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Monday, February 26, 2007

Amiable Pipes

People often speak of "art" pipes or "classical" pipes. I think there should be another category, the "amiable" pipe.

Aside - It's funny how many English words have French roots, thanks to the Norman invasion. This is why I never take French fussing about "anglo-saxon imperialism" seriously... after all, they did it to les anglais first! And it was probably for the best, since otherwise half the English language might have descended from Welsh or Gaelic, and instead of "amiable" I'd be typing "Hamyychllyshchchyyc".......

Anyway! I think of amiable pipes as simply friendly creatures, not possessing of radical dynamism or seductive lines, more like faithful friends to be lifelong companions. The Sam Gamgees of pipes, as it were. This particular pipe is an example of such - squatly proportioned but with a large bowl and an attractive bird's eye display across the smooth rim. It's the classic "good side/blah side" pipe... Well, at least I know this is probably how collectors might view it, though I personally like the weird lumpy, warty surface of the side where the rings aren't tidily stacked. The good thing about this is that it's a heck of a nice pipe for a smaller-than-usual price - It's a Talbert Briar grade 2 and costs 305 €... a solid 200 € less than it would have had the whole thing been more consistently-grained (Note that this price does not include VAT for EU buyers, nor shipping). As I write this, it is available.

There are a few more Talbert Briars on the way shortly, if luck holds, so watch this space over the next week!

I am assembling another box for P&P, consisting of these past several mortas that I've shown here, and also this new one just finished tonight - a smooth Morta Classic for 229 €:

This one IS already sold, but please email me if anyone is interested in the Talbert Briar. Mérci!

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I had a request for a Morta Classic in a "volcano" shape. The block shapes don't really lend themselves easily to this, but I think I was inspired by the challenge and ended up producing this odd little art deco creation, possibly the first example of a whole new series of mortas, if anyone else likes it besides me.

This pipe is SOLD.

It only has one glaring issue. I was totally unaware of this during the creation, but about ten minutes after I finished it, I sat looking at it and immediately realized that it was a Dalek. Maybe not exactly, but it's quite Dalek-like, I think. Disturbing.

In other news, I've just finished up two neato-keen Morta Classic sandblasts in churchwarden form. These two will be shipping to Pipe & Pint next week unless someone speaks for them fairly quickly. They're 209 € each (or 250 € with VAT for EU buyers), plus shipping.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I mentioned several days ago that I had a question-and-answer session to post about ebonite rod, and here it is. It's been a bit delayed due to our recent visitor from the states, and a mini-vacation, but I'm now trying to sort out days of email and bring everything up to date.

The company in question is SEM, or Schönberger Ebonite Manufaktur, a German business dealing in a variety of ebonite products including some very high quality ebonite rods for pipemakers. They recently approached me regarding business, and were kind enough to answer some questions about their business and their products, for anyone who may be interested. I've edited the reply a bit to fix a bit of the anglais here and there.

Me: Tell me a little about your company, and how you began to market your ebonite to pipemakers.

SEM: We are a very young company, founded in May 2006. My partners worked for New Yorker Gummiwaren in Hamburg for a long time. This is one of the last companies, which produce ebonite products. My partners had a lot of ideas to optimize the production and the products, but nobody listened to them. So they had the idea to produce by
themselves. To produce ebonite you need very much money for the machines and the materials. They developed a business-plan and tried to get money from the bank. You can imagine what the banks did....young people, without any experience in business, without their own money, with a product, which a banker doesn't understand. They got to know me, I`m an effective business woman. I gave them the money and they started. It took until December 2006 that we were able to produce the first ebonite dust.

Me: We hear often about the quality differences in ebonite from maker to maker. Can you tell me a little about just what IS "quality" in ebonite, and what is the difference between a high quality and low quality ebonite rod?

SEM: We produce three kinds of dust. To produce the rods you need a very best quality, the finest dust. It is a little business secret, how we get this finest quality :-) . We are able to
produce the best quality, without bubbles, free of pores and blowholes, without smell, and best to polish. For the smoker it means the mouthpiece is more beautiful and without smell or taste. In contrast to acrylic, it is natural and warm in the mouth and it is a softer feeling....

Me: What is your minimum order for ebonite?

