Trevor makes a Pipe - #2
With a little help from a friend...
The first picture you see is how my second pipe looked after I finished carving it. The stem was hand-cut out of rod brindle vulcanite by me, the bowl was worked over from a solid block of briar by me, and the drilling was performed for the most part by Stephen Downie. I knew the engineering for this pipe would be good because of the last fact I listed, but the comfort of the smoke, the way the pipe would hang from the mouth would be all because of me.
I am a fan of smaller pipes. This particular piece ended up being just over 6 inches long, and just under 2 inches in height. The bowl was nearly 2 inches wide as well, and it tipped the scales at nearly 50 grams. I have some pipes that are slightly larger than this, but they were made by professionals with many years of pipe-making experience. They are all great smokers (Radice, and Ardor) comfortable in the mouth, and seem to weigh less than the scale says.
This pipe was none of those things.
Oh, it had a nice draw. The finishing was quite good. The stain was beautiful and there was some nice grain around the bowl. But it was not comfortable. There was something about the stem. It wasn’t right, and that was making the rest of the pipe feel wrong. The stem had a way of slipping around between the teeth. I couldn’t just clench the pipe and turn the pages of my book, the pipe tried to invert itself and dump the burning load of tobacco directly onto my lap the minute I took my hand off the bowl. The heaviest part of the pipe was also the furthest from my face, and this created a pendulum effect that led more than once to near disaster.
I stopped smoking the pipe. The first pipe I made was quickly becoming a favourite smoker, and I became disillusioned with my skills as a pipe-maker. I tried changing the profile of the stem, make it match some of my more comfortable pipes, the Ashton had a great stem profile. I sanded, scraped, buffed and polished….all to no avail. The pipe was wrong.
I debated whether I should just stick this pipe in the corner of my rack or pipe drawer to remind me that the nicest designs are not always the most practical. But I like to smoke my pipes! not stare at them. I decided to re-make the pipe. I came up with a sketch, using the original pipe sketch as a starting point. I have been a little enamored with bulldog shape pipes as of late, and infatuated with the asymmetrical designs of the Japanese pipe-masters and Danish high grades. I thought this lumpy-bumpy apple would do well with a makeover.
I made an appointment with Stephen Downie to get into his shop to start the shaping process again. The first cut through the stain and wax felt so good. I was going to remake this pipe, and it would be better than ever. I worked at the sanding disk a while and the pipe just seemed to appear beneath my hands. The shape in my mind manifested itself in briar. I am not quite the grain-freak of some of my esteemed colleagues, but I do like a bit of nice straight grain from time to time, and get a little giddy over a beautiful spray of birds-eye. But when it comes to the pipes I’ve made, I just try and get the best shape possible, regardless of grain, or perhaps in spite of it. I have enough to think about trying to keep all my fingers intact without worrying about grain location.
After the first session at chez’ Downie, I took the roughed shape home and began to work and refine the shape using muscles and good sandpaper. The outside ridge had a wavy aspect to it I didn’t care for, and much time was spent evening it out. I would draw on the pipe in pencil where the ridge should be, and sand away until it lined up. Inevitably, the ridge would migrate in the other direction and I’d have to sand it back into place once more. I evened out the rim on top, and removed most of the old stain from the shank of the pipe. It was time to cut a new bit for the pipe.
When I start a new project like this, it begins to consume me. I think about pipes when I should be working, I think about bits and (pipe) engineering when out for a run. I think about double staining techniques while trying to get to sleep at night, I wake up with mouthpiece profiles in my mind. In short, I was obsessed about getting this mouthpiece right. It was not to be. Providence stepped in and ensured I would have a great stem on my pipe, but not one made by myself.
Stephen had completed a pipe commission some time before, and had created a wonderful brindle stem for the pipe. The customer preferred to have a black ebonite stem, and so the brindle bit languished on Stephen’s bench for some months. When he asked me what stem material I wanted to cut the bit from, and heard brindle, he said, “I have a stem right here…someplace…you can have if you want.” I looked at said stem (beautiful, I thought) and lined it up with the shank of my pipe (the tenon was a hair too large to fit) and thought it might just do the trick. I spent some time sanding down the delrin tenon to fit the mortise, and once in place, we saw the stem looked like it had been cut for just this pipe. The shank-stem fit was excellent (unaltered) and the stem bend (already in place) fit the pipe profile perfectly. So I got a great, super comfortable stem like I wanted, but it wasn’t me who made it. Next time I’ll get to cut the stem for sure. No excuses.
More sanding, and sanding, reshaping the boxwood shank cap (I nicked it with the disk sander) and I was ready for stain. I wanted something with a bit more contrast than the pipe had before, so I went for a double stain, black under coat with a burgundy over stain. There were no mishaps this time. I never launched the pipe into the wall behind the buffing wheel, I didn’t get stain all over the boxwood shank cap, I did get stain all over my hands, but that’s normal (or so Stephen told me). A bit of buffing and carnauba wax and I have a grand new pipe, one that I can’t wait to take on its maiden voyage (again) this Christmas. Oh, and shock of shocks, the pipe balances on its round shank, just so. It is a delight and just 36 grams.
Stats: 4.75 inches long - 1.5" inches tall - .75" chamber
December 10, 2008