It's Tuesday again already, and time for this week's YouTues video. Making up the third class for the SPC University series, Phillip outlines the way to pack and light your pipe to ensure the most enjoyment. In Part B, we plan to delve a little deeper into the trickier tobaccos, but this should be a good start for most tobaccos and most people. Enjoy!
Tuesday isn't particularly important for the Smokingpipes team. It's a graceful point in the week after the stress of Monday's update melts, and before the stress of Thursday arises. It's the hour of orange glow between night and day. It's a moment for us to slow down and recollect ourselves. For some, this could be turning the music up a little, or shooting rubber bands at one another. For many, it is an opportunity to pull out some nice tobacco and have a long smoke. Whatever your Tuesday therapy may be, there is something else to add to that routine, starting today: YouTues! (YouTube Tuesday) Today we bring you a video tour of Lasse Skovgaard's workshop, and a conversation between Sykes and Lasse about his first experiences with making pipes. There is more to this interview, which will be making its way to YouTues soon, along with many others from Eltang, Heding, and our recent visit with Michael Parks. We will post most of them here, but don't forget to follow our channel to stay up to date. So, without further delay, Happy Tuesday, and Happy YouTues!
The walls seemed to be made of industrial tarps, and the roof appeared to be tin. The space itself was filled with wooden support posts and rustic round tables. It was as if I were sitting in a pub fabricated from an old carport that had been transplanted to the heart of the city. Three feet away, beyond the tarp wall, a cold mist was falling. I struck a match and took a few puffs, pulling the cool smoke into my mouth and savoring the moment. It had been a while since I last enjoyed a good bowl. I had recently made the journey to Nashville from South Carolina, land of tobacco and sunshine, in order to visit a few pipe carvers (Grant Batson, Bruce Weaver, and Pete Prevost). I sat, listening to Pete go through pint recommendations for the evening. We had what Pete called the “Nashville Experience,” which was a trip to a honkytonk and a PBR. Needless to say, it was fun. As the evening progressed, we mapped out the next day, which was to be filled with plenty of pipe enjoyment. Bruce was planning on working out of Pete’s shop that day, due to the construction of his new home and shop.
As I pulled into the drive, I was greeted by the sound of air compressed sandblasting. This is when it occurred to me that I was going to have the opportunity to witness Bruce perform his famous sandblast technique. It should be noted that witnessing certain sandblasting processes is much like witnessing a unicorn having tea with a mermaid… It’s a rare delight (So rare in fact, that it wasn’t captured on film for risk of destroying its soul. Just kidding of course, but seriously). Anyhow, I spent a good portion of my day simply soaking it in. Pete was to my left and Bruce to my right. Pete was working on a few new pipes, one of which was a volcano that I’m particularly fond of, and Bruce decided to take a break from his blasting to shape a blowfish.
Both carvers seemed to work in complete complement of one another, as if they were working on the same project. In a few painless moments, Bruce shaped his blowfish and handed it to me with a quick, “Take a look at that grain.” I slid down in my chair and admired both the grain and Bruce's ability to see it in a piece of raw briar. I could have stayed in that shop the entire day, but Grant Batson was expecting me soon, so I needed to be on my way.
“My house is the one with the pile of bikes in the drive. Just come through the garage.” simple and understandable directions. As one becomes familiar with pipe carvers, one quickly realizes many of their shops are based out of their home. This makes visiting them even more of an honor, because one is welcomed as family or a friend, and that’s exactly what the Batson family did for me.
I followed the instructions and soon found myself greeted by a bearded fellow. He was clinching his pipe between his teeth, with a leather apron strapped across his front, finishing up one of his Tormented Blowfish (Here’s a bit of a side note, but if you’ve yet to see these, you should soon remedy that). Grant and I chatted as if we’d known each other years ago and bumped into one another by sheer happenstance. It was as if we were simply catching up on life. He showed me some of the pipes he’s getting together for Chicago, we shared thoughts on tobacco, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Grant’s priority in life is certainly his family. This was apparent and refreshing. Periodically, one or more of his children poked their head through the shop door to talk to him, or to ask for help with their geometry homework. It wasn’t long before Jill, his wife and a fantastic hostess, offered us some delicious cobbler and cream.
I placed the spoon in the empty bowl, lifted my pipe and lit it. Surveying the room slowly, I found myself in a moment I would not soon forget. To my left sat Grant in an arm chair, minus the arms, and directly in front of me were Jill and the kids sitting on the couch. The conversation was as rich as the cobbler. Worries seemed to melt away, and so did the evening. I was reluctant to call our evening to an end, but found it necessary considering my early flight.
