We’re all familiar with the stereotypes surrounding pipes, and those of us who enjoy them. If we have beards, they’re expected to be grey, or at least well-grizzled; we’re to be old-fashioned, steady, inclined to ponder (even to the point of becoming ponderous), restful, quiet, staid, so on and so forth.
While I can’t speak knowledgeably as to whether or not Stuttgart artist and graphic designer Hanns Lohrer himself may have borne or resembled any of these archetypal aspects, I can say that his life’s most famous work certainly didn’t. And that’s because it looked like this:
I’m not a “Porsche guy” – four out of the five vehicles that I’ve owned have been in excess of 18 feet in length, and all have moved out of their own way courtesy of cast-iron V8 engines displacing a minimum of 300 cubic inches. Yet I can’t deny that from the first time I was exposed to Lohrer’s advertising work for Porsche, I was taken. His creations were vibrant and confident, without forced affectation; the stuff a good life is made of. They spoke to that boyish spark in a man’s soul, the one which remembers most fondly those times when with a wink or smile Father or a favorite uncle might have said, “Alright kid, just don’t tell your mother.”
Hanns Lohrer’s artwork is remembered today for his ability to speak to such a spirit. He was good at it, and he had to be good at it – uniquely good at it. That is because attention-grabbing advertising materials were a full one-eighty from Porsche’s own planned approach to building recognition. Word of mouth and face-to-face customer exposure with the automobiles themselves were what Ferry Porsche was comfortable with, trusting that reputation would spread within the sports automobile driver community. Yet Hanns Lohrer’s work wowed and wooed, with brilliant, clean, quite often deceptively simple images, depicting not only Porsche as a car, but Porsche as a chosen mode of transportation in a world made much larger and more exciting. In many of the most famous Lohrer materials, the automobile itself appears only in small scale,
…or only in part,
…or even not at all.
Unlike Ferry Porsche’s far quieter, more old-fashioned approach, Hanns’s work captured the attention not only of those already within the small, exclusive community of sports-car drivers, but those who might have aspired to be a part of it as well. No doubt his work also inspired quite a few lads, and ladies alike, as yet still too young to even get behind a wheel.
Even in his old company headshot Hanns appears to have been playing with the themes seen in his work; the curious forward posture, that satisfaction in his smile, the line and angle of the pipe he holds, and the roundness of the chosen briar’s bowl and the streamlined shape of its stem remembering the lines and contours of the performance automobiles he helped make icons.
Crazy Eddie? I can live with or without home electronics, insane deals or not. Last summer’s biggest blockbuster? Odds are I still haven’t even heard of it. But Hanns’ work, like the restless ad-copy prose of Edward S. Jordan before him, was the stuff of life – that was its theme, and that was its essence. That’s what makes it enjoyable simply as art. And that’s the kind of thing we shouldn’t do without; art, and life, for art and life’s own sake. Can’t say I was surprised to find out he was also pipe man, stereotypes be damned.
Introduction: I tossed little bags of tobacco at Bear, Josh, and Jeremy and told them to smoke it. When asked what it was, I refused to answer, instead opting to repeat my demands, with one small addition: Smoke it, and then write about what happens to you.
The idea of course is to get their impressions uncolored by previous knowledge of brand, blend composition, reputation, and what have you. Clearly, telling them the nature of what they’d be loading into their several pipes was right out, then. They’d have to find that out for themselves.
“The pouch note promises a mild aromatic: smells of a grassy Virginias with a light topping—anise, oats, vanilla, and fruit. Appearance is golden and light brown, cut into long, thin ribbons that pack easily. Upon the first lighting the tobacco’s aromatic qualities, particularly berries and vanilla, come to the forefront of the smoke. A quarter of a bowl in, the topping is less pronounced, replaced by hay-like golden Virginias along with a little spice and nuttiness. The latter suggests a pretty significant Burley component that becomes more pronounced near the bottom of the bowl. Flavors become deeper and earthier, with only a whisper of vanilla. Overall, this is a mild smoke, what I would consider a Danish aromatic, reminiscent of Mac Baren’s Golden Extra with a light topping. Not a tobacco that I would reach for often due to its lack of depth or complexity, but it is not without its advantages. Room note is pleasant, which would make this a good choice for a smoker who wants a more natural tobacco flavor while still pleasing any non-smokers in his company. Smoke can become a little acrid upon relights or if pushed.”
“I find this medium golden ribbon to be long and stringy in its cut and subtly sweet and boozy in its aroma. Prior to the light I am fairly certain that this contains Burley and Virginia. No darker tobaccos or oriental component is notable at this point. On the light Burley makes itself most noticeable and then settles down, letting VA take the fore. Mellow and sweet, kind of boozy topping, I can tell that this tobacco would bite back if puffed too heartily, but sipping suits it just fine. On the relight, I got kind of a sour note like oriental but once again this just trails off land eaves the VA with a slightly more pronounced Burley component. This reminds me of Sherlock Holmes by Peterson.”
“Reaching into the unlabeled baggie (reminding me a bit of my youth), I pulled out a generous amount of my mystery blend. Springy, slightly wiry and already at what I consider perfect moisture level, I spread out the same to do my usual “pick the clumps apart” ritual, which turned out to be pointless (there were no clumps, just ribbons, ready to be smoked. The tin (ok, ”baggie”) note was that of a fairly light aromatic. Hints of vanilla, caramel, maybe even a bit of maple-like fragrance wafted up, but (again) light.
It packed beautifully, and the toasting light released a scent which I can only refer to as “Pancake House”. No, not choking syrupiness; the smell of pancakes cooking on a hot griddle in the back, maybe combined with some bread in the toaster for the folks sitting at table #4. Full light: for about the first three minutes, the dominant room note stayed faithful to the charring light, so much so that I found myself wondering when more “pure” tobacco elements would start to assert themselves. I received my answer about five minutes into the smoke - quite a nice balance started to present. As I moved further into the bowl, the maple/vanilla/caramel faded a bit, and hints of cassis started winking at me. It was something that, while pleasant, I would never had anticipated. Usually, berries/cassis/kier-like elements will make themselves immediately known from the pouch note, and not only had I detected none, I didn’t notice any for the first third of the bowl. The new notes and the formerly dominant ones shifted back and forth for the remainder of the bowl, which, along with some very subtle spice I couldn’t identify, amounted to be the major points of interest about the tobacco. I found it overall to be (basically) dichromatic in flavor, simply shifting in note dominance at different points. While not likely to become one of my go-smokes, I could see this becoming a staple for a light aromatic smoker who isn’t obsessed with layering or nuance, and would like something that’s consistent, easy to pack, and easy to light and keep lit.”
And the blend was?Norway Pipe Cut, by Newminster. Despite differing palates and differing pipes, Josh, Bear, and Jeremy all readily identified the primary VA/Burley content of the blend, though the Oriental leaf’s presence seemed to be more elusive. Curiously, both Bear and Josh noted a slight spiciness that neither one could pin down, even though out of the three guinea pigs contributing pipe-fellows, Bear was the one picking up the aromatic qualities more than the base tobaccos, while Josh and Jeremy were getting more from the VA and Burley.
Jared Coles (J&J Pipes) and Adam Davidson discuss the best way to clean the knuckles of bamboo, while Steve Liskey talks about different ways to drill and fit bamboo with Nathan Armentrout. Meanwhile Jeff Gracik (J. Alan Pipes), who is hosting this get-together at his home and workshop in San Diego, bounces about, playing the consummate host, making sure everyone has what they need, whether it's a certain drill bit or some of Jeff's famous (at least in the pipe world) coffee.
Jeff Gracik sketches on a rough shaped stummel as Adam Davidson and Steve Liskey look on.
