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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Polling Time

I've just set up an account with a simple polling service, so I have to test it out. Give me feedback!

Jolly Old Saint Nick

We've just spent an entire day wrapping and packing all of our Christmas gifts, so forgive me if I'm stuck in a holiday frame of mind. The pipe shown here is another older Talbert, one which very nearly became the model for a Christmas pipe set. I really like white stems - I'm one of those odd few who enjoy both stems and pipes in unusual colors, but in this case the material worked strongly against me. My white acrylic rod is very hard and very different in consistency from the other colors, and drilling it is a serious challenge. It is terrible for overheating, melting into the drill flutes, and snapping drill bits - I bet I went through four bits just getting this stem drilled! So, with that sort of hassle to deal with, white stems never became a part of any Yule pipe set, and this pipe, the "Nicholas", remains a one-off. The silver band was another bit of hand-craftsmanship - I bought it in tube form in the US and did the decorative ring turning and hand carving myself. I still haven't had the time to search for a good supplier of silver here in France. I'd like to start using it again, but as always, the language is a barrier between finding a good silversmith who can do custom work.
In other news, and speaking of unusual colors, I just posted a solitary green Ligne Bretagne today. Also, for those who may be interested in picking up one of the older Sebilo morta pipes, my friend Nicholas Stoufflet (of the FumeursdePipe club here in France) has one on ebay now - see it here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Very Early Talbert

Here's another bit of Talbert Pipes history. I made this pipe as a special request for a lawyer in Hawaii, who contacted me immediately after I won the P&T carving contest back in '98. He wanted to get a pipe from me for a particular reason - he knew Paul Perri, the pipemaker who had helped me get started, and wanted a sample of work from his student! This was in many ways one of my earliest "real" pipes, by which I mean that it was both creative and practical. The reason I opted to post the picture, however, was just to point out the stem, which is all one piece. Now, any sane pipemaker today would drill the shank extension apart from the twisted stem section, then fix them together once all the shaping of the spiral stem was done, but I cut the whole thing from one section of rod stock, without turning (I did not have a lathe at that time). I remember it being quite a bit of work to get the shank extension section properly round and flat across the face, while carving the spiral section without making any gouges in the flat extension face. Beautiful piece of wood, though, colored with a light staining strained from dark tobacco leaves.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Shank Inlay Rings

Since a number of the new Ligne Bretagne pipes shipping to Pipe & Pint have shank inlays of liquid metal in various tints, I thought it might be interesting to show the machine this is done with. This custom-made device allows a shank inlay to be added to any pipe. The motor drives the spinning saw blade, which creates a perfect square cut in the shank. Mounted under the sawblade is a moving carriage similar to a lathe tool carriage, except at the top of the "tool post" - There, rather than a point for a cutting tool, one finds a round hole lined with ball bearings which accepts various mortise inserts of different sizes. I choose the faux tenon needed based on the size of the mortise, fit the faux tenon into the ball bearing socket, and push the pipe shank onto it. Then, the shank is rotated by hand as the carriage is moved inwards onto the spinning blade, cutting a recess of precise depth and size. Once cut, the recess is filled with the liquid metal mixture and allowed to dry. When sanded and finished, the shank has, in effect, a solid metal ring imbedded in the wood, to strengthen it (especially useful for thin shanks) over years of use.
On reflection, this sounds so confusing in print that perhaps I should make a video of this process in future, to better explain it!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ligne Bretagne 2.0, the Video

After a longer silence than usual, I'm back with a video clip of how our Ligne Bretagne "A" series are made. These are the pipes I referred to in Ligne Bretagne 2.0 - new, custom shapes that we create here using standardized templates in limited runs (Today's opening picture shows some of the first examples). What that means is, I grind and set up a new shape by modifying our cutting heads, and then create a series of pipes using that basic shape. Afterwards, the blades are re-shaped and rearranged to create a new design, and the previous shape can no longer be made (at least not exactly). While we "top" the bowls and turn the shanks by machine, the bulk of the bowl shaping must still be done by hand, allowing for a great variation in pipes made using the same template (as can be seen in the picture - I have so far produced chimneys, pokers, and dublins all from the same "top" cut). I have created another (very crude) video clip which shows the entire process - click here to download (75 meg). This is a compressed AVI file using the DiVX codec. A smaller (22 meg) version of the video in RealPlayer format can be downloaded via streaming video here.

