I got this nifty pewter pipe tamper recently. It is made by Peterson Pipes, of Dublin, and the top is crowned with the bust of the world’s first Independent Consulting Detective, Mr. of Sherlock Holmes (formerly of 221B Baker Street, London). I’ve always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and to me, he is one of the prototypical pipe smokers. In this rendition he is wearing the stereotypical deerstalker and sporting a calabash, though neither of these accessories were used to great extent in the original stories. This is image of Holmes comes from the stage, where an exaggerated pipe shape was required to convey pipe-ness to the theatre audience. I have not yet decided which of my pipes I will be pairing this tamper with. I have a meerschaum calabash on order that might work nicely.
I received this pipe, a Savinelli Miele Bulldog, from danishpipeshop.com several weeks ago. I’d seen this series on that site months ago when I first took up the pipe, and fell in love. I always had it in my mind that I would order one someday. Well, here it is. The Miele series is the third in Savinalli’s food inspired pipe series, after Chocolate and Coffee. Miele is Italian for honey, and the pipes in this series come complete with a wooden tamper in the shape of a honey dipper. The bowl is finished in a warm light stain, and the golden acrylic stem reminds one of honeycombs. The pipe comes in suede-textured golden pouch, and everything is packaged in an amazingly designed box.
I like to pair an appropriate tobacco with each pipe I acquire. A rustic pipe should be combined with a rustic tobacco, a sophisticated pipe should be combined with sophisticated tobacco, and so on. The Miele pipe naturally should be combined with sweet, strong tobacco. I decided to make my own blend for this unique pipe. I had some Honey Cavendish*, which is a wonderful aromatic, but felt that it was to monochromatic to use on it’s own. I’ve been enjoying the earthy nature of Bilbo’s Pipe, and think it will blend well with the cavendish. I went to my local tobacconist today to stock-up and the proprietor also recommended Ed’s Finest as a sweet, full bodied mixture. This evening I blended the three mixtures together in equal proportions. I’ve named the blend Majdy, which is the name of a village in Poland near the city where my wife is from. Moid is the Polish word for honey, and the village name Majdy is a somehow derived from moid. (Our parent’s have a lovely cottage in Majdy, on an island that used to be an orchard, and we have friends in the area that operate a honey farm.)
In the mornings I drink tea with honey. The brand of honey I have been using recently comes in a hexagonal jar. I finished a jar yesterday and set it aside for use as a tobacco jar. Besides conscientiously pairing tobaccos with my pipes, I also like to accessorize my pipes with aesthetically or conceptually similar tampers, pouches, etc. It makes sense to me to pair the Savinelli Miele Bulldog and Majdy blend with the hexagonal honey jar.
Unfortunately, I have bit of a cold right now and I want to wait until I am well to smoke this pipe and tobacco blend for the first time so I can maximize my enjoyment.
* All tobacco mixtures mentioned are house-blends available from Epicure, in Calgary. I don’t know if they do mail order and I’m not sure if similar blends might be available in other markets.
A few months ago, shortly after my brother passed away, I received an e-mail expressing sympathy from a friend and colleague. My friend had taken a year off work to travel around the world with her husband, doing missionary work and generally having an adventure along the way. When I received her e-mail they were ensconced somewhere in Italy on month number nine of their trip.
She asked if there was anything I needed in that time of mourning. I had just begun my pipe collecting misadventures, had received a pipe from my mother-in-law in Poland, and half jokingly replied that I didn’t really need anything, but if she liked she could pick me up a pipe. Her next e-mail was filled with maybe just a little bit of shock, but she agreed, and said she and her husband would look for something.
Yesterday, a package arrived for me at the front desk at my office. This is not unusual, my wife and I get packages shipped there all the time. I looked at the declaration first, which stated in neatly written capital letters, “SMOKING (TOBACCO) PIPE”. Just last week I’d placed orders with SmokingPipes.com and DandishPipeShop.com, so I thought it was one of those orders. However, when I got back to my desk and set the package down, I thought it strange that the declaration was for a single item when I distinctly remembered ordering several things from each shop (pipes, tampers, etc.). It was at this point that it dawned on me that I was holding a DHL box from Deutsche Post so it could not be any of my recent orders. I finally looked at the sender’s name and realized my friend had been true to her word, as she always is.
