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Saturday, January 27, 2007

More of this New Finish

Here's another, more dramatic example of this new finish style. The contrast of the coloration works better on pipes with very tight grain, unlike the billiard example, and the difference in coloration is profound - These two pipes were both contrast-colored in exactly the same process, yet the tighter-grained pipe held so much more color that even the unwaxed highlights appear darker. The look really goes well with a cumberland stem, in my opinion. Here is another photo showing how it even brings out the detail in formerly rather dull sandblasted bird's-eye displays:

Again, like the billiard previously, this pipe has not been waxed or shellacked, the wood has simply been left bare. I MAY finish it; I haven't yet decided, and if a buyer wants it, he can make that decision. It's a grade 4, 515 €, and rather a large thing - huge and thick rather than thin and light. Prospective smokers should probably be at least 190-200 lbs in order to look proportional to the pipe! ;) It is SOLD. And, please scroll down to the previous post and vote your opinion on the look of the finish, I'm curious to hear.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Another Take on the Unfinished Pipe

Here's a very different sort of unfinished pipe from the last time I mentioned them. Previous sandblasts that I've shown and discussed here in an unfinished (meaning, without wax or shellac or any protective gloss - essentially, bare matte wood) have all been unstained also. But, it's perfectly possible to stain a pipe for enhanced contrast, and still leave it matte rather than applying any sort of final stain color or gloss finish. That's what this pipe is at the moment - It has a simple base stain for surface texture contrast, but no gloss at all. What does everyone think?

Good look or not?
I love it!
I'm neutral
Gack, that's not a good look
Free polls from

At the moment this pipe is still matte, neither waxed nor shellacked. I haven't decided whether to leave it this way or to gloss it, but if anyone wants to purchase it, they can decide how they'd like it finished. Right now it is available. It's a grade 3B, 415 €, and is a very nice bit of briar, with a big group 5+ bowl. The pics don't show it well, but I went to some trouble to keep the grain of the cumberland stem sections matched and properly aligned. Anyone wishing to buy it should email me. As to the shape, this is my idea of a classical bent billiard, and I'm not at all ashamed that it might hark a wee bit back to:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Whoah. Time changes things.

Flashback! It's 1997. I decide to offer, out of simple curiosity, a few of my pipes for sale online to see if anyone is even interested. This one is the first sale. If I recall correctly, it sold for around $225 - a sum that, at the time, was considered both enormous and preposterous for a brand new pipemaker to dare ask, and I caught flak and flames for the next couple of years over actually asking the sort of prices I need to get for my labor.

Normally when a pipe is smoked, its resell value drops to half or less, with America pipemakers of that time (a short ten years ago) often suffering even more ignominious fates as their $300 new pipes resold as estates for $75.

So, imagine my surprise when, after nearly ten years of smoking, this pipe recently sold in estate condition on ebay for $865! I guess this means I've arrived, or something. For my part, I feel like I'm just getting started.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Lost Brandyglass

I have a very large, fat, thick-walled, natural finish brandyglass available if anyone is interested. It's a grade 3, 390 €, and if no one buys it from this post I'll just send it on the P&P as per usual. It's an orphan, you see. I made this thing because I had firmly in my memory that someone had special-ordered a bent brandyglass, preferably natural finish, et voila, here she is! But, upon going back through my pile of email orders and requests, I can find no evidence of the original contact, and now have no idea who asked for the pipe.

It's also highly possible I am insane, and imagined the whole thing. The bookshelves do speak to me regularly, after all.

Anyway, it is now available to anyone interested, and it does pass a pipecleaner straight down to the bowl despite being nearly a full bent, though a little wiggling is sometimes required. Someday I'm going to write a post about how to drill a steep airhole to just behind the bottom of the bowl, rather than into it, in order to open the airhole from the bowl bottom back into the airhole, rather than having the usual problem of a steeply-inclined airhole that ends up being half a centimeter above the bottom.

But not today! The only thing I wanted to mention today was to make a comment about thick walls and heat. I often hear guys say they like thick-walled pipes because "they don't smoke as hot". The problem is, this isn't true - We just don't feel the heat of the burn because there's a lot more insulation between our fingers and the chamber. It's actually a deceptive danger, because it's much easier to smoke a thick-walled pipe too hot and damage the walls, without being aware of it. Thin-walled pipes are like early warning systems - If it gets too hot to hold, put it down and let it rest. It's a lot trickier to tell when to do this with something the size of your fist! I just try to time mine - If I have a really large pipe, I'll typically set it down midway through the bowl, just to keep it healthy and reduce any burning risks.

