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

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Group Photo of New Pipes

I've been busy posting new pipes to the site all weekend, and thought I would post here a group shot of them all. In total, I've posted nine new Ligne Bretagnes in the past two days, so we finally have a little bit of inventory! Four of these are examples of the rare (until now, I have only made three examples of the shape in four years) Shape 32, and there are some churchwardens and Canadians also, with the usual mix of sandblasts and smooths. I love this photo because it makes the lone Talbert Briar really show its size, especially next to the churchwardens which have some of the taller bowls in the Ligne Bretagne line. Pipes for He-Men, that's me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Newsflash! Zombie Pipesters invade City of Malton!

By hilarious coincidence, it seems I am not the only pipe-person playing in the MMORPG Urban Dead. In fact, the city seems to be under a minor invasion of new characters referencing pipes in their profiles.. Must be some collective flashback to all those old black & white movies we grew up on! For your amusement and entertainment, here are some character descriptions to keep an eye out for:

Tebow the fireman
Quite small for a man, Tebow appears comfortable in his blue bath robe and Godzilla slippers. His week old beard shows traces of white. He spends a lot of time fiddling with his pipe. His sole quest is to find a tobacco shop with a comfortable couch.

Tebow the dead fireman
Quite small for a man, Tebow appears to stoop inside his blue bath robe. His week old beard shows yellow tobacco stains beneath his nostrils. The fog of cataracts in both eyes is visible from a distance and toilet paper streams from his left foot.
VonBraun the zombie
Bald and wearing a cheap suit, VonBraun clenches a small can of tobacco in his left hand. His breath reeks of latakia. His ill temper no doubt stems from his dangling, dislocated jaw and the inability to clench a pipe in his teeth.

Vincent Z
Vincent Zygygy sits and twitches, teeth clenched on a thoroughly blackened meerschaum pipe, mumbling under his breath about the need to modify zombie DNA to enforce docility. Occasionally he jerks and shouts, "Who's going to believe a talking head?", then lapses back into muttering.

Frenzied looking former fireman, prone to axe first and speak questions later, but not a PKer and firmly on the side of the humans. Often seen relaxing with a pint of Guinness while puffing on a large, elaborately sculpted pipe.

Lights a pipe, puffs it, and thoughtfully considers the ramifications of full-scale zombie invasion. Then goes bonkers.

Should anyone wish to look me up in the game, all three of my guys are currently in and around the Chudleyton/Darvall Heights/Eastonwood area, making occasional raids into the remnants of the Mall Tour 06 zombie mob.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Early Emily, and More Special Orders

Today's photo is a little blast from the past - one of the first pipes that Emily made, back around 99 or so. I remember this as being a really colorful thing, because (while it is difficult to see in the photo) the stem was pearlescent acrylic and fitted with a decor ring of pearlescent green... mated to a pipe stained deep red! Trés Christmas-ey, that. Speaking of holiday treats, we've just found a delicious substitute for our beloved (and much-missed) Cadbury Eggs from the states. There are chocolate eggs here by Milka that come in little egg crates, and are filled with a fantastic milky sugary stuff. C'est magnifique!

Today's pipe news is the posting of three new pipes to the website, along with some big changes to our shipping methods. I've just finished up work on some Talbert Briar bulldogs for an order. The fellow who placed the order has snagged the one he wanted, and the others are now available. One is very English, the other rather Italian in style. Also, there's a new Ligne Bretagne handmade Collector posted, in a Zulu shape and sporting an exceptionally nice sandblast for the price! In other news, our shipping service has completely revamped itself - all the prices have been changed (mostly increased, unfortunately), and the weight categories have been changed. The good news is that they have finally drug themselves into the twentieth (sic) century and now have package tracking by website, and should (I hope) offer faster shipping times. For a full breakdown of the various costs, speeds, and methods of shipping available, please visit our new Shipping page.

