Working with a natural product like briar, means that your chance of getting that perfect pipe is, well, not very good. Ever wondered why the topnotch pipemakers can ask so much for certain pipes? Those pipes have absolutely no external flaws, blemishes or even little pinpricks!
When looking at a block of briar, you have absolutely no idea what lies inside. Briar blocks are not x-rayed to see what's inside! Besides, the additional cost will definitely not be worth the while. So, you judge a block from what is on the outside. Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes not.
Now this is one of the areas where an artisan pipemaker has the advantage over factory turned pipes. At a factory, they have to make, say a 100 pipes for a certain shape. So they take 100 blocks, chuck it in a machine, 3 or 4 steps later, they have a pipe. Flaws? Nah, in the bin!
But, the pipe artisan can, on the other hand, work with the grain and flaws. One by one pipe is made. Every block is taken individually, a pipe envisioned to enhance the grain best, and when flaws and blemishes appear, there is always a chance that he can work around it. Make the shank a bit thinner, change the shape of the bowl, sand a bit more here, lower the rim etc.
For some reason, the general pipesmoking public see sandblasted pipes as inferior, cheaper. It is most definitely not! Go and have a look at JT Cook and Bruce Weaver, for example. They make pipes with sandblasting as their main objective.
I only sandblast when there is absolutely no other way for me. If removing the blemish will mean that I end up with 3mm thick walls I most definitely won't try and sand it out! Imagine a bulldog with perfect lines and a flaw on the shank. The shape is perfect, all the technical "internals" have been drilled perfectly. All the work and hours gone into one pipe and no reason for the pipe to be a bad smoker.
Will it take less time than a smooth pipe? Yip, certainly! And most of the time the price reflects that. But, a straight grain would have been more economically viable. Most makers do it for a living, mouths to feed, bills to pay. And of course more time is spend on a perfect tight straightgrain. Wouldn't you as well?
Will it smoke worse than a smooth? Nope! No self proclaimed (and self respected!) pipemaker is ever going to sell a pipe that he has doubts about.
Is it going to look worse than a smooth? Well, for me smooth always win! But, a pipe that has been placed in the block correctly, following the grain, will always look good when blasted.