Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sanding pads and new pipes

Now that the forum pipes are all on their way to their new owners, it's back to letting the briar tell me what shape is inside it. I've got several pipes in the works right now, and in the image on the left you can see a dublin, bulldog, a short little apple, a big billiard, a blowfish (not a discus), and even an ukelele (aka eskimo). Of these, the blowfish and ukelele are going to be firsts for me. The blowfish is a more strict version of the blowfish, and while it will be cross-grained, it won't be a discus similar to some pipes I've made in the past. I will try to accentuate the birdseye however. Of these, the bulldog is already spoken for.

In other news, I've started carrying the backup pads for the motor arbor I introduced here a while back. No longer do you need to hunt down the right kind at an autobody shop, or pay shipping from somewhere else to get them. They've got their own page - click here.

I've also got ideas for a few other tools, but I need to find time to create some prototypes and test them out. Since I'm one of these people that really needs to make sure something actually works well, that could be a couple months. More here as things develop.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What does a pipe maker do to relax?

So, what does he do? If the pipe maker is me, he makes other things aside from pipes. On the left is a pen I made with absolutely no kit parts at all. And below to the left is another. I made both of these after some particularly trying days in the workshop - one after a day of sandblasting, and one after I messed up one stem after another.

These were a lot of fun to make, and you can bet I'll enjoy using them. The one made from ebonite is already a daily use pen. I've already had an idea floated past me for a pair in that style - one made of ebonite, and one bone white. I think I could play with the design a little and create a Yin and Yang pair that play off of each other.

And today I manage to make a couple really good copies of some brass pins that will be going into an antique chandelier owned by my parents. The originals were lost by the moving company that moved them from California to Massachusetts, and being an antique, you can't just walk into Lowes and get replacements. At elbow's distance, they're indistinguishable from the original, and once a patina develops, they'll be even harder to pick out. They won't stand up to an antiquarian or art historian, but that's not really the point. The point was to make them invisible to 99.blah% of the population out there. I am quite pleased with the results of my efforts - hopefully they pass muster once they're installed in the chandelier as well.

Friday, December 05, 2008

It's been a busy November

I figure I'll show off what's been taking up my time here recently, a forum pipe. This is the prototype I made a while back. It's a Zulu-ish shape, long and light, with the oval shape of the shank carried up into the bowl. These are actually being completed this week and early next, and will get shipped out next week. Just in time for Christmas!

In other news, the motor arbor that I posted here not too long ago has really proven popular! I keep a good supply of these on hand (actually, I end up making a bunch every week), just to be sure that I've got enough on hand for immediate shipment. The feedback has been incredibly positive, and I'm very happy that other folks have gotten good use out of this little hack.

So, that begs the question: the website is bare, when are you going to make some new pipes? Later next week I'll begin work on a few pipes that I've been itching to make. After a month of Zulus, my head is full of ideas for apples, blowfish, and even an Ukulele/Eskimo. And yes, pipe kits. I know folks are looking for these. I promise I'll get some made up next week.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tools and Forum Pipes

Big news brewing here today. I've listed a particularly cool tool on my site that I call a "French Wheel Motor Arbor". I came up with a similar idea about a year ago and then continued to tweak and massage the design until I was completely happy with it. What I've got here is the final result.

Most pipe makers have some sort of wheel setup that they use to help shape their pipes. Me, not wanting to spend loads of money on a professional setup, decided there must be an easier alternative, so I set to work. Since I was already using a dual-action sander pad (DA pad) held in a Jacobs chuck, I figured that I could use it on a motor and simplify the entire ordeal. Then, instead of only having one pad, I could have several, each with different grits. Changing grits used to be an exercise in frustration, but since I've developed this tool, it only takes a matter of seconds. All I do is spin one DA pad off the arbor, and spin the next one on. I only have to change the abrasive once every dozen pipes (or more) and even then it only takes a moment to get everything lined up since I don't have to do it while the pad is mounted.

I'm offering them to pipe makers and other craftsmen on my site, check it out here. Soon I should have other strange and obscure tools available there as well, and I'll post announcements here when I do.

The other news this week is that I'm working on a huge order of forum pipes, so don't be dismayed if it takes me a day or two to get back to you. These are of the Zulu shape, but have a twist that I've developed instead of being a completely classical shape. I actually have a prototype ready, but am going to give the forum members first look. I'll post a photo here later on this week so everyone can see it. I'm in a Zulu frame of mind these days, so if you're looking for one, shoot me an email.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kitless Fountain Pens

Biz news: There's a few new pipes here, here, and here.