I mentioned previously that there was more to discuss regarding the subject of special orders. I was recently chatting with a fellow via email about "sales odds" - namely, the chance that a particular pipe will sell. Sometimes a fellow will try to order a pipe, and the pipemaker will receive the request skeptically, and not seem to be very enthused. The buyer is confused - in his mind, the pipe is a "sure sale", so the pipemaker is being inexplicably strange by not jumping enthusiastically at the chance to make the pipe. (As someone mentioned to me in private after my previous post on special orders, the biggest problem is that buyers don't see themselves in the roles I laid out - in their heads, they are ALL "Gold Buyers".... they just haven't quite gotten what they really wanted just yet!) The fact is that special orders are not sure sales - in reality, they are actually the least likely to sell! I've been doing this for a while now, and can say with some confidence (and without intentional hubris) that if I make a pipe to my own "eye" (sense of design, style, dynamic, what-have-you), it will sell about 90% of the time. However, it has been my experience that when I make a pipe for a special order, the odds of making the sale quickly fall to around 30%, at best. Literally 70% of the people who ask for pipes either back out, vanish, or refuse the pipe that is made for them..... 70%. Thus, the pipemaker really has to look at the odds - I can have fun and make a pipe for myself, to get the best from the briar, and it's 90% likely to sell. Or, I can go round and round with an order, trying to find a workable block, trying to please an idea that's from (and in) somebody else's head... and have one third the chance that it will actually sell in the end!

And then, of course, the pipemaker is left with the pipe. "I made this for somebody else's specs. It wasn't really my idea, and doesn't represent the best of my creativity at work. And, in the end, they rejected it." Doesn't that make a wonderful sales pitch for trying to sell the pipe to someone else? ;) This is why I've come to so love my current system, that of only taking vague special orders that leave lots of room for play, where I can have fun and spin out lots of variants of ideas and the buyers can take them if they want (or back out and stop answering emails if they want).... because in the end, I get to make pipes that are me, that I'm confident are sellable, and most importantly, that are fun.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Photo uploads live again!

After being non-functional for one week, Blogger is working properly again, and I can upload photos. Voila, here is the "serious" photo to match the previous post's "silly" photo. Don't we all look philosophical?

Yesterday was the typical pipemaker day - two bulldogs both had to be trashed due to flaws that surfaced in the latter stages of creation. One, which otherwise looked excellent, opened up a small hole right at the center of the bottom during the first stage of sandblasting. It was not large, but when I pushed a pin into it, the pin sank in halfway and pushed through the wood into the tobacco chamber! Such are the adventures in briar. Actually, it made a good example of why I prefer sandblasts to smooths, personally. I know many folks think of blasts as "flawed" pipes, but actually the flaws have been blasted away, and I can at least have confidence that the remaining wood is solid and durable. One can stop sanding a smooth pipe one millimeter above an internal fissure that reaches through the wall to one millimeter from the chamber, and never know this flaw is present until the pipe is smoked - but, such a flaw would reveal itself during blasting and the pipe would be discarded. Food for thought, when one considers the arguments for and against sandblasts.

Fortunately, I was able to calm my frustration by snacking on a few hapless humans in Urban Dead. I'm really a total newbie to the free low-tech online game scene, but I've been enjoying UD - the fact that play balance caters to those who have limited time to play helps a lot. Casual gamers like myself can have fun, without the game being hogged by the nuts who stay connected 24/7 chopping up cows all day to level up their characters. Plus, I enjoy the bare-bones look, which brings back happy Zork memories of the days when the imagery was in my head rather than in a five-hundred degree supercharged graphics chip. And this does connect to pipes - all three of my in-game characters are prominent pipe smokers and my profiles link to our pipe site, so maybe some random folk will get curious about this strange idea of luxury pipes & tobaccos. If anyone else is in the game, look me up - I'm bumming around the Yagoton suburb as TreverT, and can also be found as a shambling undead thing by name of Pipier, currently shuffling around at the Caiger Mall seige. And enjoy my character description... "The rotting zombie shuffles closer. Curiously, it seems to have a pipe clenched in its teeth, and it says, Graagh! to the no smoking signs."

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Quick Hello

NOTE - After a week's outage, I can again upload photos to our blogs, so here is one of the photos from Marc's visit ici!

Not much time lately for updating the blog, unfortunately. However, we did take a quick break today when we had some guests visit us. Mark Muller of FumeursdePipe stopped by and we had a nice chat and smoke, discussing various topics of the francophile pipe world - the (apparently aborted again?) Paris pipe show, Cuxhaven 2006, young French pipemaker David Enrique, and especially my first couple of models of the 2006 FdP pipe. Emily even shot a brief video wave.

