Here's what I've been thinking about lately.
I’ve been terrible about updating the On the Bench blog. I hope to be better about this!
Currently on the bench are four freehands. A Dublin, two bent eggs, which I hope will be a take off on Freehand Egg #72, and a Volcano. Too early to tell much at this point, but here they are.
Just off the bench are the three freehands I blogged about most recently, Freehand 52, a grade C partially blasted Eggy Apple, Freehand 53, a partially blasted Volcano, which did not make the cut, and Freehand 54, a nice partially blasted grade D horn. Had a great time with these, but experienced some frustration along the way. Namely, the usual pits and flaws, a little trouble with chamber on the Volcano, and perhaps the worst malady was sanding through to the airways in two of the original stems in my effort to refine my stem shapes. I'm really after more graceful stems, but my oh my, what I see in my mind's eye is close to the bone, and it seems getting too close is the start of that refining process! Well, I suppose 5 stems for three pipes is a small price to pay for better looking stems!
When we last saw our hero he had bravely roughed in and freehand drilled three stummels, as seen here on the right.
Now it's time to rough in stems to go with these stummels before we dive into refining the shape. I do as much of the shaping process with stems and stummels together, which contributes to the aesthetic flow of the pipe, as well as ensures a good mating of shank and stem.
I hand cut all my stems-- it takes time, lots of time, but it pays huge dividends in smoking properties, as well as aesthetics. I use either German Ebonite or Cumberland rod, a bit pricey, but well worth the expense. Unlike Lucite, high quality German Ebonite and Cumberland feels great on teeth and does not taste of plastic. It also avoids the rubbery taste and tendency to oxidize that pre-molded stems have. It also machines and shapes extremely well, and looks fantastic when polished up.
In addition to showing you what's on the bench this week, I thought I'd take a series of pics showing the major steps in the process. I like to work pipes through in small batches using one of two different methods--the more traditional method, where I drill with the stummel chucked in the lathe before shaping, and the shape first method, where I shape first, and then drill freehand after the initial shaping. I'm still refining my shape first method, but I'm finally starting to feel more confident with it.
This batch of three freehands on the bench will lend themselves nicely to the shape first method. The advantage of the shape first method is it enables nearly complete freedom to shape to the grain, while also working around any flaws. This is the primary method the Danes use to excellent advantage. I'm convinced it affords the best opportunities for designs like these where grain plays a large role in dictating the shape and very little if any of the stummel can be truned on the lathe.
I had not been familiar with this shape until just recently and I'm finding it affords a lot of scope for blending the traditional along with an occasional leaning in the Danish direction when the briar dictates, making it a perfect match for exploring one of my favorite approaches to pipe making. I'm really looking forward to spending time with the Belge this year. My prototype sold right off the starting line this morning, which was very gratifying, thanks Stephen! Another big thanks to Alan Dye for putting the project together this year. Veteran ASP carver, Mark Tinskey and the amazing Rad Davis both have some beautiful Belges in briar as part of the project, and Sinan Altinok has some beautiful meerschaums. I'm very happy and proud to be in such excellent company!
Gosh, it's good to be back in the shop. Between the holidays and nursing a bad back I did very little pipe making in November and December. I did manage to finish Bill Schaffart's Canadian, and he seems pleased with it. I was especially glad to hear that Bill smoked it on Christmas Day.
I'm excited to be working on my first commission--a Canadian for Bill Schaffart. Bill is a collector with a specific focus--Canadians made to his specifications by a select group of pipe makers. I was honored when Bill approached me at the show in Kansas City to be part of the project.
They comprise two Opus 1 Pokerbash Smooths, two Opus 2 smooth bulldogs, and a nice bulldog partial blast with a smooth top. It's amazing how nicely and quickly that blasted. Beautiful ring grain just popped right out this time! Anyway, I loved seeing this group of five on the bench as they were coming together.
Busily getting ready for the Kansas City show on November 3rd and 4th. Hope to get at least a couple more finished in addition to the five just off the bench.
I'm really enjoying some additions to the shop equipment.
This is the cleanest and best grained briar I've worked with to date. The freehand barely missed being a high grade smooth. Amazing grain, but I'm going to need to blast it except for the top due to a small flaw in the shank, and a few too many tiny sand spots. The PokerBash is very nicely grained. Two very small flaws, but I can live them to save the grain. The Calabash has been an allusive shape for me--this one comes closest to the graceful shape I'm after, and it's huge with beautiful birdseye over most of it!
This order has a variety of cuts so I could see the various offerings. The top grade Plateaux is stunning! Every bit as promising as what I've seen from the big name cutters. I also got some ebauchons, and they are really nice. The long M blocks look more like Plateaux in terms of the grain and cut--very nice, I'll certainly get more! The R blocks show some very nice birdseye on the sides. These all have the look and feel of very well cut, nicely cured, and well aged blocks. I'm really excited!
Dealing with these guys has been really interesting, and an amazing challenge.
IBAN numbers must be used for all wires from the US now (as of Feb1 07). And apparently this has confused Calabria Pipes, and perhaps their bank! Europeans who have been using IBAN for some time now, but not used to supplying IBANs when dealing with transfers from the US. It's been very frustrating to watch my briar supply dwindling while having my sample shipment of briar from Calabria Pipes delayed by failed wire attempts! Part of the problem is the 7 hour time difference between here and Italy, and then there is also the language barrier!. I suggested we try Western Union, at least I think that's what I suggested. It's a little hard to know what with the translation and all! Hopefully I'll have an E-mail from Mr. Carlino early tomorrow morning.
The truth is that it's tough for a new pipe maker to get the best blocks of briar at a reasonable cost. Buying in small quantities limits one to buying from other pipemakers for the most part, and that means they have first crack at the best blocks for their own work. PipeMakers emporium has been the only other option, and thankfully I've received top Grade Algerian briar from them. It's expensive though, and still may not be as good as the best from Italy.