of imported glass finding its way onshore. For all the reasons described in Why Choose Glass? There are more and more tobacco connoisseurs who accept nothing but domestic glass as their chosen accessory.
A Word on Quality
- New and imaginative designs to keep your collection interesting OR is it more of the same identical pipes you can get anywhere from anyone?
- Novel applications of technology with costly proto-typing OR is it a knock off for a buck less after the fact?
- Amazingly deep and thick hand-worked inside out (double blown) with expansive color OR is it just lots of clear glass with a few stringers jammed in and not melted together?
- Crisp, clean patterning OR is it muddled, cloudy shmears?
- Interlacing levels of Silver, Gold, Platinum & Copper laid on transparently for maximum color change OR is it silver sprayed on so thick and opaquely that the only color change will be from India Orange to Skidmark Brown?
- Strong glass annealed in expensive glass kilns OR is it weak unannealed trash that will crack, craze or shatter the first time it is dropped?
- Pre-screened under light and polariscope to detect cracks prior to shipping OR is it shipped to you without quality control regardless of functionality, condition or sale-ability?
- Made in the USA with taxes paid in full OR is it cash going back overseas to finance the purchases of Chinese made AK-47’s destined for the Middle East? (Customs bust in Miami in early ‘04)
- Domestic manufacturing that pays social security, disability and unemployment OR is it imported so that zero goes to pay for your future retirement?
- Fully hand worked OR is it imported as a necklace then drilled out and left containing noxious glass dust to be inhaled by you and your friends?
How to Pick Your Pipe
Start with the purpose or functionality of the specific piece in order to determine how to pick the right one. For instance, will you be sharing it? You'll want a bigger bowl.
A mobile piece will face more dangers than a home piece. Mobile units also may be smaller and lighter for carrying in a pocket or a purse and typically are not water based due to spillage.
Bowl & Hole Size
The Retail Tobacco Dealers Association (RTDA) specifies a bowl of an inch wide by ½ inch wide as an optimal size for a long, even burn. Depending on your use, the bowl size will vary, large for a communal piece, smaller for a personal or taster style piece. Often overlooked, it is an extremely important facet to review before you purchase your pipe. Chameleon quality control uses a two stage 2 poker with 2 millimeter and 3 millimeter diameters to measure the aperture and ensure that the bowl hole is no smaller than 2MM and no larger than 3MM. A bowl hole of less than 2MM will clog easily whereas a hole greater than 3MM will allow too much ash/ember pull through.
Bowl & Hole Condition
We spend so much time on the bowl because it is where the combustion occurs and is where long-term life of the piece is made (or not). Inexperienced glass blowers and especially importers do not properly prepare or finish the area of glass before or after the bowl is pushed into the glass because of the extra steps involved.
Glass Preparation Process
First, the bowl area needs to be pre-thickened before the bowl push. The push will thin and stretch the glass, so if it is not thickened before hand, the bowl will have inconsistent thickness. This inconsistency will cause the bowl to be prone to breakage due to residual stress imparted to the glass from repeated uneven heating and cooling of the glass during use. Second, the bowl needs to be fire polished after the push to reheat/remelt the glass and remove stress left by the relative cool temperature of the carbon tool. Left alone, the stress shows up as jagged lateral lines (up & down) in the bowl, which (again) will ultimately crack and lead to the demise of your pipe. Concentric circles are also stress but do not cause early cracking. Third, the bowl should not have air bubbles of any kind. While an air pocket of less than ½ millimeter will not create enough expansive force when heated during use, anything larger will eventually weaken and crack the bowl due to repetitive stress of expansion and contraction (gases such as air expands and contract faster and with more force than solids). Hold your pipe up to a light source and examine the bowl area carefully before you buy. If purchasing online, be skeptical if photos are manipulated or lack closeup detail.
A smaller pipe offers less time for the smoke to cool between the bowl hole and the mouthpiece whereas a larger/longer pipe will allow the smoke to cool more. Pipes like Apache Blaze's Woodie Gandalf by Chameleon completely cool the smoke before it reaches the mouthpiece due to its extreme length.
