News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Friday, August 31, 2007

New Stuff

Biz news - (Third repeat today, sorry, but I'm trying to keep this from getting buried as I add more articles) New pipes are up! There are new Talbert Briars and new Ligne Bretagnes. There were also a couple of new mortas, but they both sold almost immediately. I'll be very curious to hear what people think of the new smooth Talberts, and somebody should pounce on LB #07-32 very quickly as that is one extremely neat finish for the money.

I mentioned earlier that I'd spent most of August experimenting instead of making pipes. This connects back to my last post about Open Source Pipemaking.. I came home with a lot of new ideas to try. Conversations with Danish and German pipemakers offered some interesting new techniques in finishing, and I couldn't resist spending some time slicing up briar discard blocks to test these ideas in combination with each other, and also in concert with new sandblast finishes. I think this may influence my future work, or at least I hope so - I've just posted some new, high grade smooths to the catalog that I'm quite proud of, but unfortunately I've sometimes had to fight a bit with "typecasting" when selling smooths before. I like making them, but a lot of buyers seem to want to only come to me for dramatic sandblasts, and smooths can end up sitting unsold (I continue to boggle over why the Suscinio didn't sell immediately, and is still here three weeks later, when it is simply a magnificent piece of briar). I do hope I can sell more smooths - I'd hate to be stuck making nothing but sandblasts, because I know I'd come to resent the work in short order.

The photo above is of one set of tests - different methods of achieving those wonderful stark black grain contrasts. There are actually four different methods in play there. From left to right, the first is a deep orange over black, the second is a bright yellow over black, the third is just black contrast stain with no top color, and the fourth utilizes a wood coloring method I've sometimes used that simulates aging, with contrast stain applied on top. Expect to see any and all of these finishes appearing on pipes in the future!

I haven't forgotten sandblasting, though:

My intention is to marry my own techniques for sandblast staining with some of the tricks picked up from round-table chat at Rheinbach to produce some new and unique sandblasted finishes. Here are three examples in the photo, midway along their trek, with dark brown, black, and mahogany contrast stains applied. They'll each be getting a final coloring to check compatibility and appearance, and eventually the results of this work will be appearing in the catalog as brand new finishes. (FWIW, the left block is contrast dark brown intended to mate with a yellow top coat, the center is contrast black to mate with an orange top coat, and the right piece is mahogany contrast to mate with a pale yellow tint to create a really nice golden orange blast finish

But there's no need to wait, as there are already pipes posted using some of these methods... This Ligne Bretagne, for instance!
What I love about this look is that it creates extra contrast and drama in the surface of the blast texture, even on pipes that have shallower blasts (A frequent problem on some of the thinner-walled Ligne Bretagne stummels). In this way, I can give a 100 € pipe a finish comparable to a 500 € pipe in a way that's economically feasible, which makes everyone happy. It may not have the actual physical depth of a Talbert Briar blast, but it has a richness of color and contrast that make it stand out, IMO.

My pipes are changing in other ways - Recent buyers can probably attest that I've been gradually changing my bits, with the latest ones being considerably thinner and with much deeper V slots in the mouthpieces. I think this is an improvement. Also, this latest catalog update brings another odd change - the look of the pics themselves. Previously, I would simply brighten the shots and white-airbrush over any background details, but for the latest pics I've used Photoshop's "extract" feature to remove them completely from their backgrounds. Goods and bads... The colors are MUCH truer in the new pics, but it takes longer and the edges sometimes end up wonky. Time will tell.

Rheinbach Afterthoughts, pt. 2, Open Source Pipemaking

Biz news - New pipes are up! There are new Talbert Briars and new Ligne Bretagnes. There were also a couple of new mortas, but they both sold almost immediately. I'll be very curious to hear what people think of the new smooth Talberts, and somebody should pounce on LB #07-32 very quickly as that is one extremely neat finish for the money.

Some time back, I jotted down a note to myself to write a blog entry inspired by the book Wikinomics. The book is an interesting look at the new world of mass collaboration, and our newfound ability to vastly improve our performance through information sharing. It's a bit idealistic in places but the core truths are there - The success of open source projects like Wikipedia and Ubuntu are becoming major challenges to the established commercial alternatives, and they're doing it via free cooperative info-sharing rather than the cloistered, secretive world of old-style corporate think.