There are two entirely different meanings of "hot smoking", when the term is used. One fellow says a pipe smokes hot because the bowl gets hot in his hand. This factor depends largely on the thickness and density of the wood. Another fellow will say "hot smoking" meaning the smoke has a lot of bite - it's harsh on the tongue. This is probably more often the result of a poor tobacco choice (or a body chemistry mismatch - it happens) than the fault of the pipe, but some pipes do indeed smoke hotter than others. That again is a factor of the briar density and more importantly, the airhole size and ease of draw. A wide-open draw can smoke well, but puff too hard and it's easy to get the burn stoked up enough to sizzle the chamber walls, too. That's why matching the airhole size to the chamber size is such a big part of making a good-smoking pipe.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Different Tricks

I've had this little Taig microlathe for years now, practically from when I started making pipes professionally, and it's a handy little beast. I find it much friendlier for really detailed work than the full-size metal lathe, which is hard to be precise with. Moreover, there are times that it is called upon to do something unusual that another tool can't.

When making pipes by shaping them first, and then drilling after, getting the drilling right requires a good bit more actual skill than just rotating the block in a self-centering chuck. Flattening the shank at 90 degrees to the mortise is another challenge, and usually I do this on the big lathe. However, some shapes it just can't handle - the tool carriage is too big to allow really tall bowls to rotate, and the size and bulk of the headstock and chuck prevent me from easily facing unusual shapes like this.

Fortunately, a little jury-rigging allows the Taig to handle the job easily - the stummel spins, the small cutter reaches inside the spinning bowl, and it's easy to face the mortise. People ask, "How do you make a pipe?", and the real answer is, "A hundred different ways, because sometimes it seems like every shape brings its own set of challenges to the job".

And here is the resulting pipe! It's an unusually-angled blast rather than the typical ring grain, and thus a wee bit less expensive than usual (I really like unexpected grain arrangements but collectors often don't share this quirk...). If anyone is interested in this pipe it is currently sold. It's a grade 2B Talbert Briar, and costs 330 € plus shipping.

One note about the pipe - It is a design utilizing a tall, narrow, conical bowl chamber. This sort of shape is ideal for a flake tobacco, but I don't really like ribbons in this sort of setup, so that's something to consider.

Christmas just keeps on coming here! With gifts from family and friends crisscrossing in international post, it makes the season last from mid-December through to February. I just got a box the other day from a friend in the states which contained some bottles of Sam Smith's Taddy Porter, and if this wasn't miraculous enough, another Christmas box brought me no less than THREE new pipes! So, I'll close this entry with a pic of my new arrivals - an LOTR pipe, a Rinaldo Collection, and an IMMENSE Ser Jacopo "Maxima Maxima".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ebay Talberts

For whom it may concern - Just thought I'd post a quick notice that several Talberts have just appeared on Ebay, for anyone interested. First is this pair of matched Talbert Briar and Talbert Morta pipes, made not long after we moved over here. They should make a nice opportunity to own a contrasting pair of smoking characteristics, for anyone who's keen on the "taste & compare" fun of this hobby. And they're a good bit nicer than the photos would indicate.

Next up is the Saruman pipe, first pipe I ever sold online, from 1997. Hmm, I suppose I should make an anniversary Saruman this year, just to observe the occasion... !

I don't have anything to do with either auction, but just thought I'd pass the links on in case anyone out there might be interested.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Box of Pipes!

Here's a group photo of what's about to ship out to Pipe & Pint, either tomorrow or Thursday, most likely. It should be a nice varied box, with pipes from the conventional to the very wild. The bamboo shank bulldog in the foreground and the blasted bent raindrop on the left are the most recent additions - I'll bet that big raindrop will get snagged particularly quick. So, it's "last call" for direct sales of any of these - If anyone over here wants one, please email me pretty quick!

That bamboo shank pipe may look familiar from a previous article. It's a 3 piece pipe - Since the airhole in the briar shank had to be drilled at an angle that would not permit future reaming with the bamboo epoxied in place, I've instead simply finished two mortises and the stem can be removed from the bamboo as well as the bamboo being removable from the briar bowl, all for easier cleaning.

