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

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.