As could be imagined, I got a lot of responses to my last blog entry, but fortunately (perhaps amazingly) they were all positive - collectors empathized and seemed to find my descriptions funny, while other pipemakers were asking me to post that article to every pipe messageboard on the net. I also received several more "character suggestions", which may see publication sometime in the future. I'll have to carve out some time from pipemaking and online playing in Urban Dead if I'm going to write them up, though...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Special Orders and Not-So-Special Orders

I have been working on some orders lately for a variety of different folks that I've really enjoyed. At the moment, I'm trying to finish up a set of bulldog shapes (or variants, really) for one fellow, and the photo to the left is a sneak preview of the first of them. The deal is the usual - I'm trying to make at least two or three or more pipes with variations between them, and he can choose which he wants with the rest going onto the website catalog. Speaking of which, I have to add in a plug that we still have two Morta Princes available, though the rest of our stock has been decimated since that last update. Our shop area is one great pile of boxes ready to be shipped. To all those folks who got a pipe and were promised it would ship today, my apologies, but it will be delayed one day. Em went to the PO today and there was a temp worker there, who rang up all of our boxes at twice the normal shipping fees. She was totally unfamiliar with international shipping costs, so after much fussing, Em opted to wait until tomorrow when the regular lady will be back, and came home with two sacks full of unshipped pipe boxes.

I just finished answering a question in the last post's "Comments" box regarding special orders, and I thought that maybe it would make a good topic for discussion. I'll start out by immediately splitting the topic into the idealized desires and the more likely realities. The idealized image lots of folks have about special ordering pipes is that all pipemakers should do it, all pipemakers should be infinitely patient with them as they change their minds, rethink ideas, run out of money, etc. Also, and let's especially hammer on this one - There is an idealized concept that there should be no favoritism. This is all fantasy. In reality, a pipemaker must pick and choose among the orders he receives in a very shrewd, business-like fashion, because taking all orders can kill a maker fast.

A smart pipemaker knows how much time he puts into a pipe and how much he's making per hour on that pipe, and his pricing accounts for the added invisible expenses of taking photos, answering various email inquiries, packing, shipping, etc. When I'm writing back to someone about a pipe, it's working time for me whether I am saying, "Here's your total, we take payment by X and X" or just, "Yes, I find morta to have a really dark sort of musky smoke that favors stronger tobaccos. Did you have any other questions?" The trick about this is that it takes just as much time to answer emails and calls about a 50 euro pipe as it does about a 500 euro pipe... the typing time is the same! Ergo, if I spend a half hour answering inquiries about a 100 € Ligne Bretagne, that working time is a much bigger chunk of the pipe's price and profit margin than thirty minutes spent chatting about Talbert Briars.

Which brings me to the point I was making in my Comments reply - as the price of the pipe goes down, there is less and less room for "run around", especially of the, "Maybe I will, maybe I won't, can I make payments on it, could you do another like it with a slightly longer stem, etc" variety. I've been making pipes for ten years now and have done hundreds of special orders, and I've assembled a few observations about the folks who order pipes. Some of these are not too flattering, but I'm not trying to insult anyone here, only to perhaps give folks a little reflection and food for thought when they approach the idea of ordering a pipe. I'll list some of the types, starting with the best:

The Gold buyer. This is the guy you want, as a pipemaker - He is easy with orders, he understands that briar varies, he accepts latitude for creative expression, and he buys. This is the guy that people see at pipe shows smoking unbelievably rare freehands by famous makers... You know, those pipes that you can't figure out how people buy them, because you never see any for sale. You wonder how this guy got one, and he smiles and shrugs and says it wasn't difficult, and he actually has fifteen more like this one. The reason he got them is because he has a proven reputation with the maker as a client who is great to work with and who actually buys what is made. It's maximum profit for the maker - not much back-and-forth Q&A time, and guaranteed income. Often, Gold buyers end up becoming real life friends with the pipemakers because the relationship is so good.

The Technician. Makers vary widely about their feelings for this fellow. He has an order and he'll pay for it, but it has to be exactly what he wants, and he knows exactly what he wants right down to the millimeter. Orders from the technician sometimes come with diagrams showing measurements and angles. Some pipemakers excel at this sort of work. Myself, I hate it - I spent enough years working in an office that I can't stand the feeling of someone leaning over my shoulder checking everything I do against the specs and essentially using me as a robot intermediary between himself and the briar. When I get orders like this, I turn them down as politely as I can. I don't dispute this fellow's right to get what he wants for his money, it just won't be fun work for me.

