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

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Meet the Gnomes!

Back when we were readying to leave Brittany to return to the US, we had to choose what we brought and what we left behind.  We brought all of our morta stock, all of our briar stock, and roughly 20,000 rough-turned Ligne Bretagne stummels in medium and larger sizes.  What we left behind, however, were entire crates of tiny stummels... Group 1-sized billiards and others.

I opted to leave most of the smallest bowls behind because they cost shipping money and were commercially unmarketable.  Despite the fact that tiny pipes take as much labor as larger ones, buyers tend to equate size with value and when they see a very small pipe, they expect an equally small price.  That puts the maker in the difficult position of either slapping together a cheap pipe at very high speed, one whose craftsmanship would reflect badly on the rest of his offerings ("I bought one of X's $45 pipes and it was really poorly done, why would I ever spend three times the price for one of the others?") or of taking a big financial risk by producing a lot of very well-done tiny pipes that would be costly for their size, and might very possibly sit unsold for weeks, months, or years.

Recently, however, two events came together perfectly here.  First, we created the Ligne Bretagne Classic - A line of standardized designs that could be made to order here in our shop, thus negating the financial risk of carrying a lot of inventory that might or might not sell.  Secondly, my wife came in the other day from the garage holding a bag of small turned bowls.  She'd been digging in some long-unopened boxes of briar for something else, and found a bag of small bowls that we'd decided to bring along with us just for fun.

At that point we both realized... We don't have to gamble on making a bunch of tiny pipes that might not sell.  We can make them to order, just like the LB Classics.  That way, fans who want a tiny pipe can get one, and I don't have to risk sitting on hundreds of dollars of stock if they're not popular.

Then, of course, the idea of GNOMES hit me, and that was that, a whole new pipe series for Ligne Bretagne!  The bag of bowls that Emily found contained roughed shapes that could be turned into 24 sandblasts and a couple of smooths - The usual ratio for any pipes not being spackled with putty.  But... We've got plenty of other smaller bowls that don't get used a lot, just because they're smaller than normal and people already complain that Ligne Bretagnes tend towards the smaller size range.  Grouping them all into the new "Gnomes" category seemed like a grand idea - Fun for me to do, fun for the specific buyers who wanted small pipes, and no risk for production time or sales.

Et voila, a new stamp marking was born: 

We've already got a great big florid "G" for Goblins, so the new mark is suitably small and focused, instead.

Pricing was the next big decision.  "Slap 'em together" and sell them for $40-50, scratches and stem gaps and all, or "Do them right" for twice the price because of the labor time?

It took about two microseconds to realize this was no choice at all, because I'm incapable of just leaving flaws that bug me - I'd end up sitting and tweaking and detailing regardless.

So, with that in mind, I'm pricing and crafting them for what they are - High-quality, high-detailed little jewels.  Airways are tapered and coned, bits are filed thin and comfortable, buttons are reshaped and thinned, bit slots are internally fanned for smooth airflow, bowls are magnifier-inspected to be scratch-free, and there's enough labor time built into the pricing to allow for some fun.  In these first ones, that fun equals two-toned finishes, with natural rims that fade down into rich brown bowl stains. 

So how small ARE the Gnomes?  Small enough to easily fit into a shirt pocket, to easily fall into the 10-20 gram weight range, and to be so light as to be effortless clenchers.  But, they're still big enough for a decent smoke - I'm not into making Kiseru, here.  To wit:

So that's the Gnomes!  The guiding principles:

Keep them small.
Make them quality.
Make them sprightly.
Make them fun.
Make them creative.
Keep them featherweight.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Making Halloween, ma-king Halloween...

It's that time of year again!  

Although, in our case, a rather challenging time of year...  Our Halloween pipe production has waxed and waned over the years depending on the circumstances of the moment - It's not always possible to set aside the long stretches of working time needed to make elaborate Talbert Halloween Pipes.  This year has been exceptionally difficult.  I've detailed in other posts some of the family health issues we've had, but in a nutshell, my wife's parents are both elderly and her father fell and broke his arm in two places.  It turned out to be a particularly nasty break and he's just come through the second surgery for it, after spending the entire summer in a recovery home from the first surgery.  The results for him are promising, we hope - Multiple steel bars implanted in his arm means he'll never get through a metal detector again, but he now has a hinged steel elbow to boot.  The downside is that he's going to be in a recovery home all through this month and probably next, and we are having our time split in several directions by visiting and helping out my mother-in-law with house care, errands, etc, as she is no spring chicken herself and is now on her own for an extended period.

