News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
Talbert Pipes Website - Kentucky Fried Popcorn - My Web Comic.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Making Halloween, ma-king Halloween...

It's that time of year again!  

Although, in our case, a rather challenging time of year...  Our Halloween pipe production has waxed and waned over the years depending on the circumstances of the moment - It's not always possible to set aside the long stretches of working time needed to make elaborate Talbert Halloween Pipes.  This year has been exceptionally difficult.  I've detailed in other posts some of the family health issues we've had, but in a nutshell, my wife's parents are both elderly and her father fell and broke his arm in two places.  It turned out to be a particularly nasty break and he's just come through the second surgery for it, after spending the entire summer in a recovery home from the first surgery.  The results for him are promising, we hope - Multiple steel bars implanted in his arm means he'll never get through a metal detector again, but he now has a hinged steel elbow to boot.  The downside is that he's going to be in a recovery home all through this month and probably next, and we are having our time split in several directions by visiting and helping out my mother-in-law with house care, errands, etc, as she is no spring chicken herself and is now on her own for an extended period.

So...   with all that on our plate, the initial plan was to have no special Halloween pipes this year.  However, that decision started changing when we found this new little show on Netflix called Stranger Things, which managed to perfectly nail the sort of gleeful, "out after dark" autumn fun ambiance that I run on like gasoline.  I knew I had to do something this year.  It just had to be something more adaptable to my fractured workdays than complex Talbert Briars that would need nine uninterrupted hours of focused working time every day to get right.

My solution is this - The Ligne Bretagne October Pumpkins!  A set of wickedly carved Jack-O-Lanterns would allow me to utilize the basic template of our regular Ligne Bretagnes for labor savings and put all my working time into the carving details, making the pipes more affordable (much) for fans who don't have a grand or more for a Talbert Halloween, while making them repeatable designs (at least to an extent), so I can make them to order.

Yes, you read that right - We are making these to order.   If you want an October Pumpkin, you can order one off of their catalog page and we'll make it for you!  So go check out Pumpkin #1 and Pumpkin #2.

This is a limited time offer!

I plan on making these through the rest of September and into October, as many as I feel I can reasonably be sure of finishing and getting to their owners by Halloween.  The goal is for everyone who wants one to have their pipes by October 31st.  That means - I don't know how long they will be on offer.  If sales are ideal, I'd love to be taking orders and shipping pipes from now right through to the week of Halloween.  If, however, we get a deluge of orders right off the bat, I will shut down the catalog pages when I feel I've got as many orders as I can reasonably handle and be confident of getting finished in time.

So, the answer is... They'll be available for order from now until sometime.  I should be able to give a better estimate after I see what the initial sales are like.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, August 05, 2016

Ligne Bretagne - Classics and Uniques

Big news!

We're doing something new with Ligne Bretagne.  For the 14 years they've been in production, we've been plagued with one consistent issue - Lack of stock.  We post them, they sell out, and casual website visitors then write me to complain that all the pipes are always sold.  I don't blame them, I would not want to have to watch a site like a madperson 24/7 to insta-grab anything that got posted, myself.  The flip side is that we could not afford to do them as commissions, either.  The price levels they sell for simply don't accommodate the sort of back-and-forth consulting and talking that happen with every commission, and the limitations of working with machine-fraized shapes prevented a lot of the sort of size and shape requests customers might want anyway.

What to do?

Our solution is this - We're dividing Ligne Bretagne into two kinds of pipes, Ligne Bretagne Uniques (each one individual, the same as we've been doing), and Ligne Bretagne ClassicsLigne Bretagne Classics will be pipe designs that we work out carefully for repetition - Cuts of bowl, shank, stem length, band, and any other decor that we'll set up our workshop to reproduce accurately as many times as needed.  We'll select each bowl to be of consistent and matching grade to insure there will be no "losers" in our output.

And the best part is - You'll be able to order them.  

If you see a shape & design in the Ligne Bretagne Classics list that you like, you can purchase it right then!  Your order will go into our production queue and you'll receive an email with an estimated shipping date.  When your pipe is ready and finished, you'll receive specific photos of your personal pipe.  If you're happy with the results, your pipe will ship out as soon as we get your OK!

