I do not subscribe to the notion that products originating from China are inherently inferior to products produced elsewhere. I think blame for this concept may rest largely at the door of the big box retailers especially those whose claim to massive profits is the proclamation that Cheap Is Good and to make sure their patrons can buy for less, they pressure manufacturers to cut labor costs to the bone, skimp on raw materials and generally force suppliers to cut costs even if it means the stores are basically stocked with crap.
When it comes to products made in China for the domestic or export markets and where the goal is not to make the cheapest and least acceptable product imaginable, then a higher quality product falls into the realm of possibility. And this brings up to our test subject for today:
The F.E.S.S. Wood Churchwarden Pipe
Over the next week or so we, or I should say I, will be conducting a hands-on, mouth-on, trial of the somewhat controversial F.S.S.S. wood pipe. Controversial because I’ve seen mixed reviews on this pipe and also because I’m holding a product made in China that I am actually going to put in my mouth, something I have been trying to avoid for years.
In the interest of transparency, we do sell these pipes on the site. While a comprehensive review may be skewed in favor of the pipe in order to encourage sales, my actual purpose here is it to be fair and balanced, the Fox News, as it were of F.E.S.S. pipes, except in my case I really plan to be fair and balanced and I’m not getting kickbacks, payoffs, or perks (unfortunately) from F.E.S.S. or any one else. I just want to try this out for myself before I recommend the pipe to my customers. If it turns out that these pipes don’t perform to my minimal level of expectation, I’ll probably give them away as Christmas presents to people I don’t know or like very much, just so the pipes can have a good home.
Day 1: The initial break in.
I will be taking it slow over the next few days as I break this pipe in. The reason, primarily, is that I don’t know the kind of wood I’ll be smoking my tobacco in. I suspect it is a variety of rosewood, but it could be another hardwood. I hope it is a hardwood, since a soft pine or other soft tree variety will most likely burn on impact with the match. The bowl is not briar, otherwise it would be advertised as such. As you can see on the box, this is a wooden pipe. But only the bowl is wood. The 15″ long stem is a hollow metal tube with a nice simulated grain-like design painted on.
The bowl is a size typical of briar pipes with a tobacco chamber of about an inch and a half deep. The diameter of the bowl is also an inch and half, but the diameter of the tobacco chamber is only 5/8″ which makes the capacity of the tobacco chamber somewhat less than a typical briar pipe.
The pipe has a condenser fitting inserted into the shank and the tail of the fitting slips into the metal stem. The metal condenser fitting is used to trap tars and moisture. I have one on a French Ropp pipe. It tends to get quite dirty and should be cleaned after each use. A tissue or piece of paper towel can generally clean the fitting of the gunk that builds up around it. I don’t find this fitting to be a necessary component on most pipes, but in the case of the F.E.S.S. pipe, this fitting actually holds the stem to the bowl and is therefore indispensable. A blurry photo of the condenser is circled in the photo below. The mouth piece is a small ebonite bit with a 9mm filter.
I opened a new can of Dunhill’s Standard Medium blend for this test. I prefer the English blends which tend to smoke somewhat cooler and with less moisture than the top flavored mixtures. That’s just my preference. The testing process would be same with any blend.
When breaking in a pipe I fill only the bottom third of the bowl and will do this until a cake of carbon has begun to build up, then I’ll fill the pipe half to ¾ full for several days letting the cake form further up the bowl and then I’ll finish the breaking in by filling bowl to the top and continue building up a protective layer of carbon inside the bowl. I’ll smoke the bowl down to the bottom, clean out the ash, let it rest, clean the pipe and let it rest for fours to 24 hours and start over again.
- Good draw
- The tall, narrow bowl is easy enough to hold, but given the thickness (5/8” of the wall of the bowl) is quite warm to the touch. I am not an aggressive smoker especially when breaking a pipe in, so the heat may be an issue.
- Easier to hold on the stem. It seems to balance well when held an inch or two up from the base of the stem.
Day 1: Smoked two bowls with no noticeable problems. The bowl tends to get hot, so with this pipe a break in period is highly recommended. The pipe bowl is pre-carbonized, but given the nature of the wood, having a 16th of an inch build up of carbon from the breaking in will go a long way to protecting the bowl from burning out.
Also, take it easy with this pipe. Puffing aggressively and steadily may overheat the bowl causing it to burn. If smoked gently, however, it doesn’t seem to differ in smoking quality from a more expensive briar pipe.