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Stem Work 

I let the freshly-drilled stummel sit for awhile before turning a tenon to fit. This period is normally at least a week and usually more, depending on the initial age of the briar. During this time, the mortise will change size slightly due to exposure to existing humidity and temperature conditions. I let this happen indoors, so that the environment will best match what the pipe is likely to end up in. Shown above are some samples of ebonite rod stock in different colors. For Talbert Briars, I use either ebonite rod, acrylic sheet, or resin that I've cast myself. The material we cast ourselves is a bit more brittle than ebonite, but I feel it is worth it - This makes little difference if the pipe is cared for properly, and I feel the uniqueness of a stem coloring created entirely in our workshop more than makes up for it. The next step is to cut a piece of rod or block to the rough size of the stem.

I mount the stem section on the lathe to turn the tenon. I use a self-centering chuck for easy setup, and I can quickly get either rod stock or a molded stem turning true. Once it's mounted, I do one of two things - either turn a tenon from the material of the stem itself, or drill and level the end so that an internal tenon of Delrin can be installed. My preference is for Delrin tenons by far, as I find them much better fitting than either vulcanite or acrylic tenons can ever manage to be, and especially superior to the squeaky fit of acrylic tenons. I also do any required stem shaping now.

The next step is to shape the stem. It must be transformed from a thick rod into something approaching its final shape. I use sanding drums and some customized open-center sanding wheels for this process. The stems can be shaped fairly close to their final appearance, but the most exacting work must be done with files by hand. The rough-shaped stems must be hand-filed to their precise final design, then sanded by hand until they are smooth enough to be polished. Getting the shape of the bit that I prefer it is a protracted process, and the whole experience is a trial in nitpickiness. Over the years I have steadily gone from a larger airhole and thicker bit, to a much wider, deeper V shape and thinner bit from top to bottom. There is a breaking point for thin bits, though - They must always pass a cleaner easily before I will be happy with them, and this precludes really ultra-thin bit designs, which can often be so thin as to resist anything but very narrow pipecleaners.