SEM: We don`t have a minimum order, but very small orders a little more
expensive, because of the time for administration. (Editor's note - I hope they don't come to regret this. Being snowed under with orders for one or two rods can be hell on a small company. Buyers please keep this in mind! Personally, if a bunch of hobbyists want rod, the best thing you can do is just to get together and assemble one large group order from a bunch of smaller orders anyway, for better pricing)

Me: Have you ever created special colors, or ebonite mixtures, for limited production? Is it even possible? The only colors we seem to see in ebonite are black and cumberland. Is it difficult to make ebonite in other colors, or is it simply because the market only wants these two "popular" colors?

SEM: Sure we are able to produce special colours, we just offer a special colour only for faber
castell and Mont Blanc... They make ebonite pens. Ebonite is very traditional, to develop new colours you need money and love for the product. And we love it. .... the market is crying for our colours , we have a great resonance. But we really need all the help we can get. Please, post our
E- Mail in the blog ! I love to send samples to the pipe makers! :-) You can imagine, what a funny picture, when I am standing at the table, creating these sample packages on Sunday.

And that's the story of a new supplier of high-end ebonite! While they are quite experienced in the craft, they're fairly new to running their own business and need all the sales they can get, so I hope maybe this little posting will help them a bit, to get the word out that they have quality goods to sell. I've certainly been impressed with my samples. Anyone interested in contacting SEM can reach them at:

Schönberger Ebonite Manufaktur GmbH
Am Elbufer 4
D-29456 Hitzacker Elbe Ot Tießau
Telefon +49(0)5862 9411103 Telefax +49 (0) 5862 9411107

Friday, February 16, 2007

Revisiting that Box of Pipes

Well, some adventures later, here I am again with the final group photo of the new Ligne Bretagnes that are assembled and ready to be shipped first thing next week. Emily managed to impale her palm on a carving tool (a raspy pointed file, too, not a nice sharp knife) and we had to take her to the hospital in St. Nazaire for a tetanus shot this afternoon, which rather derailed the scheduled pipe finishing and boxing! The experience was a new adventure with French health care, and will be the subject of my next Life in France blog post, when I have the time to write. All is well now, though, and she's bandaged up and already back to work.

We hope to box all the pipes pictured above for shipment to Pipe & Pint this weekend, and send them out Monday morning. Emily has an old friend from school arriving for a week's visit Monday afternoon, so I will probably be away for large parts of next week, and very little work will get done (If anyone emails me and I don't answer immediately, I'm probably halfway across Brittany at Carnac or something).

IF anyone is interested in buying any of these pipes direct, while they're still on this side of the ocean, please contact me this weekend because they will definitely be gone Monday. Individual photos of the pipes, plus grading and pricing info, can be seen in these large JPGs here and here. Some random comments - The large billiards are around group 5 in size, for scale. The Canadians with the horn stems are probably group 4-ish. The thin, smaller billiard with the delicate, wasp-ish stem & shank is both a really nice sandblast and an incredibly featherweight pipe, at a mere 18.6 grams! The sharp-eyed may notice that there are a couple of extra pipes in the group shot above - Still available here also are pipe #3 from this set, and a morta Classic poker which was originally pictured here. Anyone interested in any of the above pipes, please email me. Thanks!

Next up..... Finally, the post on ebonite rod.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ligne Bretagnes for the Box

I've just finished three stubby Ligne Bretagnes for the box of pipes I'm assembling to send to Pipe & Pint Friday, and thought I'd post a photo of them here in case anyone wanted to get one before they shipped out. Cute pipes! There's that word again. I was quite surprised to get three smooth pipes in a row, though. All three are sort of Lovat-ish, around group 3-4 in bowl size, with short shanks and light weight (between 30 and 36 grams). #1 and #3 both have horn stems (#1's really is gorgeous) with morta decor rings, while #2 has a black ebonite stem with an exotic wood two-toned ring. Note that the prices DON'T include shipping. I've also got some LB Canadians in the works and a larger-bowled Lovat - we'll see what I can get finished in time for the Friday shipment. I'm going to have to postpone the article on ebonite just a few days while I work like mad to get as much done this week as possible, before our visitors arrive next Monday.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Well, as it happens, both of the pipes previewed at the end of that last blog entry are going to be available for sale. I've also got the interview questions back from the German ebonite manufacturer, and I will post them in the next blog entry once I've figured out how I want to format them and arrange it all. For now, here are two pipes briefly available for direct purchase. I will probably send them to Pipe & Pint before the end of this week if they don't sell quickly direct, because we have some friends coming over to visit from the US and I want to turn them into cash before their arrival.

