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

Sunday, March 30, 2008

And speaking of small...

Biz News - Two new six-paneled LB tankards are new in the catalog.

After talking in the last post about small pipes, I thought I'd post some pics here, just for fun, of a Talbert Briar blowfish I've just finished this weekend. It was a challenging pipe to make because the buyer wanted something like the Fantasy Blowfish from last month, but under 4.5"! Considering that a lot of the styling of the first pipe depended on being long and lanky, this was a bit of a puzzle, but I eventually worked out this Mini-Me version, retaining a lot of the styling elements in a package short enough to fit in a shirt pocket, all while still keeping the bowl big enough for a nice smoke! Emily loves it - apparently it scores highly in the "wife cuteness" opinion polls. A few more pics:

Friday, March 28, 2008

What is Twitter?

Biz News - Five more Ligne Bretagnes are posted to the catalog! Not quite as big a post as last week's, but still, there are plenty of pipes in a wide variety of shapes to choose from. Check them out!

The results of the polls posted to the left have been interesting but not entirely unexpected, we pipe people being a conservative bunch and all, not usually on the cutting edge of this newfangled web stuff. A majority of voters are saying they have no interest in a Facebook presence so I guess I won't worry about that right now, though I may return to it in future if it keeps growing. Social networking sites are crazy that way, though - One minute everyone MUST have a MySpace page and the next minute MySpace is, "like, soooo five minutes agooo" as everyone migrates to the Next Big Thing.

Regarding Twitter, the #1 vote seems to be, "What is Twitter?" Twitter is another social site/"thing", a way of sending IMs of a sort to your circle of friends on their computers. When I first saw it, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Oh god, another freaking chat app" because, well, I hate IM chatting. Or maybe I should be more specific - I don't hate IMing if I have nothing else to do, am in the mood for it, and have a block of time to utterly waste, but otherwise I find nearly all forms of internet chat, from Messenger to IRC, to be unbelievably annoying... largely because if I'm at the computer to be "chatted", I'm either working or playing a game, and neither warrants interruptions from someone I'm expected to be nice to. It's just that it's so inescapable.. I don't dislike the people, per se, just the whole social "You're expected to drop everything and refocus your attention on this person instead of the work you were concentrating on".

Thus, I was prepared to loathe Twitter and never think of it again, but in fact, it has turned out to be great fun. Imagine my absolute shock! Twitter doesn't work like a chat program - There's no expectation of interaction, it's just a handy way to broadcast fun news and current events to your friends. Maybe they're at their computer, maybe they aren't, but they'll get your latest Tweets the next time they look at their browser. The way it works is simple - Make up a Twitter account. Then install the Firefox extension Twitterfox. The result will look like the pic to the left - It's just a little blue T down in the corner. But it works like a combination answering machine and broadcaster, receiving and storing any Twitter announcements from your subscribed Twitter friends, and giving you a convenient pop-up text box to send out your own comments, like so:

What's nice about it is that it lacks the social pressure of IM chat - One doesn't HAVE to reply immediately if you're busy or distracted, but the messages are stored for later reply as you like. I've already been using it with a personal account connected to some friends for a couple of weeks now, and quite enjoy it.


And I believe it could be a very handy business & hobby tool for social networking. Announcements of website updates could be easily sent as Twitter broadcasts with no worries of emailing, spamtraps on mailing lists & false positives, etc. Plus, it's more informal immediacy would make it handy for broadcasting news of just what was happening in the workshop at a given time, or other related news. Pipe collectors could network and follow the Twitter feeds of various pipemakers they like, and offer instant commentary on updates, announcements, etc. I dunno, it could be potentially useful and fun. I do not yet have a business Twitter account, but I may make one if there is any interest in this.

And that's what Twitter is!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The S Word

Biz News - I've just posted a HUGE flood of new Ligne Bretagnes to the LB catalog. They're a mix of smooths and blasts in all-classical shapes, with the two pipes to the left among them.