Adam Davidson and I are attending the first of what will perhaps become an annual event for pipe makers that Jeff Gracik, of J. Alan pipe fame, painstakingly organized over the past few months: the West Coast Pipe Maker's Pow Wow. The feel was sort of like a very small, very relaxed pipe maker version of a professional conference. The two day event has been broken into a series of technical demonstrations, short seminars and roundtable discussions. It's a small, select group of fourteen, of which eleven are pipe makers. It is very possibly the first of its kind, anywhere in the world. Sure, American pipe makers have a history of getting together to share ideas and processes, but never with this much structure, nor on this scale.
As, I write, sitting in a folding camping chair on Jeff's driveway, Jeff stands at a lathe demonstrating how to properly execute a military style mount for a stem as ten other pipe makers look on. The other pipe makers are a pretty select group. These are mostly guys that have been making pipes for at least a few years, here to learn new techniques. Jeff is one of the top pipe makers in the country--perhaps the top pipe maker in the country--and while these guys are already professional pipe makers, there's still much that they can learn from Jeff. But it isn't limited to Jeff. All of these guys have areas of expertise that they can share with the group.
Jared Coles drills on Jeff's lathe.
Earlier, Steve Liskey led a seminar on bamboo, detailing methods ranging from digging it out of the ground to using it as a shank on a pipe. Yesterday, I led a discussion on some of the business aspects of the pipe world. Later today, pipe maker and longtime Smokingpipes.com Estate Manager and Pipe Specialist Adam Davidson will discuss quality control and the pitfalls pipe makers can avoid if they want to make the best pipes possible.
What's truly remarkable, to the point that it would utterly baffle an outside observer from most any other industry, is that this actually happens in the pipe world. Jeff is completely open with how he does things, unconcerned that he's teaching his competition. Perhaps it’s the security he feels regarding his place in the pipe world that makes this so natural for him. Or perhaps it's simply the master's desire to share his knowledge. There have been a handful of pipe makers over the decades who have been happy to disseminate the skills that they've mastered. It's part of the craft and part of being a great pipe maker.
Sixten Ivarsson, to take the most famous example, was great because he thought about pipes in a new way, and because he taught others how he thought about pipes. If he'd done the former without the latter, Sixten's historical role as the progenitor of the modern artisanal pipe would simply not be. He would have been a brilliant, but relatively insignificant, dead end in the history of pipe making. At the end of the day, Sixten is important because he passed on what he'd learned and what he'd developed.
That willingness to share, exemplified by others--Tom Eltang also comes to mind as a particularly open and willing teacher--is important not only for those who take the opportunity to learn. Indeed, nothing further refines skills as well as teaching them. It forces the teacher to refine amorphous thoughts into coherent structures, furthering his mastery of the material. Jeff Gracik, along with Adam Davidson and Steve Liskey, are confident teachers this weekend.
The goal for the weekend was to help good pipe makers get better. Some of the subjects covered were fairly straightforward: drilling techniques, for example. Others were more sophisticated, such as working with oddly shaped pieces of bamboo. Some of the focus had little to do with how to make a better pipe, but rather addressed individual development as a pipe maker. Adam didn't hold forth before the group about how to make pipes (though he did give a lot of one-on-one advice throughout the weekend), instead he talked about common quality control pitfalls, the small (but crucial) things that pipe makers can watch out for, in order to help them catch errors before they leave the workshop. As long time quality control guy at Smokingpipes.com, Adam's in a unique position to talk about common pipe maker errors. My presentation was about how to navigate the business end of being a pipe maker, how to manage brands, how to avoid potentially bad, short-term focused decisions in favor of better, longer-term decisions, and the like. Indeed, of all of them, my talk was the only that didn't really have much to do with the pipes they make, but hopefully it gave them some insight into how to think about managing the business and marketing side of what they do.
Adam Davidson sketches a mortise, while Nathan Armentrout holds the board for him.
Adam and Ernie discuss a rough shaped pipe made by Ernie (E. Markle Pipes) on Jeff's driveway.
While the centerpieces of the weekend were the formal demonstrations by Jeff and the seminars led by Steve Liskey, Adam and me, much of what made the event exceptionally special was the ad hoc discussion about pipe making that took place during the weekend. At one point I was looking at some pipes Ernie Markle was working on (seriously nice stuff, I might add), when Adam wandered over and started offering his thoughts. One of the pipes Ernie had at hand was a partially finished long-shanked acorn. The shape, while impressive, wasn't quite what he was looking for. He and Adam ended up sitting on Jeff's driveway with a sketchpad, working out the problems of the shape. I'm not sure what will come of the particular stummel that Ernie had been working on, but it was clear that this was a valuable, collaborative learning experience for both Ernie and Adam.
It was an enlightening experience for me as well. Obviously, I'm not a carver. The finer points of how to make an army mount were interesting, but didn't mean much to me. What I did take away from it, however, was how hard it is to be a top-tier pipe maker. Of course, at some level, I knew this; I've probably been in more different pipe maker workshops than anyone else in the world. I know how hard these men (and women) work. But usually I'm in the workshops of established pipe makers. Seeing Jeff instruct less experienced pipe makers helped to crystalize, on a personal level, how hard it is to transition from being a good pipe maker (of which there are many out there right now) to a great pipe maker (of which there are few). The difference is mostly in the mastery of thousands of little technical details. This past weekend Jeff demonstrated a bunch of those details, but pipe making can't be learned in a weekend. It can take a lifetime of continuous effort. Even in cases of exceptional natural talent (like Jeff Gracik, who now has over a decade's worth of experience, and whose work enjoys immense demand), you'll still find artisans very eager to listen, and eager to reciprocate by teaching and passing on what they've learned. It's this that makes "greats" from the "good".
Attendees use the sanding disks while Adam Davidson watches.
Most images kindly provided by John Klose of J&J Artisan Pipes.
Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (way back in the 1980s), I spent a few years in the Meerschaum Capital of the World. I was in the Air Force, stationed at Incirlik Air Base in the Republic of Turkey. In addition to experiencing the beautiful Turkish culture and lifestyle I had only read about in books, I saw some examples of the most amazing artistry and craftsmanship one could imagine.
The village located just outside the Base had an area known as “The Alley”. To tell the truth, it was nothing more than a short access road leading towards the highway, but that quarter-mile strip of roadway was jam-packed with stores and shops. Everything the local shopkeepers had to offer was there, from brass and copper pots and pans, to gold jewelry, furniture, carpets, a restaurant (aptly named for the BP Gas Station) and of course, Meerschaum pipes. Lots of Meerschaums. I remember one shop that had a dozen glass cabinets filled with pipes. They were displayed like a museum exhibition on the glass shelves, row upon row of pipes. From the small, simply carved smooth bowls to the most elaborate portraits, animal busts and geometric patterns; they had them all.
As if that wasn’t amazing enough, I still remember the clerk telling me I could have one custom carved. I could have my own face on a pipe, or one made in the image of my favorite pet. And this personalized souvenir would have been mine for the paltry sum of $20. Looking back, I’m still glad I chose one already carved. The thought of having this face carved into a piece of sepiolite, forever memorialized, still scares me...and my wife.
The one I chose smoked okay, though I admit that after only a few times, I put it back into it’s case. There it sat, undisturbed for the next 28 years. It wasn’t until I answered a job ad for a Shipping Manager that it would see the sunlight, be taken up and smoked again.
Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes things that you found so beautiful and intriguing will come back and rekindle your interest, no matter how much time has passed. They can also bring back fond memories of friends and family, even when those memories were half a world, and what seems like whole a lifetime, away.