What's happening at Talbert Pipes now? It's pretty much Battle Stations all round here - We entered January severely suffering from the holiday expenses, and are now scrambling like mad to do the bills thing. Such is the life of the self-employed artisan... I think some would call it "adventurous", but they probably have salaried jobs. ;) But, I'll probably be absent from most pipe forums and such for a while, as I'll be working heavy shifts through the rest of the month and beyond.

Oh, and as a parting note, I'm not sure that the "American Pipemaker in Brittany" blog will continue. I've run out of things to say that aren't the same thing over and over again, and there doesn't seem much point in writing that I've had to totally drop my French studies again due to more pressing problems, for the hundredth time. I realized I hadn't updated it since November and there just isn't much to say there - It's just been work work work, and I've barely left the house for two months. We'll see...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bamboo Review

Bamboo! Today's pic isn't a pipe, but a pipe component. I love bamboo-shanked pipes. My first one was a 56 Dunhill and I've never looked back. I've made a lot of them over the years, but I sort of slacked off a few years back because for a while, it seemed like EVERYBODY was making bamboo-shanked pipes! But, now that the craze has faded a little, I'll probably dip my toes back in the water. I thought, for a change of pace, I'd post a little something about the varieties of bamboo.

There are a lot of suppliers for this stuff - It can be had from pipemaking material suppliers and also from numerous sources. It isn't actually bamboo rod that's used, but the shoots of the roots. And there can be quite a bit of variety! Different collectors like different things- some want the whitest, others golden, still others like the ragged natural look. In the photo here, I've shown four different types of bamboo that I have here from four different sources.

Going left to right, the first is a stalk of what some might call "high end" bamboo - selected for whiteness and pre-cleaned, meaning that all the little rootlets and nodes have been removed for convenience. I find the material almost flavorless to smoke, and it's interestingly different from the golden-colored, shorter piece second-from-left. That bamboo is from a source that was aged, and it's around twenty years old. I don't know if, like briar, it has darkened naturally with age, or if the wood itself is differently colored, but what I do know is that it is much tighter and less ragged in its grain fiber structure. I cut an end off the white piece and it emerges sort of ragged looking, while I can cut an end on the golden piece and it emerges shiny and flat as briar. It has another aspect I favor too - flavor. I find that older bamboo stock to have a really enjoyable flavor influence on tobaccos. Those who prefer total neutrality wouldn't like it, but for myself, I find it an excellent enhancement to most blends.

The long curved piece was from a friend, who grew it himself. Lacking specific cultivation, it's gnarlier and darker and more prone to surface stainings than the white bamboo, though I don't find the smoke any different. Some would consider it inferior, but I believe it is simply an alternate look, more natural, wilder, less artificial. It's more a matter of matching the bamboo effect to the pipe than of ranking the bamboo in a convenient 123 scale of quality.

Finally, on the far right is a beautiful stalk from a supplier who ships the bamboo "rough" - i.e., with nodes and rootlets still attached. They're easy enough to remove, though it does make a bit of extra work for the pipemaker. And at times, I've even left them in place for specific effects, such as the general twisted look of the Jack of the Lantern pipe. It's funny how simple pipes are, and yet how much info and variation there is if one even starts digging a little.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Relax, I got an angle!

... And anyone who doesn't immediately think of this line as said by the memorable Captain Sternn has probably never spent their entire teen years watching and rewatching the 1981 animation classic, Heavy Metal. (26 years later and STILL a nearly unbeatable soundtrack!)

But, today's topic deals with the tricky issue of drilling angles, and I hope it will explain why various decisions get made during pipemaking. See, I like to be able to run a drillbit through my shanks, so that I can ream the airhole out (back to original size, that is) after the pipe has been smoked several years, because the inside of the airhole cakes too, down near the bottom, and it can alter the smoking experience.

BUT, the trick is in getting a drilling that is centered in the bottom of the mortise and still reamable, because there's only so far that a bit can be angled, which restricts the degree that a pipe can be bent if you want a centered airhole (I do). One thing that tends to happen when you need a sharper angle while keeping the hole centered is that you need a small recess on the bottom edge of the mortise to allow the drill to angle farther. I mention this because I've occasionally heard collectors remark that this is a sign of bad craftsmanship, apparently not understanding that something has to give somewhere for the sharper angles, and I much prefer a notch in the bottom lip of the mortise than to have the airhole way off-center up in the top wall of the mortise, which is the alternative.