No blog updates in over a month. What a busy time it's been! Here in New England, the weather is changing and by now the leaves are all past peak color and have gone straight into "November Brown". That means only one thing around here - fall cleanup. The leaves need raked, shredded, and composted. The garden has to be cleaned out and tilled up. Firewood needs split and stacked. And in my case, the furnace needed some major work to make it more efficient. Mixed in with all this I also have to find the time to make pipes to pay the bills. It's a busy time, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

During one of my fleeting moments of "down time" I made myself a pen, pictured above and also to the right. It's a proof of concept, an experiment in spare parts. For a long time I've been toying with the idea of using no "kit pen" parts in the construction of fountain pens, save for the nib, feed, and carrier - all of which are available on their own and separately from pen kits. If I can do away with all the other parts in a pen kit, I'll have the freedom to make whatever style and shape of fountain pen that I want.

This one actually contains a few more parts than the final version will, but as an exercise in minimalism, it's a grand success! I used the front section, cap threads and center band, and the body threads from a "Jr Gentleman" pen kit in this project, while dumping the clip, both end caps, the tubes, and a couple other small bits. The body is made of aluminum, and both ends are closed with no caps. Needless to say, I didn't machine this on a pen mandrel - all work was done on my metal lathe with final sanding done at my sanding station. I also left the aluminum with a satin finish rather than polishing to a high luster. I've never been one for mirror finish metals, and it seems that the instant you touched the pen, it would be loaded with fingerprints - and show every scratch and bump it ever receives. Since this pen is designed to be used, I figured it should have a "user" finish.

As a result of this experimentation, I've decided that I can get rid of everything but the nib, feed, and carrier, and make everything (including the front section) out of whatever I want. I'm very excited by this, and there should be some really cool stuff escaping from the workshop in the next few weeks prior to Christmas.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Table top pipes, and staining techniques

What you see here is a new addition to my regular models. I was recently contacted by a customer interested in a tabletop pipe, and even though I wasn't sure how to accomplish the design, I accepted the challenge anyway. It took me a while to figure out all the details, get stuff sorted out, and craft it such that it looked like an organized unit. The end result is a great harmony of the sinister, realistic, and stylized.

I was so pleased with the initial pipe that I decided to work on a second, and with the blessings of the customer, a new line is born. Check out the Mount Doom line of pipes here. This pipe was so fun to make that you can expect more to be available soon.

In other news, I've recently been experimenting with new contrast staining techniques. Two pipes that use the technique can be found here and here. It's a recipe that's been around for as long as people have been trying to get wood to change colors. I had actually used a variation on some knife handles a while back, but it didn't occur to me to try it on pipes until just a couple months ago. The idea actually came up on the Pipe Makers' Forum and Trever Talbert and I discussed it a little. While we did discuss it, they're actually rather dissimilar. For instance, I know that Trever's has one more ingredient than mine, and my reactive solution is prettier. :) Expect more pipes with this staining, and some very contrasty grain in the future.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The pull of The Dark Side

As the photo on the photo on the left shows, I've managed to be sucked into The Dark Side, and have equipped my shop with a metal lathe. For years I held out, and kept my distance from metal lathes, but resistance, it seems, is futile. Eventually even *I* had to buy one if I was going to get at all serious about pipe making.

Ever since I started this adventure several years ago, I've only ever owned a small wood lathe, and it's been the true workhorse of my shop. I even cut stem tenons on it, as well as drill and shape anything that needs lathe shaped. But some styles of stem are simply too difficult to pull off on a wood lathe, and doing them on a metal lathe takes less time to boot. So when Jack Howell offered up this South Bend 9" Model C at a price I could afford, I jumped on it. Luckily (for me) Jack was planning on being at the NASPC show, so we worked out an arrangement and Jack brought it to me in Columbus. From there I took it back to Rhode Island with me in the back of the Jeep.

It's been setup for about a week now, and already has been put to work making stems, and even tools for other operations I do, like a motor mandrel for mounting DA disc holders that I use for shaping and sanding pipes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NASPC show preview

At right is a rather crap photo of some of the pipes I'm going to be taking with to the NASPC show in Columbus, Ohio. From top to bottom are 5 countrymen (3 billiards and 2 rhodesians), a bulldog, a giant sandblasted egg, a nice chunky dublin-esque pot, a zulu that's currently reserved, a volcano, and a bamboo-shanked number that doesn't have a name yet.

