Briar root comes from Erica Arborea, a species of flowering plant (angiosperms) in the heather family, and surely among various roots it is consideres the , quella più adatta alla produzione delle pipe poiché è di legno duro e molto resistente al calore.
The Erica Arborea is a typical shrub of the Mediterranean bush.
About 30% of the Erica shrubs generate a rhizome, commonly called "ciocco", which grows between the roots of the plant, just below the land line. In about 70 years of life it reaches the size of a rugby ball.
Generally this is considered the minimum size to be collected.
It is not known why, but only a third of the shrubs generates the rhizome. This plant has been chosen for pipe craftmanship thanks to its property of being fire-proof. Indeed if the forest burns these are the only plants that survive the fire.
However, in the effort to regenerate the plant, the rhizome drains, loses consistency and is no longer usable.
Even though it is largely available as an endemic plant, unfortunately there are only few Mediterranean scrub forests that have not suffered fire for at least 70 years and are almost always in steep and inaccessible places.
There are numerous stages of processing briar. Some are very tiring and not without risk.
The first phase is managed by the lumberjack who, before extracting the log, must obtain the necessary authorizations as the land where Erica Arborea is located genereally is state-owned.
Once extracted, the log is cleaned and then transported to a sawmill paying particular attention to protect it from direct sun heat and air currents. This to prevent cracks due to the sudden shrinkage of the wood only in the outer part of the log.
For this reason we avoid the extraction during the hottest periods of the year.
The second phase takes place in sawmills, where the log is cleaned of all stones, which represent an added danger for those working with large circular saws.
That's why it is better to dedicate a lot of time at preparing the log.
The sketches are cut out completely by hand in various standard sizes looking for the maximum yield and eliminating the rotten.
The rough drafts for successful straight pipes are called Marseilles, for the detected curves.
In order to make flamed pipes, thoughtful of real briar jewels, superior quality plates have to be identified, as they have veined special sketches that distinguish the peel of the log.
The sawmill in fact, carefully examine the log's skin and tries to recognize, if any, the Flamed Plaque.
It is said in jargon that it "pulls to the plate", because it is here that it is seen pure, that is, that it does not present clearly externally, otherwise it can be transformed into a rough sketch.
The next phase is boiling where the sketches, separated by quality and placed in sturdy nets, are boiled in large quantities of copper for about 12 hours at high temperature.
This process is used to "stabilize" the root and expel most of the tannic acid.
The choice of high quality sketches happens before boiling because afterwards it would no longer be possible.
The sketches, expelling the tannic acid while boiling, are dark brown superficially, thus concealing veining and any superficial tare.
The best quality is the Extra, then to follow the First, and finally the Second or Mixed.
The sketches of extra quality or extra-extra have a beautiful image and no tare visible on the surface and they are intended for smooth and clear pipes.
This at least in theory because they are a product of mother nature hance defects could be hidden deeper.
The rough sketches transformed into semi-finished undergo a first decisive choice of finishing to maximize production.
In fact we are talking about a very expensive raw material and we must try to sell everything.
The heads with small tares are grouted and then dyed with more or less dark colors.
On the other hand, the heads that assume the cracking or superficial cracks are sanded.
Sandblasting is done by spraying heads with a jet of air mixed with sand.
It is therefore important that the pattern is uniform and that there aren't soft parts in order to get a well done sandblasting.
Finally, we have rough drafts designed for rustication. This particular work eliminates more than hiding any superficial tares of a not significant wood texture.
The rustication is a long and tiring work, which is done by hand with the help of simple tools such as gouges and nailed spatulas after having put a macerate heads for a few hours to soften. The end result can be surprising both for aesthetics and for quality of smoke.
All those works have reason to exist for purely aesthetic needs and have nothing to do with the quality of the smoke, but as we know we are talking about briar jewelry.
Only 8% of the heads with a predefined shape, given that we work only extra, come out really "PURE".
This percentage can grow up to 12% if changes can be made to the model.
Very few declare, for a relationship of maximum transparency with clients, that the heads are 100% PURE and nothing is done to hide any aesthetic defects of the root.
The true limit of grouting is that it hides only from the seriousness of the producers.
In fact, the grouting does not affect the smoke but can only create imperfections over time because the wood darkens while the stuccoes do not and then the grouting becomes visible with prolonged use in clear finishes.
Once boiled, the root must be "stablished" in closed environments because it is not yet transportable (risk of breakage and cracks because in this first phase the withdrawal of the water inflated material is noticeable) months and only after this period can it be delivered to the pipe producers.
The second phase of the seasoning takes place at the producers' warehouses.
Forced curing takes place with special dehumidifiers and allows a faster return on invested capital compared to natural aging, which is the method most loved by trpaditional pipe producers as it is the best way to expel the tannic acid contained in the roots. This acid is responsible for the tingling in the mouth when smoking new pipes.
The natural seasoning takes place in protected environments and leaves the briar to age for at least 12 months.
Longer seasonings make the sketches softer but it is better not to exceed because the very old root takes the wood more easily.
The woodworm in a briar's deposit is the real danger and a disgrace because there is nothing that can eradicate it and the damaged sketches are useless.
The only way, if there are traces of sawdust in a box, is to carefully pass the contained root and immediately burn all the infected sketches.