News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Poker Madness

Nothing new on the website today, though I hope to be posting the new Fat Dwarfs soon, along with another pair of bamboo-shanked mortas. Here in the workshop, it's been "Poker Madness" (Well, actually "Poker and Blowfish Madness" as I'm working on a pair of neat blowfish ideas too). The pokers here in the pic were the result of an order for a giant-sized Cherrywood (the pipe in the back). During the conversation about the piece, mention was made of whether or not a briar MacArthur would be possible. Unfortunately, that large a pipe is pretty much beyond the available size range of all the briar I have in stock, even though I do have some nice reserves of extra-large plateau and ebauchon blocks snagged from various sources.

I did, however, find the idea really intriguing and fun, and decided to turn out the largest facsimile I could, just to see what was possible. What I got was this monster:

That's my 10.5cm tall BriarMac next to my group 5 Dunhill billiard. Yowza! Pretty nice blast, too. The need to lay the bowl lengthwise in the plateau block precluded it from having any sort of long shank, so bamboo was the order of the day. Besides, it's been way too long since I've made a bamboo-shank briar - There for a while, it seemed like everyone was making them and I kind of laid off on them. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with the thing yet - I'm currently waiting to hear back from the buyer on what he thinks of the Cherrywood. I doubt it will appear on the website catalog, though - right now I'm assembling a box of pipes for a new dealer for Israel and Russia, and it might go to him or to Pipe & Pint, over in the land of giant pipe fans. It would certainly be a great attention-getter in P&P's retail shop!

Friday, January 25, 2008


So, I'm working on a couple of pokers for a special request... The buyer wants a "CherrywoodMonster" - A Cherrywood-style poker to complement the PokerMonster and DublinMonster I made last summer (This fellow has now also purchased a BulldogMonster, and seems well on his way to having a dedicated collection of monster-sized Talberts in classical shapes). In chatting about this, some mentio was made of whether it would be possible to do a briar MacArthur, and this intrigues me enough to see just how big of a briar I can manage. Some digging through the briar stock turns up a handful of really long plateau blocks, and I'll be working on the "BriarMac" tonight.... but I had to post this photo first!

What you're looking at is the block in the chuck jaws with the bowl section pointing downward - I was about to drill the airhole. I'd never even considered the swing distance of the lathe, as it had never been a problem before, but this bowl's sheer immensity made me double-check. Some clearance, eh? Yes, it DID rotate without touching the lathe bed. I'd guess it had perhaps 1.5mm of clearance! So, that's the ridiculous pipe photo of the day.

Oh, and as for the CherrywoodMonster, it came out rather nicely indeed...!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Surprise!

Biz News - The first Talbert Morta Bettafish of 2008 is now posted to the catalog. Also, the Ligne Bretagne catalog has gained the first two new LBs for this year, both sandblasted billiards with horn stems.

One of my goals for 2008 is to try and keep more Ligne Bretagnes in stock on the site, ideally in a decent variety of shapes even though they are normally finished in sets of similar pipes for efficiency's sake. In pursuit of this goal, I started rummaging through some of our piles of boxes and crates over in the PipeCave, and dragged some boxes back to the workshop for sorting. I got a pleasant surprise when I opened up the box pictured left - There was a plastic bag inside containing three LB "Fat Dwarf" stummels!

I thought I'd used all of that shape in late 2006/early 2007. At the time, I'd searched around for more but could find none, and sadly concluded that I must have used all I had, despite Emily's conviction that she has seen even more of them somewhere in the PipeCave (I realize my descriptions of the PipeCave must sound exaggerated and silly, but those who have seen it will back me up).

SOOO... I guess there will soon be three more of these things! Unfortunately, I only have two of the matching stubby stems left, and I think both may be 9mm filter stems, so I'm not quite sure what to do about the stem issue - Odds are that there may only be one recognizable "Fat Dwarf" and the other two may be finished with entirely different stem designs, we'll see.

So that's my fun news of the day. ;)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Crawler Pics

Biz News - Two new Morta Classics have been added to the catalog, one smooth and one sandblasted. Both are variations of poker shapes, with subtle tweaks here and there to set them apart.