All of them, along with a selection of others will be at my table, so if you're near Columbus, come on by and take a look. I'm going to be taking photos of these before I leave, so in the event that they sell, I've got photos for the gallery.

If you see something you like, and don't want to wait for the show to see it (or can't get to the show) send me an email and I'll send you some better pictures.

For now, it's time to pack so that I can hit the road at zero-dark-thirty and get to Ohio before it's too late to socialize with folks. See you in Columbus!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rings of irritation

Today's picture is brought to you buy the letter 'F', and the numbers 4 and 7.

F for 'frustration'.

4 for the number of attempts I made at this.

7 for the number of inches of material I used up in an attempt at making a shank adornment for a pipe I'm working on. It's supposed to be a ring, but as you can see, somewhere along the line it managed to explode.

This is the faux horn I use for stems, stem rings, and shank adornments on a few pipes, and it's actually a really nice material completely finished and and polished up. The grain and striations in the coloring look really nice, but I tell you, it's a cast iron ***** to work with on the lathe. It's incredibly prone to chipping out instead getting shaved off, especially if your tools are less than razor sharp.

Net result? It took me about an hour to complete the ring that eventually went on to the pipe. This just illustrates some of the time and effort actually involved in making pipes, and that even pipe makers can have a bad day at the office....

Monday, August 11, 2008

New drill press

Biz news: several new pipes are available, including two Seasonal Beers and a really nice egg shape.

In a previous post I said that my old $100 drill press was really treating me poorly. For a couple years it had become progressively worse until pieces actually started breaking off, like the power switch for example. All of that I was able to deal with, until I discovered that it would no long drill a straight hole, and I decided that I needed a new one. When I went to drill a 1.5-inch hole in a piece of pine and it started to bog down, I was dead set on getting a new one.

Now, the problem with running out and buying a new drill press is that, all of them are pretty much made in the same factory in China. Seriously, take a good look at the benchtop drill presses the next time you're in a tool store. Once you get past the accessories like laser sights, built-in clamps or drill-stops, and the size of the table, they all are virtually identical. Look at the main casting for the head - it's the same casting for Delta, Jet, Hitachi, Task Force, Rigid, etc. The spindle is the same, the pulleys are identical, and so is the quill. So now you're left with a problem - why is the Hitachi 40% more than the Task Force?

The answer lies in what the brand is willing to pay for. Some brands are willing to pay the factory for the top-specced parts for their products, while others haggle and demand lowest pricing. The folks demanding lowest pricing tend to get the parts that don't quite meet spec. Just look at what Wal-Mart does with their suppliers - it's so bad that some manufacturers won't even support the products sold through Wal-Mart.

Back to tools. I did a bit of research and found that some brands ranked significantly higher in user satisfaction than others - specific to drill presses. Hitachi, Jet, and Powermatic seemed to do quite well. Delta and Rikon followed closely behind, and then the various store brands behind them. On top of this, I have a friend who is a cabinet maker who is now buying nothing but Hitachi tools - and this guy really works his tools hard. Based on all of that, I decided on the Hitachi 10" drill press.

I've been using the new drill press for about a week and a half now, and I must say I'm very pleased. I'm using it exclusively to drill pipe kits for sale on eBay, and it's got none of the stability and off-angle drilling issue my prior press had. It came with a laser sight, but honestly, It's not worth turning it on. It changes it's location based onthe hieght of the workpiece, and the difference of a couple inches in height means up to about a quarter of an inch in slew from front to back. It's best to leave it off and go by feel - the same way that we've been drilling for hundreds (thousands?) of years with great results.

