Some Questions and Answers
During my copious correspondence with many of you, pipe-smoking fans worldwide, I have noticed that the same or similar questions appear ever so often. In this short text let me try and answer your questions.
Q: What is the difference between smoking a pipe made of golden morta and that made of copper or black morta?
There is actually no difference. In my experience, and experience of my fellow pipesmokers, the three of us close friends from the Club, who together have a smoking history of ca 100 years 😉 , the quality of material is virtually identical. If a tree has been exposed to the effects of water over a thousand years (just go figure what was happening in the history a thousand years ago ;-), it is a long enough period for water to wash out all tannine, resin and other elements from the wood, rendering it neutral, an ideal material for pipes.
Q: Which colour morta is the best material for the creation of a pipe?
It has been my experience that copper morta is a material of utmost solidity and is easiest to finish to a high shine if polished. I personally find it to be the most beautiful material. Of course, it also depends on the part of the trunk used. The root is the best part, but it has somehow been common to use other trunk segments in order to highlight the wood structure and achieve a satisfactory effect. For reasons unknown to me, the majority falsely believe black morta (because it is the oldest) is the best material for pipe making. Black morta, of course not all parts, but some of them show a certain degree of degradation.
Q: What are the differences in the colour of morta due to?
It depends on the site on which the tree ended up in the water. The colour of morta cannot be directly and exclusively attributed to age alone, but it also depends on the manner in which the wood has been „maturing“. If a tree has lain under the mud, clay, or mineral deposits, eg. iron, its colour turns darker than that of the tree which has only been laid on gravel. The colour is also dependent of the part of the tree. Thick trunks, in their center, never assume a completely dark colour, in contrast to their outer layers. An interesting effect is achieved in this way, a two-colour pipe, most often it is black-dark brown. In addition, black morta is not a single entity, black is a universal term for all dark nuances, that is from dark gray to really completely black. Naturally, combinations also exist of darker and lighter spots on the same pipe, but anyway all those are the samples of about 4000- to 5000-, exceptionally even 7000-year-old wood.
Q: Has there been any wood- dating analysis done?
Wood dating is usually done for the samples taken from a single site, and carbon-14 method is used for the analysis. Analyses are performed at the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb, Croatia, or at an Institute in Ukraine. Collaboration has also been established with Cornell University within their project of climate change investigation, and they have been sent a few hundred samples for analysis. This proved to be one of the crucial points in data collection as, in addition to all the above, the age of all wood samples obtained has been confirmed.
Q: Why is morta such expensive material?
Morta is a material which is very difficult a) to find, b) especially good quality morta, c) to extract from the water, and d) to dry in a proper manner as well as to process. We in Croatia are definitely lucky to abound in very high quality material, which is the result of exceptionally good quality oak. Owing to the years-long hard work of my associates and the professional help of the Zagreb University Faculty of Forestry, the technology of dessication and processing of such wood has been developed. This is no job for amateurs. The basic challenge is how to dry the wood, which is completely soaked with water, and at the same time avoid the splitting of the wood structure. My associate possesses special premises with controlled ventilation and moisture removal systems ensuring that the block is processed sucessfully. The drying process takes at least two to three years; however, the rate of discarded material is very high. The best blocks only are selected for the creation of a pipe, for it is going to be an object exposed to extreme temperatures. Of the quantity of wood extracted and processed, the blocks suitable for carving pipes amount to only a few percent.
Q: Is dyeing obligatory in the pipe making process and which finishing treatment is applied?
It is my principle to leave my pipes in the natural state of being. Thus my assortment includes black/dark-gray, copper and golden morta. As a very rare exception, if I should use the material of a mottley (stained) appearance, my practice is to sometimes apply a layer of dye to correct it, but I have used this technique in the production of only a few pipes so far. The truth is that in time dark-grayish morta pipes become completely black, they change their colour in the same way briar pipes usually do, not to mention meerschaum pipes 😉 .
I know that other pipemakers use the dyeing techniques and in the process turn golden morta to black, as can be seen in this picture … look at the colour of the inside of the tobacco chamber.
The finishing process is completed by applying a layer of Carnauba wax, with a special technique which enables the wax to penetrate deeply into the wood, and subsequent heating to ca 100 degrees Celsius in order to confirm the quality of the wood. During this process a certain percent of pipes „crack“, which means that splits appear in the wood, and such pipes have to be discarded. Due to a large amount of Carnauba with which a pipe is finally protected, leaking of a small amount of wax from the wood in the form of hot liquid may occur during the first few times of smoking. This is neither a problem, nor any flaw, the excess wax needs only be wiped with a soft cloth and this will stop after the first three or four times you smoke your pipe.
Q: Other pipemakers keep the prices of their pipes high, do lower prices of these pipes mean that they are lower quality?
I like to think and honestly believe that I use some of the best morta material there is. Given the fact that my associate is in the manufacture of a range of products from morta, including furniture, decorations and sculptures, the quantity of material available to me is relatively high. In addition, imperfections in the wood can be camouflaged in a morta bed or table piece, but not in a pipe. As I said above, the amount of material that goes into the creation of pipes is only a few percents of the total wood mass. Therefore, my source of material is relatively cheap after all.
I have my vocation and a well-payed professional job. I take pipe making just as a hobby, and for the time being I do not have any wish or need to change it. A part of my spare time, perhaps the most pleasurable one – of course, apart from spending time with my family, is dedicated to this hobby. In short, this means: If I feel like making pipes – I shall make them, if I do not feel like it – I think it’s clear 😉 .
Procure yourself a pipe while I am stil in the mood 😉 .
The price has been so defined as to cover the expenses, which means to cover all workshop expenses.
Secondly, at present I am not interested in selling my pipes either through an agent or a wholesale dealer, so that there is no mediator to „build up“ the final price.
And most importantly, I find the most rewarding thing that through this hobby of mine I have come to know plenty of adorable people, besides my friends of the Zagreb pipesmokers’ Club, many fellow pipesmokers from all over the world. A population who is slowly getting called something of a weirdo 😉 .
Q: Do you sell raw morta material for pipe making?
No, I do not. From all the above it is obvious why. My supplies include top quality material sufficient for the production of some hundred pipes, and this must be enough for me to work until the wood currently in the processing stage is ready to be used. I work with briar too, but morta is by far a more difficult and demanding material, a real challenge for a pipemaker.