Well, I finally finished this Halloween pipe that's been the project for so many days. I'm quite proud of it - I think it's one of the more disturbing looking Halloween pieces I've done, and it was a lot of fun to do one of these again after so long away from them. Still, breaks are a good thing, I think. Moving between Talbert Briars and Goblins and mortas and Ligne Bretagnes does wonders for keeping me enthused about all the different pipes, and really helps avoid burnout. Rather than post a pile of pics here, I just made a simple web gallery for this piece, so if you want to see all the photos of the new monster, go HERE.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

From the Crypt

Finished at last! I'll make better pics tomorrow, along with posting a couple of new mortas to the site, but for now, here are a few quick late-night shots of the Crawler. It came out very nicely, IMO - in fact, I think it may be the creepiest Halloween pipe I've done since the Black Annis. A pleasant way to start off the new year...

Crawling towards completion

The Halloween pipe continues to crawl towards completion. This is proving to be a handy example of the labor involved in these things - I know people have boggled in the past at some of the prices for the Halloween pipes, yet consider, in the time I've so far invested in this one pipe, I could easily have fully finished probably two or three Talbert Briars. It's a daunting challenge! But at the same time, I've been having a really good time with it. The Goblins are fun to do, but they must always be kept under careful "budget control", ie, can't do this or that effect that I might like, because it would be too much labor for the price. It's nice to be able to go all-out again, and really try and "hit one out of the park" to kick off the new year with. The preview pics are finally beginning to look like what the pipe will be when it's done, and there isn't actually as much labor left as there might seem. I need to do the sandblasting work on it, then smooth and detail various surfaces, and polish the stem. This is definitely what's referred to as the "high tension" stage of the process... LOTS of work invested, massive pressure and stress to keep anything from going wrong, breaking, etc. Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Unforseen

Biz News - There's a new Talbert Briar in the catalog, an unstained,beautiful blond freehand blast in a sort of hybrid Bettafish/Ibex shape. It's quite striking, and the wood is so pale in color that it's very nearly white.

The last couple of days have brought some unpleasant distractions into my work on this Halloween piece. First up was something not pipe-related - our Windows XP hard drive crashed, right when Emily needs it the most to do her yearly taxes on. After some debate over various alternatives, we opted to bite the bullet and finally get her a laptop of her own, just a simple ultra-cheapo Dell for our accounting (XP only) software alone, so we can stop fighting over the one computer finally. But this incurred the usual time wastage that attaches itself to anything computer-related, and no doubt will end up sucking up an inordinate amount of otherwise-useful working time when the thing arrives and I have to get the software switched over and install what will probably be two hundred security patches.

The next problem, from last night, was a stem that had to be discarded. Too thin! I tried my best to get a decent shot of the effect, but alas, one really can't see very well in the photo where the problem area is. This can be a common problem in the eternal quest for the ultra-thin bit, though - opening the inside slot just a hair too large, or not leaving enough material. In this case, widening the slot produced that sinking feeling - too much heat at my fingertips around the outside. Sure enough, the slot had created a visual "ripple" on the outside. It can just barely be seen in the photo - It's the V-shaped distortion in the light reflection up the bit center. A bit of prodding showed the material there was thin enough to flex, not acceptable, as it would surely fail in use. Bleagh.

Fortunately I was able to drill and shape another rod section quickly, and it can be seen here:

Tonight's work got me back to where I should have been two days ago, sans l'ordinateur problems and the reject bit, and the pipe itself is coming along nicely. I suspect it's going to feel great in the hand, like a small squirming creature. Tomorrow looks to be the fourteen hour workshop day that will take this a big chunk of the haul from its current crude cut to a much more detailed version closer to finished:

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I thought I'd follow up the previous post about the design process with a quick shot of the pipe in progress. I'll try to post pics of the progress as I can, though I'm working pretty ferociously on this (major overtime days) in hopes of getting it finished in a matter of a week rather than multiples. The process has been sped up a bit by some excellent new tools I received as Christmas gifts - The grinders in the pic below are fantastic at fast, controlled removal of stock in places wheels and drums can't handle. They don't load up like sanding drums, and I expect them to outlast a bucket of drums. Every carver should have them!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Halloween in January

Biz News! I've just posted some new pipes to the website - a new Talbert Briar sandblasted bulldog and a new smooth Ligne Bretagne Collector. Also, I've reshaped and revised the Talbert Briar Suscinio, the pipe with the much-disliked stem - go check it out and see what you think of version 2.0!

It's Halloween in January here. I'm working on an order for a Halloween pipe which met all the magic criteria that I need before even thinking about doing pipes like this on request:

A) It's from an established buyer, so the odds are significantly higher that I'll actually get paid for my work at the end.