And just to add some incentive, when I did finally head out to the big hardware store to get my drill press, they had dropped the price by $30. Nice! That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

And just to make sure we've got pipe-related content here: I finally figured out how to drill a consistent hole for the factory-turned stummels for the Countryman line. It's stupid simple, and I feel like an idiot for not doing it before. Expect a couple more of these in a day or two!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

changes to the Countryman Line

Some of you know that I've got three distinct grades of pipes that I offer:

  • Countryman Line:
    The Countryman line is the most affordable line of pipes I offer. These are fully rusticated, using any number of different methods from carving to sandblasting, and are made from plateaux or ebauchon block. The stems are typically factory molded stems. Shapes in this collection are of the typical "catalog" shapes such as billiard, dublin, Bulldog, etc.
  • Cityman Line:
    Partially rusticated, sandblasted, or smooth. These pipes are made from both plateaux and ebauchon with good grain structure, and largely free from flaws that would require rustication. Stems in this line are either hand-cut from rod stock, or are factory stems that have had their shape modified. While still affordable, this collection of pipes represents a step up in finish quality.
  • Nobleman Line:
    Always smooth finish, and always cut from the best plateaux available, these pipes represent the pinnacle of fit, finish, and materials. Usually of a unique shape, absolutely flawless, and wonderful and vibrant grain. Only hand-cut stems are used in this line.
Well, changes are happening. I've managed to secure a deal with a supplier for factory turned pipe bowls at a very attractive price. This will allow me to continue offering these pipes at low prices, which was becoming increasingly difficult making each one by hand. Before securing this deal, I was left with a choice of discontinuing the Countryman line, or raising the price considerably. It also has the side benefit of allowing me to offer many more of these pipes, since I'll have a ready supply of stummels to use instead of having to hand make each one.

What does this mean as far as smoking quality? Absolutely nothing will change. The stummels, though shaped, still need to be drilled. This means I still have control over the airway, and can continue to ensure that these pipes have a smooth and open draw that people have come to expect of my work. I also have to continue fitting a stem individually to each pipe, and ensure that everything lines up exactly. Net result? Same quality, continued low price, more pipes available. Sounds like a good deal, eh?

Now, clearly, this isn't an original idea. Other pipe makers already have offerings like this. Trever Talbert, for instance, has his Ligne Bretagne line which is very popular. In fact, credit really goes to Trever for suggesting to me that I find a source of pre-turned stummels to use. I was so impressed by the samples that I got from my supplier, that I decided to use them in my regular offerings.

So, what do they look like? The very first of the new Countryman line can be seen by clicking here. It's a nice, classically proportioned rhodesian with a saddle stem and sandblast finish. This particular shape is very comfortable, the one I made for myself as a tester pipe is excellent for ribbon cut tobaccos like Margate. There's lots more waiting in the wings as well, so keep an eye on the Countryman page.

Every once in a while you'll find me insert something into the countryman line that's a little different. Maybe a handmade piece, or something with a shank adornment or stem ring, or even a fully handmade pipe. These will still be graded as Countryman, but will have an additional grading of "afficianado". By and large, however, anything fully handmade will be graded as a Cityman from here on out.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Risen from failure

In the last post I showed off what amounted to an epic failure of a pipe. The existence of a giant flaw in the tobacco chamber pretty much precluded it's sale to anyone in the general public. But you know, treated with care during the first few smokes, that pipe would have lasted longer than me, I'm sure. Once a good cake worked up, and given the fact that I coat the bowls with a protective coating anyway, I decided to go ahead and finish the pipe. The grain was far too nice, and the shape was exactly what I was aiming for, so I just had to do it. This photo shows off the result. As you can see, it's got stunning straight grain all around the bowl, and the birdseye top and bottom is tight, uniform, and simply amazing.

But you can't have it.

Unfortunately, this pipe is not for sale. And it's a shame too, since this easily one of the top 5 pipes I've ever made in terms of grain, proportion, and execution. Absolutely nothing went wrong that forced me to change the shape - just that damn flaw in the tobacco chamber. The potential for burnout is so extremely low, that is virtually non-existent. However, there's still a chance, and that makes me uncomfortable selling this. Also, there's the association of a flaw extant in a pipe that is otherwise flawless. How can you balance that?

I was told by another pipe maker that I should simply re-drill the tobacco chamber. Normally I would, but upon close inspection, the flaw looked larger than what it showed on the surface. If I did re-drill the tobacco chamber, chances are it would have opened up even further, truly trashing the pipe.

Now, I'm not the fatalistic type, and I don't give up on problems that easily. I also am a risk taker, though I only take calculated risks. After weighing my options, I decided to leave the flaw, finish the pipe, and keep it for myself. I decided that trying to fix it was too risky, and it was better off as a showcase of my work (problem with the wood aside). It will enter my collection, and if I'm lucky enough one day, I'll be able to replicate it and offer it's little brother up for general sale.