Favorites are when there's one under the bowl so your pipe doesn't roll over and spill your tobacco!
Position of the Third Hole
Righty, Lefty, Endy or “NCH”? Your call, just get one that is most comfortable for you. No Cleaning Hole (NCH) refers to a lack of a third hole. Old school smokers remember a time when pipes did not have this feature, and realistically, it is not really needed in a hand pipe. It is important in a hookah to clear volumes of old smoke, but, in a hand pipe a cleaning hole is not needed if the pipe is cleaned regularly. It is useful however if cleaning is less often and you have stubborn stains to remove.
Once you have established the functional needs, next review the desirability or beauty of the piece. The palette available to today’s American glass artist is enormous. Gone are the days of dim, drab colors, replaced by colors that almost pop out of the glass.
Cleanliness of Design
Are the colors smeared together into an unintelligible jumble of overlapping lines, giving the appearance of a messy finger-painting or is there a well chosen set of complimentary colors combined into a discernible, attractive pattern?
Fuming and Color Change
The secret to color changing glass is actually the fuming. Fuming is the process of vaporizing a precious metal (silver, gold, platinum) onto clear glass. This atomized metal is what causes the glass to appear to change color. It actually does not change color, which becomes obvious after the first time you clean the pipe. Here is why: As you use the pipe, the oil from your tobacco hits and sticks to the inside of the pipe. Over time, it builds up to a point where light no longer passes through, it is reflected. As the reflected light exists the glass, it passes through the fume layer. Different metals produce different light prisms as the light exits the glass, giving the appearance of a change of color. Note: More is not better. If the fume is so heavy that is becomes opaque, there will be no light passing through which means there will be no color change. Look for a transparent fume job for best color change.
Pattern & Design
This area is one of the most contentious in glassblowing. What is Inside Out (ISO) work? What is Surface work? Is there such a thing called “fakey”?
This is where the fume AND color are both melted into the inside surface of the raw glass tubing by pre-melting the tubing and making a wine glass. This two-step melt is why ISO is often referred to as “double blown”. ISO maintains the brightness of color and the depth/thickness of the glass best. It requires the most preparation and most in process work time of all blowing techniques, and is therefore often the most expensive. Surprisingly, it is not the best technique for the best color change.
This is where fume and color are applied to and melted into the outside surface of the raw glass tube. As the glass melts, it is exposed to the oxygen rich flame of the torch and the color often fades/washes out due to the oxidation. The fume is not affected, and consequently, surface work is the actually the best color change blowing technique.
Thickness & Depth
Probably the second most contentious area, thickness is thought to indicate strength. Borosilicate, the engineered crystal material commonly known as Pyrex, obeys standard engineering science. Force = (Mass) x (Acceleration) where A is constant (gravity). If you have an extremely thick pipe, you have a large Mass. The thicker the pipe, the larger the Mass, the larger the impact Force when the piece is dropped. Simple science everybody. Thicker pipes DO feel better in the palm of your hand, but they are not stronger or more impact resistant (quite the opposite actually). There is a marginal strength associated with thickness where glass blown paper-thin is truly more apt to shatter; like a light bulb, and an average thickness pipe is actually the strongest.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but make sure your clear magnifier marbles are highlighting a point of interest on the pipe. Make sure the color marbles compliment the piece. Is the Dichro stretched so thin to where it looks like stringy tinsel or is it rich with minute points of light?
An unseen part of glass is Quality, which is driven from unseen factors in workmanship and especially the final process of annealing. Since it is unseen, some blowers and especially importers do not take this final (and most important) step because specialized glass kilns are expensive and use a great deal of electricity. However, in reality, that cost is simply transferred to you (the buyer) because the fist time the piece is dropped, the chances of breakage are 3x that of a properly annealed piece. Rule of thumb…you get what you pay for.
