For a long time I was very partial to cigars, but was not pleased with the incredible price that a premium cigar would command. Eventually, I picked up smoking a pipe instead of a cigar while out in the bush. Not only are pipes easier to carry without crushing everything, but more important to my wallet is the price for tobacco. It means that I can smoke just as much as I want without wasting an entire cigar if it just doesn’t hit the taste buds properly.
Now a good pipe can cost in excess of $100 and can just skyrocket from there. Because I have something wrong with my cranial wiring, I always think that I can figure out a way to do as good or better…… Enter a post on BushcraftUSA that discusses building your own pipe.
In the post, the guy “SkogKniv” who now is known by his real name of Leif, there is a method of drilling out the center pith of a tree branch so that it can be used as a pipe stem. Once I started playing around, I figured out how to drill out some very long tree branches to make myself a homemade pipe.
Getting the right materials and tools together is always a chore. Knowing that the hardest part was going to be drilling the stem, I decided to start with that part first. The first hurdle was to find the right wire for drilling. I went through several types to include coat hangers, tie wire, hanging wire for pictures, gardening wire, and several others. What I found to work best is 16 gauge stainless steel wire that is sold at Ace Hardware and Home Depot near all the fasteners. It is the perfect combination of flexibility and durability so that it won’t bend or break off during the drilling process. The next thing you will need is one of those cable, survival saws. They have the key rings on either end that you put your fingers through and it is made of a rough wire material. Lastly, you will need a good drill.
What I did was just like the post describes. I rounded out the end of the wire, chucked down the other end, and then started drilling through the center of the stem. It took a little bit, but wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I then cut the end off the survival saw and used that to clean out the inside of the stem I drilled. It worked just like sandpaper. With a little maneuvering and manipulation of the saw, I was also able to taper the ends of the stem so that it looked cleaner as well.
Here are a couple things that I learned:
- Don’t pick a dry stick. It needs to be green.
- Don’t pick a stick that has any twigs growing out of it. Those cause a knot in the stem that you will not be able to drill through very well.
- Make sure you hold and guide the wire as you drill. Otherwise it will bend in the middle and slap your finger nail completely off…. Don’t ask.
- Trying to do it all with a wire as opposed to sanding with the saw will only get you a mouth full of sawdust.
Once you get the stem drilled and ready, all the rest consists of is:
- Drilling the bowl. Use a drill press and some decent bits. I like the 3/4 inch bits from Harbor Freight.
- Drill the hole for the stem to press into. Measure it out and pick the right sized bit from there. Make sure you drill so that it will be just below the hole you drilled for the bowl.
- Dremel out a small hole to attach the bowl to the stem hole. This is called the draw hole. I like using the wood carving bit in my Dremel and making a little channel as well as the hole. It makes the pipe smoke better.
- Sand and wax with carnuba wax, then polish.
It really is almost too simple once you get your stem drilled. Here are a couple pipes I have made.