This reminds me to a quip I once heard from another pipe maker, "I have a huge collection of pipes, but they all seem to be from the same maker.". Too true.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Epic FAIL....

Some days it's not worth chewing through the restraints.

This is the second go at this particular pipe. The first try had to be seriously cut down due to a flaw in the top of the bowl. By the time I was finished modifying the bowl, it was far too small to be used with the stem I had already prepared. It will be a nice pipe, but I had to shift gears and make another, slimmer stem for it.

In this try, I got all the proportions right, and the wood was really cooperating - or so I thought. You can see right inside the tobacco chamber here that there's a giant flaw that extends from just under the bowl rim to somewhere about the midpoint down. For whatever reason, I didn't notice the flaw until after I had started roughing in the pipe and had gotten to the point of laying down the first layer of contrast stain. That's really too bad too. As this photo shows, the outside of the pipe has some reall nice grain, the kind that makes Karin (my wife) pick it up and say "Holy Crap!".

Back to the briar pile, I guess. This pipe is begging to be made - at least it's burning a hole in the back of my head. You may have seen last year's "beers of summer" pipe, the Summer Ale, and this year's version of that pipe is nearly ready for pictures. This pipe here is going to be the "Pale Ale", and is darker stained with a different stem material. It's also slightly bent, so that this is a variation on a theme rather than just being a different color of the exact same pipe.

Last year I kind of tested the waters a little with the Summer Ale, and this year I'm going to expand it even further to include Autumn and Winter seasons. This year's Oktoberfest pipe will finally gel into a year-round offering of themed special editions. If I ever get the Pale Ale made that is....

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gearing up for Columbus

With the NASPC show in Columbus, Ohio only about 4 weeks away, I figured it was time I geared up for it and got some affordable stock ready to go with me. The picture here shows a bunch of the stuff that's in the works, including some pre-turned stummels and a couple test blocks from a new batch of briar. I keep all the stuff I'm working on at any given moment in a plastic bin like this until it's ready to go on a pegstand, that way I don't misplace any of it.

That thing on the top is something that I've been experimenting with. Using pre-turned stummels and finishing them by hand is a good way to quickly experiment with stains, finishes, and techiniques. It's also a great way to keep costs down for pipe buyers. The term "hand finished" is something that Trever Talbert has been using for a few years now to differentiate his pipes made from pre-turned stummels from those made completely by hand. He's the one who originally suggested to me that I find a source of these to play with, and has since helped me get on the right path on how to finish drill since these come without a mortis. If you've seen pictures of Trever's workshop, you know it's a treasure trove of old machinery, some of it still a bit of a mystery. A guy like me could spend weeks in there, playing with stuff and figuring things out. It's a royal shame that he's in France and I'm in Rhode Island. Some day, though, I hope to get out there and spend some time geeking out with his tools.

At any rate, the tool I mocked up in that photo is a good concept, but it turns out it was poorly executed. It's designed to hold the shank of the stummel and has a recess underneath where the bowl goes. However, the first stummel I tried ended up with a mortis that wasn't in line with the shank, and despite it being a straight billiard, the airway was out of wack with the mortis bottom. Now, not being one to let something like that slide, I tried again. I figured it had to be because the pipe's shank was ever so slightly tapered, and that might cause it to rest to one side or the other. I lined the holes with cork, hoping that would help, but the next result was just as bad.

After some careful consideration, and lining things up and seeing how they all interacted, I came to a frightening conclusion - my drill press is garbage. I check square on the tool, and it's off by about 2 degrees. Turns out the non-adjustable table on my drill press is off by exactly that amount. Compounding the problem, the quill on my drill press has some serious rattling problems. At full extension, if you grab the chuck and shake, it will move rather freely. I'd say it's time to retire the $99 drill press and go buy another. It's just as well too, since this particular one has been irritating me for about 3 years now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sandblasted bamboo

Today's post has a bit of an unusual pipe as the subject. This little gem is an experiment all around, and grew out of a little free time I had a couple months ago. For being an experiment, it sure is a sweet pipe!

For starters, the bowl is actually a complete mistake. I was making an apple shaped bowl for a pipe that was designed to have a long shank, but when I was turning the top of the bowl on the lathe, I swung the chisel the wrong direction while not paying attention, and knocked the entire shank right off the bowl. Now, normally a mistake like that would have ended up embedded in the wall on the opposite side of the workshop, but for some reason I just took it off the lathe and set it on the shelf behind me. There is sat for over a year until I came along one day and thought about trying to salvage it. And since I was going to try and salvage it, I figured that it would be a good time to try some other experiments I've been meaning to undertake.