All About ShapesTobacco Accessories, specifically pipes, come in a myriad of shapes. Most casual observers would assume this to be an aesthetic choice, however, while the look of a pipe IS important, one cannot discount the functional consequences of forcing smoke to follow a specific path.
Bore vs. Vessel
First, a discussion of bore style vs. vessel style pipes. Bore style pipes are synonymous with dry (non water-filtered) wood, meerschaum and stone raw materials. The solid nature of the raw materials lends the bottom of the bowl and the throat of the pipe to be bored with a drill to create a small straight airway. A vessel style pipe has no such constricted airway and allows the smoke to swirl and mix with ambient air available throughout its hollow core.
A vessel style straight spoon is probably the most commonplace of pipe shapes. The air current created by the user taking a pull on the pipe directs the smoke down and straight into the bottom of the head of the pipe
Sherlock While a straight spoon may be the most commonplace of pipes, a close second is the shape popularized by ‘Sherlock’ Holmes. Interestingly enough, Mr. Doyle patterned the graphics in the books after his own water filtered deep ‘U’ bend pipe. Imagine that, a water filtered pipe chosen by a highly educated, leading author of his time, and shucks, no cockamamie law to make it illegal. A vessel style Sherlock shaped pipe causes the smoke to flow down and away from the bowl hole, where it mingles and cools in ambient air contained in the vessel instead of immediately smashing head on into the hot spot at the bottom of the pipe. The gentle ‘U’ bend disperses the smoke against the relatively cool inside surface of the pipe where the still warm smoke hits the cool surface and sticks residual ash to the inside of the pipe before it is ingested.
A Briar is the most popular of the bore style pipes, mainly for hand feel. Flow of smoke is inconsequential in a bore style pipe because the conduit for the smoke does not lend itself to allowing the smoke to circulate in different patterns. It is the least functional of the vessel pipes due to the natural airflow curve created by the vacuum of the user taking a pull on the pipe. The smoke is not allowed to circulate or deposit the residual ash inside the pipe.
Caring for Your Pipe
Our pieces can last a lifetime with proper care and cleaning. Don’t drop your piece. We have all heard the stories of the bouncing glass pipes. This is not an urban myth. The pipes are made of Pyrex and are extremely strong when well annealed. Some drops are perilous and you do not get a second opportunity. However, over time, each bounce leaves residual stress that will accumulate and lead to the eventual crack or breakage. Don’t drop your piece.
Cleaning Your Pipe
There are several commercially available cleaners (Formula 420, Orange Chronic, Dr. Green’s, and Grunge Off) available from most tobacconists and smoke related products stores that will do an excellent job cleaning your glass pipe. A note of caution, however; internally fumed pipes, typically referred to as inside out or double blown are susceptible to fume “wash out” when cleaned with a strong cleaner that includes solvents. Surface fume is melted into the glass and will not wash out, while internal fume cannot be adequately melted in due the inability to really get the flame inside the piece at a 90 degree angle for optimum melt. If the fume is washed out, the pipe will no longer color change. Check the label. Any alcohol based cleaner (more than 50% alcohol content), or cleaners that include petro-chemical based ingredients (gasoline, diesel fuel, lighter fluid to name a few) will probably wash out the internal fume.
If you are unable to find a commercially based cleaner, create your own. Mix 4 parts very warm, (yet, not hot) water with one part dish detergent and one part salt. Very hot (boiling) water will cause uneven thermal expansion and will probably break your piece. Submerge your piece in this home brew overnight. Rinse thoroughly in very warm water. This home brew will eliminate the majority (not all!) of the tobacco particulate from your pipe. If you have a stubborn area that refuses to clean up, fill the pipe with home brew cleaner and add a teaspoon of coarse grind salt, then shake vigorously. The course salt will act as a gentle abrasive and help to clean the stubborn spots. Pipe cleaners, Buddy Systemz and small nylon brushes also help to eliminate observable residue. [Editor's note: Cheap gin works too] Perhaps leave a comment in Reply below, and tell us what you think. What's your #1 takeaway? ~ Kim