What the hell does this have to do with pipes?

Not that long ago, pipemaking was a fairly secretive process. Individuals had their own techniques and that was that - If you wanted to learn, you begged at the door or became an apprentice or got a job sweeping floors in a factory. In the late 90's, I opened a section on my website devoted to explaining and teaching pipemaking techniques, with pictures and step-by-step information. I never in my wildest dreams imagined the sort of impact this would eventually have. I caught some flack for it at the outset, from pros who didn't want to face part-timer competition, but the concept of information sharing for the betterment of all is too strong to go away. Answering questions quickly got too much for me to handle while trying to run a business, so I shut it down around 2002, but Tyler Beard picked up the idea and expanded it with dramatic improvements until it became the Pipemakers' Forum. History repeated itself and it ate him alive also, eventually spurring him to pass the torch of forum op to Kurt Huhn, on whom bets are currently being taken.

Mark Tinsky remarked to me in 2001 that, "Man, these new guys are getting good really fast these days! It used to be you had to make pipes for twenty years to get this skilled." I think a lot of this is due to the internet information sharing that we've all participated in. It's had a profound impact on the pipe scene, in both good and bad ways. The Good - Everyone has gotten better, and we get better faster, and this makes all our pipes better which benefits collectors who get better value for their money, wherever they turn. The Bad - We've gained roughly ten thousand part time pipemakers now who compete for food money with the full-timers, who already have a hard enough time making ends meet to pay their bills without having to be compared to some guy who can put 500 hours into a single pipe and sell it for $100 because it's just pizza money to him.

And then there's the Ugly - Namely, that you can teach some people everything there is to know about an art, and they'll still turn out bad work because they just don't have the eye for it...

There are still tiers. I share a lot of info and am happy to help, but there are things I keep private and only share with other professionals who share equally with me (A worthy point. I've encountered, all too often, guys who want to ask every question in the book but clam up the first time you ask a question in return. Info-sharing goes both ways, and these are the people who'll never get another explanation out of me). This is the most potent and effective information sharing, because no matter how much you learn, there's still a lot more to be learned, and odds are that someone else out there has been wasting his shop time researching just the thing you're ignorant about.

The latest and most fascinating entry into the internet pipe scene is our very own wiki, the Pipedia. It's an incredible idea, and is fast shaping up to be the ultimate resource for anyone entering the pipe world. I think in a few years, we'll wonder what we ever did without it, and I believe it will equally benefit both newbie and pro. I've even got my own wiki page, how strange! Pipedia could very well become the joint venture that keeps pipes on the world map. Because, after all, there's always more to learn...

Rheinbach Afterthoughts, pt 1

Biz news - New pipes are up! There are new Talbert Briars and new Ligne Bretagnes. There were also a couple of new mortas, but they both sold almost immediately. I'll be very curious to hear what people think of the new smooth Talberts (like the one pictured here), and somebody should pounce on LB #07-32 very quickly as that is one extremely neat finish for the money.

August... Where did August go? It seems like only yesterday that we got back from Rheinbach. Between getting the flu and spending a good chunk of my time this month experimenting with new finishes and staining techniques, I haven't done as much pipemaking as usual, but I'll get back to normal production in September. Now that I've had a chance for my impressions of the show to gel, and a bit of time to talk with other pipe folks about it, I have some afterthoughts. I have several subjects to cover, so I'll be breaking them into different postings, with this first being on the topic of European pipe shows.

In my opinion, it was an excellent show. I hope it continues. That said, it did suffer from one serious drawback - exemplified by the conflict with another vendor who tried opening a table there - and that is that it was the sole creation of one retailer. I mean no disrespect or discredit to Achim Frank at all, because if it were me doing all the work, I wouldn't want my competition setting up a dozen tables next to me either, but ultimately this is why the best and biggest pipe shows are the products of pipe clubs rather than commercial ventures. For any business person to tackle that level of work, it has to make money or at least break even, and that's always going to mean trying to maximize the playing field for best personal sales. Shows by pipe clubs, however, get every vendor involved, and those turn into the biggest and best shows... and not coincidentally, the best sales venues as well, because while there's plenty of competition, the sellers don't have to do much more than turn up and cover a table with goods.