Now, clearly I used bamboo, but what's a little unusual is that I chose to sandblast it instead of leaving it smooth. As a result, I didn't have to use the cleanest and most uniformly colored piece of bamboo on my supplies shelf - perfect for an experiment, and especially since it's going to be one I'll be keeping. I don't know who originally came up with the idea to sandblast bamboo, but I've seen it from a couple makers recently, and I know that early on I saw a really nice example from Love Geiger (click here for his site) and was really impressed.

Surprisingly, bamboo is actually kind of tough to sandblast. You'd think it would be fragile and would simply disintegrate under the 100+ PSI of aggressive blasting media, but it didn't. Instead, it grinned at me a few times, flipped me the bird, and then eventually started developing a pattern. It took almost as long to sandblast this piece of bamboo as it did the briar bowl.

Of course, I had to leave a bare spot for the stamp, and I also wanted to see how unblasted bamboo would take stain. Well, you can see, not so great - but that may have something to do with the method I used for applying the stain. Like they say "try, try again", so I'll be trying it again at some point. The blasted portion of the bamboo stained very, very well. It's almost indistinguishable from the briar, and the gnarly texture of the blasted bamboo blends in so well with the blasted briar, that I think the two are really meant for each other.

The final experiment on this pipe is the bowl/shank junction. I only had the barest hint of a briar shank left to use on this bowl, so I figured I would see how well my method of attaching bamboo shanks works when placed that close to the burning tobacco. The verdict - pretty damn good. The joint is holding up very well, and it shows no signs of degrading at all. I wouldn't sell a pipe with the joint this close to the fire, but it's still good to know that it would hold of well even if I did.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Knife pictures, finally!

It turns out that, even using a convenient service like Blogger, it's still possible for me to neglect writing a new post. That's unfortunate, because there's actually some pretty big news in the works. First things first though, a while back I promised pictures of knives.

This first one is a design I came up with after getting irritated with a pocket knife. When I'm out working in the yard, I typically have a knife clipped to my pocket. However in summer weather I typically wear shorts made of lightweight material, and even if they do have pockets, they're so flexible that it's a royal pain to clip a knife onto them. I figured hanging a knife around my neck was a much better way to carry it around the yard. Of course, if you're going to hang it around your neck, it should be small and comfortable, and easy to use.

It's tough to see from the photo, but the handle is actually sculpted with finger and thumb channels that position the knife just like an extension of your hand. In addition, the micarta handle has been bead blasted to bring out the rough texture of the material and make it easy to grip.

The blade is convex ground 1075 carbon steel, two inches long from tip to handle, and sharp enough to shave the hair on my arm - much to the dismay of my wife. And, like damn near all knives I'm making these days, the blade has been differentially hardened to produce a "hamon" like you might see on Japanese blades - or, in all actuality, really nice knives from any maker that knows about the benefits of differentially hardening the steel they shape, it's just that most people equate the hamon with Japanese smiths.

I constructed the sheath from Kydex and secured it with Chicago screws instead of brass rivets. I opted for that route because it makes it very easy to open the sheath to clean it out, and then close it back up again. If it were riveted closed, you'd have a real ordeal on your hands if sand and dirt got inside.

This particular one isn't for sale. It's a "proof of concept" (can you tell I'm an engineer?) for the actual production run. After I've beat on it for a couple months and decided that it's a good design, I'll start making these on a regular basis. If you want one, send me an email at and let me know. I expect the pricing will be about $75 as shown here. I am, however, probably going to dump the nickel pins, and use stainless steel tube to help secure the handle. I'm not sure I like the solid pins on this knife. Overall the knife is only 3.75" long, and the cutting edge itself is only 2", making it easy to carry around, and won't alarm anyone - well, as long as you don't take it to an airport or anything.

The other design I've got floating around is a variation on a knife that I sent out to another knife maker during a themed exchange. The theme for the exchange was "Gentleman's every day carry", and the knife was designed to be short (about 3" cutting edge) and use ornamental or rare materials - hence the "gentleman" part. To the right is a photo of that knife. The handle is Giraffe bone, with copper bolsters and nickel pins. The blade is also differentially hardened 1075 steel and is razor sharp. I sent it off in hopes that I would get some really critical feedback and be able to hone my skills even further. What came back was compliments and praise - so I guess I made a decent knife. It was actually that incident that indicated to me that I was ready to start offering knives to the general public, rather than making them and sticking them in a drawer or giving them away.