The reason I have been absent for a bit has been because of finishing a large shipment of pipes for Pipe & Pint. We hope to get all of these boxed and out the door today or tomorrow, so they can reach P&P in time for the December shopping season. There are four of these new Ligne Bretagne shapes included. The new series is stamped with an A in a circle (our inside joke being that these are the "American" series, to allow us to make larger LBs for the US market). Aside from the "A" stamping, they are differentiated from the standard-production LBs by not having stem dots - normal LBs are now marked with a liquid metal stem dot for each grade, but the A series are not. This will, no doubt, be confusing until the last of the old, unmarked-but-standard-line LBs are out of the sales cycle. The "A"s are not the only nice pipes in this shipment, though! Here are some preview pics for what will be arriving at P&P in the next couple of weeks:

I should point out that there is nothing wrong with the pipes that have their stems partly-removed - We take them apart for shipping and just leave them lightly tucked together to keep the right stems with the right pipes. That's all for now - Thanks for visiting!

Friday, November 18, 2005


Today's pic is a little something I found in my archives from the early nineties. I found a zipped file on our hard disk that was filled with a lot of my old sketches and drawings, several of which prominently featured pipes. This was before I ever started making pipes, back during my "freehand phase" when I had a real passion for those big, plateau-topped Danish shapes. This was just a very quick sketch, done for fun with pen and paper and then retouched on computer in Paintshop. I miss my pen mouse - that was a very handy thing, and one day I hope to again be able to afford a decent pressure-sensitive pad and scanner, though admittedly there is a great charm to unaltered, unretouched, straight-to-canvas painting that I've come to appreciate more as I get older.

Regarding that touchy subject of copyright, when I post pics like this of mine, I am posting them for free, non-commecial use - that is to say, if anyone wants to use any of these pics to decorate their website or pipe page or whatever, that is fine with me. My only objection is that they not be altered (especially removing my name), and please give some kind of credit. TYK!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ligne Bretagne 2.0

Here is the very first photo of a project I have been self-educating with for some time now. While Ligne Bretagnes have garnered lots of praise for their smoking qualities, the most frequent request I hear is for larger shapes. Since none of the post-war LB designs are what we would call "large" today, this means bigger pipes must be custom made. I did not want to "farm out" this work to a factory, but preferred to do it here in our workshop. For this, I have done a great deal of experimenting over the past three years to learn ways of using my own hand-shaped cutters to create new, repeatable LB designs.

In the background of the photo, one can see the two cutting heads used. The head on the left turns the pipe's shank, drills the mortise, flattens the end, and countersinks the mortise - all in one step. The head to the right drills the bowl chamber, turns the upper part of the bowl, and flattens the bowl top, also in one step. The photo shows the progress of a pipe through these stages. It begins with an ebauchon (left) and is then drilled and turned to become the partly-finished stummel in the center. Once this is done, the machine work ends and the rest of the pipe must be shaped and finished by hand to create the final pipe.

There are a couple of limitations to this process. I have a finite number of cutting heads and blades, so I am unable to do many different shapes at once. Most likely, I will do a series in one shape, then rearrange the blades and components to do another shape series. Because of this, it will probably be difficult to recreate earlier designs exactly - in some cases impossible, if the blades used have been reground into different shapes. Secondly, the whole affair requires a lot more hand-work, so the resulting pipes are going to be more expensive than the standard Ligne Bretagnes (though still well short of the Talbert Briar price range). Final pricing and grading have yet to be decided. One decision that has been made is what to do with the first set - they are all shipping to Pipe & Pint for their Christmas season!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Things to Do While Waiting for the Workshop to Warm

It's starting to get a little brisk here in Brittany, and we still don't have much of any practical way of heating the workshop. We have a woodstove that we burn our scraps in, but anyone can tell you that woodstoves are not the best sources of quick and efficient heat! We have about as much effect just by turning all our halogen lights on, which is what I've done as I type this. While I had a few moments to kill, I thought I'd try my hand at a very quick bit of stop motion. To view some of my meerschaums "in action", click here. The video clip is in RealPlayer format. The lack of a tripod steadycam mount is rather obvious. Ten points to whoever can identify the little music clip...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Olivier, and not Lawrence

There was recently a thread on Alt.Smokers.Pipes about olivewood pipes, or "olivier" in French. Some love them, some hate them, I think they are beautiful. Those who are curious to see some examples should check out the Spanu catalog here to see some really interesting examples of this unusual wood. I have only tried making one olivewood pipe in my pipemaking career, seen here in a photo from 2001. This was not an attempt to make anything particularly exciting, just a little fun for my own collection - I kept it and smoked it until I had to sell it to help raise money for our move to France. I used a Russian variant of olivewood instead of the more prevalent Italian variety, and it has a unique and different appearance. I still have a large-enough chunk of the wood to make another pipe from, so maybe someday there will be a real Talbert olivewood yet...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sam Learned

When we moved to France I had to sell off a sizable chunk of my pipe collection to help finance the trip, and sadly this was one that I let go (The majority of the pipes I kept had sentimental value instead of monetary, which meant that many of my best high grades departed via ebay to raise trip cash). This is a pipe by US pipemaker Sam Learned. One doesn't see a lot of talk or hype about Sam's pipes online, but he does nice work and is a really extremely good fellow. He has developed a consistent and distinctly "American Rustic" look with his "Hunter" shapes like this one of mine. Many more can be seen here