As the Batson family walked me outside, I found myself wanting to make my way back to Nashville with my family soon, in order for them to meet our new friends, strangers only hours ago. Ah, the power of the pipe.
Today, Wednesday, the 20th of February, in the year 2013, is International Pipe Smoking Day. So what does that mean? It means that everything you order from us is discounted at an extra 10% off. Everything. Pipe-cleaners? 10% off. Pipes? 10% off. Tobacco, be it bulk or tinned? 10% off? Yes, 10% off.
Now that I think we're clear on that, I'll not take up any more of your time -- you have pipes to smoke, after all. Perhaps, having heard this news, you've also got pipes to add to your collection, or tobaccos or accessories to stock up on while the stocking-up is good (and 10% off).
Currently sitting on my desk is a beautiful piece of art. It happens to be a Danish Estate crafted by Tonni Nielsen, fresh from estate restoration, and scheduled for today's update. Though I could write a thousand or more words about this Bent Brandy, its fine-looking grain and exotic wood accent, there are times where words simply fall short. That's why the images on Smokingpipes.com are so important. Although text relates information not outwardly visible and gives a little historical context for brands and pipemakers, it is the photograph that best describes -- and often sparks an infatuation with -- a pipe.
Our photography and videography team: Peter Kogler, Katie Ranalli, Chris Johnson, and John Sutherland have perfected their craft. For each update, they have less than three days to capture and edit photos and video for an average of 200 pipes. Additionally, many of these pipes get multiple photos from various angles -- all told, the gang takes well over a thousand photographs each week. Great pains are taken to ensure that what is seen on the web is exactly what sits in the tray in front of them. The light cannot just bounce off the shiny finish of a smooth pipe, it has to illuminate the intricate details of the grain. The stain needs to be just the right shade, which can be difficult for some of the colorful pipes we offer. The silver needs to be polished, and the stamping needs to be as legible as possible.
Of course, all of this effort would be pointless if we used one photo to "symbolically represent" a category of pipes like many other online retailers. For us, that is not enough. The pipe you see is the pipe you get. We do not use stock photography. We do not use bulk photography. This means, if we get 10 Peterson Darwin System Smooth (B42) with P-Lip pipes, we photograph each one with the knowledge that, although they are given the same title, each pipe is unique. Isn't that part of what makes pipes so special after all?
I could tell you that these guys work really hard, and that each photo is perfection... but why not go with the theme of this blog post and show you? It is for this purpose that we have stalked them with cameras and created a short video illustrating just that. So, without further rambling from myself, please take 2 minutes and 40 seconds to witness the endless work the guys and gal do to make the Smokingpipes.com update stand out.
Back in August, Ted and I went on the annual pipe pilgrimage to visit lots of Danish pipe makers, plus the Mac Baren tobacco factory. As always, it was a bit of a whirlwind. Ten pipe makers and a tobacco factory were crammed into just five full days on the ground. Even so, we were able to spend quite a bit of time with each of them and were able to chat on camera with a few, including Peter Heding, our interview victim in today's video.
Peter was about as excited about being interviewed on camera as I would have been (as in, not terribly excited), but being the incredibly nice, accommodating guy that he is, made this video possible. So, thank you Peter, as well as thanks to Ted Swearingen for taking the video and Alyson Wilford for editing it.
As many of you likely know by now, Sykes and I were in Denmark a couple of weeks ago to visit pipe makers, look at pipes, buy pipes, and talk about the current state of pipedom. Because I fail at math, and because it was a pretty hectic trip, what with having missed another flight on top of the sheer number of people to see and things to do, when Sykes says we saw eleven pipe makers in five days, I believe him. It was a whirlwind. And it was awesome (in the not over-used, absolutely literal sense of the word).
Certainly one of the highlights of the trip was whisking away to tour the Mac Baren factory, as I've long been an ardent fan of many of their blends. Plus, factories are cool. Sykes and I sat down with CEO Simon Nielsen and Product Manager Per Georg Jensen and talked pipe tobacco (only a slight deviation from the normal conversation to be had on the trip), new pipe tobacco blends, and the current state of pipe tobaccodom. Then Per guided us through the warehouse and factory, paying attention especially to those things pertaining to Mac Baren's latest creation, HH Old Dark Fired. Thankfully, we had the presence of mind to bring a camera...