On the left is the knife that is based on the above, but slightly less decorative, and much more usable from a yard work or workshop point of view. It turns out that this is a really nice design for an all-around utilitarian knife. This particular one has a tan kydex sheath, and it also has a belt loop since it's really too big to hang around your neck or stick in your pocket, and should fit belts up to 1.5" wide.

The cutting edge on this 1075 steel blade is a hair over 3", and overall it's about 6.5" long. I kept it short so that if you happened to be at your mother-in-law's house and needed a sharp knife for some reason, you wouldn't give her a panic attack by producing some Rambo-esque implement of mass destruction. I was aiming for a useful blend of utility and tastefulness, something that can be used in a variety of situations, and not alarm the masses should you have it on your person in polite company.

The handle is briarwood, the very same I use for pipes. This particular piece of wood is unstained, and finished only with a couple coats of Danish Oil then lightly buffed. It's a nice satin finish that will age well and continue to be attractive even through hard use. I secured it with some stainless steel tube, and I really like the way it looks in this case. Using tube like this really does interesting things to the handle. I like the way it all works together.

And unlike the knife above, this one is actually for sale. If you're interested in this one, pop me an email and let me know. I haven't made a page for it yet, but it is available immediately for $120 plus shipping (about $6.00 within the US).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Pipe kits and supplies

In recent months I've been asked by folks if I could help them source some harder to find supplies and materials - especially ones that simply aren't available in smaller quantities. The number one thing they're looking for? Pipe kits.

A pipe kit is a pre-drilled block of briar with a stem fitted to it. It's really the most difficult part of making a good smoking pipe, and the area where craftsmanship and a little "engineering" come into play. All the holes have to be lined up just right, the airway in the briar has to meet the airway in the stem just right, and the stem has to have it's slot cut so that airflow is unimpeded. There's lots of little nuances and subtleties that go into this part of pipe making, and you have to have a feel for detail. It sounds like a lot of time and effort, but if you've got your workflow down and you've developed a feel for your tools, it doesn't really take too long and the payoff is enormous. Unfortunately, drilling a block of briar is best done on a drill press or a lathe, and fitting a stem can be lengthy process without a lathe as well. And if you don't have room for these tools, drilling a block of wood can be a daunting undertaking.

Once the holes are drilled and the stem fitted, the rest can be done with files and sandpaper in the absence of any kind of power tool. It can be slow going, but not impossible, and and the slow steady progress can be relaxing and therapeutic. With some time, and a little luck, a pipe is born!

A couple weeks ago I started offering pipe kits on eBay. I decided to offer mine with a twist since, let's face it, there's a lot of outfits out there offering pipe kits. As mentioned above, I make sure the airway is well crafted, the tobacco chamber and airway meet correctly, and that the stems I fit have been reworked internally to provide an enjoyable smoking experience. On some pipe kits, I even turn the top of the bowls to provide a head start in keeping everything symmetrical and even. Not the entire bowl, mind you, I don't want to be dictating someone else's vision. Only about the 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the top is turned, just to give a guideline for folks.

Unfortunately, they've proven so popular that I can't really keep up with demand. When they're available, you can find them, along with some "garage sale" type stuff, here:
I'm also going to add them to my site soon, so keep an eye out.

In other news, the knives are finished and ready for photos. And I have an interesting experiment in pipe finishes to show off as soon as I polish the stem. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Of pipes and knives...

Some folks may know that I've been quietly been dabbling in knife making for a few years now, slowly building knowledge and skill, and trying my best to come up with a style all my own. Looking back, that's what I should have done when I started making pipes. Not that I consider my early efforts inferior, but I do wish they reflected more of my personal style right from the get-go. Of course, I'm sure that all artisans look back with similar thoughts. Sometimes the urge to get your stuff out there overrides the urge to learn more and keep developing. The impulse to present to the market is, at times, very strong. Since those early days of pipes, I've learned a little self control, and also learned to drink up the knowledge and experiences of others whenever I can - I don't have to constantly reinvent the wheel.

I recently put the first of my knives publicly available up on my site, paired with a pipe that deserved a special companion. I'm happy to say, it is no longer available. It seems, perhaps, my learning and experimentation has paid off?

