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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Value and Mystique

The last pipes of 2006, or the first pipes of 2007? We'll see, depending on how much work I can get done tomorrow. If all goes well, these two will finish out to be a gorgeous freehand morta semi-poker, and a nice ring-grain briar. Trying to get anything done around the holidays is always an adventure in "maybes" - Maybe I'll get them finished, maybe we'll end up at a dinner or a party or something. But, I'm hoping to pass a quiet New Year this year, just like Christmas.

For those who might be interested, there's also an unsmoked example of one of the 2003 Ligne Bretagne Yule pipes available now on ebay. Check it out!

There's a discussion going on a private pipe forum I frequent that put this topic into my head. Perhaps I'm feeling nostalgic with the end of the year approaching, but it occurred to me to post something about what part of a pipe's perceived value comes from mystique. It often seems that at some time or another, every pipemaker gets accused of being overpriced based on hype, and Dunhill catches a lot of regular flack about this (Usually from people who would never spend more then $200 on any pipe regardless, but c'est ça).

On the one hand, you have the guys who want to value a pipe solely based on observable criteria - They've got their checklists and they'll sit and examine it under a magnifier looking for flaws and they're ready to obsess if they find this or that detail not quite right. But there's another school of thought that actually has more influence on pipe pricing and resell values through the years, and that is mystique. History, mystery, aura, influence, you name it - When you buy a Dunhill, you're buying a little echo of the man who refused to give up during the bombing of London, and went and set all his pipes up on tables in front of his ruined shop, and did business like that. There's a family history and a tradition there that adds value that's more than the quality of grain on the pipe, or whether they happen to make shapes in the Flavor of the Moment.

For those who enjoy mystique, their pipes are more than a cold recitation of techniques, they're a living connection to stories of adversity, adventure, tragedy, passion.... To all the things that make us human. I know that when I make a Talbert Briar, it isn't just an object, it's a little remnant of me that will (hopefully) be here when I'm gone, and carry with it a little of our adventures in entering the pipe world, moving overseas, the horrendous difficulties that we've endured, the wonderful friends we have made, the very strange sights that we've seen - In short, it isn't just a molded utilitarian object, it's a pipe that's been somewhere. A creation with depth that isn't in the thing itself, but rather in the story of how it came to be made.

And that's why mystique will always play a role in the wonderful world of pipes!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pipemaking without a Net

There are many different ways to approach making a pipe. There is the safest way, to pick a popular shape profile, sketch it on the block, and cut that shape out of the wood. You know going in that, assuming some unseen briar flaw doesn't cause the pipe to be rejected, the conventional shape that pops out the other end will almost certainly sell. There seems to be a buyer for every billiard, bulldog, and poker that a maker can crank out. This is fun work, because even when I'm working on something extremely familiar to me, it's a comfort to be sure I'll get paid for my labors and I can relax and basically just put my brain on idle.

Another approach is to be calculatedly artistic - That is, to look around at the popular freehand shapes that are hot and do something freehand-ish along those lines. This, too is a comfort, because you can be sure that your end result will likely be something that is widely seen as "OK", and someone will probably buy it. This isn't quite as much of a guarantee as doing a classical shape, because your eye might suck and your Snail design might end up looking downright clunky, but it's a pretty safe route.

Option three is the terrifying one. I don't actually do this regularly simply because I find it too trying on the nerves. The pipe seen in the pics was done with no plan whatsoever, only a very intense mood (I'd say "fit of passion" but that sounds awfully poncey). I didn't sketch it, I didn't plan it, I just picked up a block that had a beautiful grain pattern and started freehand grinding, letting it shape itself. A little off here, a touch there, flatten this, follow the flat plane of the bird's-eye here. Working like this is actually almost terrifying at times because you have to be wide open to your intuitive feeling of what looks right and what doesn't, and where the energy needs to go in the form. It's a matter of almost closing one's eyes and "feeling" one's way along the shape, trying to feel invisible lines of tension that say, "There needs to be a countering curve here", and, "The flow of lines pulls this way, this part is struggling and being pulled along". It isn't about looking at a ready-made pattern and trying to get as close as you can to that pattern, but rather trying to capture a transitional emotion in sculpture - almost the Impressionist school of pipemaking.

It's scary for a lot of reasons, one of the chief ones being that any pipes done like this almost always take three times as long to make and thus have to be expensive, yet at the same time you'll be presenting people with something they haven't already seen before - a risky sales proposition at best. Working with Pipe & Pint has made this a bit safer, though, and allowed me more creative freedom since they're ready to snap up anything, and seem willing to even take risks on the more avant-garde pieces. People ask me, "Why do you send everything to Pipe & Pint?", and I say, "Because I can make exactly what I like to and have an easy sale". So, this pipe will almost certainly be traveling overseas next week. If anyone wishes to buy it in the meantime, it is here and available for the moment. It's hand-signed, with tight sandblasted grain and bird's-eye splashed over the smooth surfaces, and costs 605 €. Anyone interested can email me!

Oh, and before I forget, I also have a bent, sandblast Morta Classic in squat poker shape here, should anyone be in a morta mood.

The Christmas Tankard

Good heavens, it's been a long time since I updated the blogs! Finishing up all the FdP pipes turned out to be a much more difficult and demanding job than I'd ever expected, and I've had to mostly leave the blogs unattended for weeks now. On top of this, we've been going through a very difficult patch with the business - unexpected expenses and such - and I just really haven't had the enthusiasm needed to whip out spry and sprightly blog entries on a regular basis. But, I've managed to finish off a variety of difficult things recently, and hope to start the new year off on a better footing.

I always try to do at least one Christmas-ey pipe each year, and this one is my "artistic interpretation" of the season - huge and fat! But seriously, this was initially intended to fill a special request but it just wanted to be huge, much bigger and fatter than the order had asked for, and in the end it became this wonderful seasonal tankard (Since that is the only term that really describes it). I have not yet decided what to do with it - I may put it in our catalog here, but more probably will send it over to Pipe & Pint next week after Christmas. If anyone wants to buy it direct before then, it is 485 euros plus shipping (580 € including VAT for European buyers), and is currently SOLD.

I've also got one of the FdP pipes available, though it is almost certainly going to Pipe & Pint unless someone over here is interested in it. And that's not counting the rather bizarre pipe sculpture that's going to be the subject of my article for my next blog entry....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Finishing up the FdPs

Here they are, the last of the FdP pipes. I was able to find some different, slightly smaller horn stems to use, so all the rest will have horn stems after all. There are seven in process, though there's no guarantee all of them will finish OK - I've had a higher than usual discard rate for these pipes, so we'll see. It definitely exposes the waste in larger volume production, where pipe designs cannot be hand-shaped around a block's flaws, but instead must be tossed out if something nasty is exposed.

This is more pipes than I have remaining FdP requests, so there will probably be a couple (or more) remaining at the end, for general sale. If I've had any disappointments about the FdP pipe sales, it has been the number of drop outs (People who asked for a pipe and then never responded to email offers - I quickly reached the point where I began to cross non-responders totally off the list). With no way of knowing if the final members will actually purchase pipes or not, I've decided simply to make a few more than needed and then cease production and move on to other things.

At the moment, I have one very nice FdP variant pipe available - I posted it to the newsgroup late last night and it has not sold yet. It's different from the standard ones in being cut from a plateau block rather than an ebauchon. This allowed it to have a stacked ring grain sandblast pattern as well as a rough, natural plateau rim. Alas, rough tops don't seem as popular with the French, though I love the ultimate naturalism of their style.