The pipe shown is (I hope) going to be a neat bamboo-shanked bulldog sitter. If the Briar Gods are willing.

Today is a two-pic day. I just finished this piece up, and thought I'd post a few quick shots of it. It's destined for Pipe & Pint, as usual, unless somebody contacts me about it fairly soon. At 403 €, it's a wee bit more affordable than the last several pieces I've had up, and I really like the contrast look of the olivewood ring with the all-black pipe. It's a squat monster in size - I can very nearly get my entire little finger into the bowl, though it's still compact enough to be practical.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Going Intergalactic

The times, they are a changing!

Ever since upgrading to "Blogger Beta", their new and improved "2.0" service, my archive links have been broken. Since I had to fix this anyway, I decided to sit down for a day and totally redo the blog. I can hear the shrieking from here ;) Why? The old template (the graphical look of the thing) was a Blogger standard template, from their choice of about ten. In 2005 when I started this thing, there weren't many pipe blogs and I picked the template that looked the most "pipe-ish" to me. But, in the ensuing year, it seems that EVERY other pipe blog has picked the same theme! It was a great template, I admit, but I wanted something uniquely mine, so I spent today hunting around for new templates and graphics.

In the process, I've learned a bit more about CSS, which is always a good thing, and have further customized the site by adding in a "Recent Comments" listing over to the right, which will display a running commentary of the comments left by visitors. So, somebody leave a comment! It looks ridiculous with just my "Testing" query. I'm not sure exactly how much of this template will be permanent - It's highly customizable and easy to replace various graphical bits, so I'll probably play around a little with the color scheme and especially the main page graphic, which currently looks like we're exceeding our maximum warp factor, Captain. Oh, and the Recent Posts and Archives links are all fixed again, so there's plenty of pipe-ish meandering to browse through from 2005 and 2006.

One quick pipe pic to post tonight - This is the first morta of the year, and it's a Talbert Morta Signature no less, with a good briar-sized bowl. I doubt that it will be available for sale, as various people have inquired with me about larger mortas so odds are it will sell direct.

Please leave your comments and let me know how much you hate the page redesign :D

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

First Pipe of the Year

First Talbert Briar finished in 2007! I actually finished it yesterday, too, but didn't feel like doing all the photos and such last night. The New Year briar is another grade 4, unstained, natural finish, and costs 505 € if anyone is interested. The pipe is currently available, but as usual, I will probably send it to Pipe & Pint pretty soon if no one grabs it direct first. Oh, and it has a very nice bird's-eye display across the smooth top, which I completely forgot to photograph.

There is another one here too, the morta Signature sandblast seen in the last blog post in unfinished form, but that one was intended for a request and may not see the light of catalog sales.

I was trying to figure out what to write about, and Emily suggested making the New Year post about the New Year pipe - specifically, what exactly went into its creation, not in terms of technical details, but in terms of mood and ideas. I mentioned the different approaches to making a pipe in a previous post, and this seemed like a good contrast to talk about.

The reason is that the pipe in that post, made from a complete blank sheet of paper, probably looks like it came from a totally different person than this New Year's pipe, yet I made them both. But while that pipe was an exercise in nerves and emotional extremes, this one was all about fun. I had a medium-sized block to start with so there weren't going to be any elaborate designs coming out of it. Instead, I chose to do the exact shape that the grain created, a basic all-briar calabash/Dublin variant. It showcases a beautiful ring grain patterning that perfectly originates from the center bottom of the bowl and stacks upwards to show off that nice smooth Bird's-eye display on top. I wanted something happy and practical. But, I didn't want it to be too conventional, so I added in the exotic wood stem ring for a little pizazz, and the shank actually has a slight subtle curve to it that I enjoy giving my pipes. I'm sorry; sue me, I'm a sad sucker for S curves.

Working on pipes like this is more fun in some ways than the wilder pieces - For starters, I know I can do it! There's none of that trepidation that the whole thing will spin horribly out of control, or that I'll waste hours of shaping time only to have to discard the piece due to some uncovered flaw. What this sort of pipe lacks is the excitement, because it comes risk-free, just get the proportions right and I'm pretty much guaranteed that someone out there will love it and pounce. But, I don't by any means underrate the value of simple comfort! We can't always be trying to break new ground - Sometimes it's better to just relax and do what you already know you're good at, and I thought starting off the year with a nice little "fun pipe" would be a pleasant way to jump into 2007.