In 2001, my wife and I went on a Scuba trip to Belize. It was a fantastic trip; being an avid underwater photographer, we elected to stay on a live-aboard called 'The Wave Dancer,' a 120’ vessel that went all over the Belizean coral reef and allowed me to dive and shoot up to six times a day (breathing oxygen enriched EANx Nitrox II). Given that it was in 2001 and in Belize, a country that to this very day has yet to impose any smoking restrictions, smoking abounded on the Wave Dancer. While Cuban cigars were essentially omnipresent, it appeared that I was the lone pipe smoker... or at least I thought I was. One of the hands on the ship was a native Belizean, John, a man of about 55 years who was, without question, the finest natural born diver that I have ever met. When he wasn't tending to the guests, he would strap on a tank (no buoyancy control vest or gauges... just mask, tank and fins), and, if asked, he would enigmatically answer that he needed to "visit his friends."
One time, around an hour from nautical twilight, I was at about 150 feet, getting ready to ascend, and down (way, way down) below me I spotted John. When we got to the surface I asked the Captain "What the hell is John doing down at that depth?!” The Skipper shrugged and replied, "He’s a friend of the sharks, that's where they hang out, and so that's where he hangs out." He also related to me that John had never been bent (that is, stricken with the "bends" or decompression sickness). Being a fairly proficient technical diver, with a solid ability to do on-the-fly gas law/physic calculations, and knowing the rough depth/bottom time involved, as well as having personally observed that John filled his single tank with the same stuff we all were breathing, what "Captain Ron" had just nonchalantly imparted was flat impossible. And yet (yet), I had just observed it.
"Belize Wave Dancer" image courtesy of Bear Graves
On our fourth night, following a dive/shoot of the infamous Blue Hole, and after everyone had gone to their cabins, I was feeling restless. Not wanting to disturb my slumbering mate, I quietly exited our cabin and headed up to the observation deck. All the lights on the ship, but save a couple of small navigation beacons, were out, and the stars burned with a ferocity that I had rarely encountered. I pulled out my old tobacco pouch and pipe, thumb-packed, and fired. A voice came out of the dark (damned near ruined my pants) "Mm - Mm... Smells good, Mon... ya got some extra?" It was John. I gave him my pouch, and he loaded some of my aged bright leaf into a very old, small meerschaum and fired up as well. In reciprocity, John cracked a bottle of Cubano "Gold Label" rum. For about two hours we made small talk. He pointed out the Southern Cross, which, of course, I had seen many times… but never nearly so clear and bright as on that night. We talked about navigation without modern instruments, diving, how to find his "friends." Just two guys with nothing in common but a love of the ocean, diving, Cuban rum, and smoke. In John's words, "Dat' US Virginia is da tits, Mon, I dream of seeing your country someday."
After we were about three-quarters into the bottle, I worked up the nerve to ask about his (literally) supraphysical abilities to shrug off ‘gas laws’. John paused a moment... “It’s a family thing. By the late 40s, both my grandfather and me pop were loaned tanks by ‘de rich folk to survey spots where profitable underwater salvage were likely. Some jobs pushed ‘dem limits right proper, but ‘dey never got ‘de aches. Turns out the same with all the men of my family.” He punctuated this with only a so-it-is shrug. Both of us weaving a bit, we parted with the best salutes we could manage in our states, and I headed back to my berth.
A scant few weeks later, Hurricane Iris (Category 4) made landfall at Monkey Town/Big Creek, Belize, precisely where the Wave Dancer was moored. The 15' storm surge, driven by 230 km/h winds, compressed into a 40' high wall of death as it moved upriver. The Dancer was hit so hard by the channeled wave that it actually flipped end over end. 20 experienced divers from the Richmond Dive Club drowned in 18 feet of water in the wee, small hours of that morning. I'm told that John was one of them.
Pipes, and chance encounters with strangers whom are no longer strangers upon parting, are blessings and can stay with you for a lifetime. If you guys get down south, when ya look at the Southern Cross, smoke or drink one for John (he also loved Belikan beer, by-the-by). I know he would appreciate it.
Daniel Mustran: I was born in Germany – 1975, in a town called Wangen im Allgau, which is near the Swiss/Austrian border.
Bear Graves:Where do you live now? Is your workshop in your home?
Daniel Mustran:I live now in Osijek, Croatia where my parents are originally from (although I have a lot of relatives that came from Germany and Hungary). My workshop is partially at my father’s place, where I try to keep the "dirtiest” aspects of pipe work confined, and partially in my apartment, where I live with my family.
Bear Graves:At what age did the idea of pipe smoking appeal to you? Did you have men in your life, whom you looked up to, who might have smoked a pipe?
Daniel Mustran:I can remember as a little boy, seeing a man a few times who was a pipe smoker, and though I wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing, whatever it was utterly fascinated me... I was “bought”. I can recall that spark quite clearly even now. That was my first introduction to pipes. As far as that interest getting a boost from parental figures or family? For a long time, 35 years, the answer would be “no”; my family, parents and grandparents are all non-smokers. I do, however, have a cousin in Texas (Vincent), and when we last met (spring of 2010), I discovered that he was a pipe smoker and, at the time, I was seriously considering making a pipe for myself. That encounter wound up becoming just the kick I needed to move pipemaking from a cool thought, to actually doing it... really accepting the idea as something both real and attainable. So, in a way, he did help me to cross over to that side and get the first block of briar. I can't tell you that I “look up to him”... not even close, but he is one of the few guys that has most of my pipes and he loves them. I suppose you could say that he is enjoying my story as well [Laughs].
Bear Graves: So, are you a pipe smoker, or more of someone who smokes (say) cigarettes, cigars and only pulls out a pipe at the pipe shows/gatherings?
Daniel Mustran: Yes, I do smoke a pipe! I am not a smoker that "has" to have four or more pipes per day. I smoke a pipe when I have the time and out of pure pleasure, not because of a need or craving. When I have time and want to enjoy something truly pleasurable, I smoke a pipe.
Bear Graves: What types of blends do you gravitate towards?
Daniel Mustran: I absolutely love Latakia blends, especially the McClelland offerings.
Bear Graves: What, aside from pipemaking, is your vocation?
Daniel Mustran: My job, what I actually do as a principle source of income (pipemaking is my second job and a passion/hobby) is being field electronic engineer. I work at transformer stations to maintain the electronics required to regulate and deliver vital power. I do have a third job, on occasion - tuning and repairing pianos with my father.
Bear Graves: What skills might you have picked up before becoming a pipe maker, which helped once you started pipe making?
Daniel Mustran: I was always doing something in my father’s workshop (mostly something from wood). I was raised to use tools and to feel good around them. Prior to making pipes, I was making High-Fidelity electronics - mostly tube electronics... and that included making a piece of equipment from absolute scratch; from the actual electronics, all the way up to the cabinetry.
Bear Graves:Who was the maker of your first quality pipe?
Daniel Mustran:I received my first pipe from a good friend; an old Oldenkott pipe - man, she was a really nice smoker. My second pipe was the first pipe I made. The difference between my first and second efforts was astonishing, absolutely night and day… so much better. I also got several other pipes from few factories (nothing special) but was always returning to those I made myself - now i am smoking almost only my pipes (unless Missouri Meerschaum pipes).
Bear Graves:When did you create your first pipe that you were proud of, one that you felt was worthy to sell?
Daniel Mustran: My first pipe was made in August 2010. I made it for myself and did not want to sell it. A good friend of mine saw that pipe and ordered a pipe for himself, both of us agreeing that he would only pay for the material - not a bad way to practice for free. A few guys from my office heard about that deal, wanted the same thing, so I made around 5-7 pipes like that - "a pipe for the price of the material". It was around that point that I started to charge a little bit, then a little bit more, and so on.
Bear Graves:What is the origin/source of your briar?