So why don't we have a major pipe club-sponsored pipe exposition in Europe? We've got the population, the closeness of geography, and plenty of artisans and factories. It's a serious question, and one I can't answer, not being European myself. Go to the states and there's a pipe club in nearly every state, and many of them host their own small shows... some of which grow into CORPS-sized extravaganzas, not to even mention Chicago. But I don't see this happening much over here, and I'm not sure why. The French pipe club made an abortive attempt with the Mondial de Pipe show near Paris, but that was sunk before it ever started by its own restrictions and prohibitive costs.

There may be hope in Germany, though, with a new show starting in Fürth. I was alerted to this show by Rolf Ostendorff, who is promoting it for some good reasons - It's a club-sponsored show and it's being shaped to (with luck) become an international event. They have a really impressive lineup of attending pipemakers for the first show, and even such factory giants as Vauen and Denicotea will be there. Alas, it is in November and there's no way I can afford to attend, but I'll be curious to hear the reports and perspectives, and see where this goes.

Where is our European Chicago show?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why I make pipes

Today's photo is a sneak preview of one of the Talbert Briars from the next website update. After Rheinbach, I thought it would be fun to make some lighter, more unusual pipes for a change of pace, as we work to finally get some new stock into all three of our website catalogs.

Why do I make pipes? There are lots of reasons. It's fun, I get to be my own boss, I love working with the wood, and I get to do something creative for a living. However, there's another motivation that I don't speak of often, because it borders perhaps on the squeaky New Agey realm, and that is that I believe that making other people happy is a good thing to do in this life. Good karma, if you will. All over the world now, there are people who come home from a long, maybe difficult, perhaps even traumatic day, and cap off their evening by spending a few restful minutes with a drink and one of my pipes... Something that I made gives them a few minutes of relaxation and peace. I believe this is a good purpose, possibly even one of the best purposes we can hope for in a lifetime. But I don't talk about it much, because so often the world of pipe collecting gets bogged down in the bickering, forum wars, and minutia obsession that it's easy to lose sight of the noblest purposes of the hobby, at least until you get an email like this one:

From Louise Gariépy,
I am Hans Peter Strobl's wife. We talked a little bit when Peter ordered his last pipe from you

I am sad to tell you that Peter did not receive your last message.

When he ordered the pipe, I don't know if you knew it, he was in the Hospital, going through a necessary but dangerous procedure: a stem cell transplant. He had a been fighting a very resistant lymphoma since more than 2 years, and this stem cell transplant was the only hope, not that he could be cured, but might life a year or 2 longer..

He came out of the hospital Friday the 13th of July, seemed pretty well, but only 8 days later, he died of a heart attack probably provoked by a deterioration of his red cells, because he felt much better in the first days out of the hospital, but started feeling abnormally weak 6 days later.

He admired your work so much, and at least I can tell you that your pipe had come timely, he was extremely happy with it, and had a chance to smoke it at least once. As a matter of fact, it is the last pipe that he smoked before he died, and he did it with great joy!
Had the pipe arrived a few days later, it would have come too late, and my heart would have been still more broken, if possible.

I do not know you, and do not know much about pipes, except that it was his life-long passion.

Had he lived, he probably could not have resisted the pleasure of buying another of your beautiful pipes ( he showed me your web site so often), I wanted you to know that if you never hear again from him, it was not because he did not like the pipe!

Maybe when you build your next pipe, please think about him for a few seconds.

Be happy and healthy as long as possible,

Louise Gariépy

There isn't much more I can say to this very moving letter, except to the line, "Maybe when you build your next pipe, please think about him for a few seconds."
I definitely will.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rheinbach conclusion - Peter Heinrich's

Peter Heinrich's pipe shop, the "House of 10,000 Pipes", is the most amazing pipe shop I have ever set foot in. It is in Cologne, about a half hour's drive from Rheinbach, and we spent all the day Monday just wandering through Cologne seeing sights until we ended up at Peter's place and nearly vanished forever. I'm not going to do as much writing on this post because the descriptions in the Peter Heinrich's web gallery tell most of the story. Peter bought portions of surrounding buildings and now his shop extends through multiple floors and landings, and includes one room for factory pipes, one room for artisan pipes, one room for cigars, one room for exclusively Cuban cigars, and finally a Cuban-style cabana smoking room where visitors can relax with pipe and drink. It is truly an amazing place. For anyone thinking of vacationing in or near Cologne, Germany, Peter's shop is sufficient reason to plan an entire vacation around. Unfortunately, we ended up having dinner waiting for us and had to be dragged out, or I'd probably have been there till closing!

