Dotting the sandy soil of mountain slopes, ringing the Mediterranean Sea, is a small scraggly bush called White Heather (Erica Arborea). The small-leaved shrub, which can attain a height of ten feet, develops roots of enormous size and unique quality. After several years of growth, the plant develops a fibrous growth located between the visible plant and its root structure. This growth, called the burl, is what is commonly known as briar wood. The older the plant gets the larger the burl. At the beginning of this century, the burls harvested were 200 or more years old and reached sizes of 3 – 4 feet in diameter. Today the briar is coming from newer, younger growth plants.
Briar attains the characteristics so essential for fine pipes from the dry, arid climate in which it grows. In fact, the highest quality burls are found where the conditions for its growth seem most unfavorable. In its struggle for existence in these arid lands, the briar achieves its tough, dense, and impermeable grain which makes it the preferred material for making pipes.
Not all briar is suitable for pipe production. The trunk of the briar bush runs through the burl to the roots. This part is immediately cut away and discarded. The remainder is cut into blocks and then “frazed” into the basic bowl shape. Hardness of fiber, clarity of grain, density of grain and closeness of grain must be examined to determined whether it is accepted for production or rejected as scrap, known as “firewood”. The accepted bowls are graded from highest to lowest based on the positioning of the grain. The very best grained wood is used on our more expensive pipes. The bowls with less pronounced grain are found on carved or sandblast pipes.