Somewhere along the way, without me noticing it, "small" has become cool in the world of pipes. When did this happen? I don't know if it's a reaction to the current popularity of small in cars, energy bills, etc, but I'm selling a lot of small pipes lately.

Hop back a year or two and it was quite different, to the point that I often joked that "small" was one of the "Words of Death" that one must avoid at all costs when writing pipe descriptions. "Big", "craggy", "huge", these were sure selling words, but "small" was a killer. Other descriptors had to be found, like "excellent for rope tobaccos" and "an ideal short bowl for a powerful flake tobac", because saying a pipe was small was a great way to ensure you'd be keeping that pipe in inventory for the rest of your life. I guess, as with so many things, the mentality was that you got more pipe for your money if you bought a larger pipe, but this mindset seems to be shifting today.

This is excellent for us, because so many of our Ligne Bretagne stummel shapes are mid-size or smaller. They've sort of simmered along the past six years, gathering a small devoted following of people who love small bowl pipes and would regularly snatch up a few pipes per year, but I'd hear, "They're mostly smaller and I like big pipes" as often as not. This made for a challenge, because there really just aren't that many large-size LB stummels in the line - the group 5 billiard above (stock now nearly exhausted), a tall poker, a huge oom-paul... but these were rarities amongst a sea of group 3-4 (and smaller) bowl shapes. These days, featherweight classicals and pencil-shanked straight pipes seem suddenly hot, and we sell them about as fast as we can finish them. When did this happen? WHY did this happen?

Small pipes offer advantages beyond weight - They're more likely to be flawless or pit-free (less surface means less probability of exposing a flaw) and they're more suitable for smoking in today's anti-tobacco environments (meaning, outside of the restaurant relaxing with friends around the big space heater while Prohibition-minded anti's sulk their way past into their pristine "smoke free" interiors to smell each other's sweat instead). Moreover, they have a sort of art deco elegance about them, evoking memories of women in elbow gloves with cigarette holders. I can't begin to decipher the vagaries of today's market, but I do know I'm fortunate to be well-placed with the right stock at the right time. Perhaps eventually I'll even be able to say "small" in a pipe description without losing a sale!


Well, my friend Guillaume from the French pipe club FumeursdePipe just tagged me in that last post, so I guess I must now post "Six things of no importance" on my chosen subject, which I guess is going to be "Pipes and I". I'll try and hit six things I probably haven't mentioned before, like............

#1. There is a beautiful, bright blue toy SpaceGodzilla in the workshop next to my primary workstation. Usually he lives in my indoor palm tree, but occasionally moves to the tool shelf behind it.

#2. My favorite music to listen to when I first start working out there is the Blues Brothers soundtrack. There's just something about hearing those opening lines of, "She caught the Katy" that puts my brain into a fun working groove.

#3. Emily can tell when I'm listening to this soundtrack because I'll be singing and tapping my feet with it. The only other albums I have that produce this physical reaction are my George Thorogood and J. Geils Band albums.

#4. I never, ever smoke a pipe while I'm working. I realize it's sort of a clich├ęd rule that all pipemakers must have a pipe in their teeth in the shop, but it would be too damned distracting. Plus I don't own any pipes I'm willing to drop into a spinning lathe when I open my mouth to sing, "Sweet Home Chicago".

#5. The portion of my briar stock that's in the workshop is guarded by a giant rubber rat.

#6. The majority of my online socializing is not in pipe forums but in a private forum called the Pub Crawlers, which I helped found with some friends. There, the discussion topics range freely from pipes to beer to Godzilla to the infinity of geek genre books and films (with special love for horror films, Star Wars, SF, and Sigourney Weaver). It has never needed moderation because only intelligent, friendly people are let in, and because the number one rule of the Pub Crawlers is, "Don't be an asshole." Pipemaker Stephen Downie participates also. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to email me for an invite, but be warned that you probably won't be let in unless I know you well enough to know you're sane and can play nice with others (and have the suitably twisted sense of humor required).

Voila, my tag! And here's the perfect little video clip to close it out with.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Classical 2008?