Almost a year ago to the day, I was at Lars Ivarsson's home in the north of Sjaelland, Denmark's largest island. Pipe maker and friend Jeff Gracik made the trip to Denmark with me and he kindly helped take the video presented here. Also present were pipe maker Nanna Ivarsson, Lars' daughter, and her sons, including Sixten (named for his great-grandfather) who makes a brief guest appearance in the video too.
I've long wanted to document Lars' stories of the beginnings of Sixten's career in the 1940s and 1950s, which marked the beginnings of what we think of as Danish modern pipe making today. Without Sixten and those he taught, hand made pipes would be very different today. Sixten's story is central to the larger pipe narrative of the last seventy years and no one is in as good a place as Lars to share those stories.
We've been making pipe and tobacco related videos for over a year now. There are a handful that particularly stick out for me, either because of occasions they commemorated or the quality of the interviewee or some particularly good editing work (by Ted or Alyson; my editing work is abysmal). I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorites. I have a ton that I really like, but in the interest of not going terribly overboard, I'll keep it to just four. Enjoy!
The first one is the interview with Trohls Mikkelsen, factory manager at Orlik, talking about tobacco varietals. His explanation of these things sheds considerable light on the subject. And getting it from such a knowledgable source is particularly special.
I love this set of two videos for a whole host of reasons. Jeff and Adam are excellent interview subjects, the editing by Ted is great, and the sentiment Tokutomi shares is just lovely.
Here's the video from our visit to the Peterson factory in February. I think this short, music-only vid is just a ton of fun.
Back in June, Alyson and I visited Sébastien Beaud, owner of Genod and maker of the Sébastien Beo pipes. We took lots of great video that day and I conducted an interview with Sébastien about Genod, St. Claude, and, of course, the new Sébastien Beo line. Enjoy!
Albert King, (Albert Nelson) was born in the central region of Mississippi called the Delta. The region is saturated with blues heritage and Albert King is a pioneer of modern music. In addition to being hailed the "King of the Blues" - He was a pipe smoker. The bluesman was often seen smoking a pipe and playing a Gibson Flying V guitar (strung right-handed but played left-handed). He named the electric guitar Lucy, and she became his signature instrument.
His influence flows into present day through Blues, R&B, and Rock genres. It is apparent that Jimi Hendrix was influenced by Albert King. Jimi used a right handed guitar flipped over and played left handed. Even Hip-hop owes a toast to Albert King, with samples from his recordings used by Biz Markie, Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy.
Not too long ago, pipe makers Brad Pohlmann and Jeff Gracik put their heads together and puzzled out this year’s Smokingpipes.com Christmas
pipe. Since then they’ve produced a total of seven, gorgeous sandblasted pear shaped briars all of which have been banded in sterling silver. Luckily, Sykes and Alyson were ‘video recorder ready’ when present at the conceptualization of this series.
By the way, these pipes will be made available to you very, very soon…
While on the west coast for the most recent pipe show held in Las Vegas, Sykes had the opportunity to sit down with Rick Newcombe to talk about the release of the sixth edition of his popular book 'In Search of Pipe Dreams'. Among other things, Rick is an avid pipe collector, having written more than his fair share of articles for 'Pipe & Tobacco Magazine' as well as a recognizable personality in the general pipe community. Here he talks about the latest edition of his book and the inevitability of its most recent colorized edition which hits retailers today.
Betrand Russell. He was a mathematician, philosopher, logician, and pipe smoking Nobel Prize Winner. You've probably heard of him. He lived to be 97. Here, briefly, he shares with us an anecdote concerning himself and his pipe.
The first time I tried to cellar some tobacco for future smoking bliss I messed up bad. I'll spare you the agonizing details of my absolute failure, but I will mention that it cost me eight ounces of Stonehaven. I'm sure many of you know how difficult that stuff is to come by, so needless to say I was pretty disappointed. Yes, lessons were learned.
The next time I got around to storing up some leaf I was so anxious about it that I ended up complicating the process beyond belief. While there are dozens of forums crowded with hundreds of experts, most of which have their own senstive system of cellaring tobacco, Brian has taken the time to show us that cellaring tobacco can be quite simple and inexpensive.
Keep in mind that the tobacco you intend to store and age should be kept from light and moisture. My "cellar" is a closet. Enjoy the video!
The other day, Brian asked me about this video interview. He remembered having done it, but we'd never put it up. It sort of got lost in the mass of footage we took at the show in New Orleans in early August. We're glad to finally get it up on the blog. It's a little difficult to hear the first few seconds, but it clears up after that. Generally, the sound required serious fiddling which, for some reason that I'm sure some serious sound guy might be able to explain, worked much better with Glen's voice than Brian's. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!
