How to Make a Clay Pipe

By Carl Hose
Clay pipes are known for their slow-burning smokes and, in some cases, their designs.

Pipe collectors the world over enjoy both the aesthetic and functionality of clay pipes. Clay is ideal for pipe making because it so easily shaped and carved, and once fired, can last for generations. Clay pipe sculpting is an art form that goes back to the earliest pipes. Various cultures from around the world, including Native Americans, have made use of natural clays to fashion impressive smoking pipes from clay. Some of these pipes can be found in museums today, as an example of the durability of the clay pipe.

Design your pipe on paper before you begin. Having your design in front of you can make it easier to sculpt your pipe. For beginners, start with a simple design. As you progress, you may want to sculpt faces or other design elements into you pipe bowl and experiment with various shapes.

Roll up a ball of polymer clay and begin shaping it with your fingers, pressing your thumb down in the center to create the tobacco depression. Use your fingers to shape the rim of the bowl. You can keep this simple or work the clay into a wavy design. There's really no limit to the shape you can apply to your pipe bowl. Stick with something you can manage easily. The depth of the bowl depends upon how much tobacco you want to be able to pack into your pipe.

Add a few ornamental designs to the bowl with a sculpting tool. You don't need to be an artist. Try carving a few basic geometric shapes into the bowl, or maybe a simple picture. Add the stem opening at the base of the bowl with your sculpting tool.

Roll the stem of your pipe from polymer clay. Decide whether you want a curved or straight stem and fashion the general shape, then use a thin metal wire (a coat hanger will do) to route the hole. When the stem has been shape appropriately and you've formed the mouthpiece to your liking, attach the stem to the bowl where you created the stem opening. With your fingers, mold the stem to the bowl until you've created a smooth juncture.

Place the pipe on a flat metal pan lined with baking parchment paper (regular paper will work) and place it in an oven heated to between 210 and 220 degrees. Bake for between 45 minutes to an hour to ensure the clay fuses and sets properly.

Apply a coat of clear clay varnish, which you can pick up at art supply or ceramic shops. Let the coat dry, then paint your pipe whatever color you like using acrylic paints. Let the paint dry and apply another coat of clear varnish for a shiny finish.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.