I waited until I got home to open the package. Inside, was a black satin pouch containing a lovely full bent billiard with a rusticated bowl and white band. The shank was stamped Molina, Made In Italy. My friend (or more accurately, her husband) had picked up the pipe in a shop in Italy, but had waited until arriving in Germany to ship it. (A wise, choice, as I have no doubt the German post office is more efficient than the Italian).
I did a few quick searches on the internet for Molina Pipes, but did not find much. There website is in Italian so I will have to spend some time with Google translator to learn more about this Italian pipemaker.
This pipe is a wonderful gift, something truly unique in my fledgling collection, and all the more special because of the loving kindness of the wonderful friends who took the time to pick it out and ship it half way around the world. If my friend were to ask me again if there is anything I needed, I would have to say that she just gave it to me. Many thanks.
I’ve always had a fascination towards pirates. Ever since I can remember I have been enamoured with the history and mythology of pirates. There are a number of pirate movies (that is, movies about bucaneers, not to be confused with pirated movies) that are in constant rotation in my video player. One of my favourites is Disney’s Treasure Island, starring Bobby Driscoll and Robert Newton. This film was in released in 1950, but has stood the test of time quite well. In fact, while watching it, one can’t help but recognize that some of Newton’s Long John Silver mannerisms played an important part in Johnny Depp’s later characterization of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Having recently taken up the pipe, I’m always on the look-out for pipe references in literature and film. Treasure Island has two great pipe scenes which showcase, what I believe to be, historically accurate clay pipes. I’ve not read Robert Louis Stevenson’s original book (it’s on my list), so I can’t say if the pipes portrayed in the film are due to Stevenson’s genius or the producers. Either way, the pipes make a fun movie even more enjoyable.
A new pipe arrived in the mail today: a Brigham Pipes Chinook 426 from smokingpipes.com. It looks very fine and is my second Brigham. My first Brigham (and first pipe ever) is a Voyageur 136. Both are picture in the attached photo gallery.
And now for the painful process (or the exciting one depending on my mood) — deciding when and were to smoke this new pipe and what tobacco to pair it with. I’m open to suggestions.
Pipes and leather were meant to go together. Since I started collecting, I’ve been making leather tobacco pouches as companion pieces for each of my pipes. Each one follows a theme correlated to the style of pipe.
This evening I finished a new leather tobacco pouch as a companion to my Gandolf replica Lord of The Rings churchwarden. I’ve named this new pouch White Wizard. It is lightly stained a warm tan colour, hand-stitched with white waxed linen thread, and closed with two white leather thongs. The style is warm and unpretentious, with simple accents to give a sense of refinement. The leather has an antique finish to show that it has seen many miles and pipes.
I’m quite happy with the result. Now, I need to make a tamper to go with Gandolf and White Wizard. I also need to make tobacco pouches for the remaining three replica pipes in my Lord of The Rings set.
In my previous post I wrote about a new series of pipes I have been thinking about. The idea is simple: if a troll made a pipe what would it look like?
The Design Process
According to the hilarious Norwegian film, Troll Hunter, the combination of concrete and charcoal is irresistible to trolls. My first sketch resembled two dirty rocks. Trolls are not very bright, so I figure one wouldn’t spend much time making a pipe look very nice.
My second sketch was of a fallen tree, roots and all, with a bird house/hole as the pipe bowl (presumably the birds moved out when the troll tore the tree from the ground). The tree pipe would be smoked by a larger variety of troll. They would probably smoke a combination of tobacco stolen from a barn, charcoal, and shredded tires (which they also find irresistible).
My next series of sketches more closely resembled traditional pipe shapes — horns to be exact (sometimes called hunters). Imagine: a troll kills a bunch of sheep, or a a few goats; after the meal the remnants of ruminants are lying around; the troll grabs a horn and settles down for a nice after dinner smoke. Yum. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I don’t have a ready supply of animal horns laying around so I could not easily replicate this scenario.
A New Pipe Shape
Thinking of other shapes a troll’s pipe might take, I glanced out my window toward the pile of firewood in my backyard. I’d been to the cabin recently and cut some small, two to three inch diameter, downed aspen for firewood. The greenwood, bark still attached, struck me as having troll pipe potential. I grabbed a piece and headed down to my shop.