Also, I've been really impressed by the Kristoff Ligero line especially, though I find that a hearty meal preceding smoking helps tremendously...
Here's the third and final entry in the video series of my interview with Alex Florov. Being not a terribly structured interview-- Alex and I both have a tendency towards free association, wandering from topic to topic without much structure-- it's more like just a conversation between old friends. I hope you enjoy it! We certainly did.
Now, while many of you already now that our very own Brian Levine is as expert in 'pipes and tobacco' as they come, few realize that his knowledge of cigars and cigar care is quite advanced as well. Or maybe that's just me. Nevertheless, Brian took the time out of his very busy schedule, which primarily consists of talking to customers about Disneyland, Disney pipes, Disney music (which he tends to often blast from his office) and, on occasion, pipes, to share with us his preferred method of readying a new humidor for cigar storage. As you'll see, the process is a lot easier than it is often made out to be.
Since all humidors are purchased in a dry state, it takes time to 'season' them to the proper humidity for the cigars inside. The ideal standard in the business is 70% humidity - this will ensure that your cigars are stored in a perfect environment for aging, cutting, and smoking. Below 65% will slowly dry out some cigars, and above 75% will make a moist environment that could swell the filler and crack the wrapper (not to mention making burning more difficult).
Putting together this video was incredibly satisfying. When we were shooting all this footage, now two Mondays past, Tokutomi took a moment to talk freely on his experience in the workshop with Adam and Jeff. Because he is more comfortable speaking Japanese than English he opted to share his thoughts with us in his native language. Eager to understand his sentiments we employed a translator and were pleasantly surprised to learn just how touching his words had been that day.
And now for the second installation of "In The Workshop" with Adam Davidson, Jeff Gracik, and Hiroyuki Tokutomi.
Here's the second part of the video interview that we did with Alex Florov when he visited almost two weeks ago. In this entry, we talk about pipe making, his day job, and Sixten Ivarsson, and the centrality of his role in the creation modern high grade pipe making.
As you likely know, on Monday, Jeff Gracik (of J. Alan Pipes) and Hiroyuki Tokutomi met with Adam Davidson at his workshop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina again this year after the annual CORPS show in Richmond, Virginia, so that they might collaborate on a set of three pipes. Fortunately, Sykes was mindful enough to have brought along a camera and a video recorder. The collaboration was an all day affair and from it we've put together the video before you. Enjoy!
(Sorry about our false start with the video. Apparently, we goofed when we rendered it the first time. Audio and video tracks, rather conveniently, now match...again, we're sorry).
Today we were lucky enough to have pipe maker Alex Florov and his wife Vera visit with us over here at the Smokingpipes.com campus. After a thorough tour and a fine lunch, we got to sit down and pick the man's brain.
Alright, I confess, I'd sort of forgotten that we still had some great footage from the IPCPR show in New Orleans in August. We took a lot of video at the show and with fully three of us behind the camera at various times, I sort of lost track of what all we had. The upside is that trolling through the raw footage is sort of like a treasure trove, as I eliminate video of me tripping over my own words, or Alyson and Susan not realizing that the camera is rolling and continuing their discussion on how silly the boys get when presented with all of the smokable goodies at the show (which, I might add, took place while they themselves were enjoying Kristoff coronas, so I think they have little room to stand on when mocking Brian and me).
Anyway, there's still lots of good stuff left, not least of which is this great interview with our friend Pete Johnson. When Pete launched Tatuaje, we were early, enthusiastic fans of the luscious Tatuaje Brown Label, rolled in Miami. Since then (perhaps a little more than five years ago), Tatuaje has continued to occupy a hallowed place in our humidor and continues to be a disproportionately popular brand both in the store and on Smokingpipes.com.
Mac Baren rope tobaccos-- Dark Twist, Roll Cake and many others-- are some of the best loved blends by the famous Danish manufacturer. One of my favorite processes in the Mac Baren factory is the process of making ropes, which are then cut into coins. This video is longer than most we've posted (at just over eight minutes), but I think it's definitely worth it!
Yesterday, I put up a post indicating that we were having some technical problems posting the video. Well, it seems to have quasi-magically righted itself, so here's the promised video of Brian Levine interviewing Yadi about the new cigars from Flor de Gonzalez, Qban and 90 Mile.
This is the first in a series that Brian and I will be working on that covers pipe basics. In this video, Brian talks about his cleaning routine after each smoke. We'll have more coming, covering a range of basic pipe smoking topics, so check back often!
