I have a lathe and I like to make great use of it. Most of you have seen my article about making my own wood hookah bowls and now it is time to take another step with wood mouthpieces designed for use with washable hoses. The process is fairly simple, but I want to make sure that you are careful and know what you’re getting into.
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As with any job that entails the use of a lathe (or other shop machine) there is some inherent risk. If you’re not trained on the use of a wood lathe you shouldn’t attempt this without the supervision of someone who is trained in both proper lathe use and safety procedures. That aside, I think that it’s important to understand the roots of our favorite smoking hobby and this is how traditional mouthpieces and even wooden hookahs were made.
It all starts with a simple block of wood or another material like amber. Everything that is used in a hookah needs to be food grade and that goes double for the mouthpiece because it is the part making direct contact with your mouth and tongue. There are many woods that are toxic and can cause health issues if they are used in smoking devices. Purple heart, red heart, cocobolo and many of the other exotic hardwoods are unsuitable for this purpose even if they are absolutely gorgeous. It’s nice to have a hookah that looks cool, but it’s not worth your health.
Once you have decided on your material, centered it up on your lathe and laid out your tools it’s a pretty straight forward process. The mouthpiece only needs two main attributes to work:
- Firstly, it needs to fit comfortably in the mouth. If that’s not achieved then it’s an impediment to your experience and needs to go in the trash.
- The next important part is the taper that allows the mouthpiece to fit into the hose securely. I have found that an angle of around 15 degrees is good with the smallest part being about 5/8th of an inch around.
These measurements are not set in stone as I’ve made some mouthpieces that use an ever more gradual angle (probably around 10 degrees) but anything much higher will be troublesome while trying to fit it in the hose. If you really want to secure the grip you can turn some shallow grooves into this taper that will help to grab the grommet in the hose, but it’s not entirely necessary.
Once the shape is established it’s time to polish it up. The type of sandpaper you want to use will vary with the material you’re using, but generally it’s a good idea to start around 120 grit and work your way up to around 220 or 300. If you really want a glass like finish you can go even higher and I usually use something in the realm of 1500 grit. This leaves the surface amazingly smooth and shiny, but is really not necessary unless you’re a nut-job like me.
Wood mouthpieces, once sanded can sow their true beauty with a little wax and I always choose food grade beeswax for that task. I set my lathe to a high speed, rub the whole piece down with wax and friction polish it into the woo with a tightly rolled piece of cloth. You want to heat the wax so it melts, the majority is absorbed into the cloth and a small amount is left as a protective coating on the wood. It makes a mediocre piece into something truly stellar.
The last step is drilling out the center for airflow. I switch back and forth between using a 3/8ths or 1/2 inch bit depending on how much airflow I want. Most of you will want to default to the 1/2 inch as it’s very open and easy to smoke. This is made much easier if you have a self-centering chuck to hold your mouthpiece securely and a drill chuck to hold your drill bit. The bit goes in the tail stock and it is slowly advanced into the mouthpiece.
The lathe should also be set to a slow speed. Slow movement is extremely important as you don’t want to burn the interior of the piece or possibly have it shatter.
Once you’ve done all that you just cut away the waste materials, polish the ends and you’ve go yourself a mouthpiece. Simple, right? It’s not simple at all? You’re right. But it is fun and rewarding. I think next time I’ll try to make an entirely wooden hookah… Wish me luck!