In a previous post I admitted my new guilty pleasure — pipes. Besides the taste and smell of pipe tobacco, and the romance of smoking a pipe, I am also drawn to the aesthetics of the pipe shape for it’s own sake. Last weekend I made my very first pipe. I recently watched the Lord of The Rings trilogy (“LoTR”) and had become enamoured with the long-stem churchwarden-style pipes smoked by all the main characters. I decided to make my own.
As with all pipes, the stem of a churchwarden is as important an element in the pipe’s design as the stummel (bowl and shank). Sadly, in the pipe world, the shape and finish of the stummel get most of the attention. In all my on-line research, I could find very little information about how to drill a small hole (1/8 inch or less) in a long (12 inch) piece of wood. I had some thin scraps laying around from another project so I opted for a bent laminate stem. The stem is maple and the draft hole was manufactured as part of the lay-up process (i.e., the stem consists of a top skin, two sidewalls, and a bottom skin). I managed the final rounding of the stem with a spokeshave, file (for the bit), and sand paper. Because I do not (yet) have a lathe, I opted to join the stem to the shank using a hollow dowl — it was easier to drill a mortise in the stem than to carve a tight round tenon.
The bowl is a conical shape that blends simply into the round shank. I didn’t model this shape on any pre-existing pipes. It just seemed natural and fits my hand nicely. I wasn’t to trying to replicate a specific pipe from LoTR either. I just wanted something that might look like it was carved from available materials in the wild by an experienced but refined adventurer. [pullthis]This is not your father’s billiard[/pullthis].
The bowl was roughed out on the bandsaw and then hand carved, primarly with bent gouge and shallow fishtail gouge chisels (I recently acquired a basic set of round carving tools by Henry Taylor). I sandblasted a light texture in the chiselled hollows (a sand blasting cabinet is on my shopping list). The chiselled ridges and flat bowl top and bottom were smoothed and polished with tripoli and diamond compounds. The bowl and stem were brought to a nice shine with carnuba wax. I didn’t use any dies on this particular pipe — it’s au naturel.
I chose walnut for the stummel for several reason: 1) it is very hard; 2) I had some on hand; 3) I haven’t ordered any briar yet; 4) it provides a nice contrast to the maple stem. Most modern pipe bowls are made from briar, though other woods have been popular in the past (particularly orchard woods). Some eastern European pipemakers still produce pipes with cherry and pear wood (Mr. Brog in Poland, and Golden Gate in the Ukraine, for example). The current eastern European predilection for non-briar pipes may be motivated by sentiment, but in the past woods like cherry and pear were used out of necessity — during communist times it was nearly impossible to import briar.
It was a joy to make my first pipe, the Ranger. Other than the stem, which took a bit of thought, the entire piece came together quite easily. Ranger smokes very nicely. The long stem provides a very cool smoke, and I had fewer relights than with my Brigham Voyageur. I’m still breaking it in, but so far the flavour is very pleasant. The draft hole is perhaps a bit too large (not much resistance), but that could be fixed with retrofit in the tenon. It will be a while before I know how the walnut will hold up to the heat. I’m also a bit (no pun intended) concerned about how the bit will hold up over to time. If the bit wears out prematurely I can retrofit a vulcanite replacement without substantially altering the stem. This is not meant to be an everyday smoker. At 12 3/4 inches long its more of a showpiece to be smoked for fun.
In a nice instance of serendipity, Ranger has been paired with a leather tobacco pouch I made several months ago — Rivendell — and a tobacco called Bilbo’s Pipe. I swear, I am not huge Tolkienite or anything like that. Aesthetics are both conscious and unconscious, requiring both effort and effortlessness, and when things are meant to come together, they will. (P.s., don’t tell my wife yet, but I recently ordered a full set of four LoTR replica pipes from The Danish Pipeshop.)
I think for now I am done exploring this line. In fact, I’ve started sketching a new series of concepts partly based on a more recent movie destined to become a cult classic — the Norwegian film Troll Hunter (you have to watch it — Blair Witch meets District 9, and its not based on a f@cking comic book). This new idea also came to me after seeing Michail Revyagin’s brilliant Troll Bulldog, though my concepts are not likely to end up as sophisticated. My jumping off point is a simple question — if a troll made a pipe, what would it look like. Not pretty, I assure you.
The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
– Bilbo Baggins, from R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
– Hans, from André Øvredal’s Troll Hunter