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Basic Pipe Shape Components

You might find it useful to think about the shape of a pipe as being a combination of the following:

If any of these terms is unfamiliar to you, you might wish to examine the Pipe Anatomy section of this site before proceeding. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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Bowl Shape

You can see the bowl shape by looking at the pipe from the side (in profile, so to speak). However, the bowl shape is even easier to see if you look at the pipe with the stem pointed away from you.

It may sound unromantic, but pipe bowl shape is best understood by referring to geometry. I know what you are thinking--you thought this would be fun, and now you have to relive the eighth grade. Well, we aren't going to bisect any angles or anything like that, so those of you who hated geometry can stop throwing spit-wads at your computer screens. I thank those of you who went to get compasses and protractors for your kind thoughts, but we won't need them either.

Actually, all we need at first is to remember elipses. You know, ovals (like your kid draws all the time in your computer graphics program). Most pipe bowls have shapes that are pieces of elipses (I know I could just say "ovals," but I like the word "elipses"--it makes me feel smart). Just between you and me, let's call these bowls the eliptical bowl shapes. Below are the common ones, and their common names.

Eliptical Pipe Bowl Shapes

A. Dublin-A half-elipse (parabola) bowl
B. billiard-A bowl which is two-thirds of a tall elipse; possibly the most common bowl shape, the name probably comes from the French word for "log."
C. egg-A bowl that is three-quarters of a tall, narrow elipse
D. apple-A bowl that is three-quarters of an elipse that is slightly taller than it is wide
E. prince, author- some pipes of these shapes have bowls that are three-quarters of an elipse that is slightly wider than it is tall.
Not all pipe bowls described by the names above are perfect elipses, of course. It's just that thinking of them as being variations of eliptical sections may help you tell one shape from another. In addition to the bowls at are more or less eliptical, there are a few shapes that don't seem eliptical at all at first, but are in a sense. Some pipe bowls are like fun-house mirror distortions of the elipse, with various parts stretched one way or another. For example:

Fun House Mirror Distortions

F. brandyglass- an egg or billiard with flattened bottom and elongated top. Resembles a brandy snifter or wine glass.
G. another variation of the prince bowl, resembling an apple with flattened bottom
H. the pear or acorn bowl, an apple with a flattened rounded top
Some bowls have other shapes that are not based on elipses. These may actually be easier to identify:

Other Bowl Shapes

I. poker-a cylindrical bowl with (roughly) parallel sides.
J. pot- round-bottomed cylinder (almost parallel sides and flat top). Often width exceeds height.
K. bulldog-diamond shaped in profile; upper portion of the bowl is angular, while the bottom portion of the bowl is similar to a Dublin. This bowl shape is so named because of its similarity to the shape of the dog breed's head.

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Basic Shank Shapes

Shanks come in four basic shapes. Most common is a shank that is round (circular) when the stem is removed and one looks at the shank face (aren't you glad you looked at the Pipe Anatomy page?). The shape can also be oval (usually with the horizontal being the longest dimension). A shank which looks square at the face is called a square shank if the sides of the square are vertical and horizontal. If the square is diagonal (so that the sides are not verical and horizontal, but are at 45-degree angles to the top and bottom of the pipe) then the shank is referred to as a "diamond." In addition, shanks can be triangular, pentagonal, and variants of the four basic shapes above.

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Stem Shapes

OK, now you are ready for an easy one. Pipe stems have only two different shapes. The stem can be tapered, making a gradual smooth transition from the thick shank end to the mouth-sized bit end. Alternatively, the transition can be made by using a step-like shape, creating a saddle bit stem.


OK, it isn't really that simple...I lied. Stems can also be straight or bent (curved). I assumed you could figure out for yourself what straight and bent are. But, that means there are four kinds of stem shapes: tapered straight, tapered bent, saddle straight and saddle bent.

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So now you're thinking, "again with the geometry????" Well, alas, I never did well in geometry, and I guess I feel the subconscious need to compensate. You see, it all started with my Aunt Rose, who was from Philadelphia and loved me as her own son. She was always confusing her tangents with her cosines... But, I digress.

Yes, we need just a bit about angles, since the bend in a pipe (or lack thereof) has a great deal to do with recognizing some shapes. If you don't have your protractors handy, I'll provide some illustrations.

A sraight billiard, bowl at right angle to shank.

Generally, a straight pipe is one in which the bowl is perpendicular to the shank and stem. Most bent pipes are shaped so that the bowl and shank form an angle of less than 90 degrees. At the extreme, a full bent pipe is one in which the shank and stem are almost parallel to the bowl, so that the bowl and shank form a letter "U" (a 0 degree angle, or 360 if you prefer).

(images/oompaul.jpg)A full-bent Oom Paul pipe.

In between the straights and full bents, pipes are usually described by the fraction of 90 degrees they depart from being a straight. Hence, a pipe with a 45 degree angle would be a half-bent. One between a half-bent and a straight would be a quarter-bent, and so on.


Bent pipes: (clockwise from upper left) 3/4 bent billiard with saddle bit stem, 1/2 bent egg, 1/4 bent Dublin with saddle bit, 1/8 bent Dublin.

In addition, some pipes have bowls which bend away from the smoker (thus forming a bowl-stem angle of more than 90 degrees).


A saddle-bit Dublin and a billiard bent away from the smoker (either pipe might be called a "woodstock" by some makers).

Length of Stem and Shank

Some pipes get their shape names because of the stem is much longer than the shank, or because the shank is much longer than the stem. Sometimes, the thickness of the shank also is a consideration. This is something to look for.

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