Oh, and while the product placement was entirely accidental (or, at least, Brian did that while I wasn't looking), you can find a Peterson ashtray, and Gloredo pipe cleaners in their respective homes. No one, including Brian, is quite sure where he got that tamper/tool, but you can find lots of tampers with picks here, and the cool older four-dot Sasieni is Brian's and he's not giving it up...
In this video, Per Jensen, product specialist and all round evangelist for Mac Baren, and Frank Blews, brand manager for the US importer, Phillips & King, talk about the new 7 Seas blends from Mac Baren. This is the first serious foray that Mac Baren has made into American style aromatics. Watch the video to learn more!
Today, we're putting up the very first examples of something that we've been working on during the past few months. You'll find the new 360-degree flash models used for the new Sillem's lighters. Frankly, I think this may be the coolest thing ever. Or at least the coolest thing to happen this month. Alyson, Bobby and Melissa have been working really hard to pull this together. I think they've done a tremendous job. We're still very much in the Beta phase with this, rolling it out here and there as we can, making sure we have it down before we try to bite off more than we can chew. It's been a long road to get it this far; we have some ways to go before it's more widely implemented.
So, I figured a quick Q&A followed by two examples below might be in order.
Q: What in the world is this and where can I find it?
Q: Wow, cool! How did you make it go?
A: USB driven turntable and Canon DSLR camera are slaved to a desktop computer running specialized software. Flash apparatus is slaved to the camera. We pretty much set it up (which is far harder than it seems like it should be, as we've discovered over the past couple of months) and it takes care of the rest.
Q: What does the setup look like altogether?
A: See the photo below! The odd-looking wooden apparatus (which, frankly, looks like part of a medieval siege engine) lets us orient the turntable either right side up or upside down, depending on what we need it to do. Oh, and I know that which is in the booth isn't that which is on the screen. Alyson was busy with the update, so I took the picture, and it's far too complicated for me to actually make go, so I just pretended it was going. And then realized that I had a pipe on the screen and a humidor in the light tent...
Q: Again, seriously cool! When can we expect to see it on more stuff? Yeah, I am talking about pipes here...
A: Frankly, we're not sure. We have more work to do on lighting and reflections, and on how to consistently get good results with a variety of pipe shapes and finishes. This might take awhile, though we certainly hope it happens sometime soon.
Q: Well, can I see an example?
Sure! See below: (Note, of course, that you need the Flash plugin installed to see these).
This is the fifth and final entry in our estate restoration video series. I'm not yet sure whether I'm glad it's over or if I'll miss it and have to rope Sykes or Alyson into doing a couple of appendices to the series with me. Either way, we'll definitely take a break for a little while and you'll hear from others here. Thanks so much for watching the series!
Sykes and I have talked over the years about tobacco blending, which is not surprising, and we decided that our blog is a great way to talk about some of the blends we make for our walk-in customers. When I began working for the company, we had a huge variety of bulk tobaccos - and now we have even more. While nearly all of my time is in my second-floor office working on various aspects of our weekly updates, the chance to talk tobaccos with a customer is always great.
There have been many pipe smokers in our store, Low Country Pipe & Cigar, and some of them like to taste our various blends to decide what best suits their taste. We encourage this, and always enjoy helping them pin-point what it is they like about a certain blend, and how best to alter it. Back in 2006, a gentleman came into the store looking for a tobacco he could no longer find. As we have come to notice over the years (and I'm sure you have as well), many tobacco shops take a stock tobacco and give it a cooler name. To avoid confusion, we leave the names as the companies do. For example: We have Lane RLP-6, which countless customers have walked in with under such monikers as "Revery", "Captain's Delight", "Lamp Lighter", etc. While these do sound inviting, it's really difficult to figure out what the blend is. The tobacco this particular gentleman was smoking was not this, but there were subtle flavors I could detect. He wanted a blend that was mild, sweet, flavorful, and lacking tongue-bite. After discussing McClelland's Pastry blend, he decided it was good, but just a bit too sweet for him. Taking note of this, I suggested blending in an unflavored tobacco to tone it down a bit - McClelland Eastern Carolina Ribbon (ECR).
After making up a few small samples for him to try over the following weeks, we hit the nail on the head. This customer comes into our store every month or so, and this enjoys smoking a blend made especially for him: 10.5 ounces of Pastry blended with 5.5 ounces of ECR.
To add to this post, I've made a short video explaining how we blend small batches for our walk-in customers, and ourselves. It's really a simple process since no other pressing, stoving, or topping is involved. We hope you enjoy the video, and hope to make more in the future.