While the Ligne Bretagne Classics design list is small today (consisting of just two bulldogs for starters), we intend to add more shapes to it as time goes by.  We're starting with bulldogs because they've always been among our most popular sellers.

This makes things better for everyone - If someone wants to buy a design, they can, and they can be guaranteed of getting their pipe.  There's no racing to the page to try to grab something before the new stuff sells out.  Producing ongoing series of standardized pipe designs lets us save on production cost and time, savings that we can pass on to the buyers in the form of lower prices - Where our typical Ligne Bretagne Uniques tend to run around $175, Ligne Bretagne Classics can be ordered for $140 plus shipping.

I'll answer the two most likely questions here, and add more info as new questions arise.

Can I customize my order?  (Ex: I love the bulldog shape but I want one in red instead of black) - Not at the present time.  Maybe eventually... I'd like to be able to offer some checklist options in a drop-down menu style for finishes, especially, but for now I want to keep things simple to get these pipes off the ground as smoothly and successfully as possible.

Are these pipes any different from the other Ligne Bretagnes? - No.  They're made from the same aged stummels with the same stem materials, band materials, production techniques, and finishing processes as all our other pipes.  A Ligne Bretagne Classic is not a "cheaper" pipe... It just costs less!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"But I won't do that"

I thought I might talk about the rules that individual pipemakers work by, in terms of form vs function.  I've seen a lot of beautifully sculptural pipe shapes in the past few years, and I love the looks of them and admire their originality and would make similar work myself, except... I always remind myself at the start of the workday that I am, ultimately, making a functional object, not a shelf sculpture.  It has to smoke, and it has to smoke well. 

A big part of that "smoking well" is down to the layout of the airhole, and how smoothly the smoke can travel from bowl to bit.  Have a look at some examples:

What you're seeing above, in cross-section, are a few examples of airhole layouts.  #5 at the top is the typical full-bent style, with an airhole that curves through the stem and then diverges at an angle from mortise to bowl.  #7 is an example of a more difficult shape, but still do-able - You have a curved airhole through the stem coming down to meet a small angle in the shank extension section meeting another angle at the tenon meeting another angle as the airhole bends back up towards the bowl.  Tricky, but it will still pass a cleaner.  #8 is an example of the sort of sharp angle that starts to become an issue.  The more that bend increases, the more likely a pipecleaner won't pass, even if the drilling is centered.  Also, the more it's likely to gurgle.

Back in my former life in HVAC, I had a decent education in duct systems.  The focus there is on consistent air movement, low noise, and smooth flow.  When I got into pipemaking, I applied a lot of these basic principles to my pipes, using what were at the time radical ideas like conical drillbits for stems to ease the resistance as the airhole flattened and widened toward the bit, as well as being a big proponent of the open draw.  The simple principle there is, the more complex the air passage is, the bigger the airhole needs to be to allow smooth flow. 

One trend that bugs me is the use of connecting airholes drilled at different angles and plugged to hide this fact.  Basically, you have an angle that's impossible for a straight drillbit, created using either a curved drillbit or two straight drills that form a bend.  It allows the creation of some stunningly sculpted pipes and I certainly envy the beauty of the results, but... I won't do that.  Why?  The minute that one uses a curved drilling or multiple angles in a sealed system, one has just cost the smoker the ability to ultimately clean and ream the airhole. 

It's not an immediate cost.  The pipe will probably smoke fine if the drilling is done well and the airhole is sized large enough.  The problem comes years later.  Airholes, just like bowls, accumulate cake inside with use, especially down near the bowl.  A couple years of regular use can reduce a 5/32" opening to a 9/64" or smaller, as the inlet gradually closes down.  That's why it's necessary to have a selection of long drill bits on hand for longterm maintenance, to enable the owner to push it through to the bowl and manually ream the airhole back to original size.  And that's why I don't do tricky airhole drillings, because... Full stop.  They can't be reamed. 

This is a perspective born of a couple decades of carving.  Wild shapes are seductive to new carvers, because they grab attention easily and have a powerful, "Hey, WOW, look at that artist!" Instagram/Twitter/Tumblr appeal for their visuals, but be careful - Some of those amazing shapes can come with some pretty annoying compromises, and they may not even become apparent till a few years down the road.