B) It has vague design parameters. "Scary", and "a churchwarden" were the only given guidelines.

So, I thought I'd take a minute and toss some of the "imagination process" up on the blog in the form of doodles. In the first set of sketches, above, they're extremely rough and vague, because I start out just trying to capture the overall "look" (general shape, sense of motion, dynamism) and the main visual "hooks" (attention-grabbing bits like claws, teeth, etc). One thing I resolved on going in was that I did want the pipe to be genuinely scary, not just clich├ęd. I'm not knocking on the various black skulls and such that I've carved in the past, but that sort of thing is really very easy - just make a big grinning, malicious fanged skull and you're there. The ones I prefer, however, and my favorites of the Halloween pipes over the years, were the ones that were more surreal and disturbing, rather than just "BOOOO!"-scary. The problem is that it's just really freaking difficult to make something as pre-set as a pipe, disturbing.

Looking up, I started with some rough ideas of a churchwarden with big teeth.This went OK but didn't really grab me so much, so I doodled around for a bit, in the process producing the cute three-legged standing churchwarden design that isn't scary in the slightest, but will probably become an incredibly fun Goblin pipe sometime later. The bottom left sketch in the above image was the most elaborate, a huge tusked thing that would have looked quite brutal. Still not scary to me, though. Plus, more problematic, it would have been virtually impossible to make due to its dimensions - I simple don't have any briar blocks thick enough to allow the two big rounded tusks at the sides to be outset from the bowl and STILL have bowl walls thick enough for more carving and a chamber diameter wider than a pencil.

I've created a nice "scary music" playlist for myself in my Amarok music player, and it's ideal background music for getting into the right mood. Further goofing about produced the roughs to the left - starting with the strange, fat, chicken-winged duck-thing. Looked incredibly silly. But I liked the "wings" - tipped with curled claws, they evoke the disturbing mental image of plucked wingbones & fetal curls. I elaborated them, doodling ways to do the bottom and producing the frog-footed shapes. Again, more silly than scary, but they'd make ideal Goblin pipes and I bet they'll turn up in Green froggy form in the Goblin catalog before too long.

But I still wasn't getting the sort of genuinely unsettling look I wanted...

It took me another page to get something I liked. I trifled with combining the big tusks with the fetal wings, but they didn't work together. Em and I talked about motifs and she suggested Eraserhead, and that was all it took. The bottom needed limbs that were as twisted and fetal and creepy as the uppers, so I added thick haunches with a long, curved "leg" ending in a sort of bone-nodule "foot", and a second, stunted leg to carry the fetal curl and lack of development.

The great thing about the design is that it's a practical smoker as well as unnervingly hideous. If I can get the balance right, it should sit. Unlike too many "art pipes" and just plain "weird pipes" that I see, I try hard to keep the underpinnings of my more exotic pieces as practical and functional as possible - I want them to be smoked, not just collected. One can see in the cutaway view that the pipe is essentially just a big bent billiard, laid out to allow a centered airhole, pipecleaner passage, and good wall thicknesses... all while (I hope) being a genuinely creepy little creation. These sketches are still quite rough and undeveloped, but a good bit more detail will be added as the pipe progresses and is worked and reworked on the fly.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Why Dealers Matter

Biz News: As part of my push to get more stock on the website this year, I've just added another Ligne Bretagne Collector - a very pretty, huge, unstained handmade freehand. A nice piece for a nice price!

Today's pic is of yet another bulldog I've just finished. It's intended for a special request, but may end up on the site catalog, we'll see.

Some time semi-recently, I saw a post online that inspired me to write this little article. The poster in question had noticed that an artisan pipemaker had recently started selling via a few dealers and distributors as well as directly, and he voiced the complaint, "If he can afford to wholesale his pipes, why not just discount the pipes to his direct buyers and sell more pipes that way?" I was kind of agog, because this may sound logical, but it's a really uninformed idea. It presupposes a myth that lots of pipe folks seem to accept as rote - that pipe dealers and retailers essentially provide no service and only exist to jack up pipe prices. After all, if everyone can set up a website and sell direct, why pay these guys?

