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....