I've recently finished more knives, and they're currently sitting in their half-finished sheaths. You can expect them to hit the site soon, as soon as I finish those sheaths and mark them with my stamp. There are two small utility knives, designed to be held between thumb and index finger like you might hold a box cutter - but way more useful, much better looking, and won't give your mother-in-law a heart attack when you pull it out to use it. Also are two knives in a style that I came to by accident. They're in the shape of a chef's knife, but much smaller. They're ideal for daily carry, being big enough to use for a variety of tasks - even for slicing up your dinner if you so desired. One of these will get a Kydex sheath, and the other a leather sheath. Both will be tastefully done, of course.

So, what of the title of this post? Well, as I was reading the forums over on The Knife Network, I stumbled on a post from another pipe maker looking for the same info I was hunting down a couple years ago. Small world, eh? I won't reveal who it is, you can easily find that out on your own if you're that interested, but I will say that he's a great pipe maker with really good following. I have all the faith that his knives will turn out just as good as his pipes.

Over on the forum, it also came up that a handful of other pipe makers have dabbled in knife making as well. This got me thinking about what might draw pipe makers into knife making. I have theories, but I'm honestly not sure. The techniques and methods, as well as a lot of the tools, used in pipe making are well-suited to making knives, allowing an easy transition for makers. When I shift from pipes to knives, I don't have to change any of my tooling, just a quick belt change on the grinder is all it takes. Then there's the mindset. I've noticed that both pipe and knife makers are thoughtful folks, that they share their experiences readily, and tend to lean toward libertarian or conservative activities. Most are also fiercely independent, and when you get right down to it, are knowledgeable in a variety of areas, not just the focus of their primary hobby or craft.

And the same goes for knife makers dabbling in pipe making. I know of a handful of folks that have been making knives for a good long time, that have taken the plunge into making a pipe or two. Most with excellent results, and some with an interesting fusion of the two crafts. It also bears mentioning that I've been somewhat stunned by the number of pipe smokers on knife making forums. Even if they're not making pipes, it seems a large number of knife makers are pipe smokers. Interesting!

So, pipes and knives go together? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Spaniards are coming!

I was recently contacted by a fellow in Spain that runs this little outfit:

I almost deleted the email, since I never pay heed to unsolicited bulk email, but when I actually read the message, I was a little interested. And no, not the kind of "interested" that might be associated with email hawking products that are GUARANTEED TO INCREASE YOUR GIRTH. I emailed him back, one thing led to another, and I picked up a sample pack of blocks.

I got the blocks the other day and so far I'm impressed. My previous supplier used to do all sorts of nice things like trim the blocks to size and write the grade on each one. It appears that Emilio's folks also do this. In addition, the wood is a nice creamy tan color - the same color that I've grown used to when using Algerian briar. The blocks are heavier than Algerian, but that appears to be due to a much denser wood, and not moisture content.

One of the tests that I use on wood I'm getting in, especially wood that I've used before (as with new suppliers) is to actually taste the wood. In this case, it tastes very, very similar to the Algerian briar that I use nearly exclusively. I'm going to guess that both outfits process their briar in a very similar fashion. Now what, you may ask, does it taste like? Well, like wood! But it's not like licking a myrtle burl or anything, it really doesn't taste like anything. It has a mild hint of white oak, with absolutely no resinous qualities, and zero bitterness.

These briar blocks look very promising, and I'll be making a test pipe or two to really put the wood through it's paces with a variety of tobaccos. I'll post more updates as they happen.

Friday, May 02, 2008

First post? Not really.

This first entry in this weblog is really not a first. Folks who know me will have seen me out and about on the Internet since the early 1990s when I was very active in various forums, though I can't think of a single one dealing with pipes at the time. My thoughts are out there all over the Internet, so this isn't really a first post. Perhaps, more appropriately, this would be an "inaugural weblog post"?

My hope for this weblog is to use it for announcements and news items, since it should be a little more convenient than updating my website proper, and for general musings on stuff that interests me. I won't exactly be confining this just to pipes and tobacco, I've got rather diverse interest after all. I will not, however, be using to air dirty laundry or whine about stuff - I'll leave that to the teenagers and the folks that act like teenagers.

I expect I'll probably post here a few times a week, and I'll also be doing away with the news page on my site and substituting this content for that. See you here!