3-14-07: Pipe Shops (a reflection)
Any time I'm near a city of any size I look for pipe shops. Often a pipe shop visit is an education, especially if they have any super high grades (rare) or any hand made pipes at all. Getting to see, hands on, the work of other pipe makers, is always interesting. If I find myself in the kind of shop I really love--then the visit involves lighting up and enjoying some excellent conversation, and then I'll no doubt stock up on tobacco, cleaners, and maybe some butane or other accessories. I rarely buy pipes any more--I'm mostly smoking my own mistakes, or pipes too flawed to sell.

Unfortunately it seems most of the great old pipe shops that were fun to hang out in are gone, or drastically scaled back. Pipe shows are great, but they are few and far between. Creating a good hang is where I think the B&Ms could really earn back a portion of our business from the on-line merchants.

Announcing the S.E.THILE Opus Series : Plans for the Opus series are now taking shape (literally). The Opus series is comprised of catalog shapes. While each pipe will be unique, like all musical performances are unique, these are shapes I make on a regular basis. May I have the envelope please..and the first two Opus series shapes are...

Opus #1, The PokerBash Blast. This has been my most popular shape---gratifying in that as far as I know it is unique to me. Etudes 11, 15, and 19 contributed to the development of Opus 1. I have had numerous offers to buy Etude 15, which is no longer available.

Unfortunately for me, it is a rare block of plateaux that lends itself to this shape. It must be tail, and it must yield nice tight birdseye for the smooth top, and ring grain for the blast. The higher grades will also have smooth bottoms ((like Etude 15)

Opus #2, Bulldogs and Rhodesians--theme and variations on a classic shape. I have grown to love these shapes. They have proven to be extremely challenging and formed a large part of my pipemaking education. Etudes 12, 16, 18 (CP 2006), and 20 have all contributed.

Look for more Opus series pipes soon!

I have anxiously awaited this day, but not without some fear and trepidation: S.E.Thile pipes are now being offered for sale. Why now and not before? I have wanted to be sure my pipes were ready. A few things have happened that pushed me over the edge:
  1. I've been makings pipes for a little over a year.
  2. My pipes are looking better, and smoking great by all reports. While there is yet much to improve on, and always will be, they seem to compare well with other up and coming pipemakers.
  3. I attended the St. Louis pipe show and was greatly encouraged by several pipemakers and collectors.
  4. And I really need to raise money to buy more briar and ebonite rod, so I can make more pipes.

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.

Just off the bench is a batch of three Belges for the Alt.Smokers.Pipes - Pipe of the Year project. I had a fantastic time working on these and I'm anxious to dive into more.

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.