I made a quick sketch. I didn’t want to shape the wood too much — just lop off a piece and drill a bowl chamber. But what kind of stem and how to attach it. For a complete unrelated woodworking project I need to install some spindle legs with a tapered tenon. I decided to use this joint for the stem tenon. In fact I decide to use the same taper for the bit end too.
The pipe came together very quickly. Within an hour and a half I had the bowel shaped, all the holes bored, the bit formed, and everything buffed with carnuba wax.
The finished product follows this brief: a young Mountain King troll breaks into your cabin; among other things it breaks up your kitchen chairs and scatters your fireplace wood all over; after eating all of your cat food it leaves, taking with it a chair leg, a piece of firewood, and a tin of tobacco. Later, it makes a pipe with the absconded wood. What does the pipe look like? Hint, the pipe could also function as a bludgeoning device.
The finished pipe very closely resembled the carvers mallet sitting on my workbench, so, “mallet” is what I call this new pipe shape.
The green poplar wood bowl and maple stem smoked quite well, surprisingly. I think it will take a while to break in though. The mallet shape, while a little to unwieldily to hang between my teeth (a real troll could probably manage), rests wonderful in the palm of my hand, the thumb and middle finger wrapping around the barrel, and the index finger cupping the end. When packed and lit the mallet can be temporarily set on the end face while you tend to other business (troll business, I suppose).
I smoked the same Royal Coachman tobacco I have been smoking in my Brigham Voyageur. I’m becoming less a fan of this blend as time goes on. Time for a visit to Epicure to pick up something different. I’m not yet a connoisseur of tobacco so it might be hit and miss for a while. I can’t yet describe what I do or don’t like about a particular blend. Some ingredient in Royal Coachman just doesn’t agree with me. If you have any hints, let me know.
Today I probably won’t be making pipes. Today I will be making pies (similar spelling, but moderately different result). Pumpkin and apple. Not troll. It’s (Canadian) Thanksgiving today. Happy Thanksgiving. Happy pipes. Happy trolls.
P.s. Whatever becomes of this pipe, I will always have fond memories of it because it was while smoking the Troll Mallet for the first time that I figured out how to blow smoke rings!
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.
I’ve always considered myself a bit of an asocial eccentric. I hate crowds. I like being alone in the woods. And I like objects that are utilitarian but well made: wooden canoe paddles, axes, and now pipes.
We don’t have too many lakes in Alberta (where I live). The canoeing in this part of the country consists primarily of whitewater river playing, running, and tripping. As such, the paddles I and my compatriots use most have to be powerful and indestructible, like the Werner Bandit. Beautiful in their own way, Werner paddles do lack something: the simplicity and warmth of wood.
At least once a summer my wife and I try to venture farther afield for an extended canoe trip. The lakes and gentler rivers of Northern Saskatchewan are a common destination. On a lake, nothing beats the feel of a wood paddle. With a pleasing shape, appropriate flex, and a thin profile, a good wood paddle is silent and nearly effortless in use. A graceful engine for a graceful craft.
Mountain Equipment Co-op carries several paddles from Redtail Paddle of Hastings, Ontario. I have several custom laminated Redtails in the “ottertail” shape. The grip of the most recent addition highlights the handcrafted nature of these paddles and the rough hewn surface rests beautifully in my hand.
I recently acquire a Grey Owl Voyageur 7″ (also available at MEC). While they lack some of the handcrafted sophistication of Redtails, Grey Owl paddles also lack some of the price. I intend the Voyageur to be a trusty lightweight spare for lake trips. It will usually only come out in shallower water, or on short river sections between lakes. On our recent 10 days on the MacLennan Lake Big Circle route the Voyageur got lucky and was used every kilometre — I loaned it to a fellow tripper rather than have them suffer the institutional plastic and aluminium rental they’d been stuck with.
Last year, I bought a guide to making wooden paddles. I didn’t get around to making my own paddle(s) last winter and my spokeshaves still long to shape raw wood into beautiful objects. This winter, I swear.