So...   with all that on our plate, the initial plan was to have no special Halloween pipes this year.  However, that decision started changing when we found this new little show on Netflix called Stranger Things, which managed to perfectly nail the sort of gleeful, "out after dark" autumn fun ambiance that I run on like gasoline.  I knew I had to do something this year.  It just had to be something more adaptable to my fractured workdays than complex Talbert Briars that would need nine uninterrupted hours of focused working time every day to get right.

My solution is this - The Ligne Bretagne October Pumpkins!  A set of wickedly carved Jack-O-Lanterns would allow me to utilize the basic template of our regular Ligne Bretagnes for labor savings and put all my working time into the carving details, making the pipes more affordable (much) for fans who don't have a grand or more for a Talbert Halloween, while making them repeatable designs (at least to an extent), so I can make them to order.

Yes, you read that right - We are making these to order.   If you want an October Pumpkin, you can order one off of their catalog page and we'll make it for you!  So go check out Pumpkin #1 and Pumpkin #2.

This is a limited time offer!

I plan on making these through the rest of September and into October, as many as I feel I can reasonably be sure of finishing and getting to their owners by Halloween.  The goal is for everyone who wants one to have their pipes by October 31st.  That means - I don't know how long they will be on offer.  If sales are ideal, I'd love to be taking orders and shipping pipes from now right through to the week of Halloween.  If, however, we get a deluge of orders right off the bat, I will shut down the catalog pages when I feel I've got as many orders as I can reasonably handle and be confident of getting finished in time.

So, the answer is... They'll be available for order from now until sometime.  I should be able to give a better estimate after I see what the initial sales are like.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, August 05, 2016

Ligne Bretagne - Classics and Uniques

Big news!

We're doing something new with Ligne Bretagne.  For the 14 years they've been in production, we've been plagued with one consistent issue - Lack of stock.  We post them, they sell out, and casual website visitors then write me to complain that all the pipes are always sold.  I don't blame them, I would not want to have to watch a site like a madperson 24/7 to insta-grab anything that got posted, myself.  The flip side is that we could not afford to do them as commissions, either.  The price levels they sell for simply don't accommodate the sort of back-and-forth consulting and talking that happen with every commission, and the limitations of working with machine-fraized shapes prevented a lot of the sort of size and shape requests customers might want anyway.

What to do?

Our solution is this - We're dividing Ligne Bretagne into two kinds of pipes, Ligne Bretagne Uniques (each one individual, the same as we've been doing), and Ligne Bretagne ClassicsLigne Bretagne Classics will be pipe designs that we work out carefully for repetition - Cuts of bowl, shank, stem length, band, and any other decor that we'll set up our workshop to reproduce accurately as many times as needed.  We'll select each bowl to be of consistent and matching grade to insure there will be no "losers" in our output.

And the best part is - You'll be able to order them.  

If you see a shape & design in the Ligne Bretagne Classics list that you like, you can purchase it right then!  Your order will go into our production queue and you'll receive an email with an estimated shipping date.  When your pipe is ready and finished, you'll receive specific photos of your personal pipe.  If you're happy with the results, your pipe will ship out as soon as we get your OK!

While the Ligne Bretagne Classics design list is small today (consisting of just two bulldogs for starters), we intend to add more shapes to it as time goes by.  We're starting with bulldogs because they've always been among our most popular sellers.

This makes things better for everyone - If someone wants to buy a design, they can, and they can be guaranteed of getting their pipe.  There's no racing to the page to try to grab something before the new stuff sells out.  Producing ongoing series of standardized pipe designs lets us save on production cost and time, savings that we can pass on to the buyers in the form of lower prices - Where our typical Ligne Bretagne Uniques tend to run around $175, Ligne Bretagne Classics can be ordered for $140 plus shipping.

I'll answer the two most likely questions here, and add more info as new questions arise.

Can I customize my order?  (Ex: I love the bulldog shape but I want one in red instead of black) - Not at the present time.  Maybe eventually... I'd like to be able to offer some checklist options in a drop-down menu style for finishes, especially, but for now I want to keep things simple to get these pipes off the ground as smoothly and successfully as possible.

Are these pipes any different from the other Ligne Bretagnes? - No.  They're made from the same aged stummels with the same stem materials, band materials, production techniques, and finishing processes as all our other pipes.  A Ligne Bretagne Classic is not a "cheaper" pipe... It just costs less!