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Battle of the Pipe Stems: Vulcanite vs. Acrylic

drawing of Vulcanite and Acrylic Pipe Stems

Almost daily, tobacco smokers search for new ways to experience their favorite hobby. Pipe enthusiasts in particular, find that the best way to maximize their smoking experience is by changing their pipe stems from time-to-time. There are many options for pipe stems, so it can be challenging for smokers who want something new and different.

What is Vulcanite?

Vulcanite stems were invented in the United States in 1912 and were used as soon as 1915. Vulcanite stems were first used on different types of pipes made in the 1920s, such as Up shirts, Upsighters, and Billiards. The first use of Vulcanite was due to the need for a pipe stem that would not be as fragile or breakable as other materials during that period. Because of its production in the United States, there was a lot of American influence on pipe styles during this time, and it revolutionized the pipe market.

Vulcanite is a type of hard rubber material that has been used for many years as the most popular option for pipe stem material because of its durability and easy use with any tobacco blend or packing method. It has also been used in the United States as the first choice for automobile tires and electrical insulation components. Vulcanite can be found today in many different pipe manufacturers' finishes with varying logos and decorative patterns.

Pros of Vulcanite:

  • Durable – Vulcanite is a durable material that will not break or crack easily like many other materials. It can also handle being bent and twisted without any damage.
  • Easy to Lubricate – All Vulcanite pipes that have been cleaned and dried out can be lubricated with any oil, just like an acrylic pipe would require if it required lubrication during use.
  • It’s a Traditional Material – Vulcanite stems are the traditional material used for pipe stems. It is still trendy among pipe smokers because of its versatility and durability, even today.
  • Available Everywhere – Vulcanite stems can be found in almost every tobacco store or smoke shop because it is the most common material used for pipe stems, next to acrylic and plastic.

Cons of Vulcanite:

  • Vulnerable to Breakage – Vulcanite is a highly fragile material that can easily be broken or cracked. It is also very susceptible to heat, humidity, and cold cracking.
  • Difficult to Glue – Vulcanite stems can be tough to glue into a pipe because of their hardness and the fact that it has to be heated up for about 20 minutes before they will become soft enough for the glue to go on evenly. If you choose not to glue your stem, you may have issues with the pipe being too loose or uncentered in your bowl.

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic stems were first invented in 1965 by a German company, Polystyrene Ltd. They worked on their design to create a stem material that would be more durable, heat-resistant, and frost-resistant. Acrylic is used on many different types of pipes today and has even been used as the base in creating other kinds of materials, such as electrical insulation.

Acrylic is an artificial material that has become quite popular for pipe stems over the past couple of years. It is becoming increasingly popular among pipe enthusiasts to use Acrylic stems because of their ability to be crafted into many different shapes, such as animal figures, and their meager cost. Acrylic stems are commonly made using clear or colored plastic that is melted and molded into the desired shape.

Pros of Acrylic:

  • Lightweight – Acrylic stems weigh very little, making them easy to travel within your car or pocket without any worries that the stem will break. Acrylic stems are the lightest of the three materials. They usually weigh between 1.6 and 2.5 ounces each and can be made in various colors and patterns, such as diamonds, geometric shapes, and even animal figures.
  • Resistant to Heat – Acrylic stems will not melt in your bowl when heated with a torch as long as you do not put the flame too close to the branch. Acrylic will only get slightly warmer than the bowl itself and will continue to smoke as long as tobacco is used to cover the stem.
  • Frost-Resistant – Acrylic stems are highly resistant to frost because they are waterproof. You can lay them on your table and let them freeze without worrying about breaking or cracking.
  • Affordable – Acrylic pipes are cheap, especially at the local smoke shop or tobacco store next to the acrylic stems. All acrylic pipes will come with a lifetime guarantee of artistry and materials that are extremely hard to find in other types of branches.

Cons of Acrylic:

  • Grainy Appearance – Acrylic stems are somewhat coarse and seem sharper compared to other pipe stem materials. This can be noticed more quickly if you look for imperfections such as bubbles or scratches that were accidentally made during the production process.
  • Sensitive to Heat – Acrylic pipes are susceptible to heat, so they cannot be placed in your pocket while smoking your pipe, as they could burn a hole in your clothing if it is too tight around the stems. They also cannot sit too long in a hot car, which could cause them to melt in high temperatures.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Vulcanite and Acrylic Stems Anyways?

The most obvious is by looking at the stem itself. Vulcanite stems are a lot darker, with a slight greenish tint. It can be made in various decorative patterns, such as diamonds, vertical lines, and cursive writing, which will vary depending on the manufacturer. An Acrylic stem is generally lighter in color than a Vulcanite stem and is more precise or transparent. It can also come in many decorative patterns but is not seen as often as Vulcanite stems.

When you hold both stems together, you can tell roughly how much each one weighs. Vulcanite stems tend to consider much more than acrylic because Vulcanite is made of hard rubber that requires a lot more machinery and works for the production process.

Another way to tell the difference is by looking at how long it takes for water to get through the stem. Vulcanite stems dry out quickly but can still be used immediately. Acrylic can be left in water for up to 10 days before it begins to leak.

Lastly, and probably the easiest way of telling them apart, is by the price on both pipes and eBay. Vulcanite pipes tend to be much more expensive than Acrylic pipes because they require a lot more industrial machinery and equipment during manufacturing. On the other hand, acrylic tubes are mass-produced and use minimal machinery or equipment during their production process.

Which One Should a Pipe Smoker Go With?

Both Acrylic and Vulcanite pipes have their benefits and shortcomings, but each pipe smoker will usually choose whichever one they prefer. It all depends on personal preference and the type of smoking you are trying to do. If you are into heavy smoking, acrylic is your best bet because it can handle more heat and won't easily break like Vulcanite stems. They also don't take long to dry out with a pipe cleaner if they get too wet while smoking.

Vulcanite and Acrylic stems can be used for the same types of smoking, and you can use them to achieve your smoking goals. It all depends on what kind of pipe you are using or if you are trying to smoke different types of tobacco with your stem. If a blend does not burn properly in your branch, there is no way to fix it because it will just need to be replaced.

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