Daniel Mustran: I am using briar prepared by Manno Briar from Italy, which was recommended to me by my mentor and friend, Enrico Marola, who is one of the two guys who have helped me along the most (the second is Eder Mathias). Enrico was using Manno Briar for years and was very happy with it - I got the material from them, was also happy - the material was dry with good grain and taste.
Bear Graves:Based on the four pipes that we have received, it seems your stem material of choice is Lucite?
Daniel Mustran: Yes, I am making almost all of my mouthpieces from acrylic, and there are several reasons for it...
a) acrylic is neutral - it does not change with time like ebonite, has no problem with oxidation, bacteria or similar.
b) it shines better when polished.
c) it is less expensive.
Another reason, but not one that I would list as a priority, is that I simply like the way acrylic looks, when properly finished, as well as how it behaves over time.
Bear Graves:Do you hand cut your stems?
Daniel Mustran: I have made all of my stems for last two years, I simply won’t buy ready-made stems because I don't like how they are made. I have my own ideas of how they should look and industrial stems do not match those ideas - at least not those that I have checked. I discovered that it is easier for me to make them by myself; to achieve the exact length and shape I want for a specific pipe. I prepare them on my lathe - just to have a reference point (if they can be started on lathe, if not, they are completely freehand) and then I finish them by hand.
Bear Graves: What size are your draft holes?
Daniel Mustran: In the shank, I usually for either 4 or 4.2mm in diameter, in stems I use 3.8 - 4mm. towards the button I cut my stems to form a "Y", in order to get the same surface and to ensure that the smoke will flow without any restrictions... an "easy draw".
Bear Graves: I noticed that 3 of the 4 pipes we will debut, seem to hold a special place for the new aesthetic, especially in the area of proportional play, the other reminds me a bit of the work of Shizuo Arita. Do you feel you have a duality of aesthetics from which you draw from, or do both fall under one overarching theme? How would you describe the prevailing theme of your work?
Daniel Mustran: In complete candor, I don't like rigid, classical shapes (using the English Billiard for example) that much; there simply isn’t enough within the shapes to trigger “my need” to make them. If they are made well, they are nice, reliable pipes and ones you can trust. While I enjoy a challenge, I also require a shape which will make me feel good while creating it. Thus, rather than creating a template shape, I will use a classic form as a base, in order to create something with more spark, more life… more ‘playful’. On the other hand, I do like the work of Russian pipemakers like Revyagin or Kovalev ... also Zenz, Wallenstein and others. Some of the guys are really artists..not just craftsman, but artists, and the pipes they make are so much more art than simply tools for smoking. That amazing play with the shape, the wood; ideas morphing into form and becoming a total masterpiece, is an endless source of fascination to me, and pushes me to challenge and develop myself.
That work is rarely easy for me, and there are a few classical shapes that I like to make; forms that have become something of a “safe harbor”, while gathering the energy in myself and the ideas in my head for a challenging project. My work as a pipe maker has to continue, and while not challenging, they are easier, fun to make and a good source for relaxation. This can be very hard to articulate, but I’ll give it a try. When I craft a briar, my energy (obviously) goes into the pipe, but along with that energy (chi, whatever you wish to call it) so goes my relative mood. As an example, one time I was showing a few pipes to some guys, and they remarked that though they liked the shapes, they (themselves) almost felt a sense of being lost while gazing at them. They were right, at the time I made those pipes, I was having some personal problems. So, the story I took away is that my pipes can form mirrors of the moments during their creation, and thus I will only tackle shapes which present a challenge when I have a combination of both the idea and ‘crazy-good’, positive energy.
Bear Graves: What pipe makers, if any, have aided you in your progress as a pipe maker?
Daniel Mustran: Enrico Marola, Eder Mathias, guys from Pipemaker forum (most of what I know I gathered there actually).
Bear Graves:Looking at the broadest spectrum of great pipemakers, either living or passed, whose work do you most admire?
Daniel Mustran: Roger Wallenstein, Roman Kovalev, Michail Revyagin, Cornelius Manz, Geiger, Maigurs Knets, Peter Heeschen, Todd Johnson - to name a few.
Bear Graves: Are you ready for some ‘Up close and Personal’ questions?
Daniel Mustran: I’m in Croatia, how ‘Up Close’ could you be? [Laughs] Sure.
Bear Graves:Do you have a nickname, one that you like? My nick is ‘Bear’, but when I played Rugby it was ‘Smelling Salts”, I have never signed anything as Smelling Salts.
Daniel Mustran: Yes, I do have... my friends call me "Muki"... letter "u" sounds in Croatian like double "oo" in "moon"... and letter "i" sounds like sound "ey" in "money" for example... (Muki is how we write it on Croatian)... so, if English, my nickname would be probably looking like "Mookey" or something similar - it is derived from my surname.
Bear Graves: Mookey is very cool, beats ‘Smelling Salts’ by a long toss. What kind of music do you like?
Daniel Mustran: Ohh - good question! I like many types of music... classical, jazz, electronic, gothic metal, tribal, new age... a lot of it... what I can live without is low quality music and opera. I don't like that. I guess like a lot of folks, it really depends on occasion. Sometimes, while making pipes, I like to listen to gothic metal or some other sort of hard rock, and sometimes, something completely different. It is all about the need that I have at the specific time.
Bear Graves:What are your favorite things to do, when away from work?
Daniel Mustran: LOVE walking in woods, riding my bicycle... playing with my son... sitting in a bar, having a good coffee, a pipe and looking at people passing by... basically something that will allow me to calm my mind down... That which will allow me to relax.
Bear Graves: Do you have a favorite sports team?
Daniel Mustran: I don’t like most professional sports, take football: too much money in it and not too much sport. I do, however, like personal sports (was in Shotokan karate for years, lifting weights and similar). Just leave out sports which involve huge amounts of money, people being there just to express their bad feelings for members of the other team and similar. That just isn’t sport to me.
Bear Graves:Tribal Tech, martial arts and weight lifting, you sound like my kind of guy, Mookey!
Daniel Mustran: This has been fun, thanks so much!
Bear sits down with the latest carver to join Smokingpipes.com
-Posted by R. 'Bear' Graves-
Bear Graves: Busting up my usual question format a bit, I have to ask: how did you decide on naming your company “Doctor’s Pipes”?
Roman Kovalev: Sixteen years of my life was spent working in a hospital as a pediatric neurologist, even then I smoked my pipes a good deal of the time. In addition I was an active member of Russian speaking pipe forum http://pipeclub.net. My nick name there was DOC13. Thirteen is my ‘happy number’. A lot of best things in my life have a connection with this number. My pipe smoking friends do not call me by my given name, usually they call me ‘Doc’. So, once I start making my own pipes, “Doctor’s Pipes” just seemed to be a natural fit.
Bear Graves: I have to admit that, when it comes to branding origins, that’s pretty amazing. When and where were you born?
Roman Kovalev: I was born in the Ukraine in 1971
Bear Graves:I understand that you currently live and work in St. Petersburg, did you move there from the Ukraine, or were there stops along the way?
Roman Kovalev: My father was Russian. Shortly after my birth he moved the family north, to Nizhnevartovsk City in Siberia, where my family and I resided until I moved to St. Petersburg in 2010.
Bear Graves:Tell us about your workshop, from what I have gathered it sounds pretty elaborate.
Roman Kovalev: Since I have moved to St. Petersburg, my workshop is actually in my apartment. This is the second workshop I have built, my first was in Nizhnevartovsk city. My present shop is quite large and consists of two rooms. One room is my workshop, proper, and the second one is soundproof compartment for noisy equipment, such as compressors, ventilation, vacuum cleaners and so on. I built both of my workshops solely on my own. I am a left-handed, simple efficiency demanded that I rebuild a lot of equipment for my convenience.
Bear Graves:Do you still smoke pipes on a regular basis?
