Every pipe has one. Pipes have tobacco chambers; chambers have rims of one sort or another, and there are many sorts. Some smokers are particular about rims, especially given that, after the internals of a pipe, they require the most care and cleaning, and the different styles provide different levels of care to keep carbon buildup from becoming unsightly. But primarily, preference is a matter of aesthetics and what a rim style may contribute to an overall shape.
Rims are mainly decided upon to match the style of pipe, but a recognition of different rim styles may be helpful when considering pipes for purchase or simply for visual appreciation. In describing pipes for our website, we often refer to the rims and knowing specifically what vocabulary we use may be additionally beneficial.
In the following list, we've omitted Meerschaum pipes, which for the most part emulate briars when not incorporating the rims into the design of complex carvings. Also left out is the Calabash with meerschaum cap, which is fairly standardized.
Most rims are flat, and standardized shape charts most frequently reflect that tendency. Whether sandblasted, rusticated, or smooth, a rim is flat if it provides a consistent plane across its width. Flat rims provide crisp ridgelines around their circumference and around the tobacco chamber. Those sharp edges are somewhat susceptible to dings, especially around the outside, and charring around the inside. Care must be taken, as with all pipes, to avoid careless lighting that can damage this part of the briar.
In terms of design, flat rims tend to terminate the vertical aspect of a bowl in an abrupt fashion, often used to fine effect to offer an impression of vertical compression for short bowls or to harmonize with the architectural lines elsewhere on a shape. Flat rims, particularly when smooth, are also excellent palettes for grain, whether birdseye or horizontal grain, and thereby contribute to the visual interest of any pipe.
Our descriptions sometimes refer to rounded rims as "inflated," because they resemble the inflated inner tube of a tire. All around the circumference, the rim curves upward in a subtle bead. It's most often thought of in conjunction with Danish styles, but certainly carvers from everywhere in the world use the design element. Our descriptions tend to take particular note when sandblasted pipes are conjoined to smooth, inflated rims for contrast of both color and texture.
A rounded rim adds subtle vertical height to a bowl as well a softer, organic disposition when compared to the more architectural flat rim. It doesn't have the sharp edging that flat rims possess and are less susceptible to charing from errant lighter use. They are also helpful when filling a pipe. Flat rims, especially those that are textured, can be tobacco magnets. Particles of tobacco get into the texture and often need to be swept out with a folded pipe cleaner, while rounded rims don't hold the tobacco as well and can be easily brushed off with a finger.
The opposite of rounded rims, scalloped rims are formed in a kind of divot, descending from the inside and outside rim edges in a furrow. A scalloped rim is unusual except when part of a very wide rim or upper bowl as part of a larger landscape, though they are sometimes noted in textured pipes where the maker has carefully maintained the edging while being more aggressive with the blasting or rustication between the edges.
Scalloping may also refer to a rim curved in the vertical plane when viewed in profile with a declension, usually in the middle of the rim.
Plateau is the natural, knobby exterior of a briar burl, sometimes incorporated into the design of a pipe. Plateau rims have been used at least since the 1940s, probably longer. Italian firms like Savinelli and Castello often make pipes with plateau rims, and plateau has been widely used in pipes of Danish Fancy styles from the 1960s to today.
Rims composed of plateau can be in just about any imaginable configuration as long as it conforms to the natural curvature of the original raw briar. Broad, sweeping rims and narrow, more traditional rims can have plateau, stained or unstained, partially finished or in near original state. Plateau can be partially sanded for a more subdued appearance, and sometimes it's sanded nearly all the way down for a wide variety of texture, depending on the effect sought by the maker. Some relatively narrow rims are smooth with plateau perfectly centered and the briar sanded down at the edges. Sometimes the plateau may be situated on only one part of the rim. Any permutation is possible and likely to be explored by the creativity of pipe makers.
Beveled or Chamfered
In our descriptions, we refer sometimes to beveled or chamfered rims. We're talking about rims that are angled, usually toward the tobacco chamber. Sometimes the bevel is offset, with one part of the rim rising higher than another while descending toward the chamber. More often, however, chamfering is applied in a relatively thin ring circling the chamber, though any style is possible.
Some pipes are capped with boxwood, snakewood, or some other exotic wood, usually lined with briar for the tobacco chamber. Contrast of shape emphasized by a wood other than briar is the design purpose, and we've seen remarkable pipes that offer decorative caps that truly elevate the design of a pipe.
Rim caps fashioned from precious metals either by themselves or in conjunction with a wind cap, have often been utilized by carvers. They are often stunning in visual appeal, and have the added benefit of protecting a rim. Rim caps insulate the rim itself from flame applied to the chamber, and wind caps protect the tobacco chamber from accelerated burning of the tobacco in windy conditions.
Pipe makers don't limit themselves, and rims made from combined woods offer elegant contrast. Some will hollow out the interior of the rim and insert another type of wood, making an interior ring around the rim of a contrasting color bordered by briar.
There are the basic styles of rims to think about when considering a pipe either for potential purchase or for appreciation of the skills the carvers bring to their compositions. All have design purposes, and those of us who appreciate pipes have an enormous choice. We have an intimate relationship with the rims of our pipes, viewing them often as we light and relight our pipes, and since our focus is on them so often, it's useful to choose those that most appeal to us as individuals.