For many years I’ve had to keep myself from buying a pipe. I have strong memories of the smell of my fathers pipe tobacco and smoke. I remember visiting the tobacconist with him as a child and watching the proprietor make a custom blend. And when I’m in the wilds on a trip, on warm calm evenings, or watching leaves turn colour and fall, I always think the world would be a better place if I had a pipe in hand. A pipe, in theory, is a simple object. But with skill and imagination, pipemakers create pipes of near infinite variety.
So, last week, I bought my first pipe. I did a bit of research on-line before hand. I knew the style of pipe I wanted: a curved briar with a rough finish in or around the $50 mark. At Epicure (formerly Cavendish in Moore), the shopkeeper showed me several pipes of this style from Brigham, a Canadian pipemaker based in Toronto. The style I chose is called the Voyageur 136 (appropriate, as the aforementioned recent canoe trip in Northern Saskatchewan help me make up my mind to finally purchase a pipe). (Coincidentally, the Grey Owl Voyageur paddle is exactly $50 dollars too.) I’m still in the process of breaking in my pipe and resolve to use it only occasionally (less than once a month, and preferably on trips).
The appeal of pipe-smoking is that it is a personal affair — a unique form of expression. As a video blogger on YouTube put it, “It’s your pipe — smoke it how you want.” What will my pipe taste like on a dark winter’s eve, with large snowflakes falling and the crisp sound of snow crunching underfoot? Probably just fine.
I’ll wager not too many city-folk give much thought to axes as aesthetic objects. Even people living in the country, or in the bush, likely think of axes simply as utilitarian devices made for a rough purpose: chopping wood. They are, but to me that makes them beautiful works of art as well. Like a canoe, the more stripped down an axe is in form and material, the better it does its job and the greater joy it brings the user.
Unfortunately, axes have fallen on hard times in this modern world. Most axes are mass produced eyesores that don’t really do their job (effortless cut wood). Lee Valley hardware carries a line of axes produced by the Swedish firm Gransfors Bruks. Gransfors Bruks specialize in creating hand-forged heirloom axes in traditional shapes and sizes. Heads receive no cosmetic treatment after being shaped by the forging hammers. Slight imperfections do not detract form their utility and are evidence of the skill of the maker. In fact, each smith stamps his or her initials in every axe head as a commitment to quality. The axe heads are mated to rough hewn handles soaked in linseed oil. These are not mass-produced, anonymous factory axes. Gransfors Bruks axes are infused with the soul and art of the individual craftspersons involved in their production, and are a joy to hold and use.
I recently added several more axes to my growing collection. As August draws to a close, and my mind starts to sense the not-too-distant cooling of autumn and the changing colours of the leaves, my intuition tells me that I should go into the woods to chop firewood. The ring of the axe, the sweat on my brow, the straining of muscles: precursors to the cold snows of winter and the chill of night fended off with a crackling flame in the fireplace.
Gransfors Bruks axes are supplied with handsome covers made of quality leather, but most hardware store axes come with no cover, or worse (because of the wasted material) a poor quality cover that provides no real protection (to axe or user) or which wears out after a season. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point-of-view), axes come in a myriad of shapes and sizes and it is nearly impossible to find a mass-produced axe cover that will work with your axe.
Needing to upgrade several of my axe covers, I recently manufactured my own. In the process I discovered Tandy Leather Factory. There are a lot of ways to work, shape, assemble, and use leather and this shop supports a lot of weird sub-cultures: bikers, cowboys, hippies, crafty moms, and self-styled lumberjacks.
In the coarse of several days, as many trips to the shop, and hours spent researching leathercraft on-line, I got hooked. My first axe cover turned out better than expected. But the desire to improve at the craft required learning new skills, and acquiring more specialized tools. Cutting, dyeing, and riveting, led to stamping, tooling, edging, and stitching.
In a short time I’ve time acquired the skills and tools necessary to make just about anything I could desire (anything made from leather anyway). A second axe cover led to a wonderfully simple and effective tobacco pouch and pipe case. (Remember the pipe? And yes, that is a cat smoking a pipe stamped on the pipe case.) After the pipe case I made a nifty case for attaching a pen and pencil to my Moleskine notebook (another brand imbued with utility, simplicity, and purpose). I’ve got a long list of leather projects to undertake. Some I’ll save for those cold winter nights, cooped up by the fire.