Roman Kovalev: I only smoke pipes, and smoke quite a lot – 5-8 pipes a day, or, to be more precise, per night. From even my earliest days, my natural energy rhythms prefer to be active during night time. I love working at nights, and, as you may assume, I also smoke mostly at nights. My American friends like it, as it gives us the opportunity to communicate without having to take much consideration about the time differences.
Bear Graves:At roughly what age did you decide to become a pipe smoker?
Roman Kovalev: In 1995 I graduated from my medical university and in the same year I bought my first pipe. I had never smoked cigarettes and I decided to visit a local tobacconist to buy some cigars, but left with a pipe in my pocket instead. Initially, it was just the occasional bowl, but as my smoking increased, so did my purchases (mainly inexpensive machine made pipes).
Bear Graves:What types of blends do you prefer?
Roman Kovalev: I prefer mostly milder Virginia blends, though I went through quite a long period where I only smoked strong Latakia mixtures.
Bear Graves:Did you have any men in your life who smoked a pipe, men you looked up to and might have influenced your decision to take up the briar, perhaps even (eventually) to become a carver?
Roman Kovalev: My father never smoked a pipe, but my grandfather did. I saw him with a pipe a great deal of the time, and have little doubt that it influenced me. Though my father did not smoke a pipe, it would be impossible to overestimate his influence on me with his amazing ability to work with wood. He was a skilled cabinetmaker. He made and restores furniture. All the furniture in our house was made by him. I spent a lot of time in his workshop. He often made various animal or people figurines for me. I also tried to carve something, but best results I achieved at this young age was cutting my own fingers.
Bear Graves:At the present, do you have any vocation other than being a pipe carver?
Roman Kovalev: My only active vocation is that of a pipemaker, and while one never knows what might get thrown in the future, I hope keep it that way. That declaration aside, one of my passionate avocations turned into a vocation and that, in turn, allowed me to dedicate my time to making pipes.
Bear Graves: Ok, my curiosity is peaked to the point that I can’t just let it go like that. Could you please elaborate?
Roman Kovalev: One of my hobbies, actually ‘hobby’ is far too mild - but passions is coffee. I love great coffee, and, as it usually goes with things that I love, I couldn’t find coffee which met my standards in my city. At first I opened a shop to sell top-grade coffee to consumers, then I expanded into the coffee equipment trade (coffee machines, grinders and so on). In a short amount of time, I began supplying local cafés, bars and restaurants with good coffee. At the same time, I spent untold hours of intense study to obtain an advanced level of coffee making skill, I have several barista diplomas. Once my bona fides as a coffee making expert were firmly established and word got around, I opened my own barista school. I have personally prepared and certified 114 barista. Later, I registered the trademark and brand of “COFFEEJAZZ”. I quit the hands-on portion of this business, passing ‘the controls’ to my friend, and I now fully dedicate myself to pipemaking. Pipes are the companions of my life. I hope they will be with me up to the end.
Bear Graves:A coffee aficionado, who finds the local coffee below his standards, corrects the problem through a combination of passion, intensity... a manifestation of “Will to Power” (if you will), and the result is becoming a major player in high-end coffee. A result which now allows you to pursue yet another passion?
Roman Kovalev: Maybe a bit overstated, kind of sounds like a narrative voice-over in a movie-trailer, but that is the gist of it. The one correction that I would add is that the result didn’t merely allow me to pursue ‘yet another passion’, it allows me to dedicate myself to my greatest passion.
Bear Graves:The record stands corrected. We have learned that your hours of watching your father work with wood was an influence. I can only imagine how much hand-to-eye coordination, fine motor skills and attention to detail that it takes to be a pediatric neurologist. What other skills might you have picked up before becoming a pipe maker, which helped once you actually began the process of pipe making?
Roman Kovalev: I can, if you wish, recite a ‘dry’ list of the skills and mindset that I brought to my first work bench, but without any background to provide context: my nature, my aptitudes, how they were applied and grew as a result of pursuing my passions (pipes especially), it’s just a list, and one that might not be intuitive to a reader.
Bear Graves:I, and I believe our readers as well, would prefer to get the background, have a ‘context’ to help us understand how skills and aptitudes were developed. Where do we start?
Roman Kovalev: My nature is such that, when I develop an interest which turns into a passion, my involvement is never a casual one, never simply ‘get acquainted’ and move on, no half-measures. My nature needs to understand every aspect of my interest, from the ‘big picture’ on down to the minutest level. Hand-in-glove with this aspect is a strong dislike for simply accepting the status-quo. While some personalities are perfectly comfortable with simply making the best of what little is available to them, I take a look at a situation and my first thought is “What changes can I make to any aspect of this process, in order to optimize my chances of success?” If those changes or adjustments aren’t possible within any pre-made, ‘ready-to-go’ options, I will create them. The construction and modifications to my workshops, as well as my coffee adventures are just a couple of examples.
Bear Graves:It sounds like we have some commonality, as far as “all the way, or no way”, when it comes to things that interest us. Still, I have yet to go so far as to create anything unique to aid me in my pursuits.
Roman Kovalev: “All the way, or no way” sounds about right. I have had an avid interest in racing for a long time. I was part of a great team. We made engines and built cars. Quite often, I went to garage and spent half a night assembling engines immediately after I left the hospital (my working place), despite the fact that driving was my main position in our team. Improving our game superseded any need to rest.
Bear Graves:Now that I can relate to! Given that your ultimate passion is pipes (and after studying your incredible compositions), I have little doubt that your nature, mindset and aptitudes didn’t take a break when it came to your study, and eventual execution of pipes.
Roman Kovalev: It didn’t.
Bear Graves:Who was the maker of your first high-quality pipe?
Roman Kovalev: As I mentioned earlier, my first pipes after graduating medical school were cheap and machine made, but as smoking a pipe moved, quickly, from a spur-of-the-moment lark, to something that I was passionate about, I entered the collection period of my life. Actually, “collector” would be inaccurate, I am a smoker, not a collector. I have studiously smoked every pipe I have bought, the idea of purchasing a pipe just to lay on a shelf is an anathema to me, and I have really never understood that practice in others. A definitive answer to the first high grade pipe that I owned would be difficult, for my idea of what truly constitutes a high grade rapidly changed with more exposure. I can say, as I found my preferences narrowing, I became an admirer of the great Japanese carvers, especially their ability to present an amazing totality, not just objects with interesting elements, my most prominent recollection of that period being the manner in which Tokutomi executed his long-shanked Blowfish. I even went as far as corresponding with Mr. Tokutomi, and you can imagine how delighted I was to get this type of pipe from him. That was back in 1998.
Bear Graves:You already owned a Tokutomi Blowfish in 1998?! My first Tokutomi was in 2002, and here I was thinking of myself an ‘early adopter’!
Roman Kovalev: My obsession with any given pipe itself was almost secondary to my interest in the master who created it; their personality, their creative processes, what lines of thought resulted in the new treasure that I was smoking. While researching such information, I would stumble across the names of other carvers who were unknown to me, and, naturally, the next step involved searching out and obtaining pipes of these unknown masters, followed by more research.
Shortly after I became serious about high grade pipes, my personal preferences and way of looking at pipes were formed. I consider a pipe as one full and complete object. It’s not that I am (at all) indifferent on the matters of an intriguing line, or inspired aspect, indeed, some carvers display a near-genius with such things, they deserve appreciation, and many make a fine living of building a briar around a signature element. It’s just that my focus doesn’t lie within attempting to copy elements, but to understand whole compositions; trying to get myself to the place where I understand what a Master was thinking when he made a specific pipe. Sadly, such a process doesn’t benefit much from epiphanies, instant comprehension upon seeing a work for the first time. I’ve noticed that while my understanding of a particular question is developing, I have to return to a predecessor, which I’ve seen numerous times earlier, in order to discover yet another ‘new’, and hopefully advance a bit more. This process never truly ends. In a way, it is like reading Bible. You can’t read it once, cover to cover, and put it back on shelf. At a minimum, you need to return to specific chapters and passages, and what you wind up taking away isn’t the full wisdom contained within, but only ideas and examples you can comprehend at this particular moment. The greater the diligence of this study, the more becomes opened to you. Untold hundreds of pipes were acquired, smoked and researched in this manner. That was my pipe “school”.