Here's the latest entry in the series Sykes and I did about our estate restoration process. In this part, I demonstrate buffing a stem and Sykes and I talk about our buffing wheels and other equipment and our methods for shining up those stems! Personally, I think this is the best version yet, either because I got progressively more comfortable in front of the camera or because I had better props for this video...
Tom Palmer, Managing Director of Peterson of Dublin, took a few minutes at the IPCPR show in New Orleans last week to talk with Alyson about all of the new stuff Peterson is doing this year, including the Pipe of the Year, the Christmas Pipe, the Writer's collection, and an assortment of new tobaccos.
The new Stanwell Hans Christian Andersen VII shape is a little special. For the first time, Stanwell is trying to tie it all together a little bit, presenting the first 3,000 pipes in a presentation box, complete with a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. The shape was designed by Poul Winslow with the particular fairytale in mind. Anyway, I'll let Soren Lundh Aagaard, Managing Director of Stanwell, do the talking...
We snagged Rocky for a quick interview on the IPCPR show floor in New Orleans last week. He was super-busy, but kind enough to take a couple of minutes with us to talk about his new cigars, especially the Fifteenth Anniversary cigar. He also touches on the new Cargo line.
While we were at the IPCPR show in New Orleans, we made a quick stop to chat with our good friends Chris Tarler and Keith Toney from Cornell & Diehl (Craig and Patty Tarler weren't at the show, unfortunately). Amidst the general chatting, we thought it'd be fun to get one of them to do a couple minutes on video about new blends. Chris took a minute to talk through stuff with us. Enjoy!
And now for the third part in my series of estate restoration videos. In this video, we talk about stem cleaning, internally and externally, before we put it on the buffing wheels. Sykes makes an appearance here to discuss the soaking of stems too.
And now it's time for the second part in my series of estate restoration videos. In the first video, we introduced the department (and, yes, shared some of the fun we had while making the vids), but now onto the meat of series: we begin actually cleaning some pipes. This video discusses cleaning the insides of bowls and shanks.
While we were visiting the Orlik factory (about ten days ago), the first thing we happened upon when we entered the production floor was a woman working on making rolls of pipe tobacco. At first, I mistook it for Escudo (y'all know where my particular heart lies), but I was almost as excited to see Bullseye Flake being made as I would have been to see Escudo (Luxury Bullseye Flake is great too). The process, by which they take a thin pressed flake and wrap it around a pressed rod (of sorts) of a mixture of perique and fermented virginias, is, frankly, pretty cool. Check it out!
For a little chunk of the past couple of days, Sykes and I have been working on getting much of our estate restoration process on film. We think, but we're not sure, that this will go up in five parts, with this little introduction to what we do and who we are in the estate department is the first part.
Oh, and we're including the outtakes from the entire series here. Enjoy!
Frankly, I think this is one of the coolest videos we've yet posted. Troels Mikkelsen has been in the tobacco business for thirty years, first at A&C Petersen, then at Orlik. He manages production at the Orlik factory and I can't imagine a better guide to the operation. The visit was an absolute delight, and Troel's discussion of the various tobacco varietals was one of the highlights.
I've visited the Mac Baren factory every year for five years now. And every time, I come up with a way to get Per to take me through the factory. Sometimes it's because they have new stuff he wants to show me and sometimes, as with this trip, it's because I have someone with me who hasn't experienced it before. I'm starting to run out of reasons to see it again, other than that I think a giant tobacco factory is probably the coolest place on earth. My inner eight year old loves all the giant whirring machinery, and the slightly more grown up me loves the resulting product. Slightly more seriously, I've always been impressed by Mac Baren and the people I've worked with there. There's a dedication to what they do that is impressive. Per Jensen's enthusiasm for pipe tobacco is infectious. In this video, Per guides us through the flake pressing and cutting process.
A year ago, when I last visited Tom in his workshop, he was pondering getting a laser engraver, rather than continue to use his existing engraver, which is both finicky and quite limiting, since plastic templates are necessary for any engraving. At the time, he was very much on the fence. He and I talked about it again last week, and in the next few days, Tom's picking up the laser engraver in Germany, and in this video he talks about the process of getting it all up and working, plus the general challenges of using this sort of set up on pipes.
I'm now back in South Carolina (which is so terribly hot that I'm already ready to go back to Denmark, or perhaps move the entire business to, say, Edmonton), and I've been working on getting some videos, photos and written bits and pieces from the trip together for a series of blog posts over the next few days. In no particular order, I hope to get a whole bunch of fun stuff up on the blog over the coming two weeks.