This first pipe is another snail creation, finished with a highlight stain which sharply lays out its bizarre grain pattern. Unconventional by any standard, it is quite warty and gnarled. It's also fairly affordable by Talbert briar standards - While I enjoy the strange grain arrangement, it isn't the sort of tidy look that collectors tend to prefer. The pipe is 305 € (Not including VAT for EU buyers) and is SOLD.

This next pipe is a true monster of a pipe - It's size should be evident by comparing it to the uncut plateau block in the background! It lost one grading notch (and 100+ euros in price!) due to not being perfectly ring-stacked all the way round the bowl, but it does offer a tremendously tight ring grain display together with ODA size and the thing even balances upright without a slanted bottom - a minor miracle. SOLD, 415 €

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Toys in the Mail

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to receive two fun boxes of toys in the mail - a box of samples from a German ebonite company, seeking to market their rod stock, and a box of goodies from a fellow European pipemaker friend. The rod stock looks beautiful and is some of the best I've seen, with a positively crystalline "tap" character. Even more intriguingly, the company makes a wide variety of colored, swirled rods, and they make them as small as 4mm - possibly giving me a new contender in the never-ending search for a simple and fun Ligne Bretagne stem logo. I've exchanged some interview questions with these folks regarding ebonite in general, and when I hear back from them, I will be posting an entire blog entry devoted to ebonite and including their address and contact info (So please wait for this before everybody emailing me wanting to get in touch with them immediately).

The other box was even more intriguing, containing a handful of tagua nuts ("Nature's ivory", a wood that I've never worked with and may never yet, as Emily almost immediately pounced upon them for potential jewelry use...). Also in the box were some microfine polishing compounds, a block of Bo Nordh's preferred stem compound, and both Zapon and synthetic lacquers. I've been curious to try some Zapon for a few years, but the stuff was quite hard to find in the US. It's a nitrocellulose lacquer that cures to a durable thin finish that looks stunning on smooth pipes and provides more durability and wear resistance than shellac to sandblasts. I don't think I'll be using it as a finish on smooths, however, due to the fact that it has the same problems as all lacquers I've tried thus far, evidenced here:

While application and buffing can produce an absolutely stunning, "liquid gloss" finish, it can also be rubbed, buffed, and chipped off... and even, in the case of the pipe in this photo, bubble when applied to a thinner-walled pipe which is then smoked quite hot. I'm sure it would be fine on a thicker-walled pipe, but I'm still reluctant to use a finish that doesn't survive buffing - apply buffing compound and you instantly have a matte hole in your glossy surface. On the one hand, I'd love for the pipes to be glossier because buyers are always attracted to shiny objects (!) and it's nice not to have to constantly polish pipes at shows to keep them shiny after handling.. but at the same time, I try to keep my pipes "user serviceable" insofar as avoiding things that will automatically fail under maintenance (such as painted-in letter logos that instantly buff out during stem polishing, for instance). I'll keep playing with it and see what happens. One thing I have noticed is that it works marvelously on morta, and doesn't seem to exhibit the same bubbling problems as with briar. It's nice having a pile of readymade pipes to test things out on!

In other news - Ken Lamb has created a pipemaking Google group at I'm not sure where he's planning to take this, but there it is, so go post!

Finally, here is a little preview pic of a couple of Talbert Briars I have here in house at the moment:

The snail was done for a special order, and may or may not end up available (I won't know until I hear back from the fellow who made the request). The absolutely amazing monster poker (It's huge) started out to be another order, but got rather diverted along the way. No less startling than the grain is the fact that it will sit upright on its base, despite being a straight. I'm not quite sure what to do with it, and may send it to Larry or post more pics in the next blog entry. Someone call Mike Natale, quick! ;)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Intermission and Exit

And now for something completely different! After the flood of Talbert Briars lately, here is a little brief intermission, a side project I've been working on during times when I was waiting for epoxy to dry, stain to set, etc. I spotted this very promising stummel among the LB billiard stock and had set it aside for special attention. One does not often find unstained natural smooth pipes for 160 €! At least, not without fills, and this beastie is 100% fill-free, and showcases some quite nice grain too.

It's a grade 4 LB, and probably around Dunhill group 4-5 in size. It is SOLD. Please note that the 160 € price is sans tax, and EU residents must also pay VAT.