Bear Graves:What is the origin/source of your briar, and, roughly, how long is it seasoned prior use?
Roman Kovalev: Addressing in reverse order: I had it in my head that I would be making pipes for quite a long time before I took the ‘plunge’. My first briar blocks were seasoned a full six years before I finally decided to make something. I make a pipe, or pipes, I rotate newer briar to the back. My stock comes from Mr. Mano’s briar. I have come to greatly appreciate his and his daughter Ilaria’s efforts in manually selecting blocks for me. I also work with strawberry wood. Strawberry wood is a member of the same family as briar (another kind of heather). It is a great material! From functionality point of view, I feel it concedes nothing to briar and, in some aspects, even beats it. Strawberry wood is 20-25% lighter than briar and pipe weight is not an unimportant factor. Strawberry absorbs moisture better than briar, requires less rest in between smokes, and its outstanding hard-to-softer wood ratios produce outstanding blasts. As an aside, I love blasts. I find the process to be a near-irresistible dialogue with the wood. Each and every block requires its own approach, you might say ‘A personal key’.
Bear Graves:When I first saw your sandblasts, I was blown away. Heck, I’m still blown away. I have never seen anything quite like them. To be honest, the closest patterns that I have seen in other pipes are actually rustications, with a bit of blasting as a topper.
Roman Kovalev: Oh, I have had some say that my blasts are impossible; they must have been prepped with chemicals and/or tools. I would like to underline once again, any blast/grain that you see on a Doctor’s Pipe is strictly created through the use of sand and air, I have no preliminary tool work or treatments. I have spent a great deal of time, both in the creation of a unique blaster and system, as well as on the pipes themselves, to obtain such deep and textured blasts. I always say to my critics – “my workshop is always open and I am always ready to show the process.” I would like to clear the air about any questions surrounding my sandblasting. May I?
Bear Graves:Yea Gods... please!
Roman Kovalev: The blasts you see on my pipes are absolutely distinct and based on a totally different technology than found in common blasting devices. At its foundation, my blaster works through a unique principal of mixing air and blasting agent. After a preface, I will describe the principles, without getting too deep in technical details. While I appreciate the beauty of deep, conventional blasts, far too often I have seen otherwise fine pipes look like they have been gnawed up, gouged. One of the main advantages of the system I created, and the equipment I built, is that the blast neither changes the actual shape of the pipe, nor its dimensions. I imagine, given your job, that you have noticed some super-deep blasts which resulted in a shank/stem junction where the mouthpiece wasn’t perfectly flush with the shank – the stem is actually slightly larger than the shank? As I said, ‘gnawed out’?
Bear Graves:I have, and it makes me a bit queasy to see all that hard work go into (essentially) lessening the ultimate outcome.
Roman Kovalev: My system allows deep blasting without suffering such an effect. Please take a glance at the pictures I sent, showing a shank before blasting and after. The pictures include caliper shots, as an additional assurance that the dimensions remained the same. I use/invented a system which works the year (soft) rings of a block without touching the hard rings. My blast depth is about 2.5 mm, but even at that depth of blast, my system continues to work selectively. In my sand tank, sand lies in state similar to water. I invented a method which renders sand into something close to a water state; basically, the sand turns to liquid. I call it Aeroblast. The media content, as measured at the nozzle, is negligibly low – it simply flows like water.
To create a context, a 5 kg load of blasting sand will allow my apparatus to work 4-5 hours, non-stop. Such a hellish working regime cannot be achieved with any, even the most expensive, conventional blasting apparatus. Referring back to the ‘if I need it, and it doesn’t exist, I will create it” part of my nature, I invented this technique and made my blaster from scratch – 100% hand made. I turned all the necessary parts on a lathe. I did all of the assembling and adjustment. There are three mechanisms in my blaster which, as far as I know, have no analogues at the time of this interview. The first is the unit responsible for creating the air-sand mixture, the second is the control unit which measures and adjusts the blasting agent content in the mixture. Anyone who works with blasters will tell you that simply getting sand out of a nozzle is hardly an event, but you can find yourself in a constant battle; always fighting between extremes of overly rich or drastically poor air-sand mixture. My technique/system creates a quality air-sand mixture 100% of time. The third unit is special nozzle. The blasting agent emerges as a cone shape, not a reverse-cone. I can change size/diameter of the working cone for different blasting regimes. For instance, if we have briar with very dense rings, I can make the working cone of .5mm and work without damaging nearby rings. That’s why I made my own blasting apparatus. I had many hours of consultation with specialists and I made a ton of mistakes, before I finally arrived at a solution that produced the results that I desired.
Bear Graves:The folks who know me will tell you that I am never at a loss for words... but your expansion of your blasting process and machine is surely testing that. On to another question. Having looked at your pipes, it appears that ebonite/vulcanite/cumberland is your stem material of choice, and that you take the extra effort to turn your tenons, rather than use delrin. Is that accurate?
Roman Kovalev: For making stems I use German and Japanese ebonite as well as Cumberland. I don’t use delrin tenons because I do not like combined material stems. Using delrin tenons? Sure, it’s easier and faster, but a stem made in one piece is better and stronger, in my opinion. I make conical air draft, narrowing from 4.1 mm to 2.3mm at the bit, in mouthpiece. My mouthpieces are always polished, not only outside, but inside as well. Polished air drafts are critical to achieving a comfortable, cool and dry smoke. It also makes cleaning easier. The interior of my stems/bits feature a Y-groove, also polished. In my humble opinion, correct engineering in the stem is more important than in the stummel. Certainly, all engineering should be correct, but mistakes in stem engineering are definitely the worst of the two. I only use a lathe for making tenons. All other stem work being done either with hands or with a Dremel. I never use casted stem blanks, only rods of ebonite.
Bear Graves:We saw some accessorizing material that, while extremely beautiful, for the life of us, we can’t identify.
Roman Kovalev: Ah! Lately I was looking for something different, unique as an accessorizing material, and yet nothing I considered really spoke to me.
Bear Graves:Umm... so you created it?
Roman Kovalev: How did you guess? ;) Not long ago I became fond of making polymerized materials. It started from my forest walks with my daughter. I saw very beautiful, smaller green moss balls. They were so nicely textured, that I start thinking about how they could be used. I bought special equipment, such as an immensely powerful vacuum pump. It took what seemed like forever to choose a polymer that both pleased me, and was suitable for pipes. It had to be non-toxic, non-flammable and quite durable. I tried lots of polymers prior to finding the right one. I arrived at one that was being used for making sport airplane fuselages. It easily withstands 500 °C heat and it is two times stronger than steel. It fully beats acryl. The main disadvantage of acryl is weak heat resistance - melting. I also wanted to use a polymer to make calabash bowls, and acryl was immediately discarded as suitable material for the purpose. I use different media for polymerization - grass, moss, nuts, various seeds, for instance. The polymer I chose, however, has one big disadvantage for me – it very hard to work this material, but it gives advantages to smokers... it is also hard to scratch.
Bear Graves:Looking at the broadest spectrum of great pipemakers, either living or passed, whose work do you most admire?