Rheinbach, after the show, plus ranting

Note - If you've missed the first post on Rheinbach, you may want to scroll down a bit in order to read them in chronological order of writing.

As with most pipe shows, the other half of the fun is the after-show activities. Here again, I have assembled a web gallery of after-show pics. We arrived too late for the Friday gathering, but Saturday evening provided an excellent chance to get together for eats, drinks, and smokes. It kicked off at an outdoor restaurant (pictured above) where we had dinner, and then moved down a couple of blocks to Achim Frank's bar, where we generated some amazing low-lying clouds of pipe smoke as we sampled our way through the German beers.

Pipe shows, man, they stress me out... ;)

Everyone got on well and I think I can safely say that a good time was had by all. This seems odd in a way, considering how vehement some folks can get on the online pipe forums, but then again, one thing I've often noticed is that the worst "mouths" of the online forums never seem to actually turn up at shows. I did wonder if Erwin and Nicholas would kill each other at the show, but all seemed OK.... Alas, now after only a few days back, already the FumeursdePipe forum has erupted into new flame wars over the same old, same old. I truly do not understand why there seems to be such an inevitable schism between smokers of high grade handmades and smokers of factory pipes. In fact............

[Cue rant mode]


I don't look down on somebody who's happy with his Chacom, and I don't feel intimidated by somebody with 37 Bo Nordhs. I don't care, I just don't care. We're all pipe enthusiasts. My INTERESTS lie with the high grade handmades, so I don't spend much time reading various threads comparing drugstore tobaccos and Parkers versus Chacoms. This doesn't mean that I don't respect them or in any way consider them lesser human beings. They're pipes, not social classes. Pipes are for enjoyment, whether you're smoking 1Q in a cob or 20 year old Balkan Sobranie in a Bang. Personally, I prefer the latter, but I can happily enjoy the heck out of both. Unfortunately, there are a lot of small-minded people out there who find any expression from "the other class" so personally intimidating that they're simply unable to resist opening fire any time they feel a discussion or topic may be moving outside of their comfort zone. I still recall one particular idiot who simply could not let any mention of high grade pipes pass without flinging out accusations of snobbery, bragging, elitism, etc. Frankly, I've seen much more "elitism" in the people who claim to be "anti-elitist" than in those they're supposedly protesting.

They're just pipes.

Little pieces of wood with holes drilled in them for smoking.

They're for relaxation and enjoyment, for accompanying good books and good company. They're not for dividing people into armed camps, really. I have cobs, basket pipes, Stanwells, Petersons, Dunhills, Ser Jacs, Castellos, and even a pair of Bangs, and I smoke and enjoy them all. If someone sees me smoking, or talking about, a cob or a Bang, and they have a problem with that, then the problem is theirs, in my humble opinion. And on that note...

[/end rant]

After the dinner (I had weiner schnitzel as my introduction to German food), when we moved to Achim's bar, we had a short time to wander around inside his pipe shop. While his place is dwarfed by the labyrinthine Peter Heinrich's (which I'll post about next), Achim's shop is still packed to the gills with pipely goodness and has a marvelous little hidden rear den full of amazing pieces. The visit was like manna from heaven for me, since it has been a full FIVE YEARS since I visited a "real" pipe shop. The typical French tabac might have a few Butz-Choquins clipped on a display behind the counter, and some pouches of Clan or Amsterdammer (Maybe a few tins of Dunhill Standard Mild if you're lucky..), but I have yet to encounter what I'd consider to be a genuine, full-service pipe shop in France... Something that caters to the full spectrum of the market with a wide range of tobaccos and pipes to frolic through. The gallery photos only give a slight impression of the sheer sense of cozy fun to be found in such a shop.

