398. A Tale of Two Pub Pipes

Rev. 1:21pm, 5/12/2024

by D. H. Billings

If there’s one thing that I’ve ever actually learned in my life, it’s that the first version of something is rarely the best, and that oftentimes there needs to be some sort of modification in order to get it right. And when you think about it, that does makes sense. “Let it Be” took 27 takes and multiple overdubs, the X-Man Logan was originally supposed to be a talking wolverine, Luke Skywalker originally was called “Luke Starkiller” with a “laser sword,” Stephen King typically needs two drafts and some final polishing before one of his books goes to press, my car model has had a couple of recalls and updates through the years, etc. It just takes time and experience in order to work out the kinks, and that’s completely okay; it’s normal. Lightning in a bottle rarely happens on first try. Pipe making is no different, as is evidenced by Charles Peterson’s continued tweaks to his System throughout the years or the slight modifications to the basic System stems since the switch to acrylic. But the best example of this, at least for me, is the Pub Pipe.

Laptop One: Nursing School Lecture With The Original Pub Pipe

When I was in nursing school, I purchased one of the original Pub Pipes from 2019 (see Post #138). Peterson had recently changed up their rustication style and, honestly, the very first version of the new style from Wojciech Blaszczak just didn’t do it for me; in my opinion, it also needed some tweaks to become what it was meant to be – and so I ordered one of the original ones from a shop across the pond.

The pipe came in, and it was obvious that Peterson was really on to something with this new shape. Not only did it hold enough tobacco to get me through an entire online lecture without having to change pipes, but the silver work was amazing, it featured an acrylic stem that would never oxidize, and the design allowed for easy clenching. It was almost lightning in a bottle… almost…. but, like with pretty much everything else in this world, there were some kinks that needed to be worked out. In this particular case, there were two main issues: the push stem didn’t sit deep enough in the shank for it to be completely stable and the pipe gurgled horrifically. There wasn’t anything I could do about the stem, but I was able to deepen the well and reduce (but not eliminate) the gurgling. That pipe got me through many a nursing lecture and study session, but ultimately I ended up getting rid of it as the continued gurgling and stem stability just proved to be too much of an issue for me. I still liked the shape, just I recognized that the kinks hadn’t been fully worked out yet.

Fast forward to earlier this year. My birthday is right after IPSD, and there was a new drop of Pub Pipes on that site with the red and white logo. Looking at these pipes, I was able to see that the wear gaps were narrower than on previous iterations and the rustication was much more appealing to my tastes. Especially one particular pipe, it just spoke to me. Even though it was still a little early for my birthday, the sale price was low enough that it put it right in budgetary constraints and the next thing I knew, I had a package at the door.

The presentation of this pipe was incredible. Not only was the pipe itself beautiful with its silver, meticulous shaping, and fantastic rustication, but it came with a polishing cloth, “Chat With the Smoker” booklet, and a box so perfectly amazing that any Millennial would have trouble throwing it away.

Of course, the presentation means nothing if the pipe itself doesn’t smoke well, so at first chance I loaded my new pipe and got to smoking it. First impressions of that smoke were that it actually smoked for over two hours with a flake and that the pipe gurgled…


Not to be easily dissuaded or discouraged, I took it upon myself to figure out why the pipe was gurgling. After all, Peterson had a full five years of making this shape to work out the kinks in its design and, by all accounts that I saw online, they had done so; on top of that, if the shape had a reputation for gurgling, it wouldn’t continue to sell so well. In my investigation as to why the pipe gurgled, I discovered that the draught hole in the shank was partially occluded. Apparently whoever had drilled the well hadn’t taken the wider part of it down quite far enough, and part of the shank’s airway was blocked. A simple mistake – and one that honestly couldn’t have been discovered without someone putting their mouth all over my pipe to blow hot air through it, so I was actually pretty happy to be the one to do that part.

As for the fix, it was as simple as the issue itself: the wider section of the well hadn’t been drilled deep enough, so it just needed a touch more drilling. I took a 1/4″ (6.35 mm) drill bit and, holding only the stummel and the bit in my hands (no actual drill), I carefully drilled down roughly another 3/8″ (9.5 mm). Peterson System Pipes have wider shanks, so there was easily enough wood for me to do this safely; in fact, I could have easily made the well as spacious and open as Mammoth Cave, but I didn’t need to. All I really needed was to take the wider part of the well down just enough.

With Mug: The New Pub Pipe. Perfect In Every Way.