The reason I put "exit" in the title is because this is also the last LB that will be made with the twin-dot stem logo. Yep, I know, changing again! But, I'd forgotten what a total pain it was to mix and pour and set those dots - I could easily have made another 60% of a pipe during the time I wasted screwing around with mixing and drying and bubble-fixing and all. The silver crescent is powdered metal, while the black dot is ground morta. They make an interesting, unique, but unfortunately uneconomical logo - What I really need is a simple stick logo like everyone else uses, but I've never found a maker or style that I've liked. And the alternative, stamping an LB in the stem and whiting it in with paint, just doesn't appeal to me since those sorts of logos always buff right off during the first polishing.

I guess it's back to the drawing board...

Friday, February 02, 2007

When Economics trumps Fun

Today's post is all about the pipe pictured to the left - the only stamped Talbert meerschaum pipe in the world, and one of only two that I've made. It's different from most meers in a few ways - I drilled it the same as I do Talbert Briars, for one, and it uses a conventional tenon arrangement. It's also sandblasted. I have never, to my knowledge, seen a sandblasted meer before, and was curious to see what the results might be. This particular meerschaum is white meerschaum from Somalia, a harder, more gritty meerschaum than Turkish.

It was made as a free gift for a friend, which is very likely going to be the only way that any Talbert meers are made. They simply aren't feasible to make for sell, unfortunately. The problems are many - I'm not a meerschaum pipemaker, for one, meaning that I'm simply not optimized or experienced at making meers, and can't make them very quickly or efficiently. Ergo, that means that they're expensive to make. Prices would be well north of typical Talbert Briar territory, which bumps squarely into the second problem, that of value perception. Simply put, decades of low priced African meer pipes by Barling and Peterson have created the perception that African meer is of low quality, for factory pipes only. I love the stuff, personally, but I didn't always. I've had African (also sometimes called Manx) meerschaum pipes which were quite unpleasant in flavor, and were usually stained black or some other color to hide their greyish natural tone.

This Somalian source, however, is nicely white - Not as white as Turkish, nor as smooth and creamy in texture, but it's nice to look at. It also smokes excellently. My own homemade meer is one of my favorite smokers and has colored gradually over the couple of years I've had it. But, the material can't be easily sanded smooth because it's a bit granular, like marble. This was what inspired me to try sandblasting it, to see what I'd get, and I think the coral-like result is pretty neat and certainly different.

In the end, the Talbert meerschaum is likely to remain an elusive creature, rarely ever seen except in the hands of close friends that I've made special gifts for. Which is a shame, because the stuff is a lot of fun to work with, but I don't think there's a chance in hell that the pipe market at large is going to accept a 600 € African meerschaum, and worse yet, I'm not even sure that I could make any money selling them at that price. Such is life....

In other news, I've got another pair of sandblasted morta Classics here, loitering around waiting for the next Pipe & Pint box. Stephen, I'll be trying to start another pipe for you tomorrow!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Getting Over-enthused

Pipe of the Moment - I was REALLY trying to get this one finished in January but it spilled over by a day. It's a classic example of over-enthusiasm. I started out trying to do an order for a fellow pipemaker, for a similar-yet-simpler shape, and just got carried away when it became obvious that this was going to be an excellent sandblasting example. It ended up being quite a bit over his hoped-for budget and will probably be shooting over to Pipe & Pint very shortly unless I hear from someone by email that wants to buy it direct.

Note - this pipe is now SOLD.

This happens to me too often. I have a hard time restraining myself from trying to make every pipe the very best pipe I can, and I'm bad about overshooting requests for lower or middle grade pipes.

The stem here is cast acrylic in a swirled, custom-colored look - It isn't meant to even try to imitate amber, but rather to be somewhere between faux-amber and some of the really radical colored stems I've seen. The bit is a fair bit thicker than my norm, as I've found the material to be more brittle under hard biting, and I don't want it cracking for anyone after all the labor of making such a handmade stem already!

Please note that the price does not include European VAT, so buyers in EU countries will need to pay TVA as well.

I'd originally intended to write an article about the sandblasted meerschaums I've made using white Somalian meer, but I think I'll leave that till tomorrow. For now, a little preview pic can be seen here. Sandblasting makes an interesting surface on meer. Alas, these pipes are totally unmarketable and I don't make them for sale, which I'll talk about in the next post.