Sunday ended the show with a smaller and quieter gathering at Jörg's, where I got to meet a fellow Gray Fox member (Bonjour Heinz!) as well as a very entertaining pipemaker. I think we were all overshadowed by Jörg's hospitality, however - Take a close look at the labels on those wine bottles in the photos. We had 1988 Clos de Chateau (amazing) and a 91 Grand Cru red (I'm not normally partial to red wines, but this was excellent). Toppers, however, was the 40 year old bottle of Anguilla rum that Jörg opened - Given that my exposure to rum has largely been of the Bacardi variety, this was a potent and delicious experience.

And before we knew it, the show weekend was over. That wasn't the end of our visit, though, since we stayed on vacation an extra couple of days, spending one day in Cologne (including the visit to Peter Heinrich's that will comprise the next blog post) and a day in Lille. Folks interested in those locations and our touristy observations on Germans, Germany, and vacationing in Europe are invited to peek over at my Life in France blog over the next day or so, as I will be posting our (non-pipe) travel experiences there.


Biz News - New pipes are up! I've posted the pipes we brought back from Rheinbach. Several of them have already sold to customers on our email list, but there are still a few available - new Talbert Briars and a sole Ligne Bretagne churchwarden.

We're back from the Rheinbach pipe show. We had a really good time and the show was a lot of fun. In the interest of trying to sort out a lot of random and not always connected impressions, I'm going to split up my writing on our travels between this Pipe Blog and our Life in France blog, because we also visited downtown Cologne and Lille (and have things to say about both), but they have little to do with pipes.

For starters, though, let's talk about Rheinbach, the show. I know everyone wants pics, and I have just posted a gallery of Rheinbach show photos, with more galleries to come on the different topics of our trip. There you can see some photos of our table, of the show environs, and of many other pipemakers' tables including David Enrique, Love Geiger, Bruto Sordini, Heiner Nonnenbruich, Bertram Safferling, and more. It was quite a nice show, all the more so because it was a one man effort on the part of Achim Frank, rather than a club show. This is both a good and a bad thing - On the one hand, a one man show can be very concise and tightly planned, but on the other hand, putting on a show is a huge undertaking and leads to quick burnout. I hope there will be future Rheinbach shows, but I could not fault Achim if he chose not to, just to avoid the work. Also, this show had a bit of drama when Per Bilhail and Tom Eltang departed the show early due to some misunderstanding over the rules of tables and vendor selling. I don't know the details, but I was sad I missed Tom (We literally said hello at the door as he was leaving with a crate of pipes and materials under his arm).

The display of Eltangs at Achim Frank's table

How did it differ from US shows? It was smaller than most - around the size of TAPS, maybe, or perhaps half the size of CORPS. However, it had a HUGE ratio of "horsepower to weight" - It was virtually an assembly of all the best European pipemaking gods. And then there was me rattling around in their midst. Very intimidating company...! One certainly must stress a little when going to a show where you'll be surrounded by tables covered in Beckers, Eltangs, Barbis, and so on. Unlike a US show which would be largely full of dealers, estate vendors, tobacco blenders, etc, there were only a couple of tables of tobaccos and estates, with the largest portion of real estate given to individual artisan pipemakers and their works.

Also unlike a US show, they had alcohol!

Someone got very wise when they realized there would be a great market for interesting whiskeys and other "microbrewery" drinks at a pipe & tobacco show.

So what were my personal impressions? Please keep in mind that these are my opinions only, not meant as any sort of empirical judgments or anything to take very seriously. Overall, one thing that struck me was that the pipes were mostly quite small by my standards - certainly sizes that I would feel very awkward about charging high prices for. I suppose it may be partly my American mindset, but I'm still not quite sure what to think of 850 € pipes that are the size of thimbles. Apparently there is much more of a market for such pipes than I would have guessed, though, as even the medium-sized high grades at the show tended to seem quite small to me. Also, more and more I think the standardization of the Danish high grade "look" is getting quite boring... the endless tables of smooth contrast-stained horns and blowfish all tended to blend together a bit. One notable standout was Axel Reichert, who had some amazingly neat and original shapes that showed genuine originality. Heiner and Love Geiger also had some fun shapes, while Bruto Sordini's table stood apart for his distinctly Italian style. As usual, Cornelius Mänz had a cool display, aside from just generally being a fun fellow to talk to.

