Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you bought a new pipe (no matter if it cost $80 or $800) and it smoked really great at the first bowl?
This is just a brief note to document my experience with Peterson’s the new bowl coating. It is also an invitation to hear from other Peterson users who’ve recently purchased and are smoking Petes with this new coating. As of this writing, I’ve only seen it on the 406 Large Prince, the Aran Rusticated and the Rosslare Rusticated lines, but there may be others. You can distinguish it from previous treatments because it’s quite glossy and very slightly tacky to the touch.
I wrote Peterson to ask about it and they responded that they’ve recently begun using what they believe is a coating superior to the previous paint-on vegetable-base product.
To aid in the binding process, the company has for the first time in its history lightly sanded the inside of the chamber, removing the classic set of pin points caused by the chuck marks. Never fear, purists, as these will remain in the high-grade natural finish lines.
I hate breaking in new pipes and always have, which is the only reason I have unsmoked pipes laying around. I hate break-ins for two reasons: first, they’re just plain stressful, since there’s always the danger that I’ll burn out the pipe, even with a bowl coating (I’ve been called “the Human Torch”). Then second, there’s the off-putting taste of the bowl coating, and I’m not actually talking about Peterson’s last bowl coating, which was better than most. Many artisan-factory pipe makers as well as artisan makers all over the world will tell you quite openly they use medical-quality charcoal powder combined with water glass (potassium silicate) and a bit of water. This, they say, makes a good point-of-sale appearance as well as providing insurance for both maker and smoker that it won’t burn out before its broken in.
Well, I don’t mind so much that it looks like gray 220 grit sandpaper, only that it tastes like it.
As I said, water glass and charcoal haven’t ever been used on Peterson chambers, but while the vegetable-based product they used was better, it wasn’t as good as bare wood. Especially if any stain was lurking beneath it, as could sometimes be the case in many Dublin Era pipes, even those that weren’t dip-stained (a practice used on lower and entry-grade lines which ceased around the year 2000).
So, what about the new coating? I don’t know what ingredients Peterson has used, but my first smoke in the Aran Rusticated was the best I’ve had in any new pipe (not just Peterson, but from other factories and artisans), at least apart from the unfinished or virgin chamber of the Rogha System last May.
After the first smoke and “ashing”
Peterson’s new coating doesn’t seem flavorless to me, but mildly sweet. I smoked Gawith FVF first time out, and beyond the normal sweetness of the virginias there was something else, quite pleasant, that kept me smoking the entire bowl. The pipe also seemed to stay cooler than is normal in first smokes for me. And after the smoke, as you can see by the photo above, the coating seemed to curl and carbonize into the ashes, giving the chamber the appearance of at least five or ten bowls’ of smoking and “ashing” (coating the bowl with the ashes of the tobacco just smoked).
The second smoke (seen below) had me thinking I was smoking a seasoned pipe, not one I’d just smoked twice. Usually I’m nervous through the first dozen smokes, smoking it cautiously, letting the bowl cool every 5-10 minutes and then ritually ashing it after smoking.
The sweet sensation of the first bowl was gone in the second smoke, but the inside of the bowl, as you can see in the photo above, seemed to have progressed much faster than a water glass coating and without the occasional hints of wood burning that an unfinished chamber brings.
A lot of real and virtual ink has been spilled over bowl coatings pro and con, going back to the earliest days of briar pipes. In fact, in the earliest Peterson ephemera at the turn of the 20th century, they (like other factories) recommended soaking the bowl in water before smoking it the first time!
My pipe-smoking mentor Beth Kanaley at Ted’s Pipe Shoppe in Tulsa used to advocate smearing honey in the bowl—a practice many (including myself) think is great for getting your tongue fried and maybe hastening a burnout, if nothing else. Many Italians prefer unfinished chambers. German and American artisans as well as companies like Briar Works like water glass mixtures. And loads of smokers will go to the trouble of removing the factory coating, which carries with it the danger of damaging the finish of the outside of the pipe, and recoating it with their own secret sauce or just going buck nekkid. Everyone’s got an opinion, and whatever works for you works, as far as I’m concerned.
Like I said, if you or anyone you know has tried a Peterson with the new bowl coating, drop me a line. When I receive enough comments, I’ll post everyone’s experience.