Roman Kovalev: Pipe makers who have seriously influenced me? Actually, this is rather difficult question. I can’t say who seriously influenced me, much less how. I study the work of all the pipe carvers I can find. Some of them are interesting and close to my mentality. The human mind can make it a very complicated thing to obtain a simple answer. My mind is like a big ball of yarn, comprised of a myriad of smaller threads. When you pull at one strand, you never know how many others will appear on the surface. Certainly some of the pipes that I have studied contained a kind of revelation, bright and unforgettable. Several years ago, Eltang teamed with Gotoh to make marvelous calabashes with triangle boxwood caps. These pipes are still in my mind. Tokutomi’s Cavaliers and Blowfishes are also there, as well as the live, elegant and unrepeatable shapes of Shizuo Arita. Certainly I am impressed with some of the legendary Danes. I love Gracik’s works, his interpretations of Danish classics are amazingly nice and elegant.
Bear Graves:With your permission, I’d like to ask a few, non-pipe related questions.
Roman Kovalev: Of course.
Bear Graves:What are your favorite things to do, when away from work?
Roman Kovalev: One hobby of mine is making absinth. I have made it since 2007. I used to distill spirits from various fruits before prior to that, but in 2007 found an absinth recipe. From that time forward, I have been a passionate absinth maker. It’s very interesting to get various shades of taste, through making changes in the recipe. I have two distilleries. Needless to say, I made both of them by myself and they have served me well for years. One is being used to make aromatized spirits, another being used for absinth making only. I love absinthe so much that I made a special celebration series of pipes, dedicated to my first absinth distillation. The pipes were colored green and were accompanied with a small absinth bottle.
Bear Graves: If we could get a similar series here, I’d be the first to sign up! Do you have a favorite sports team?
Roman Kovalev: I am not a big sportsman. I play billiards. Generally I am playing pool, and, in former days, I spent a lot of times behind the table. I even met my beloved wife playing billiards. At the moment, due to my present work load, I am not paying same amount of attention to the game, but am still playing from time to time, nonetheless. My favorite form of billiards is snooker. I am not so much an avid player, but I have great fun following the competitions. I even record matches that I can’t see ‘live’, so that I can see them later.
Bear Graves:Dr. Kovalev, this has, without a doubt, been the most fascinating interview that I have had the privilege of undertaking, and an incredible pleasure.
Roman Kovalev: Please call me ‘Doc’, and I have found it to be enjoyable as well.
Given that nearly all of the lauded artisans/masters who have emerged over the past decade began, and progressed, in their art largely of their own efforts, with only internet forums, the occasional ‘workshop’ and the rare 1-2 day stopover at a senior carver's place, it would be fair to ask: “Is there still a place for a staunchly traditional Master/student relationship?” Given the amazing debut pipes of Asami Kikuchi, I believe the answer is ‘yes’. Due to the required alignment of situations and circumstances between both parties, however, the actual chances of such a relationship forming ranges between ‘highly unlikely’ to ‘damned near impossible’.
Even though residing within the same city, the combination of timing, factors and coincidence required for the Tsuge/Fukuda/Kikuchi match to occur would have Vegas bookmakers scratching their collective heads - and yet it happened. Kazuhiro Fukuda needed a successor. A talented art student, with a demonstrated affinity for working with small wooden objects realized that, for her entire life, this was what she was born to do, but simply needed exposure to the idea in order to realize it. An agreement was struck, and the most traditional/formal of Master/apprenticeships began, within the framework of (arguably) the most formal of artisanal societies: Japan.
By traditional standards, while Kikuchi didn’t have to wait (in the rain) in front of the master’s door to gain eventual entry, her apprentice path began with arriving every day and prepping her master’s work area. From there, she was allowed to handle small, indirectly related tasks and quietly ask questions. On the cusp of apprentice and journeyman, the crucial steps in creating a perfect airflow were addressed, the kohai begins to help with sanding, and even takes the first faltering steps of carving discarded blocks. Depending on the teacher, even at this early stage, the sensei might demand an opinion regarding a shape in progress. While her answer was inevitably ‘wrong’, and the teacher patiently explains why, this is where the two parties begin to truly connect with each other’s approach to visualization, as it addresses translating the idea of a shape, into the corporeal. By the time Kikuchi hit advanced journeyman, if her art was regarded more advanced than any other, save the master, the kohai becomes sempai (think ‘top student’) and helps mentor others, as well as now having a full hand in the creation of pipes worthy of the top marque. It is at about this point where progress stops being discussed, and, often for months, the obvious (but never referred to) question hangs in the air. One day, deliberately calculated as a surprise and often falling on the heels of being taken to task over some small detail, the master (and principles, if involved) will suddenly appear, smile broadly, and confer the status the student has so diligently pursued.
Asami Kikuchi went from a simple awareness that briar could represent the pinnacle of a carver’s art, to the new Master of one of the most revered pipe marques in the world in less than a year. Something that, at first blush, would seem highly improbable, until you ask yourself what results might occur from (say) a Jeff Gracik spending eight hours a day, six days a week, right next to a Teddy Knudsen, when both knew that a new master needed to step on the world stage in less than a year. Yes, the traditional master/apprentice system still works.
Smokingpipes.com interview with Michail Kyriazanos
The update for today (January 9th) features a carver new to Smokingpipes.com. As always, we were contemplating the way in which we could introduce him to you; the pipe enthusiast. What better way than to actually introduce him? It is for this reason that the following interview was conducted, as a precursor to the update. So, without any furthur delay...
Born in Athens, October of ’89, Michail Kyriazanos (Mi-ha-il Ki-ria-za-nos), with the exception of five years of collegiate study in the city of his birth, was raised in, and continues to live on Paros Island. Greek law and custom requires young men to serve 9-12 months in the armed services and until he completes his year in the Hellenic Navy, pipe making is his sole profession.
Bear: At what age did the idea of pipe smoking appeal to you?
Michail: In my late teens. I don’t think I had what anyone would consider a major epiphany; I saw a man in a drugstore smoking a pipe and thought, “Why not?”
Bear: Do you smoke a pipe yourself? If so, what types of blends do you prefer?
Michail: Of course I smoke pipes, I began pipe smoking with a Stanwell Zebrano and a Larsen 1864. As far as tobacco, I prefer VA/Pers, lightly cased Virginias and I also enjoy the occasional English blend.
Bear: Did you acquire any skills from previous jobs or hobbies which you found to be of help, once you started pipe making?
Michail: Even as a small child, I showed a strong aptitude for both handcrafting as well as quickly mastering the use of a wide variety of hand tools. Eventually, this led to my 2-year occupation of making stands and furniture for Hi-End audio systems during my collegiate studies. From the age of 15, every summer I worked with a marble sculpture artist who lives in Paros, but I never tried to make a marble sculpture myself from scratch, because Parian marble is still the most precious marble on earth.
Paros Island, Home to Kyriazanos
Bear: Who was the maker of your first quality pipe?
Michail: Dunhill. Specifically, an estate Cumberland 3103
Bear: When did you create your first pipe that you were proud of, one that you felt was worthy to sell?
Michail: I started pipemaking as a hobby on November 2010, and my first pipe was a saddle stemmed Dublin. My 3rd pipe was a Pickaxe shape and it was the first pipe that I thought I could sell, and finally did. My first pipe that I was really proud of, not only in terms of grain, shape, finish but in further determination of today's work, was my thirteenth: a Liverpool/Dublin.
Bear: What is the origin/source of your briar, and, roughly, how long is it seasoned prior use?
Michail: I use only Greek briar, and my sources are two mills. The first one sells briar that is seasoned 8 to 27 years and I can use it from the moment I buy it. It's the tastiest briar in the world, but doesn’t have much softer wood, making deep, craggy blasts nearly impossible. My other source cures the briar 2-4 years before I buy it, and I cure it for one extra year before I make a pipe from it. It's softer and light colored.