Biz News - I've just added a new natural, unstained smooth Ligne Bretagne to the LB catalog, the first of what I hope will be a steady stream over the next few weeks. It's the rear pipe in this week's photo. The billiard may already be sold, before ever reaching the catalog...

In a recent conversation with a collector/friend (Well, actually not "recent" by most people's standards... I think it was something like five or six months ago, but that's the sort of lag time I write under), he expressed the opinion that classical shapes were coming back, and would be the Big Thing this year. He feels the market is over-saturated with high-end Danish shapes and organic designs in general, and believes the buying public will start turning back to billiards and bulldogs.

I think he may be right.

We've had a HUGE explosion in the number of pipemakers over recent years, and everyone seems to be determined to shoot for the horn/blowfish/Danish styling theme. I always feel just a bit awkward making such pipes, as if I'm trading on someone else's blueprints, and I think (with the best objective view of my own work as I can manage) that I do my best in schizophrenic poles - either completely fantasy-oriented, original Talbert shapes, or my renditions of the classics like pokers and bulldogs. I don't know... Others might not agree. But I can posit one observation I've drawn over the past six to eight months - Our classical shapes here are selling FAST. Much faster than freehands. While a swooped and curved fantasy piece that would have been an instant sell a year ago might sit for a week before finding a buyer, every classical-shape Talbert that I've put on the site has sold within the first hour, often the first few minutes of sending the email notice.

The same phenomenon seems to happen with the Ligne Bretagnes too - We can't keep any inventory of straight bulldogs and billiards, and our only stock now are some more unusual pear shapes. LBs have seen a rather startling sales explosion this year so it may not be a related factor, but it's still odd. I won't mind if this does become a trend, since I very much enjoy doing classical shapes. It's funny how my preferences have changed with time - These days I find just as much creative satisfaction in subtle details like the shank-to-bowl length, or the silhouette view (Being able to see the departure of the stem from the shank lines in silhouette is a crime against elegance, IMO).

Perhaps it's my imagination. Perhaps it's the phase of the planets. Perhaps collectors are responding on some inner level to our current global financial uncertainties by yearning more towards the familiar shapes of the nostalgic past. Maybe our ten billion Baby Boomer buyers have gotten tired of splashy pipes and want the styles they remember dad smoking in the 50's. It doesn't really matter to me either way - I'm happy making any sort of pipes, really - but I'll be curious to see if 2008 marks the start of a classical shape renaissance in the world of the pipe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Looks

Voila, the new blog! Emily and I have been working on this all week, trying to get everything looking just right (The "About" link is still dead as I write this, but will be written up and online shortly). I'm pleased with the new look. I wanted something visually similar to the catalog website with a simple, elegant text-on-white look, while still working within Blogger's framework. I believe the page is a drastic visual improvement over the previous look, and I'm proud to say that this time it's all mine (as in, the pics are all my pipes, the briar block and grain pics are direct photos of briar I have here, I created the title logo, etc). Maybe not as sharp as a genuine professional web designer could do, but I am content.

There are several functional changes, as well. There's a new Search box in the sidebar that allows handy word searching within this blog, for those who want to look up every mention of Halloween pipes. The "heavy use" links have been placed at the top of the blog, giving easy access to our website catalogs (the Catalog link), my Yahoo email address, RSS subscription to our blog, and our Guestbook.

Also, there's a little side story to the title logo photo above. I've had that block of briar for about ten to fifteen years now, IIRC. It's a huge plateau block with stunning grain all around, easily twice the size of my regular plateau blocks. It's from an extremely old stash of briar I got back in the 90's, and has probably been drying since around 1980. I've carried it to a few pipe shows because it makes an excellent table decoration, but as yet have no plans to make a pipe from it. I believe it will make a genuinely stunning pipe, but so far I haven't been inspired to cut into it, and might never be, who knows? There's something very intimidating about a beautiful briar block - not unlike a blank canvas, really - that presents a challenge to the artisan every time they approach. "I'm perfect now", it says, "Are you good enough to change me without ruining me?" Maybe one day we'll find out...