My Pipe Making Odyssey
I began as a smoker and collector of high grade pipes. But really, I guess, it started when I was twelve years old and my Dad, a pipe smoker and duck hunter, graciously allowed me to refinish his shotguns.
Overseen by my Mother, an antique collector and refinisher, I immediately fell in love with the fantastic beauty of those walnut burl gunstocks. I've been hooked on beautiful wood ever since.
Fast forward to early middle age: I switched to smoking a pipe from cigars and rapidly began to build a nice collection of some of the finest briars in the world. Teddy, Jess, Eltang, Barbi and later Rassmussen, Månz and Paolo Becker all found their way into my rotation. Fabulous shapes with astonishing woods and superb workmanship.
I sharpened my eye on these masterworks. I learned what a beautiful, good smoking pipe was.
The next phase began when, after having reshaped some cheap pipes and improved their mouthpieces, and made a few pipes from pre- bored blocks, I attended my first Chicagoland Pipe Show. This really opened my eyes to the fine North American pipe makers. At the show I befriended a splendid young fellow by the name of Jeff Gracik. (J. Alan Pipes) We became pals and spent the show sharing a fine bottle of Bourbon and soaking in all the wonderful sights of pipes and pipe makers. All the while, Jeff was selling his first batch of marvelous little pipes from one the ubiquitous silver briefcases you see at all the shows.
Soon after, I visited Jeff at his (then) home in Princeton, NJ, where he was attending school. Jeff took me into his workshop and for two days showed me many aspects and techniques of making a fine, high grade pipe.
We worked late into the nights and then spent time poring over the finer details of his pipes and some of my nicer Danish acquisitions. It was a wonderful and very instructive experience.
At the next CORPS show in Richmond I got to know Todd Johnson a bit better, having met him there the year before. This revved me up yet again, and I was determined to spend some time with Todd, making pipes. Todd soon very graciously invited me down to his (then) home in Charleston, SC. I spent several days with his lovely family and a lot of hours in the shop with Todd, who very unselfishly shared his vast knowledge and talent with me. Todd taught me the extreme value of using the right tools and how to get the most out of them. It's amazing what you can get out of a guy with a good bottle of Bourbon!
I have visited Todd several more times and each visit is another series of revelations.
Sometime in between visits to Todd's studio, I had the great good fortune of meeting and befriending another premier North American pipe maker: Brad Pohlmann. I like to refer to Brad as the North American Kurt Balleby. Not because his pipes look at all like Balleby's, but because Brad's precision shaping and fitting of the components that make up a fine pipe remind me of that great Dane's pipes. Brad worked for Briar workshop in the 70's and then later became a highly skilled tool and die maker. He then turned again to pipe making and his work just flowered.
I very much wanted to advance my skills at the lathe and Brad, great hearted guy that he is, flew all the way from his home in Oregon to my shop in Virginia to help give my lathe skills a good polishing. We consumed many hours, much good Bourbon and fine tobacco going over my set up, making cutting tools, shaping wheels and generally having a great time. I am in his debt for his kind support and sharing of his consummate skills and techniques.
There is just something very satisfying about creating a tangible, useful, and hopefully beautiful object from wood.
I continue to seek out and learn from the best pipe makers that I can find, endeavoring to create the very finest smoking pipes for the discerning pipe smoker and collector. Pipe smokers are great people and making them happy makes me happy.