Also visible in the photo today is one of the big two-jaw chucks I use on my lathe to hold briar blocks for drilling (even though I now use this technique quite rarely). A fellow emailed me asking for more information on this type of chuck, and I've had inquiries like this before. Unfortunately, I have no help to offer those looking for something similar - mine originally came from St. Claude and was purchased by the pipemaker who worked in this shop before me. All I can suggest is for interested individuals to try contacting the various St. Claude factories to see if they have anything similar to sell. Alternatively, Ken Lamb makes an excellent custom two-jaw chuck which also incorporates alignment pins for easier perfect drilling of the airhole and bowl. It's costly, but it's a serious tool for a serious pipemaker. I've often heard various amateurs and part-timers fussing about Ken's tools being "overpriced". Not to put too fine a point on it, but they're utterly FOS - I had a custom two-jaw chuck made in the past to my specs and it ran to $1000, making Ken's more complex creations a downright bargain. Good pipemaking tooling is expensive, no matter where you get it from.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

FdP Pipe Adventures

Today's pipe photo is an entertainingly weird morta churchwarden done on the sidelines of the FdP pipe work. I'm not quite sure what will become of it yet - I had a request several months ago for a smooth morta that was "not a pot", but odds are that this is a bit more unusual than the fellow had in mind. In any case, it will most likely go to Pipe & Pint if he doesn't get it, nor anyone else buy it direct. It seems very seasonal, somehow, though - Something to smoke beside a Christmas tree and a crackling fire.
Edit: Indeed, the fellow ended up buying a different morta from me, so this churchwarden is available - The price is 225 € HT, or 269 € with VAT if one lives in the EU.

The FdP pipe adventures continue! I've just finished another five and emailed various folks, and I hope to shortly have at least three more of the larger, plateau briar versions with the natural plateau tops to offer on the newsgroup. By my count I've got about eight or nine more to do, depending on how the current sales go. As expected, several of the fellows who requested pipes have simply vanished - no reply emails, no contact - so I've crossed them off the list (Merciless, yes, but I just don't have the time to try and chase people down). The schedule has had to be accelerated a good bit in order to get all the pipes out by Christmas, since I really don't want to still be working on these things during the holidays. Right now I'm pretty much working on the schedule of - Email photos, wait one day, and if there's no reply, email them to the next fellow.

The only real sticking point remaining are the horn stems, which are nearly exhausted. I think I have perhaps three or four usable stems left, unless I can somehow modify some of our other horn stems to a saddle shape (reshaping a tapered stem to a saddle can be done, but it's a lot of extra work and it requires a really thick saddle stem to allow proper shaping of the round portion of a saddle.... which just means some digging through the horn stems will be required). But, most folks have been happy to get ebonite stems instead, so all seems OK there.

On another subject, Blogger has upgraded my account to their new Blogger Beta, which seems much more reliable to post with, but also seems to have produced the unfortunate effect that my archive links don't work now. One can still backtrack through the postings by clicking on individual post titles, but the 'October 2005, November 2005, etc' links no longer work. Grrr. No idea what caused this, but I don't have the time to hunt through their help FAQs now - it will just have to wait a few weeks.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Sandblasting Variance

Today's pic is a funny photo I took of one of my pipes and one by Paul Bonaquisti. It's a classic example of just how much sandblasted surfaces can vary, when you toss in all the variables of different media, different tools, different ways of handling the tools, and different briar. Paul's pipe is the one on the left - Emily bought it as a birthday surprise for me at the CORPS show back in 99 or 2000, I can't recall which. It, like mine, is unstained, but it's had at least six years of regular smoking to darken the color of the wood to its current state. The Dublin on the right is mine, a pipe just finished for a special order, and one I'm really proud of because it gave an excellent blast - Usually briar with rings this tight is very resistant to any sort of depth, but this one came out pretty well. At the moment I am waiting to hear back if it is sold or not; otherwise I will either post it to the catalog or send it to Larry.

I've told people before that half of why I can do good sandblasts is that I usually pick briar for its sandblasting qualities before I even start a pipe - that is, I'll intend for the pipe to be a blast going in, and purposefully choose a block of briar that will provide a good blast. That's why the Dublin above was such a pleasant surprise - I really didn't expect it to do so well. Once you know what to look for, it's fairly easy to sand off the sides of a briar block and see the shadows of the age rings in the wood. They're visible almost as shadows, faint ripples of tone shift running perpendicular to the direction of the grain. Blocks like Paul's are the best choices, with good wide rings, because the more space there is between rings, the deeper the blast can usually go and the more easy it it to precisely aim the blasting nozzle. Tight rings like mine displays are a more difficult nut to crack, and in truth they usually produce underwhelming sandblasts - typically being fairly shallow though quite detailed. Finding a block that is soft enough between the rings to allow any depth to the blast, even when they are this tight, is a rare wonder indeed!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Before I ramble about today's pipe pic, let me mention that the Talbert Nosferatu, one of the more outstanding examples of my very first set of Halloween pipes, is now relisted on ebay. This poor pipe has had a time - first the auction was sabotaged by someone who's since been banned from ebay, and then the listing was refused by an ebay employee for being "drug paraphernalia"!! Truly, we live in strange days.

Today's pipe photo is the latest Moebius Bolus, done for a special order dating back several months at least. I don't know if it is sold yet - haven't heard back from the fellow who ordered it - so for the moment it is lurking patiently on my desk. It's a fantastic piece, with an incredible sandblast, but I can't take that much credit since the briar was extremely blast-friendly. It did make me think of saying a couple words about revisiting pipe designs, though.

Unfortunately, the problem is that I'm not sure what to say!

On the one hand, doing version after version of a design can often improve the original concept, whittling away rough edges here and there, and tweaking the positive aspects to turn a good shape into an excellent one. It's an evolutionary process that often sees the latter copies looking much more attractive and polished than the earlier examples.

However, there is a flip side to this - Often this process of polishing can also smooth down the very rough edges that give a design vitality, transforming it from a flawed-yet-dynamic original to a very civilized later version that has lost the sense of energy in the design. There is a fine line between smoothing away the wrinkles to create a more attractive result, and smoothing away the wrinkles to create a more dull result. I'm pleased that this particular Moebius Bolus is still plenty strange looking, and I can only hope that, as I make others, the evolution of the shape will be positive!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Collector 32

Happy Halloween! Today's pipe pic is another "wild thing", and as usual it comes with a little story. This is the 32nd Ligne Bretagne Collector grade pipe - at 290 € it is very nearly the most expensive Ligne Bretagne ever made (This pipe is now SOLD - thanks!), and it's also different from other LBs in having an acrylic stem instead of an ebonite one.

The thing is, it was meant to be a Talbert Briar.

I'd picked the block specially because I knew the briar would give a good sandblast, shaped the thing to highlight the grain pattern, and was well on my way to making a really excellent Signature-grade Talbert Briar (costing over 550 €) when a slight drilling slip put the mortise inside the olivewood decor ring off-center to the olivewood ring itself. With the stem inserted, this is invisible, and the airhole still connects perfectly for easy pipecleaner passage.

BUT... I dunno, it just bugged me. I've seen far more expensive pipes with more glaring flaws, but in the end I decided not to stamp it a Talbert, and instead to finish it as a LB Collector. Emily's opinion was that, "Someone's going to get an incredibly nice pipe for the price" and I think so, too - in fact, this is one of the few I make each year that I'm really tempted to keep for myself. The sandblast is simply terrific, and it has a large bowl yet is deceptively lightweight.

Sometimes one will encounter pipe people who question this whole idea of "flawed" pipes - When I first set up my online catalog, I listed both positives and negatives for each pipe I posted. Many collectors appreciated this approach and the candor involved, but others sometimes seemed to miss the point... I've received occasional questions like, "You list these negative points about this pipe. If these are flaws, should you even be selling it? Don't all real pipemakers only sell their very best, and discard everything that isn't perfect?" They seemed to think that I was somehow trying to foist off flawed pipes, without understanding the difference between flaws and flaws. I can pick out flaws on any pipe - any pipe. The real question is whether the flaws are the result of poor craftsmanship, briar faults, or simple minor accidents (as in this case). Every pipe comes with some combination of these three types of flaws, and the real question is how to balance the "perfectness" of the pipe with the price level it's being marketed to.

Which reminds me that someday soon, I need to write an article about how sometimes it's far more important that a pipe have overall verve than a polished mortise interior... but that's for another day!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wild in October

Edit: Both of these pipes are shipping to Pipe & Pint on Monday, October 30th

Bonjour! In case anyone doesn't notice, there are TWO new blog entries today - the second one, "Lining the Pockets", got split off from this one because it all became too big for one post. I decided to break the news into two different topics. This one is new pipes!