Kicking it off is a long video of Lasse Skovgaard at work. For various camera reasons, the video quality isn't as good as the others we've been doing lately, but I decided to run with it anyway: watching the lathe work is particularly interesting here.
Kevin and I were running around Denmark and we met with a total of ten pipe makers. I've watched other pipe makers work all over the world. Much of the equipment is the same, but the methods can be surprisingly different. From the amazing exacting Kei Gotoh, who can take weeks to finish a pipe, to super-speedy, efficient pipe makers like Peder Jeppesen (Neerup) and, especially, Johs, different ends require different methods. Johs makes about 2,000 pipes a year, by himself. At his peak, he made 4,500 pipes between him and his wife. He shapes everything by hand, but does so incredibly efficiently, making his pipes very, very affordable.
Johs, in two minutes, went from a shape turned on the lathe to a fully rough shaped bowl ready for the belt sander. That is wickedly fast. Indeed, it's so fast that I've never tried to get the whole disk sander work into one clip, let alone one take in one clip.
Anyone who has read my writings about pipe makers knows the reverence in which I hold the best of the best, the guys that take days to make a pipe perfect, to bleed the boundary between craft and art, creating something special. I also have tremendous respect for pipe makers that figure out how to do things efficiently, save time, save money and create an awesome pipe that is affordable. This is why I'm almost as fond of Tom Eltang's Sara Eltang line as I am of his own. Similarly, I've been a Stanwell evangelist for years. And Johs also fits well into this paradigm. His talents are for doing things efficiently and quickly, to create something very good, but doesn't cost hundreds, or thousands, of dollars. I think that's pretty awesome. And here's a video of Johs at the sanding disk. The man is fast. Really fast. And the results of two minutes are really impressive.
As we mentioned yesterday in our post comparing the two factories, after the factory tour, Per Jensen, Mac Baren's product development and all round Mac Baren tobacco evangelist guy, sat with us over coffee. The conversation turned to what he thinks is the best flake tobacco packing method. Not only did he describe it, he felt obliged to pack Kevin Godbee's Dunhill Ruby Bark with some Mac Baren Virginia Flake to show us how it's done by guys that play with tobacco all day, every day. We gave Mac Baren the nod for personal pipe packing service for this extra effort on their part when we visited, but we also took a little video of it so that you can, hopefully, enjoy the little lesson as much as we did.
Today Kevin and I spent the entire day with Tom Eltang, arriving at his shop around noon and leaving around 9:30pm. We shot a ton of great video while we were there, much of which will have to wait until we can work on it, making it look more, uh, professional. In the meantime, I wanted to get some little bits and pieces up that were either situations where the camera happened to be rolling, or little snippets where I asked a question, but then had Tom restart because I thought it'd be fun on video. Tom's capacity for conversation is nearly inexhaustible and I'd really hoped that I'd get some of the sorts of conversations that he and I have had for years on video this time to share with all of you. I hope you enjoy it!
I will be adding much more here as I have time over the next few days (I find myself already behind on my blogging duties after only two days in Denmark!), but until then, I have a short video of Lars Ivarsson shaping at the sanding disk. I'm here with Kevin Godbee of PipesMagazine.com and we spent yesterday with Peter Heding and Lasse Skovgaard, and today with Lars Ivarsson and his wife Annette. We had a lovely lunch in the garden (complete with unbelievable home smoked salmon), talked about pipes, and played in the workshop all in one beautiful Danish summer afternoon. So, great company, wonderful food, looking at some of the best pipes in the world, talking with pipes with a man at the apex of the pipe making world, and a beautiful mid-70s, gently breezy, Danish summer day: yeah, this is one of those days that I am quite sure that I have the best job in the world...
We also had the particular pleasure of watching Lars work. I last saw him work back in 2006; mostly when I visit, we sit and chat and eat extremely well. As one would expect from Lars, he works so effortlessly that it is a joy to watch. He's among the most exacting pipe makers in the world, of course, but he's so facile that each of his movements is deliberate, even elegant. I took a little video while I was there to share the experience with you.
