How to drill briar blocks
From left to right:
1. Forstner drill bit, can be found in almost every hardware store. A good diameter
would be 35 mm. Very useful to cut the top of the block flat and perpendicular to the
drill press axis. See Step 3
2. Rounded drill bit for tobacco hole. If you don't buy this from a source like
PIMO, this special item must
be ground by a tool maker from a flat wood drill bit. A spiral drill can also be converted,
giving you an extra sturdy drill.
3. Extra long spiral drill bit for the air hole in the shank, diameter 3 to 5 mm, depending
on your preferences. Such long drills may be hard to get in an ordinary hardware store. A
specialized tool shop should have them or should at least be able to order them for you.
4. Mortise drill bit. Shown here in a special version from PIMO,
wich squares the shank end in one step. The diameter should, of course, be choosen to match
the tenon you want to use.
5. A countersink tool for the mortise end, also useful for stem work.
6. Not shown: A sturdy drill press. Using a power drill and rig is quite often
unsatisfactory, as this combination is shaky and has a limited depth range. A bench drill
with a solid vice works best.
Also necessary: a small square, a ruler, and a pencil.
First, draw the positions of the holes to drill onto the briar block. It can be helpful to
sand the sides of the block. If you then wipe the wood with a damp cloth, the grain will show
up nicely, helping you to determine the best shape for the bowl to make.
For the first few drilling experiments, stick to straight or just slightly bent pipes.
Half or full bents to not have mortise and draft hole in line anymore, which makes drilling
a bit more complicated and requires very careful planning.
Clearly mark the spot, where tobacco and air hole meet.
It is important, that the block can be well clamped in the vice. Therefore, the block should
have parallel sides. If it did not come like this, cut it to shape with a band or circular
saw first. This will make sure that the block can not waggle in the vice during drilling.
Now it is time to clamp the block in the vice. Make sure the vice is well aligned, you must
be able to hit the center of the briar block, and tightly clamped down.
Before you start drilling, mark the position where the drill tip would touch on the front jaw
of the vice (red mark in picture above). Close the vice until the jaw is underneath the drill, then
lower the drill to the jaw and mark the spot. Use a permanent marker as you don't want this
marker to be worn off.
When clamping the block, align the markers on the wood and the vice. Use the square to make sure
that the center axis of the hole to be drilled is perfectly perpendicular to the vice top.
Once this is done, you can start drilling.
If possible anyhow, do not remove the block until all steps for this position are finished.
Realignment is possible, of course, but bears the risk of deviations.
As the drills would not catch properly on the rough top of the block, use the Forstner
bit to square it off. This will also give the pipe a nice flush rim.
Bigger bumps should be removed using a hacksaw.
The Forstner bits have a nice sturdy centering tip which will create a good start for the
The flat tobacco hole drills have one drawback, the tips do not cut that well and thus tend
to catch anywhere but not where you want. This can be overcome by pre-drilling with a spiral
bit of about 6 mm in diameter. Do not drill down to the bottom of the pipe, as this could
spoil the surface down there. For the last few millimeters, the cutting performance of the
flat drills is good enough.
Now, start drilling the tobacco hole, but first figure out how deep it must be.
Therefore, put the flat drill into the chuck. Move the vice with the block a bit to the
side and lower the drill until it touches the surface of the jaw. Fix this depth with
the stop on the depth gauge.
Put the vice back under the drill. Start drilling with a low rpm and feed rate.
Be especially careful at the last millimeters, let the drill bit do the cutting itself.
The depth stop will now make sure that you hit the right depth
For a perfect result, the tobacco hole must be drilled a little deeper, exactly the size
of half the air hole diameter. This will make sure, that the air hole enters the tobacco
chamber nice and flush at the bottom.
To drill air hole and mortise, re-align the block in the vice as described above.
Again, use hacksaw and Forstner bit to square off the top of the block.
Now for the most delicate operation. The draw hole must meet the tobacco chamber in the center
and at the very bottom. The proper alignment of the block is therefore very important.
Set the depth stop as described in Step 5
Drill the draw hole slowly and carefully, do not force the drill.
Lift the drill out of the hole frequently to get the shavings out and to avoid blockage.
If you make a straight pipe, to not move the block in the vice before drilling the
mortise. This will make sure that both holes are in line.
For bent pipes, of course, the block must be realigned to the proper angle.
The PIMO tool is very helpful here, as it squares the shank in end in one step.
This will help a lot to get a nice fit of the stem later on. The Forstner drill bit will
do basically the same, but needs one more operation.
Using the countersink bit, put a small bevel on the mortise hole. This will make
sure that the stem can be fitted nice and flush.
If everything worked out well, the holes in your briar block should look like this.
Well, except for not being cut in half, of course ;-)