Maybe it's the season, but I've had a passion for doing sweeping freehand-ey things lately. Plateau-topped pipes can sometimes be an iffy sale, as there are some who want the whole pipe planed off and shaped if they're going to pay big money for it, but I personally love the look of natural plateau sufaces - One just can't get surfaces that rough and chaotic even with sandblasting.

Here's the first of two new Talbert Briars I've just finished, very pretty and very swanky. I wanted to try and get at least a couple of "regular" Talberts made after finishing the Pfeifenigma and before going on to more FdP pipes. I haven't actually decided what to do with these two yet - I may sell them direct or send them over to Pipe & Pint (which translates to, "If anyone wants to buy one immediately, please email me because it may soon be on a boat crossing the ocean"). This one is another "trick" pipe, done using the new method of drilling that I explained in a past post, which allows me to drill more extreme curves using an off-center mortise airhole, yet still have the tenon airhole curve up to connect with it properly. I've got several of these out in the market now and all reports are uniformly excellent, so I expect I'll be doing more and more of these as time goes by. I love it because this sort of shape would normally be impossible with conventional drilling - either the bowl would have to be drilled dangerously low into the underside curve, or the airhole would be way off-center in the mortise with no hope of pipecleaner passage.

It's unusual in another way too - I wanted it to echo the look of a calabash, so I stained the bowl but left the plateau top natural. I was very, very tempted to stain the top black, but decided to leave it like this instead. I like the look, and if a buyer wants it black that can always be added, whereas it's a good bit more difficult to get the stain back off once it's on.....
I'm disappointed by the pics, though - the shank band is polished antler, and has a neat greyish grain with a few natural ripples left in it (I just know someone is one day going to fuss that the band "was not properly finished, it has ridges!!"). Alas, in the pics it just looks dull white.

The second pipe can be seen here:

This second one is a beautiful thing with a large, perfectly-drilled bowl and excellent grain. So why is it only a grade 2, and a good bit less money? Two reasons - it has a small grainless spot smack on the bottom underside of the bowl, and more importantly, freehands like this are sometimes a tough sale as the price starts to rise. Shapes like this are made so often and cheaply as lower-end pipes that they've tended to lose their "perceived value" in the market, so even an excellent sample like this would probably be hard to sell for a higher price, the handcut acrylic stem, contrast-stained grain, and fancy shank bridgework not withstanding. It's a shame, because I love freehands - As my friend Mark has commented, they're very "dwarvish" to me, with a rugged appeal all their own, and a big-bowled example like this is just about my ideal smoker.

Lining the Pockets

A seasonal pic today! This is a very rough pencil sketch I did many years ago as the initial figure study for a painting. It was for a portfolio piece, pretty much a "generic vampire" illo, ergo the Bela Lugosi look ;)

But, I thought it tied in with this post's topic, which is the greedy bloodsucking of pipe distributors..... or is it?

I picked today's topic from a thread currently disintegrating on ASP. What started out as an inquiry thread about why a Pipe of the Year project wasn't going very well has turned into a rehash of some ridiculous nonsense from years back, largely due to one particular troll. For those who don't know the back story, it's pretty simple - in recent years, many regular folks (meaning, "not officially in the pipe business") discovered through the power of the internet that some brands of Italian pipes could be purchased much more cheaply direct from Italian dealers than they could in the US. Said fellows began to buy the pipes in bulk, tack tiny margins onto them, and resell them on ebay or direct, undercutting the prices of official channels by a fair margin.

Needless to say, official channels were not pleased.

Equally needless to say, the reactions of some of the folks profiting from this were of the immediate conspiracy variety - "They don't like us because they're making too much money and we're cutting into their fat margins!!" "If they didn't overcharge, this wouldn't be a problem!!" And so on, and so on....

The companies applied pressure on ebay and the result was the VERO conditions, which protect licensed distribution of marques in specific markets. This effectively translated to, "Grey-market import fifty Castellos to sell out of your closet, and ebay will shut your auctions down". Again, the reactions were volatile, with some going apoplectic about what they insisted on seeing as protection of price gouging.

The thing is, it isn't.

There were always two glaring differences that the "fair margins" champions missed - First was the difference between what a fellow earning a regular salary considers a fair margin on his part-time weekend hobby project, and the other (and even stickier) was the issue of service and warranty. The margin issue was really bad - Yes, someone with a paycheck and regular job might think a 5% margin ("Hey, that's $10 on a $200 pipe, just for posting a picture online!") was plenty, when it's quite a different situation if one must actually pay their bills out of these margins. Convincing people that it wasn't being "greedy" to try to make more than $50-100 per week just never seemed to penetrate in some cases, and there are still a few "mouths" who go on about this today.

The warranty problem was even worse. No one thought twice about buying their Ser Jacs on the grey market, where they were cheaper, yet when they burned them out, who do they go to? The closet dealers weren't replacing pipes, so naturally the guys were hauling these things to their local retailers and to the US distributors wanting warranties - not a good situation when said distributor made nothing on the pipe to start with, and is now expected to provide free labor for customer service to fix it.

Given these conditions, the VERO deal was a pretty reasonable fix, but there are still those who rage about it today. The biggest lesson that can be drawn from the whole sorry experience was that in the internet age, every manufacturer needs to think twice, and then five or six more times, about being sure their pricing is consistent across their markets.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Yeesh. I sit here tonight rather fried, after doing a marathon working session focused solely on one specific project, the newly-posted Pfeifenigma (which includes this year's Halloween pipe). Like the original Halloween pipes, this was a pet project that I just decided to do.... mostly just to see what would happen. I'm pretty fervent with possibilities for future Pfeifenigmas, but it will really depend on the reaction of folks to this first one, and it's highly possible that the whole idea is too complex to easily sell (following the adage of, "It's too complicated if it can't be boiled down to 'DIE HARD on a train' or some such). We'll see. I also posted two new mortas, a smooth and a sandblast, though the blast has already been spoken for as I write this. Very, very strange to be doing photography and posting new pipes to the catalog, after so many months of simply shipping everything over to Pipe & Pint.

I know it's been a long time since the last update, but I'm simply too tired to post anything insightful or complex. Instead, I'll just lavish some praise on two other new Freeware programs I've switched to lately, which have done Very Good Things for me - Nvu and Comodo Firewall. I've always kept my site simply, and so never needed anything like DreamWeaver, but I feel I've launched forward a decade or more with Nvu. Nvu is a WYSIWYG HTML editor that is amazingly easy to learn (I whipped up the Pfeifenigma site pages with it the first time out) and actually produces good HTML coding, unlike other WYSIWYG editors that could be named. And it's free. Perfect for starving pipemakers with websites to maintain, all round the world.

For firewalls, I've used ZoneAlarm for years, but it has gradually gotten annoying, between the nag screens to buy the commercial version and the recent tendency of the True Vector monitor to crash repeatedly (a torrent problem, it seems). I didn't realize just how simple ZA was until I installed Comodo's free package, which leak-tests better and has a wagonload of extra features (just being able to see what is using the net connection at any time is quite nice).

There's my public service announcement for the day. Now I'm off to collapse on the couch and figure out what tonight's October horror movie will be!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Children of the Night.....

"Vaat moozic they make!"

Ahh, Bela, we miss you!

No pipe picture today, just a quick announcement that the Talbert Pipes page has gone seasonal again. Also, the Korrigan pic on that page is clickable for a bigger view with a little bit of info.

Scary - I realized this was the first picture I've done in ten years now! It's just a simple pen, ink, and watercolor pencil drawing of a local goblin I know, but it was a weird experience to be sitting at the drawing board again instead of out in the workshop.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Useful Gadgets

This week's work consisted of the next three FdP pipes (I'll be emailing photos to the next fellow on the list as soon as I finish here) and this new morta Bettafish, done 'on the side'. It's an excellent example of the breed with nice thick walls and a rather swanky look. It's SOLD now.

I posted before about useful workshop gadgets, so I thought today I'd deviate from pipe talk for a minute and mention some useful "business" gadgets. Anyone working as an artisan needs to not only master their chosen craft, but also must learn a good bit about computers, the net, and the wonderful techy world we live in today. The great thing is, many of the essential tools of computer life are available for free!