After I took the well down, I tried smoking the pipe again. It smoked like a champ, a true flake machine. And since then, every smoke from the newer Pub Pipe has been magnificent. Ribbon cuts take roughly an hour and 35 minutes and flakes take even longer, so it’s not an everyday pipe (or even an every week pipe)–but it truly is a remarkable piece of briar. And it just goes to show how some of these designs only get better with time and the constant willingness to improve.

I almost feel that there’s some sort of metaphorical life lesson here about the willingness to change, grow, and improve as we move forward with this weird thing called life… but I just can’t place it. Oh well….

JUST FOR CLARIFICATION: In no way am I trying to denigrate, disparage, or otherwise cast shade at Peterson. Each new shape, each new project, each new technique that any pipe company comes up with will go through a series of improvements as they get more feedback and experience.

Mark:  GURGLE IN A NEW DELUXE OR PREMIER SYSTEM. This issue is so important I wanted to address it here, as I’ve broken in dozens of DeLuxe and Premier System since 1978. I’m so glad your Pub now functions correctly, and certainly the deeper reservoir doesn’t hurt a thing. But the real problem is simply hydration.

I’ve worked with the people at K&P and they know this is an issue as well. The aluminum condenser is is doing all in its power to function correctly, but with a brand-new reservoir the briar hasn’t been hydrated yet. That is to say, the wood is bone dry. It has to become acclimated to the tobacco vapor, which typically takes a half dozen smokes. What you’re hearing (but never tasting) is the condensate dripping down over the condenser and popping (think soap bubble) over the airway of the condenser. As you breathe in, this goes pop pop pop pop (or rather, gurgle gurgle gurgle gurgle). Fortunately, because of the graduated bore, none of it gets suck up into your mouth. But it’s annoying to hear it, especially when you think this is the fault of the pipe. Actually, it’s just the normal break-in process.

I haven’t had this happen to every single new DeLuxe or Premier I’ve owned, but it’s happened so often that I expect it and let the gurgles blow by like white noise in the background, which usually takes 3 or 4 smokes.  You can reduce the “Gurgle Factor” by being proactive in hydrating the reservoir.  Simply do not swab out the reservoir for the first several smokes. What you’ll notice the first morning is–SURPRISE!–a dry well. Why? Because (you guessed it) the briar is absorbing the moisture. When you leave the pipe overnight and discover the reservoir is full, then you know the briar is hydrated and the gurgling is gone.

If you haven’t tested this, it’s an easy operation. Simply smoke a broken-in DeLuxe and leave it overnight. Next morning–even next evening–you’ll find the reservoir almost full, needing to be swabbed out. But a new DeLuxe? It will always be dry, at least if you’ve left it for 6-8 hours.

In conclusion, as I used to tell my students–and I meant it–we all learn together.  If we don’t share our experiences, we can’t pass them on to those who are in our community and those who come after us. So: well done, D. H., and thanks for blogging at Peterson Pipe Notes.



A 1994 Dublin 120 with rustication and ruby-over-black stain typical of the first 15 years of the Dublin era

I have two fun Petes on eBay this week, both from the glory days of the Dublin era (1991-2017). The first is a Donegal Sterling dublin, HM “I” (1994), with its burgundy-over-black rustication looking positively vintage after having become accustomed to the “big Bundoran” gnarly waves of Blaszczak rustication over the past few years.*

A 2007 first issue Boyne B31 rhodesian from the River Collection

The second is among the rarest of all shapes in the catalog, the Boyne, a straight rhodesian from the 2007 River Collection HM “W” (2007).  Never advertised by K&P, the sets issued during the Dublin era were released in multiple grades, usually including a sandblast and a smooth (often terracotta) at the lower end (indicated by a silver painted P in the stem) and an oak or sometimes even natural at the upper, indicated  by its impressed aluminum P. This Boyne is from the top tier.




Surfing off Bundoran (in County Donegal)

*Yes, Linwood, there’s some gnarly waves in Bundoran, one of County Donegal’s most charming towns. Check in to the Holyrood Hotel and grab your board shorts. Don’t forget to take your Donegal Rocky with you!


And don’t forget:

Petersons in Ireland is available at all Amazon locations worldwide

I got my hardcover of Sandra Bondarevska’s crucial biography of the Petersons last week, and wow I’m glad I did. This is what is known in the book trade as case bound, which means they take a perfect bound book  (paperback-style, which has not been gathered and sewn in signatures but glued along the spine) and put a “case” or printed boards around it (there’s no dust jacket). In this case the printer in this case added top and bottom bands, which give strength (you can just see the blue and white band along the bottom of the spine in the photo above). It makes me think I might do a small, numbered case bound run of The X Pipe. The problem will be the cost, as The X Pipe, unlike Sandra’s book, is an artisan-style printing on special paper with high quality ink. Something to ponder.









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