The Faux Technician. For new pipemakers especially, it is hard to differentiate between the Technician (a good guy who happens to be very picky) and the Faux Technician. The FT resembles the T in every respect except one - He has no intention of actually buying the pipes he orders. His enjoyment comes from the fantasy of ordering his dream spiral-shanked freehand done to exact measurements. He'll provide specs and never accept the result, no matter how close it may be.... It just doesn't have that detail like he'd really wanted it, and can we please start over? The Faux Technician can be lethal to a struggling pipemaker, because he'll waste endless hours of the maker's time in long, long emails about every conceivable aspect of the pipe, then back out of every sale, leaving the maker with stock that he must put selling hours into all over again, if he wants to be paid.

Big Eyes. Big Eyes is a different kind of special order. He isn't picky like the Technicians, but unlike Mr. Gold he has no intention or ability to pay. More often than not, it's lack of ability. There are an awful lots of Big Eyes guys out there in their twenties, who spot something incredibly pricey and just absolutely have to have another one like THAT.... Often not even aware themselves that they actually will have to pay for the pipe when it is made. These fellows are characterized by their enthusiasm - gushing emails are the norm - and their infectious excitement about the idea of having a pipe made just for them. Then, when it is finished after much emailing, chat, and possibly days of work, all goes quiet.... The person who wrote you every ten minutes for days on end is now mute for three or four days, and then comes the, "I really, really love the pipe, but I just don't have the money for it right now. Can you hold it for me until the month after next, when I can make a payment for half of the price?" The pipemaker is torn between not wanting to hurt the fellow's feelings because he's obviously young and inexperienced, and at the same time wanting to reach out through the phone lines and throttle him. After a maker has been stung by Big Eyes, he is forever wary.

Flit. Flit will pay, or may pay, but he also makes the pipemaker pay - big time. Flit is often just as enthused as Big Eyes, but not nearly as focused. He wants a billiard. No, wait, he thinks a bent poker would be better. With a cumberland stem. No, wait, maybe a churchwarden with a cumberland stem. Can that have a silver band? Wait, what about a bent billiard sitter with a churchwarden stem? You get the idea. The maker doesn't want to hurt Flit's feelings because he appreciates and understands his enthusiasm... but every email back and forth is working time, time that the maker isn't getting paid for, not yet. The magic trick is to be fast - nail one idea and make the pipe requested before Flit can change his mind again. Flit is often a good guy, friendly, and active in the pipe hobby, but he wonders why pipemakers don't seem to take him seriously, and seem to actually shy away a little bit from his advances. Unfortunately, this is because Flit is indistinguishable from...

Flitter Away. FA behaves just like Flit except in one crucial aspect - He isn't buying, he's just daydreaming. Nothing you make is going to match his idea of the moment, and he isn't impressed that you're actively trying to make a pipe for him - He's just really enjoying seeing each new pipe you make and seeing what new variations he can dream up for you to try. You'll never see a sale here. FA is the pipe ordering equivalent of those people who call the realtors and go house browsing with no intention of buying. It's just fun to see all the different houses!

I need to sign off here for the night, though I could go on. I hope this is interesting reading, and not too offensive - If anything, I'd like for buyers to have a little more insight into just what goes on with their special orders, why they may have difficulties getting what they want, or why they may find their pipe requests being politely declined. Everyone will be happier if we all understand the dynamics, and especially pitfalls, of trying to turn a natural, unreliable material into "the stuff dreams are made of".

Friday, March 03, 2006

R.I.P. Fat Dwarf

Today marks the sad end of one of our most popular Ligne Bretagne shapes, the shape #72 "Fat Dwarf". I knew that eventually we would begin running out of LB stummels, given that we are working from a limited (though large) stock, and unfortunately this was the first shape to be exhausted. It's possible I may find more, given how piled-up and chaotic our briar storehouse is (Those who have visited here know what I mean), but unless I get very lucky, the pipes shown above were the last six of the series. But, why are there six above and only two available on the website? When I casually mentioned a week or so ago that this shape would be ending soon, I immediately got a request for two of the last ones sight-unseen, and another two were snapped up also. I wish I had more!

In other news, I've just posted three more new Morta Classics to the site. We're going to rest the Bettafish for a bit, and turn back to some more conventional and classical shapes like these new Princes.

Here is another version of the above photo, where one can have a little glance at something I've been doodling in my spare time (such as it is). A Korrigan is a kind of Breton gremlin, or mischievous faerie critter. I thought I'd make a quick watercolor painting of one with a somewhat more alien look; less like the usual Brian Froud/Charles Vess sort of fae.