I saw this list linked on Digg recently and bookmarked it for gradual checking-out. One sees these lists pop up everywhere and usually they're worthless, but this one caught my eye for having some really good tools on it. I'm still making my way through it, downloading a new app every day or three to try out. Anyone trying to run a net business really should look into the following:

Flexible Renaming
Yeah, scratch your head... ;) But, after a few years of running your business, you'll find you have literally mountains of archive files, of which JPGs with titles like P109336.JPG are typical. A simple utility that can bulk rename every file in a folder to "Pics from Guérande, Sept 06 - ###" is a godsend.

Secure Erasing
Do you really want the person who buys your old computer to be able to scan your hard disk and recover all your business records and personal info?

Of all the tools I've tried so far, this is by far my favorite, and I don't really even use it for its intended purpose. It's designed to help keep files and folders synchonized between multiple hard drives or computers, but I find its utility as a back-up tool to be excellent. It's easy to learn and extremely powerful, and allows one to select folders and files to be backed up by schedule to other disks, other computers, and even by email and FTP! I've got mine set to automatically copy various important files to all of my hard disks for backup, as well as sending copies to an FTP backup server I use. It's even possible to email files to one of those free online email addresses with gigabytes of storage, for maximum data recoverability. It's a comforting feeling to know that if the computer explodes, I still have all my business records backed up in multiple other locations.

AM Deadlink finds and dumps all those useless old shortcuts that pile up in your browser's "Favorites" menu. Works with Firefox and IE, and checks every single link to produce a listing of what's still live and what's long departed, for easy tidying.

This is a digital image organizer. I heard the guys on TWiT raving about this and just couldn't understand why anyone would get excited over what seems to me a more complicated version of viewing directories in Explorer with thumbnails turned on, but now that I've downloaded it, I understand. It's amazing! Especially for a pipemaker with roughly 2000 pipe photos to keep track of. The photo-editing features work better than those in my dedicated graphics prog, and it can handle everything involved in pipe photography, taking pics straight off the camera and into editing and on to uploading. For the home photo collection, it's fantastic - it also includes built-in photo printing plus emailing and the ability to order glossy prints from online services.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Handy Workshop Tips

Today's pic shows a new batch of Fdp pipes in process, with my own FdP #1 modeling with them. I thought I'd toss out some handy workshop tips that I've found, which might not be the most immediately obvious..

Get a remote-control for your vac
This seemed like ridiculous over-gadgetry when I got mine, but given the noise of a large dust collector running constantly coupled with the aggravation of having to pick one's way through a crowded, messy workshop every time the thing needs to be turned on or off, a remote is a god-send. Hang the button on your belt and click it from anywhere in the shop, for instant on-off vac operation. Lovely.

Get some wireless headphones
I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Big ones will cancel out machine noise while letting you enjoy music or audiobooks from your computer, satellite, MP3 player, or whatever. Essential for making those long hours of repetitive work pass more easily.

Make a stem twister
Get a length of soft wood and cut a rectangular notch in the side of it. You can slip a stem sideways into this notch and use the wood piece as a wrench to help remove stuck stems. The soft wood won't damage the stem material but you can apply a lot more leverage.

Make some mortise & bowl sanders
Get some varying-size steel rods and wrap sandpaper around them, taping it in place. They can be chucked in the lathe for easy sanding of mortise interiors and bowl interiors, if needed. This will drastically cut down on tenon fitting problems, allowing more leeway during the lathe cutting because it's easy to open the mortise with a little sanding if the initial tenon size is too tight.

Make a time sheet
Jot down a set of columns, divided into time spent drilling, turning, bowl-shaping, stem turning, and finishing. Keep track of the time you spend in each of these steps. This way it's easy to know what takes time, and if you find an alternate, faster method that gives equal results, you have something to compare against. Most people wouldn't notice by "feel" if one method of drilling of bowl drilling took fifteen minutes and another took 23, but over a year's time this kind of thing adds up!

Make a money sheet
Work out a handy sheet in something like Excel that can measure all the variable of your work so you can tell just how much you're really making, how long you're working, and whether you're actually getting more or less profitable. $400 may seem like an expensive pipe, but take out the $200 for the dealer's markup, the 4% fee from credit card or bank processing of the payment, and the $12+ in material replacement costs, and it isn't so impressive. That's just $180 going into your pocket, and that's spread over several hours, including packing time and back-and-forth to the post time. Not to mention office time spent doing taxes, filling out insurance forms, etc....

Mix halogen and incandescent lights, with as much natural light as possible
Much better for getting stain colors right.

More to come!
Oh, I may be deleting the Frappr map. It was fun and cute in the beginning but Frappr seems intent on over-slopping their site with unwanted add-ons like chats, forums, scrolling displays, and god knows what else, and I'm tired of logging in just to approve a new pin only to find that I can't figure out where things are after the latest re-arrangement. I recently got the notice of a new member and still can't find where to approve the pin, now. Alas, why does every site these days seem to think we all want every possible social networking option piggy-backed onto something that used to be streamlined and useful?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Proof of Concept

I have a large stock of smaller briar blocks that I've occasionally puzzled over what to do with. It's good quality stock, very well-aged, but just a bit too small per block to make a decent-sized "average" pipe (such as a billiard, poker, etc). I was looking at them and imagining different possibilities when it occurred to me that I should use some organic design that didn't require a shank, enabling me to use the majority of the block for the bowl rather than a small section, and this led to a quick sketch of a snail/nautilus-like design.

Most shapes like this only turn up in the upper echelons of the price ranges, but I was curious to see if I could manage to produce a simple version for a Ligne Bretagne price - a tough trick, since the bowls could not be fraized and would have to be shaped entirely by hand. I made a fair number of concessions compared to the sort of work I'd put into a Talbert variant of this (mostly in the level of detailing of the "tail"), but overall it was a worthwhile experiment and made an excellent "proof of concept". I was disappointed in one aspect - the design is profitable for direct sales only, not for wholesale distribution, so this is a pipe shape that probably won't be turning up at P&P for retail sale. But, otherwise I'm really pleased with the little beastie - getting a smooth on the first try was a nice surprise (!) and I think it's a very neat shape for this price range. Plus, the design allows nearly the entire briar block to be used for the bowl, producing a bowl chamber that's more group 4 rather than the group 2-3 that could otherwise be cut from such blocks.

(Click the pic to see a larger version with both sides plus pricing) The good news is that I can make more like this, and intend to, assuming this one sells, at least! At the moment, it is SOLD.

The remaining FdP Talbert Briars are shortly to be shipped to Pipe & Pint. I must say, I was a bit disappointed that only one of them sold, as I believe they were some of my better work, but in all honesty I really wasn't expecting to see any sell since "group pipes" tend to max out around the 200 euros cost range. In any event, the others were NOT stamped with the FdP logo, and I'm confident they will all find good homes through direct sales (If anyone wants to buy one direct before they ship to P&P, contact me this weekend because they'll all be going in the mail on Monday). It's going to be hard to part with the #1 pipe......

I've started another set of Ligne Bretagne FdPs, but in between we did a couple of mortas, as I was about to go crazy making the FdP shape over and over again (I could never work for a factory!). All of these new pipes are pretty quirky and fun, and the churchwarden is way cool! These also are for direct sale, so if anyone is interested in the snail above or either of these mortas, please email me.

Morta Classic #65
(Yes, the close-up is blurry, but the other pics are so huge I didn't feel close-ups were really needed)
225 €, Pipe is SOLD

Morta Classic #64
Pipe is SOLD

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Talbert FdPs, and More

Today's pic shows a couple of new pipes that will probably be shipping to Pipe & Pint. Given the overwhelming positive response for "unfinished" pipes, I've decided to make a few more in future, and here is a nice simple slightly-bent billiard in "naked" mode. However, to differentiate them from my regular production, they will be stamped UF, for Unfinished, and I'll shortly be updating my site's grading notes accordingly. The reason is that I want buyers to know the pipes were meant to be unfinished, by the time any make it to the estate market in thoroughly-fingered, possibly stained and/or discolored condition. We'll see how it goes.