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Perfect Turning, Lathe-free

A lot of people assume that, if you want to make a perfectly-round billiard (or other similar shapes), one must have a lathe. This is not true! With a little creativity in tools, it is possible to do a wide range of unusual tasks with even the most rudimentary machine, the drill press. Shown in this pic is a simple cutter that I used some years ago, which could quickly and easily shave a rough stummel into a perfectly round cylinder. The cutting tool could be moved in and out to any desired size, and the pilot bore insured that the bowl chamber would start perfectly centered to the exterior shape. It was essential to rough the shape to something close to the desired idea beforehand, however, because the cutter did not have the power to shave off heavy cuts. Also visible in this pic is the same long steel rod that I still use today. I simply insert this down the airhole during drilling, and keep two fingers on it as I drill. As soon as it begins to vibrate, I know that the bowl drill has reached the level of the airhole, and I never have to worry about drilling the bowl chamber too deep.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"First Generation" Talberts

For those who might be interested in picking up some of my earliest pipes, there are three available on ebay right now. The full story is on my News page (with links). Two of the pipes, the Bilbo and the Twisted Egg, are the second and third pipes I ever made, respectively. I had a rather weird and different sense of style right from the start, I guess! I think it's funny now to look back at the Twisted Egg and see how much that "look" carried on and grew into things like the Halloween pipes. I can't speak to the craftsmanship on these early pieces - I'd probably be horrified if I went back and examined them now, but they are certainly of interest in a collectible sense. Today's pic is another older pipe, done back in the days when I had no tools to speak of.. This pipe was done nearly 100% with a Dremel. It is a good example of something I would NOT want to repeat (despite the old advert in the pic) because it simply isn't my style of pipe - I hate panels and find styles like this too fussy and grace-less. It's a nice pipe in its own right, but not something that one is ever likely to see appearing in the Talbert catalogs again.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Yule Pipes Past

As we move onwards into the Christmas season, here is a little shot of some Talbert Yule pipes past (from the 2000 set, actually). The one on top was the prototype, and the only one that had the originally-preferred stem material - a sort of marbled white acrylic that was meant to be unique and clay-like in its look, but which instead proved to be a real nightmare to work with. I broke several bits drilling airholes through that rod stock. The material was both brittle and very quick to overheat in drilling, and the melted acrylic would pack the drill flutes, harden immediately, and bang goes another bit. After fighting with the stuff just enough to get one stem made, I switched to the more conventional cumberland for the official series. You can see two of the set here in unfinished form. I was pleased with these and thought they were attractive, albeit fragile in construction, but 2000 was the last year I made a Talbert Briar Yule pipe. I returned with a Ligne Bretagne Yule pipe in 2002 and 2003, but dropped those as well in 2004 because they were just too stressful to have to dive into immediately after finishing the Halloween pipes. Now that the Halloween pipes are on ice, who knows? Maybe there will be more Yule pipes someday...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Tube lining, or How to Over-Obsess

Like most pipemakers, I use a lot of my spare time to experiment and see if I can find better ways of making pipes. As with most experimentation, well... It isn't a task for the easily bored or the easily-discouraged. Also, perhaps not a task for the sane, as in cases like this! Most bamboo-shank pipes fit together by steel tubing joining the different pieces internally. Now, steel has totally different heating and condensating behaviour than wood, and I decided to test an idea to see if I could affect this. For this pipe, I drilled out the steel tube and then drilled, turned, and fitted a lining of briar inside the tube - the reasoning being that it would present a seamless wood airhole and avoid any undue condensation on the inside of the steel tube (not that this has ever been a problem in any of the various bamboo-shank pipes I have owned). After a good bit of smoking, the result was that it smoked just like any other bamboo-shank pipe I had - but I did find an imaginative way to add more useless labor hours to the job of making a pipe. File under "Things that Fascinate Collectors and Generate Debate, While being Totally Economically Unfeasible" :)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Lost P&T Cover

Some time ago, Chuck Stanion contacted me about possibly doing a cover for Pipes & Tobaccos magazine. He asked for a Christmas cover, which seemed a little odd considering that the Halloween cover would have seemed a better fit. But, I did a few rough sketches of ideas and tossed them his way. Unfortunately, the realities of the international move stomped all over the idea - we were talking about this in latter 2001 while planning the November 2001 flight to France to inspect the house and business, and there was simply no way I could have found the time to do a full painted cover. Besides, I doubt I could have rendered the sort of Norman Rockwell-style traditional Santa that the magazine was wanting - that sort of thing just isn't my style. Once the decision to move was reached, I had time for nothing else, and indeed have only now reached the point where I can pause and breathe a little. One day I would like to do some submittals for P&T and see where it goes, but until then, this rough sketch is the last evidence of the P&T cover that never happened.