Bear: Having looked at your pipes, it appears that ebonite/vulcanite is your stem material of choice, is that accurate?
Michail: Yes, I prefer to use ebonite to make my stems and I only use acrylic for rings or if a customer specifically orders it.
Bear: Do you hand cut your stems?
Michail: Yes, I hand cut my stems. I believe that a properly shaped and well-crafted stem is an absolutely critical element of a superior pipe.
Bear: Do you prefer delrin for your tenons, or do you elect to turn your tenons in the manner of Chris Asteriou?
Michail: My tenons are integral, like Chris's. Both of us love and admire old English pipe craftsmanship.
Bear: What size are your draft holes?
Michail: I drill my draft holes at 4mm on stummels and 3mm on stems, I then insert a 4mm taper drill to the stem, which makes the transition from 4 to 3 smoother.
Bear: I noticed that 4 of the 5 pipes that we debuted, seem to hold a special reverence for traditional English shapes. Is this a prevailing theme of your work?
Michail: My logo is a modern twist on Cycladic Art Figurine. [Editorial note: first created in roughly 3300 BCE by the Cycladic people of the Aegean Sea] These figurines are the world's first -consciously made- minimalist sculptures. For me and my work they symbolize the importance of functionality and non-superfluous aesthetics. Yet another reason why I like to smoke English shapes, my personal pipes are mostly Billiards and Bulldogs. This, in turn, carries over to my art and my preference for crafting these pipes. I feel that I have a lot to "explore" within the classic shapes. In addition, I feel lucky because there is a great market for these pipes. It's not easy to find a superbly hand crafted classic Billiard, or a Group 2 Prince or, for that matter, a silver army mounted pipe.
Bear: What pipe makers, if any, have aided you in your progress as a pipe maker?
Michail: The Pipemakers forum helped me a lot to progress in the basic creation process and, along with talking with Chris Asteriou and Kostas Gourvelos on many ideas, I managed to advance.
Bear: Looking at the broadest spectrum of great pipemakers, either living or passed, whose work do you most admire?
Michail: I admire Paolo Becker for his ability to match classic shapes and modern design, Michael Parks for his aesthetics in classic shapes and his work's quality and Michail Revyagin for his innovative thinking and crafting.
Bear: Ok, are you up for some personal questions?
Michail: How personal? I’m kidding. Sure.
Bear: Do you have a nickname?
Michail: Well, I don't have a nickname, but in Greece I also called Michalis. It's the "everyday" calling of my name, imagine it like "Misha" in Russian. So Michail or Michalis, will work.
Bear: What kind of music do you like?
Michail: I prefer to listen to classical and jazz music, and some forms of traditional Greek music.
Bear: What are your favorite things to do, when away from work?
Michail: Listening to music, reading a great book, board gaming with good friends. Then there’s snowboarding during winter and having a good aged rum or whiskey along with my pipe in my favorite bars.
Bear: Do you have a favorite sports team?
Michail: I do have a favorite sports team, it's Greek and called Olympiacos. [Editorial note: Olympiacos is the most successful club in Greek football history, having won a record 40 Greek League titles, more than all other Greek clubs combined]
Bear: What is the correct pronunciation of your name? In absence of knowledge, most of us Yanks can mispronounce anything Greek, and will continue to do so. When you are spoken of in the US, we want your name pronounced correctly.
Michail: Ah, I can see what you mean, well I'll try to pronounce it now, and we’ll fine-tune it on Skype. I'll put the intonation on bold. Michail: Mi-ha-il. Michalis: Mi-ha-lis. Kyriazanos: Ki-ria-za-nos
Bear: On behalf of Smokingpipes.com, please accept our thanks, and appreciation, for taking the time to answer a fairly daunting number of questions.
The second car I owned was a 1967 Chrysler Newport. Though Chrysler was very much a luxury marque back then (no minivans, and their cars came in one size: full-size), the luxurious features on mine began and ended with a vinyl top. It was a four-door, translating it into a collector value of, roughly estimated, zilch. And I loved it. I drove that thing, sans AC, sans disc brakes, sans powerbrakes, rolling perilously through corners, and powered by 383 breathing through a two-barrel carburetor (and doing so much more efficiently after the bird's nest that was there when I bought the car was removed, I'll have you know) for just shy of ten years. It was eighteen feet and four inches of beige and black, fast off the line, improbable in the corners, impossible to stop on a dime, and worth less than its weight in steel at auction... and I still look back at it with fondness. It was nothing special, except to me, and to those friends reckless enough with their mortal flesh to ride in it as passengers.
My first car, for the record, was 1969 Camaro, a car worth a small fortune to collectors now. It was fast and loud and shiny blue, every idiot teenager's dream -- and I didn't shed a tear to see it go. It just wasn't for me, it made too many police officers look in my direction, and the ride let you know the exact depth and shape of every ill-advised repair (or disrepair) to New Jersey's countless roadways, highways, broadways, streets and alleys. God bless whoever it was that took it off my hands: better him than me.
And here, now, many years later, I find myself recognizing much the same attitude amongst my fellows in the world of pipes. The pipes they won't part with aren't necessarily their priciest, the pipes they most regret parting with weren't necessarily the rarest finds, and the pipes I most frequently see them sticking in their mouths aren't necessarily the most finely grained or beautifully finished. I'm not doing things much differently, either: two out of the three pipes you'll see me smoking ninety-nine times out of a hundred were rescues from the "pipe science box", an old 1970s Dunhill of a shape no longer in production, and an S.T. Dupont Canadian someone over-bored the draft-hole on.
This is fine; this is good -- a man should know what he wants out of life, pipes included. If collecting briars that push the boundary between smoking instrument and work of art is your thing, good. I'm glad someone is doing it, just like I'm glad there are people out there preserving, and occasionally showing off, Duesenbergs, Delages, and Ferraris that are now worth more than many a house. (Especially when they show them off; it gives the rest of us a chance to see with our own eyes something we may only recognize from photographs, and may never get to behold in person again.) Likewise, if your favorite briar in all the world is a rusticated Peterson System pipe that you've spent twenty years dropping, dinging, sitting on, and perhaps occasionally setting a-fire, handed down to you from a great-uncle so-and-so who did the same to it before you, this, too, is good. It's your pipe, it's your smoke, and you're the one who has to enjoy it. Peterson should pay you to be in advertisements; there is, after all, no crucible of destructive testing quite like time spent in the real world. (This, of course, brings us back to precisely why the prudent collector of irreplaceable creations does their best to keep what they collect out of it, excepting special occasions.)
Over on the 'brand-spanking-new' side of today's update, we have fresh briars from Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes and Rad Davis of, (well), 'Rad Davis Pipes', with three and four offerings, respectively. Dunhill and Ashton go head-to-head with nine Brit beauties each; the former entering with Shells, Countys, Ruby Barks, Dress and Amber Roots, and the latter countering with sizes which range from two 'XX', all the way to three 'ELX', and most every finish the firm offers. Italy, as usual, creates a commanding numerical presence, with pipes from Savinelli, Luciano and Il Duca, and we have solid selections from Peterson, Vaun, Nording, Tsuge, Big Ben and AKB Meerschaum as well.
Sliding over to the 'gently pre-owned', we have a total of 36 estates, divided evenly between Italian, Danish and English offerings. The English and Italian estates, pound for pound, are some of the finest groups we have put up in a good while, and the Danes, with an unsmoked Former, Viggo Nielsen and Kai Nielsen, aren't looking shabby themselves.
Be sure to check out the new offerings from Cornell & Diehl; two new bulk tobaccos as well as three fresh tins are making their debut. We also have five new sticks on the site from the San Cristobal Revalation line, all of which boast Equadorian Sumatra wrappers from the same source as the Ashton Sun Grown... YUMMY.