I've finished four Talbert Briars in the Fumeurs de Pipe 2006 shape. I don't know if they will sell or not, but I can always send them over to P&P if they don't sell to the FdP guys. It's entirely likely that they will all be too expensive! I found myself with a strange problem - I could make some basically mediocre, lower grade (more affordable) Talberts to keep the prices down... But then they would seem a more expensive, less impressive option to the standard FdP pipes (which, I think at least, have been turning out to be really nice pipes for the prices). Alternatively, I could go all-out and make the very best Talbert FdPs possible, though that would make them much more expensive. That is what I opted to do, knowing I could always sell them in the US - With the FdP pipes being "special" pipes, I really didn't want to do any low-to-middle grades. So, without further babble, here are the pic links:

Talbert FdP Pipe #1 - SOLD
Talbert FdP Pipe #2 - SOLD
Talbert FdP Pipe #3 - SOLD
Talbert FdP Pipe #4 - SOLD

Note that all prices are quoted in "TTC", which means including EU VAT. Buyers outside the EU get to deduct 20% from each price! (Well, 19.6% to be precise) FdP members interested in one of the pipes should email me, and I will sell them first-come, first-served. I decided to do it this way instead of sending pics by individual emails because so many people had expressed "some" interest, or at least asked to see the pipes as an option.

Here is a size-comparison photo, showing a standard Ligne Bretagne FdP and a Talbert:

They're not as much larger as I had expected, probably only about 30% bigger all around, but with larger, wider chambers. Here is a group photo:

Two have handcut cumberland stems while the other two have stems cut from a swirly, colored acrylic rod. I received this acrylic rod as a gift, and these are my last two stems to cut from it - it is now all gone - so I wanted to use them on something special. Differences between the LB FdPs and the Talberts? Larger bowls, handcut stems, ring-grain blasts, and somewhat different bowl shapes - The Talberts have a pronounced forward curve/lean while the LBs are straight conical bowls.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cool Pipes and White Screens

I got a marvelous surprise in the mail the other day - New pipes! For ME, I mean! This is unusual. Visitors here are typically underwhelmed by my small collection, not realising that I had to sell off most of my higher grades to help finance our move to France. But, over the past couple years this has improved thanks to a few excellent gifts from friends. Last week's mail, however, had the biggest surprise so far - two new pipes, a Caminetto and a Joao Reis. For the first time in my life, I have a pipe by a designated "hot young carver", which is great fun. It's the calabash in the lower right corner.

The Caminetto is a bit of a mystery, apparently - Aside from its Cthulhoid tentacles out front (Yes, yes, I know, it's supposed to be a representation of the Caminetto moustache logo.... but I prefer to think tentacles), it sports some unusual stamping that apparently has experts in the US stumped. Needless to say, it's a keeper!

The third pipe in the pic is my very own Ligne Bretagne FdP Pipe #1, which I decided to keep for myself. It got passed over several times in favor of sexier versions of the shape - Unfortunately, it suffered from two troubles. I'd had requests for smooth versions, so I cut this block to make a beautiful smooth, crosscut with wide bird's-eye displays, and it looked like it would be a great smooth right up to the final sanding, when it simply had too many dot pits for my tastes and ended up as a blast. But, half of making a striking blast is in shaping the block to accentuate the blast, and crosscuts like this just don't look as dramatic. Secondarily, it has extremely tight, detailed, very intricate grain and the effect was lost in all the photos of it, spurring buyers to go for the more craggy versions. Rather than have it continue being a poor step-child, I kept it. I don't think I will risk trying to shape for smooths anymore, though - I can't risk being stuck with unsold pipes so I'll just have to let the smooths (if any) emerge by accident rather than design.

In passing, these three also present an amusing comparison in break-in - a bare-wood Italian briar, a silicate-carbonized "Danish-esque", and my own pre-carb mix on Algerian briar. Very different flavors and experiences! I'm not about to say which I find best, though... ;)

The White Screen of Death
Last week I lost touch with the internet for a day. I went to bed and it was working and connected, I got up the next morning and it was still connected but all websites were unreachable - All Firefox would give me was the white screen time-out message. Same for email, FTP, etc. This happens on occasion with Wanadoo, and usually fixes itself inside an hour, so I just left it for a bit. The day passed, however, with no change, and finally it was time to call tech help.

Note to Americans - Technical help is different here. The next time you're complaining about how long you've been sitting on hold on the help line, chew on this fact - Wanadoo (and indeed, all the French ISPs I've checked out) does not provide a toll-free tech help number... in fact, they charge the customer 34 cents a minute to call for help, and THEN put you on hold for ten minutes pushing random buttons trying to find a real person.

Gragh, I say, gragh..

Then, of course, we had to wade through the usual BS that I'd already tried - reboot, power cycle the modem, etc. There is a rule that tech help must always assume you barely know how to turn your monitor on, and we eventually had to get quite demanding before we found someone capable of deciphering my tracert results, which rather explicitly revealed that their friendly suggestions to re-install Windows weren't going to do any good when everything I sent through one of their relays was being lost, and it was their problem. A half hour later, it was magically fixed and I could access the net again, but I never got any apologies, explanations, or even a "Has this fixed your problem?" email. I did, however, get a "How was your experience with Wanadoo's Customer Service?" automated email some days later. I wish they'd sent me a prepaid reply envelope instead - I'd be tempted to mail them back a brick wrapped in US listings of 1-800 numbers.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On the Workbench

Voila les pipes! Since there was such an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to my inquiry about the level of interest in unfinished pipes, I am putting this into immediate action, yes, and going one step further by offering customers the ultimate in the unfinished, unstained, virgin natural pipe - Here they are!


Goofiness aside, these are destined to be the four Talbert Briar versions of the FdP 2006 pipe set. Or not. Really, it will depend on interest and budget - My intention is to simply finish these four pipes, post photos to the FdP members, and let them buy if they want, first-come, first-served. Those that sell will be stamped with the FdP logo, any that do not will go to P&P marked simply as Talberts. I realize they look pretty crude now, but I have hopes that these four are going to be some very nice briars indeed.

Et oui, il ya a un(e?) écume de mer aussi! This will be the first meerschaum pipe that I have ever made for someone else to smoke, IF I can finish the thing without any disasters occuring. I doubt that I will sell it - I have it in the back of my mind to make a Christmas gift of, or something similar. I don't actually think I could afford to sell my own meers - My supply is a very good quality African meer, but this isn't accepted by most as "high end" meer so I seriously doubt anyone would be willing to pay my labor costs of making a Talbert Meerschaum to buy an African meer pipe. It's excellent smoking stuff, though, and much more durable and tough than Turkish meer (My first pipe from this material remains one of my personal favorite smokes), but it would likely be a difficult sale even as a Ligne Bretagne. What I like about the material is that it can be sandblasted. It is strong enough not to dissolve under blasting, but rather weathers away like my example, and becomes a surface a bit like coral. For once, a pipe I can drop in a jacket pocket with keys without fear of it being scratched!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Naked Pipes Revisited

Today's headline photo is a group shot of Neil Roan's Talbert collection. He sent me this a week ago and I've been trying to find time to post it. What strikes me about it? Seen in groups, my pipes are:

A) Amusingly consistent in bowl size (Large)

B) Amusingly consistent in stem length and look (Long and swanky)

I can't help but chuckle at how similar the stem bends are in 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7. It isn't intentional, I just keep making what I like!

Now, to the subject of this post. The two unfinished Talberts that I tried recently were well-received and both sold pretty snappily, which suggests there are at least some folks out there who would enjoy having some pipes with no finish whatsoever. I decided to experiment a little and do a Ligne Bretagne this way, to see if there was equal interest in that price sector (One never knows, what is popular among 400 € pipes may be totally disliked among 100 € pipes and positively glorified among 1000 € pipes). So, voila la pipe:

Like the two Talberts that came before, this LB is completely unfinished - no wax, shellac, or anything - so it will darken a good bit as it is handled. Unlike the previous Talberts, it was stained with a red-brown tint initially, and then sandblasted again to remove the stain from the outer surfaces and leave it only in the crevices as a subtle enhancement of the grain's appearance.... an effect which is utterly lost in these photographs, which tinted so gold in the workshop light that this detailing is invisible. I decided to offer this one for direct sale here (Note - This pipe is now Sold), to test the waters, as it were, before potentially cursing Larry by sending him a box of unfinished pipes that might never sell. If there is some interest or enthusiasm for this look, I'll do some more this way and send them over to P&P. LB buyers, please leave a comment and let me know what you think! Interesting, non-interesting, cool, weird - Let me know.