Part way through there, you catch part of a quick exchange we have about the pipe he's working on. Like all briar, there's a tiny flaw in the wood on the shank and he's finally made sure that it will disappear as it's sanded further when he remarks on it. Much of the challenge of briar as a material is its tendency towards internal flaws and a big part of any pipe maker's work is to work around those flaws. As he had shaped the shank, the flaw became apparent, but he'd hoped that it was only in the wood that he was removing. He suspected so, but even Lars isn't certain of such things in a definitive sense. With more sanding at the disk (which you see in the video), the flaw has shrunk to a pin prick, assuring that it will disappear when the shank is sandblasted (which is what Lars does with all pipes of that shape, blasting the shank and leaving the bowl smooth, so this worked out rather well).
Here's an example of the style he's making with the sandblasted shank. The shape he's working on in the photo is a little different, but it's the same smooth bowl / sandblasted shank combination as below (oh, and this pipe was sold two years ago; it's just an example):
This was a little while in coming because I wanted to clear it with the Roveras first. Watching Dorelio was amazing; he works so effortlessly. The disk he's shaping on (at about 1:40 in the video) isn't sandpaper; it's a specialized metal disk that his grandfather made, which they've never been able to get a machinist to replicate. I've only ever seen one other workshop where the primary shaping disk was metal rather than sandpaper, and that was Lars Ivarsson's. The actual style of the two disks couldn't be more different, the idea is the same: in the hands of a really experienced pipe maker, a rougher, more durable surface allows for more accurate, faster work. Of course, one misstep and one destroys what one is working on, and perhaps loses a finger.
Unfortunately two years of begging and pleading have yielded no results for me either (aside from me smuggling my cat in to pose with me for my employee photo). “People are allergic” and “We have expensive pipes lying around” are some of the lame answers I have received in opposition. Although I haven’t completely given up on a corporate feline, Susan and I recently came up the interim solution of fish.
About a month ago we snuck out of the office on our secret mission to acquire fish & milkshakes. Susan already purchased the tank and had worked on getting the water just right in the days preceding the mission. It was now time for some serious fish shopping. We settled on two Tiger Barbs and some live underwater plants before heading to Arby’s for some afternoon milkshakes.
Once the fish were settled in the tank it was time to name them. Bonnie & Clyde? No. Starsky & Hutch? No. Thelma & Louise! YES! (Ok, ok...we are women and we do like the occasional chick flick; cut us some slack.) For our gentleman readership who have not seen the movie, Thelma (played by the beautiful Geena Davis) and Louise (played by the equally lovely Susan Sarandon) are two completely different characters. Thelma was somewhat of a sheltered, emotional disaster, whereas Louise was a tough, no nonsense, take the bull by the horns kind of gal. So it became clear who ruled this tank with an iron fin. Louise swam around with a strong vigor, occasionally nipping at Thelma and Thelma would come out to eat and then retreat behind the filter with her nose pointed downward.
Several weeks went by like this until Tuesday when Thelma started looking a little peaked; swimming crooked and occasionally rolling over. Susan began emergency treatment immediately by removing Thelma from the tank into a separate container placed directly next to her monitor where she could keep an eye on her throughout the day, checking her movements and periodically aerating the bowl.
Alas, it was all in vain. When I came in this morning Thelma was lying sideways and motionless at the bottom of the tank. I broke the news to Susan when she arrived and then went to the kitchen to get a plastic serving spoon to remove the body from the tank. (It’s ok; Adam occasionally uses the same spoon for tilapia.)
We had a small service in the ladies room this morning and sent Thelma off to her final resting place: The Horry County Sewer System.
Lisa, of course, will probably be relieved that she won't have to sign it up for the company health plan.
Here's another video from the Italy trip, this one of Massimiliano Rimensi of Il Duca Pipes going from block of briar to the sanding disk, including work on the band saw, the lathe and the sanding disk. I'll have a blog post with the story of the visit and some photos in the next few days.
Here's yet another video from the trip, this one a little longer and more involved, though my video editing skills leave much to be desired (of course, I am the guy that hated the idea of having an HTML newsletter and rather wishes the internet were still entirely text based). Some of the best video we had from the trip was visiting Radice in Cucciago. Here they are, making pipes (plus Luigi playing with his ridiculous three-bowled pipe).
I'll have something of a write up on the visit to Mimmo's briar cutting operation later today or tomorrow, but in the mean time, I thought I'd get this little video of Mimmo and his colleague Nicola at work. Mimmo supplies briar to many, if not most, of the top pipe makers in the world. Here he is at work!
While I work on more substantial posts about the trip, I'll offer up some little videos we took along the way. The video below is, well, pretty much self explanatory. I will offer that there's a reason that I do not make pipes for a living. Watching the Castello worker rusticating for the Sea Rock finish makes it look easy. It isn't. And that music in the background was coincidental, yet perfectly appropriate, no?
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