A Quick Look at Pipe Finishes

A pipe's finish, while not directly related to its function as a smoking instrument, plays a major role in a pipe's aesthetic appeal. It's one of the most obvious visual aspects of a pipe, and the finish is also one of the main features with which a smoker interacts, second only, perhaps, to the lip button. A finish often makes use of and highlights the briar's natural grain, and it can accentuate texture or attractive color palettes that appeal to collectors as much as the pipe's shape itself, if not more so in some cases. Many pipe smokers have devoted entire collections to specific finishes, and for some, a finish might be the deciding factor for purchasing a pipe.

Our glossary section presents simple definitions of pipe and tobacco terminology, including pipe finishes; however, for those interested in a slightly more in-depth look, the following article will overview the most common pipe finishes and the techniques used to achieve each presentation.


Before Dunhill's introduction of the Shell Briar sandblast in 1917, all pipes were finished smooth. More than any other finish, a smooth treatment showcases the briar's grain in its most natural state, sanded smooth to reveal flame and birdseye grain patterns. Much like staining any other wooden object, staining a pipe involves allowing the briar to soak up a certain stain, layering it accordingly for different depths of color and grain definition, as the different densities throughout the wood absorb the stain to differing degrees. Some pipe makers, particularly among artisan carvers, utilize a contrast stain, a technical, time-consuming process that involves stains of two different colors, with certain aspects of the briar's grain taking to one of the two stains for even more vivid definition.


Dunhill's Shell Briar line brought the first sandblasted finish to pipe making in 1917. Though textured, a sandblast still highlights the briar's natural grain patterns but in three dimensions, as softer sections of the wood are removed in the blasting cabinet. More so than in a smooth finish, sandblasts are able to prominently define the briar's natural growth rings, which lie underneath the flame or birdseye we see in smooth finishes. A sandblasted finish can wear the same stains as a smooth finish, with some makers using contrast stains on sandblasted pipes as well.


Unlike smooth and sandblasted finishes, rustications prioritize texture over grain orientation, often offering deep, craggy presentations that aren't restricted by the briar's natural grain patterns. Rusticated finishes are perfect for those who enjoy a more tactile experience when smoking, especially for larger pipes, and many Italian pipe makers are renowned for their rustication styles, pairing well with the often larger proportions of Italian pipe design. Not dictated by the briar's natural grain patterns, rusticated finishes are often used when a certain briar block doesn't display a very consistent grain orientation, turning what would otherwise have been an unimpressive smooth pipe into one with stimulating texture and rugged appeal.


Similar to rustications, carved finishes don't follow the briar's natural grain patterns. They're often less dense and less uniform than rusticated finishes, though, with some makers carving the briar into extravagant patterns and textures. Meerschaum pipes are most often carved as well, the porous medium catering well to detailed carvings compared to briar. That said, meerschaum pipes can also be finished smooth or rusticated.

So there you have it: a brief overview of some of the major pipe finishes. Keep in mind, though, that each pipe maker's execution is different, especially when it comes to proprietary stains and sandblasting techniques. To fully appreciate the variety and nuance of these finishes, be sure to use our Pipe Locator tool, through which you can filter by type of finish and return only results that match exactly what you're looking for.

What about you? Do you have a favorite finish? What finishes from specific makers are you especially drawn to? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Pipe Basics Pipe Culture


    • Alain L on July 24, 2020
    • I only go for sandblasted or rustic if the smooth finish is not available for a specific model. Can’t beat the look of a smooth briar !

    • Matthew W on July 26, 2020
    • I must be the last person to realize our SP profiles have a 'stats' section including preference for finish. I really like my rusticated Brigham but I guess I lean smooth briar, too. imgur.com/a/urA3WCX

    • JakKnight on July 26, 2020
    • Strange how preferences can change. My first love of pipes had to be highly figured straight grains with a smooth finish. Then I preferred good sandblasted pipes by Dunhill, especially Ring grains or Shillings. The best I ever saw was a Dunhill bulldog Shilling. Now, I think the pipes I admire the most (but only have one), is the OLD Barling Quaints with some major carving and a great deal of fine intricate carving. Go figure.

    • James V on July 26, 2020
    • I am a forceful, deeply textured sandblast sort of guy. I admire the strong visual aesthetic and the robust tactile stimulation of a masterful sandblast whether it be a virgin finish or a beautiful contrasting stain. But I have to admit some of my best mates are "smoothies" and I can't hold it against them, they are just a little "different". Stay safe out there!

    • Jeff Ashley on July 26, 2020
    • Smooth most definitely!! I do have a couple of pebble finish and one rusticated but of 40 pipes 95% are smooth. My Peterson Kinsale being my favorite which I'm smoking at this moment.

    • Karl G. on August 2, 2020
    • I started as most do, with smooth nicely grained pipes. After my first Castello Sea Rock however, it was rusticated for me ever since then. Rusticated and sandblasted pipe surfaces age and wear better with much better patina as a result. The wear reveals an underlying stain on the higher surfaces that beautifies with age!

    • Rafael R on August 4, 2020
    • I like em all! I have made sure I acquired different pipes with different finishes that match the shape.

    • Arkie Fred on August 25, 2020
    • I started out preferring smooth finishes, but after a few years began to enjoy the lower maintenance required to keep the rusticated pipe clean and looking good.

    • Devinder Garewal on March 2, 2021
    • Question: while all the comments indicate individual preferences on finish I would like to know if there is any difference between the three in quality? Durability, smoking pleasure etc. if so what ? If not why is natural more expensive?

    • Truett on March 3, 2021
    • Great question, @Devinder Garewal. Typically a pipe maker will select the finish based on the quality of the briar. Since briar is a natural material, it will sometimes have minor blemishes or "imperfections," like small pits or or other features. An artisan typically won't finish a pipe smooth with such imperfections, making smooths rarer and, thus, higher in price. Sandblasts will cover or remove those blemishes, but still necessitate good grain structure; whereas, rustication doesn't rely on grain at all. Naturals require perfect or near-perfect briar, making such finishes among the most rare. All of these aspects, though, are purely aesthetic, and from the perspective of a pipe's smoking properties, certain finishes won't affect them -- engineering being the determining factor. That said, there are of course differences in quality between the same types of finishes, better stains, better sandblasts, those that maintain their shine and color for longer, etc. across certain brands, but again it's more about the aesthetic rather than how the pipe actually smokes. Hope that helps!

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