Aside from working on the FdP pipes, I have been trying to... very slowly... assemble another box for Pipe & Pint. I've got a few pieces in it, and just added this new Talbert Briar "stubby" - continuing the recent set of "fat" pipes done as a change of pace from my more usual long, thin, slinky pieces. This particular one was fun-looking enough that I thought I'd post it to the blog. Nice blast! These stubbies are serious workhorse smokers - thick walls, shanks, thicker-than-usual bits for serious clenching - they're just made all-around for hard use. If anyone on this side of the ocean wants this one, it is 383 € (again not including VAT for EU folks) and should be here for the next two or three days, before it goes into the box for the USA.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I don't really have the spare time to write anything today, but I wanted to share this silly photo that I made last night while doing more shots of the newest FdP pipes. The pipes look as if they're doing stage dancing - kick those stems up!

Edit: I just thought of two extra items to mention. One is that the P&P site should be going online in the nearer-near future, as opposed to the vaguely-near future. I'll report here ASAP when it does.

Also, in non-pipe news, Emily and I are going to be attending this year's Utopiales science-fiction convention in Nantes at the start of November. If anyone else in our area is going, drop me an email and maybe we can meet up for a lunch or something.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The World Weekly Pipester

Since I have several unrelated items to mention in this post, I'll adopt the handy format of some of our handy supermarket tabloid papers....

Flash!! Bizarre Briar Block found in Mysterious Hoard!
Searchers in the Talbert Pipes briar mountain today found this bizarre ebauchon in a bag of other, more conventional blocks. Interviewed on how it came to be and it's bizarre size and shape, pipemaker Talbert had this to say: "Hell if I know! It's weird. The shank is longer than any plateau block I have, but the thing is so thin you'd never get a bowl out of it unless the chamber was narrow as a pencil. This is what happens you start modifying crop genetics, I say!"

Last Angry Holdout finally caves, Gets MySpace Account
In other news, Pipemaker Trever Talbert appears again - Coincidence? We don't think so...
Officially identified as one of the last remaining curmudgeons who did not have MySpace accounts, Talbert has finally caved. "It was for family and friends", he claims, citing the fact that half the people he knows all have MySpace pages and he'd been repeatedly asked about his own. Regarding his entry into the twentieth century, Talbert comments, "Now, if anyone wants to know about my stupid hobbies or see what some passing fourteen year old has spammed my page with, they can just go here."

More Fumeurs de Pipe 2006 Pipes Sighted!
Seen recently in increasing numbers, this paper believes that these pipes may even now be filtering out into the wild, possibly spreading to your very own streets and villes. Eyewitness accounts report that they're all looking pretty neat, though they do vary a bit from one to the next - expert commentators attribute this to their handmade quality, though other sources cite the legendary eccentricities of their creator for the variations. We can't confirm until someone actually has one in hand, but this reporter believes at least a few of them are already in the mail.

France to go Smoke-Free in 2007?
In a blow to the French spirit of individuality, France expects next year to fall in line behind England, Ireland, and other EU nations in adopting sweeping laws outlawing smoking in public spaces such as restaurants and bars. Fortunately, angry French tobacconists are already planning ongoing protests, and claim they will blockade the Champs d'Elysée with seventy-thousand packages of soggy Gaulloises if the ban goes through. Cowardly as always, the current administration is already backpedaling, and offering concessions in the form of private clubs, separate air-cleaned rooms, and other special dispensations. But will this hold if tough-talking potential president Sarko takes office next year? Stay tuned!

Crazed Herbignac resident responds to Smoking Ban
In our letters to the editor, we find this excited missive from a resident of Herbignac, in the 44. "Smoking bans? In France? By golly, if they're going to make restaurants smoke-free, when are they gonna make them child-free too? I'm sick of hearing those brats cry and squeal, and it's disgusting watching them smear food all over themselves! I paid for a fine dining experience. If other people can get smoking banned just because they don't like it, why can't I ban children in public?? GAAAHHH!!"

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Stubbies! If my pipes have a common theme, it is usually "long and curvy" - Even my straight pipes tend to be long in the shank and stem. However, I know there are fans out there of short and squat pipes, so I did these two, both of which are shorter-stemmed than my usual, while still having nice group 5-sized bowls. They're both earmarked for Pipe & Pint, but they will be here for at least a week since Larry has to be away from the shop, and I've set them aside to wait until he's back. If anyone on this side of the ocean wants one of them in the meantime, just drop me an email. The short-stemmed cumberland pipe is 299 €, and the natural is 383 €.

In other news, the first FdP pipe will be shipping out tomorrow to its new owner! I have started finishing and photographing the pipes, and am emailing the various people who requested one with pics of what is available, in order of the list that I have. I'll just go from person to person, one at a time, until everyone has a pipe they like. This will probaby take at least a month or more, to get everyone. Here is a photo of one of the earliest pipes finished, a higher grade than average due to an extremely dramatic sandblast (Most of the blasts will probably be 187 € TTC):

Thursday, August 17, 2006

FdP Pipes

The FdP pipes are underway! I just put seven through final stage boiling last night, along with two others that were cut to be FdPs but didn't work out (In both cases, I had the blocks not quite centered enough to allow the FdP pipe's wide flat bottom). So far I've had three discards, and just one of this bunch looks to be a smooth - I'm prone to think that I'll end up doing orders for smooths totally by hand, in order to maximize the chances of getting a flawless block. We'll see how it goes. I know they're pretty uninspiring to look at now, but I hope they'll be a good bit more interesting when I start finishing them this weekend and next week.

In other news, the Talbert Pipes website now has a Search page! This will allow searches of the entire website, including all the catalogs, galleries, resource area, and both blogs' archives. I hope it will be helpful, especially to those who might come looking for some page they remembered reading two years ago, and now can't find without endless clicking. I've added a link to the Search page to the links to the left, also, for convenient searching from the blog.

Entertainment-hungry pipemakers, and any other music fans, I've found a neat site to play with -
Anyone who's made pipes fulltime, or even seriously part-time, knows what I speak of when I mention monotony... While the carving and shaping is exciting and fun, and the finished products are joys to hold, there are many hours of dull repetition in every pipe. The handcutting of the bit, the filing, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding... Having something to listen to during this work is crucial for the sanity. I favor audiobooks. I love music too (The FdP pipes were all drilled and cut during an all-day George Thorogood fest for maximum *Barhah*!). The problem with music is the over-use factor - Once you've gone through your collection for the fortieth time, it can get grinding. is a neat idea in internet radio - You create your own radio stations by entering a band or song style that you like. The site then searches its music archives for similar music based on vocals, styles, tempo, etc, and creates a radio station for you stocked with tunes by the band in question plus endless new songs from groups you've never heard of - complete with titles, links to band pages, etc. It's a great way to get lots of free new music that you're actually very likely to enjoy, unlike the radio! Hook up a pair of wireless headphones, and I'm all set for another ten hour stint of sanding Grendel claws.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Naked Pipe

Today's photos show a couple of new Talbert Briar sandblasts in a way that usually only I ever see - totally unfinished. Even unstained blasts are normally finished by wax or shellac. Until these two, I have never offered for sale any pipe which was not somehow waxed or protected. However, these two pipes can be regarded as a test offer, to see what buyers think. The beauty of leaving the pipes unfinished is that it showcases the detailing of my sandblasting better than any finish could - the minute details are laid bare in such a way that only the most flawless pieces can actually be left without some sort of stain or finish, as the tiniest defect will become obvious this way.

Due to Blogger's image size limits, the thumbnail pic here links to a scaled-down image - nicely-sized for viewing, but smaller than the original. To see the full hi-res photo in all its 4 meg glory, go here.

