I began making pipes in the early 1980's, primarily for my own use and gratification, selling or gifting a few here and there to friends and work acquaintances. Finally, after a long and varied career in other fields, I was able to retire in 2013, and pursue my love of pipe making full-time.
I have always been drawn to artistic pursuits, and it is important to me to be able to produce a beautiful and meaningful work that can be appreciated and enjoyed by others. Having been a dedicated pipe smoker, collector and casual maker of pipes most of my adult life, my choice of "creative outlet" for this new phase of my life was, of course, predetermined.
In the beginning, a pipe is nothing but a concept, a block of very hard wood, and a small rod of stem material. The concept may be my own vision or it may be based on customer's request. In either case, my first step is to sketch and refine the design to a point that it reflects an aesthetic continuity, proportion and flow in the lines. When the design is pleasing, I then select a piece of briar that lends itself to that design in terms of dimensions, grain and weight. I use only excellent-quality plateau briar that has been properly prepared and dried.
The wood always imposes its own constraints, of course, and frequently there will be minor changes or adaptations in the design to make best use of the shape and grain of the block. The design is then transferred to the block and drilling and rough shaping are done – sometimes the pipe is shaped before drilling. In any case, drilling must be very precise to ensure proper smoking quality and adequate thickness in the walls of the bowl and shank.
At this point, I prepare the rod stock for the stem; including turning and fitting of the tenon, and drilling of the air hole. I use only the best quality German ebonite for stems, as the lesser qualities sometimes contain defects which show up later in the process, and detract greatly from the final appearance.
The final shaping, sanding and finishing of the pipe are usually done after the stem is fitted, to ensure aesthetic continuity and a perfect fit of the stem to the shank. At this point, the pipe may be viewed as maybe half done. Remaining processes include refining the contours of pipe, shaping the stem (inside and out) and sanding both to a flawlessly smooth finish, staining and finishing (which will take a number of steps and several days) and final polishing. These processes are quite time-consuming and demanding of utmost attention to details.
The pipe is now largely complete. All that remains is stamping of the logo, a final wax and polish, and a final re-check to assure that a pipe cleaner will pass freely from bit to bowl and no obstructions are present. It is now ready to be placed in a soft leather bag and sent to its new owner.
When I start work on a pipe, I want it to be an inspired design, and I want the execution to be as nearly perfect as I am able to make it. I would like each design to be a step forward artistically. For that reason, I almost always complete one before moving to the next.
I want the materials to be the best I can get; my briar comes from a source whom I know handles it properly from harvesting to shipping, and the quality is always excellent. I use only high-quality German ebonite because of its known superiority in feel, appearance and resistance to oxidation. I often use SEM ebonite, from a small German manufacturer who pride themselves on their innovative and beautiful (and expensive) materials, colors and patterns.
I want each pipe to be a pleasure to hold in the mouth or in the hand, as well as to look at. I will not sacrifice structural integrity or proper internal engineering for aesthetics or uniqueness, as the functional purpose of a pipe is, obviously, to be a lasting, durable "companion" with excellent smoking characteristics.
I will never achieve the "perfect" pipe, I'm sure, but my reward will be the pleasure of knowing that I did my best, and hopefully brought some lasting pleasure and satisfaction to another person of like interests.