Many reasons, in fact. A dealer sale is guaranteed, for one (I'll get to that in a minute). When you wholesale a pipe to a dealer, you're offloading a surprisingly huge and annoying chunk of work to him, that of actually photographing, promoting, advertising, and selling the pipe. That's work that doesn't "go away" if a maker sells direct - It's part of the price of a pipe. The time I spend taking pictures and answering emails and writing catalog descriptions is every bit as much a part of the price as the time it took in the workshop. I can't "cut prices and sell more" - selling direct just drops all that promotional work on me. Not to mention the actual sale, collection of payment, and shipping of each individual pipe to a different buyer. That's an incredible amount of working time right there - just wrapping, packing, boxing, and hauling sacks of pipe boxes off to the post office. Selling to a dealer? Stick 'em all in one box, collect one check, and do it in one trip.

And it's a sure sale. Website direct sales are cherry-picked - Maybe you'll sell that pipe immediately, maybe you won't, maybe it won't even sell at all! When you wholesale, you smooth that out - the dealer assumes the risk of dead stock. Sure, you get less at wholesale pricing per pipe, but you get something every time, and you can let a much smarter salesman take the responsibility for finding buyers for everything you send him.

In closing, I hope this will help a little in understanding all the factors that go into establishing a price for a pipe, and explain just why workshop hours are not the total entirety of the price.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy New Year!

Biz News - To kick off the new year, one thing I'm going to try hard to do this month is actually put some pipes in stock on the website. First up are two new bamboo-shanked mortas and a sandblasted ring grain morta poker (Alas, as I type this, it looks like both bamboo-shanked pipes have sold already) and there's also a new green Ligne Bretagne Collector available.

It's hard (and easy) to believe I haven't updated this blog since late November! December was the usual explosion of chaos and psychosis that it is here every year, and I just didn't have the time for the blog. Plus, I was highly distracted by a new online forum that I've set up, into which I channeled what little spare time I had. It's a private forum, invite-only, where I can relax and talk to various friends in an exceedingly pub-like atmosphere without having to be "on my toes" as I must whenever I post to pipe forums (My forum does have some discussion of pipes, beer, whiskey, etc, but the main focus is on other subjects, mostly fantasy/SF/horror genre stuff and some adventures in an online MMORPG that many of us play in).

After posting in online forums for around 18 years now, it was an odd change to be the one setting the rules. I decided to take the simple route:

#1 - Don't be an asshole.

#2 - No posting of porn or porn links. This is against Proboards' terms of service.

#3 - No personal attacks. In fact, just try to be frickin' polite in general. If you disagree with someone, you'll get a lot further in life by arguing your viewpoint in a civil manner than by going batshit.

#4 - No sermonizing. We're all adults here and we all have our own views on topics like religion, politics, porn, abortion, and what have you. Thanks, but we really don't need long rants about how national health care leads to communism or at what point life really begins. Climbing onto soapboxes to preach is heavily frowned upon, with the sole exception being that Olde Fuckers are fully permitted to complain about how annoying young people are today. ;)

Violation of any of these rules is subject to immediate and capricious punishment by the mods, who rule like demented god-kings. (Jeff F ought to recognize this reference!) :D

If only more forums applied Rule #1, the intarwebs would be so much more enjoyable! Anyway, setting up this rather-complex project did manage to eat up way more time than ever intended, but at least it's up and running now and rapidly filling with such deep and incisive chatter as what the new Indiana Jones movie will be like, whether Heath Ledger will be a good Joker, where one can get good Ginger beer, and Darwin video award links. People in the pipe biz actually do talk about pipes in our spare time too, but after a day in the workshop and answering email, pipes usually aren't my main focus when I hop online to relax (Funnily enough, the only pipe people so far participating are other professional pipemakers, who are mostly talking about LOTR and why "Space Ape Lazer Rampage" is perhaps the greatest movie title ever imagined).

Today's pipe photo is one of the many Talbert Briar bulldogs that I've been working on all through December - I got buried under a pile of requests for bulldogs, and figured I'd see if I couldn't work on them all together for best efficiency. That's why virtually nothing has been appearing on the site - I've just been focused on special orders. I intend to try my best to at least get a few pipes into the website catalogs this month, though. I don't like it when everything is empty! And I'll also try hard to post more here in the blog, as it just isn't good to leave it sitting for so long, and I've got several topics I want to talk about (Next up will probably be an article on the value of dealers and distributors, and exactly what work and service they provide)

To close for now, here's another shot of that rather nice "Bulldog-Monster" - a huge, ODA-sized bulldog blast that's currently making its way across the ocean to a US collector.