I've noticed in recent years that some makers and marques were selling unfinished pipes - that is to say, pipes without a surface treatment, not pipes that were not completed! ;) I have resisted this because of what I consider good reasons - wood needs a finish or it can become rather ugly. The open wood absorbs oils from handling very quickly and the color begins to darken and change on the outer edges, coloring where it is handled most. This can give a splotchy, dirty appearance (especially if the pipes are handled with dirty hands!), and while a brand-new unfinished pipe may look beautiful, I am always mindful of how a pipe will look a few years down the road. However, I've spoken to a few collectors who love unfinished pipes for this very reason - they like watching them darken and think of the oil absorption as patina. After a recent chat with my friend Erwin on the subject of a new pipe he'd just bought (unfinished), I figured I would put the question to my buyers and see what they thought.

Thus, these two pipes are both for sale - direct sale, for the moment - and the buyer can choose which he'd prefer, to leave the pipe as it is (totally unfinished) or to apply a thin wax & shellac as normal, changing the color to the usual pale gold/blond of "virgin" finishes. I'll get to individual notes and prices in a moment, but first I'll reiterate the pluses and minuses of leaving them unfinished:

The Good: It shows off the sandblasting detail better than any waxed or shellacked finish. Pinpoint detail is amazing.

The Bad: They'll both gradually turn brown as they are handled, and it won't be like the gradual darkening that results from smoking (that is, even), it will be uneven and splotchier where the bowl is handled the most. Mindful owners may need to rotate the pipes in their fingers to keep the coloring consistent.

(I received this email from my friend Erwin, which I'm posting with his permission as it deals with this cleaning issue: "Trever, in your blog you stress the fact that an "unfinished" pipe tends to get dirty very quickly. (and I don't mean the normal darkening). True. But if you have potential customers who are worried about this dirty look, you can reassure them. From time to time, I cork the chamber of my unfinished pipes and then I scrub them with a brush, soap and water. The patina stays, but the dirt is gone. And after rinsing and drying with a towel, the wood dries up in only a minute or two. So this kind of pipe that seems quite difficult to take care of, actually is very easy to clean. ")

Now, as to the pipes...

The ring-grain pot shape IS SOLD - is one of the better sandblasts I have done. The photos tell the story. The ring grain, and the level of detail of that grain, is exceptional. It has a cumberland acrylic stem - a softer blend of acrylic which I personally love, with swirled and mottled colors similar to cumberland vulcanite but milder in contrast. It is an average size pipe, probably goup 4, though it looks rather small in comparison to the big & burly Dublin. Graded 4B and priced at 530 euros, it is one tick below being the highest grade of sandblast I conceivably manufacture (and to date I have not made a grade 5).

The Dublin pipe IS SOLD - is a burly beast, with a large bowl, thick walls, lots of "meat" around the bowl, and even a thicker bit than usual, ideal for those prone to heavy clenching. It is a pipe meant to be smoked! It also offers a beautiful, flawless display of unfinished grain which would be dazzling on its own and only seems lesser here in comparison to the stacked grain of the pot. It is a grade 3B and costs 408 euros.

Buyers, let me know what you prefer, a finish or no finish! Here's your chance to determine just how your new pipe will look. And everyone else, please click on Comments below and leave a message as to whether you'd prefer an unfinished pipe or not - I'd like to see a running vote on how many would be interested in such pipes and how many would not be. (Please don't email me your prefs - leave them as comments - as I want to have the votes all in one spot for easy reference in future).

For the time being these pipes are for sale direct. If they don't sell during the next week or so, however, I will finish them and ship them on to Pipe & Pint, as I need to get started on the FdP pipe soon and I don't want them hanging about in the workshop for a long time.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why I Never Answer the Phone

Today I have a quick photo of four new Ligne Bretagne Canadians that I just finished to send over to Pipe & Pint. I particularly enjoyed sandblasting these, even thought they couldn't be blasted very deeply. Nonetheless, I am still finding our media "revision" to be fun to work with, although the cabinet's new foot pedal valve has already (!) begun to act very stiffly, wanting to stick unless the line is fully pressurized. Looks like I'll lose another hour taking it back apart and greasing it, I suppose...

Check out the close-up pic of the very pretty horn stem on that natural Canadian - Very nice. The bit itself is as thick and bluntly-cut as all of these horn stems are, but it's hard to beat for beauty of material. If anyone is interested in buying one of these direct, before they go to Pipe & Pint, get in touch quick, as always - We'll probably put them in the mail in the next day or two.

France's country code is 33, and our phone number is That said, one should not expect to catch me by telephone easily. I felt I ought to post something because, it being vacation month, I've gotten more calls recently from people wanting to know if they can stop by for a visit while they're in the area. Or to be more precise, more calls have turned up on the answering machine, because I filter calls ruthlessly. Unless I am expecting a call, I never, ever pick up the telephone.

It isn't from lunacy or tinfoil-hat paranoia, though I have my quirks. No, the reasons I never answer can be listed as such:

1. Usually the calling number is blocked. Our machine shows us numbers, and if it's blocked, it's probably phone spam. I detested telemarketers in the US and I have absolutely no desire to try to deal with one in a foreign language, who won't even understand the rude things I'd say to him. So, no identifiable number, no pick-up.

2. If it isn't a blocked number, it's probably a call in French. I am quite proud to say that I've had, this year, several phone calls in French which I have actually understood - a stunning accomplishment, since French without visible body language is much harder to decipher. One must picture me here hanging up from a call entirely in French... very simple French, granted... and then sitting back looking quite stunned and surprised, like a hedgehog that's just sneezed out a live octopus. I don't expect to understand French calls, so I am still startled when I can. But, that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather have Emily do the français whenever possible, because she's so much better at it and she can handle all the things I can't follow, like big numbers. So, if she's not around, the machine gets the call.

3. Probably neither of us heard the phone ring anyway. I wear wireless headphones and listen to music and audiobooks on the computer; Emily wears MP3 headphones and listens to audiobooks on her portable player. Thus, neither of us can hear much that's quieter than gunshots, explosions, and giant monster attacks. It isn't uncommon to find that we've got five messages on the machine during an afternoon and have never heard the thing ring once.

4. The call is at an incredibly weird hour. I still get my share of calls from the US at 2 in the morning, after a long day of work when we're both flopped on the couch to watch a quick hour of TV before bed. Given the hours I usually work, when I knock off, I knock off.

5. I have forgotten again and left the phone off the hook for two solid days. Yes, I am that scatter-brained. Our phone, bizarrely, does not have a switch to turn the ringer off, but it does have a switch to take it "off hook". Given the prevalence of late-night calls from overseas, I take it off the hook before bed. And quite often totally forget to put it back on the hook again next morning. We really have gone two days thinking the phone's been awfully quiet before I thought to check the little LED display and see if it said "EXT".

So, what to do if you want to call us and speak to a real human being? Letting me know in advance by email helps, so we'll know to actually listen for rings during a specific afternoon. Otherwise, it's pretty much down to having a recognizable number and being willing to leave a message (I think my friend Juan has figured this out because he always leaves messages and we always grab for the phone, if we actually hear it ring). The odds of the phone being on the hook and one of us being in the house near the phone to hear it ring (at some time when we aren't eating or quit work for the evening) are pretty tiny, so until I can afford a full-time secretary, you probably won't have an easy time reaching us by telephone.......

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Emily makes pipes too

Today's pic shows a couple of new pipes destined for Pipe & Pint. The green one is a bit of a tip of the hat to Will Purdy, as the idea came from his Alchemist shapes. We haven't made a green pipe for a month or so, so it was obviously time.

The title today refers to a fact that seems to still surprise a lot of people - Emily makes pipes also! I was prompted to write about this after a recent visitor expressed surprise all over again when he was shown her work station and told she was an equal contributor in the pipemaking. Oddly, the French seem to have an even harder time with this than the Americans, but then I've noticed that sexism is still stronger and more entrenched here than it was in the states (Em has bristled on a number of occasions at being told, "That is not work for a woman", in totally casual fashion, as if it was not a radically sexist statement).

Despite having made LBs, mortas, and Talbert Briars for four years now, her invisible status continues.

When Dave Field was here, we laughed about it, calling her the best totally-unknown pipemaker working today, but it wasn't all that far from the truth. While I continue to carry the spotlight and present the customer relations face in the form of this blog, website work, and email communication, Emily has gradually moved more and more into pipemaking over these last few years.