Aside from lots of small pipes, another big trend I noticed were pipes with pencil-thin shanks, or just pencil-thin construction in general. Personally, I find this both freaky and terrifying - the breakage risks inherent in such reed-like pipes is not something I would want to be responsible for, as I'd feel bound to issue refunds or replacements every time someone snapped the bowl off of their shank just by gesturing at someone with their pipe. I can see the appeal from an artistic perspective as well as from a "WOW - The ENGINEERING!" perspective, but I guess I'm too innately biased towards the opposite (thick, rugged) end of the spectrum. I did feel a bit mis-matched to the forum, though, at our table behind our selection of large ODA-ish thick-walled sandblasts.

I look rather insane in half the show pics...

Other observations! The Europeans apparently haven't followed the current hot trend in the online pipe forums against silicate-based bowl coatings, as nearly every pipe there used that sort of mix, despite much lofty prognostication online about why it's "bad". I was probably the only one there using an edible carbonizing (Note - I prefer silicate coatings myself, but I bow to the demands of the market when it's feasible, such as in coating recipes). I had no ideas of what to expect to sell, but in the end, the pipes we sold were the most exotic Talberts and the price-friendly Ligne Bretagnes, of which we very nearly sold out. The only middle-range Talbert I sold was a smooth, which suggests to me that European buyers simply aren't looking for (or perhaps not accustomed to) the concept of high-end sandblasts as desirable pipes. Then again, they don't seem to have had much exposure to same, either - There's really no way to say this without sounding superior or snotty, so I'll just simply say that I found the European high grade blasts there a pretty mediocre lot. There were a few standouts that reached "OK" to "Good" levels, but by and large I often found myself picking up a 700 € sandblast that looked as though it had barely been touched, and then either buffed to non-grain-discernible finish or simply stained uniformly brown and stamped done. The focus certainly seems to be All-Smooth-All-the-Time, with little thought or development given to creating blasts as an art form and end unto themselves. Unsurprisingly, the really extraordinary blasts that I took all sold out within two days after the show to American collectors. I guess this means I am inescapably a product of my home culture! I'm not complaining, however, since I was proud and pleased to at least have something a bit different on display, because after all, isn't variety one of the great reasons for attending a pipe show?

Coming away from the show, I'm ready to jump back into the workshop. As usual, the back-and-forth with the other makers has given me lots of new ideas to try out, new goodies to order, and new inspirations in design. I've picked up some new staining techniques to try, and I think I will work on making a few more smaller, high-end smooth pipes, just as an experiment to gauge the reactions of the market. Obviously such pipes sell over here, and it's certainly easier to get a flawless small pipe from a block than a flawless large pipe just due to the law of exposed wood-vs-flaw odds. Sales were good (We paid for our trip and came home with money, the essential bottom line) so I'd do it again if the show continues. Keep checking back here over the next day or so, and also in the Life in France blog, for more photo galleries and travel commentary on the after-show dinner, Achim Frank's pipe shop, Peter Heinrich's pipe shop, and the cities of Cologne and Lille. In closing, here are a couple of pics of a very unusual Talbert that was actually sold even before it went to the show...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Off to see the Wizards

Tomorrow I will be finishing up my packing and preparation for the Rheinbach pipe show. I'm very much looking forward to getting to visit with such pipe world luminaries as Rainer Barbi and Tom Eltang. Fifteen pipes are going with me - seven Talbert Briars, four Talbert Mortas, and four Ligne Bretagnes (Two of which are handmade Collectors - including the usual greenie - and the other two are the smooth churchwardens pictured here). I'll also have this extremely craggy sandblasted monster Talbert Briar poker. I'll keep the smooth Talberts under wraps until the show, though one of them is quite nice. Oh yes, and there's a Talbert Halloween pipe in the bunch as well...

So, I'll be back next week with pics and a show report, and then new pipes for the website catalogs at last! Plus, I've got a lot of blog catching-up to do, including some interviews with Uptowns Smoke Shop, French pipemaker David Enrique, and an intriguing new pipe brand from China. All in all, August should be an excellent month for the blog reading!