When we began, it was a long road - longer than I'd expected, really. Em is quite talented at all things craft-ish, carries an arts degree, and is particularly good at fiber art and jewelry. Thus, we'd both assumed she could learn pipemaking quickly, but alas, her own nitpicky nature stretched the training process out a good bit longer than expected. Where I will learn a new trick and then immediately dive off into trying a dozen variations and deviations from it, Emily prefers to repeat the new trick 50 times until she has totally mastered it, before taking another step.

We found out early on that, due to the quirks of the market, her selling value would be an uphill struggle. At first, I would comment on each pipe as to who made it, but it quickly became obvious that buyers would skip over her pipes and go for mine instead, regardless of comparative quality, apparently preferring mine for name value alone. We didn't have the luxury for slow sales to build an independant reputation for her, so I quickly stopped identifying who made what and suddenly her pipes began to sell again.... once buyers believed that I made them! Sales-wise, over the past two years, I've seen virtually no difference between the enthusiasm and speed with which her work sales or my own. It seems obvious that buyers like her shapes and detailing just fine, they just want to think I made the pipe!

However, Talbert Pipes is a team effort. Our work is so intertwined that it's often hard to say who made what, and many times we will share work on the same pipe or set of pipes. Two heads are far better than one at a job like this - The benefits of having another pair of eyes to judge, critique, and evaluate is essential, and having another head that knows the equipment and materials and can help puzzle out problem solutions can be life-saving. For its first few years of existence, Talbert Pipes was me, but for some years now - and moreso today than ever - Talbert Pipes is Us. A jointly owned and operated workshop where we both do equal work and co-mingle our various strengths and aptitudes to make a superior pipe all-around.

I bring this up because the two pipes pictured today are perfect examples. One was made 100% by Emily, one by me. And I'm not telling which! But I'm so happy with the two of them that if I could afford to, I'd keep them both :D

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Unexpected Results

I started out to make a billiard similar to my favorite Dunhill group 5 bent (bottom in the pic), and the pipe above it is what I got. This is a good example of why I am usually vague with expected dates, time frames, etc. It isn't uncommon to try to make a pipe for an order and have several successive attempts turn into totally different pipes. Customers don't understand why you said you were starting on their pipe last week, but it still isn't finished and you're making your fourth attempt this week. I'll try to explain!

Briar is a natural material. There are basically two ways one can approach it - One can force shapes upon it, ignoring the grain and any existing flaws and simply cutting the exact shape that is wanted, puttying in any flaws that are left. Or, one can work with the wood, letting it be what it wants to be. Pragmatists dismiss this sort of wifty approach and prefer to talk in exact measurements and angles. I, however, prefer to "float like a leaf on a river"...i.e., try to feel out what the wood wants to be and let it guide its own shape whenever possible. I started on the block above, and began cutting the basic pipe shape when I was struck by the dramatic upward flare of the ring graining, and how it radiated out and around from a skewed lower center. And also, how neatly the "tail" rings made a curving loop. In little time, it was no longer a bent billiard, and was on its way to being the pipe you see above.

It would actually be much easier if I could just sit down like a laser-cutting machine and produce precise shapes, similar to a topic we've been discussing in Jeff's pipe forum. A lot of people seem to think that pipemaking is like this - that we sit down with a precise set of measurements and keep filing until that last millimeter matches the specs - but freehand pipemaking is a much more organic process.

(This calls to memory a French pipe collector who contacted us after we moved here. He sent us, by mail, an elaborate diagram of measurements and heights and angles and tilt, and wanted a handmade pipe with multiple extra stems... because he apparently chewed through them regularly.... and expected to get this for about sixty euros [An amount of labor time which I ran through just trying to communicate with him]. I was left absolutely boggled at his ignorance of Things Pipe-ish, and finally politely suggested that I wasn't the right choice for his project and he needed to find another pipemaker, at which point he emailed me a torrent of anti-American abuse and insults which I just quietly trashed and ignored. I've had a few interesting experiences with the expectations of a few French pipe collectors, to say the least...)

Of course, it isn't just the French - There are loads of people out there who approach pipe design from a CAD point of view, and essentially want an exact 3D model from a block of wood. It can be done, but it is immensely challenging and usually requires many, many attempts, making such pipes expensive beyond reckoning. I have a private project that I want to undertake someday which will involve making a series of pipes with very precise curves and angles for a thematic purpose, but it remains only a idea on paper because I simply don't have the spare time to burn through the inevitable series of rejects and pieces that don't fit the specs. (If I am ever able to actually produce this project, I predict a series of pipes that will make the Halloween pipes look cheap...)

On another subject, there is another box of pipes ready to go to Pipe & Pint!

Included will be the big, Signature grade Talbert freehand discussed above, and also two horn-stemmed Ligne Bretagnes (One of the ever-popular Canadians and also a neat churchwarden), and three new Morta Classics (One in particular, the bent raindrop shape in back, is a neat piece with a bigger-than-usual bowl). If anyone on this side of the ocean is interested in any of these pipes, please contact me quickly, as they will probably all go into the mail tomorrow or Tuesday (The TB Signature is 530 €, the Mortas are 225 € each, while the LBs weigh it at a tidy 101 € each, all not including VAT, of course). If you're in the US, best wait until they reach P&P for nicer pics and such, unless anyone wants to pounce on something in advance. I know there were at least three of four guys out there who have mentioned wanting "wizardly" LB churchwardens, for instance! I did snap a couple of extra shots of the TB, seen below:

Next time I'll be writing about how pipe prices break down (to answer those inevitable questions of, "How can you charge 400 € for something that took ten hours to make? That's 40 € an hour!!" Well, no, it isn't, but it is definitely a subject worth writing about...). Either that, or another article I've been meaning to write that will be titled something like "Unavoidable Realities", and focus on some things that people just often don't want to accept, like there being no such things as magic briar, some pipes will just smoke poorly no matter what, there's often a reason behind what's perceived as weird workmanship, and how it's entirely possible to do everything right and still produce a pipe that will smoke poorly or explode.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Elections 06 - Choosing the FdP Pipe

For those who weren't aware, I am doing a pipe for the French "Fumeurs de Pipe" pipe club this year. I agreed to do this way back in October of 2005, but other projects kept interfering and I've been unable to get started on it until now. I had always intended to make several potential pipes, and let the FdP guys vote on their favorite shape among the candidates. Unfortunately, the growing troubles with the sandblaster delayed things further. But, I finally got the last two sample pipes finished, and for those who are curious, the full page listing the candidate pipes and their photos and descriptions is now online here. Also note that all of these "model" pipes are each for sale! Prices are listed after each description, though as I write this, the pre-smoked Pipe #2 has already been spoken for. I suppose I should actually add #3 and #4 to the Ligne Bretagne catalog proper, as they are brand-new unsmoked stamped pipes, but I'm too lazy for now. This way the FdP guys (and blog readers) can have first chance at them if anyone wants one.

I finished writing the page up and posted it late last night, around midnight. The last work still to be done is to translate the individual descriptions into French, but a lot of that is beyond my language abilities so I'm hoping some enlightened linguist from FdP will help out :)

It's been a fun project so far, and I hope it continues to be. But it can be a frustrating challenge trying to come up with a pipe that will have broad appeal AND can be affordably made on a budget that will make everyone happy (or at least equally unhappy...). This pretty much guaranteed that the pipe would be a Ligne Bretagne of some sort, though I may make a very few Talbert Briar versions of the preferred shape if anyone is so inclined (A fully handmade TB version of Pipe #1, on a larger scale and with thicker walls, would be a nice piece indeed for those with the budget).

I made no secret of my favorite of the bunch - It is the one pictured above. A couple of the others are more graceful, but also more fragile, and this one would make some terrific sandblasts... especially considering that the pipe in questions sells for the equivalent of $157 over here! Alas, it is currently dead last in the voting, LOL...

I am going to let the vote run for at least two or three weeks before declaring a winner, to allow as many of the club members (many of whom are going, or returning from, holiday) to vote. If you are a member of FdP, please go vote!

If you are not in FdP, Please do not vote, even if you are tempted - This is for club members only.

Though, I should add that if Pipe #4 doesn't get chosen, there may be a few of those made as regular production LBs anyway...........