J. Alan Pipes: Modern Marvels
Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff Gracik | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

No one told Jeff Gracik that Civil War reenacting could be boring.

In 2001, shortly after getting married, Jeff was bonding with his new father-in-law, a Civil War reenactor, and they were in the field, in full regalia. "During one of the long, frequently recurring periods of nothing, followed by more nothing," says Jeff, "I was sitting in the woods and I found a tree branch, and I had my Swiss army knife. To fight boredom I started hollowing the branch and thought, hmmm...this could be a pipe. I was captivated by the work, immersed in it, and when I looked up, there were 15 people watching me. I finished, making the mouthpiece out of some kind of reed. A guy shouldered in from the second row of people and reached out with a pouch of cherry-flavored tobacco. 'Now you gotta smoke it,' he said. That was my first time smoking a pipe. I don't know what wood it was; probably some toxic species you shouldn't smoke out of."

He was a cigar smoker back then, when he could afford cigars, and smoked his rustic handmade pipe just the one time. "I didn't make a real pipe until a couple of years later." He was a busy young man, a graduate student studying for a degree in divinity. "It's a broad degree, intended for people who want to go into the pastorate, but I wanted to move on to a PhD and teach at a university. You have to study church history, theology, practical theology, public speaking, ethics. It was a good launching point for figuring out how to move forward."

Determined to be at the top of his class, Jeff's study schedule was rigorous, with little time for relaxation. Tobacco was an excellent study aid as well as a welcome respite from long bouts of study, but he and his wife could not afford the regular purchase of cigars. "I liked to smoke during an hour-long break on the patio before hitting the books again, but had to stop." Melissa, Jeff's wife, recommended that for her sanity and his, he smoke a pipe, because it was more affordable than cigars. "Pipes provided an additional bonus," says Jeff. "After a pipe, I was allowed to sleep in the same bed as her."

When Jeff decided to try pipesmoking, he began studying the subject. "When I encounter something new, I get really into it. I'm a little bit compulsive. I like to think that a little OCD helps make me good at what I do." He had $35, and was obsessively researching pipes during study breaks. His budget was small, but he figured he could stretch it by making a pipe himself. "It was a choice between buying a pipe kit and buying two blocks of briar." He bought the briar.

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

The first briar pipe Jeff Gracik ever made.

Tools, however, were another impediment. He had none. "I wasn't a woodworker. I had a homeowner's toolkit and that's it. But it turns out one of my neighbors had made pipes for his groomsmen for his wedding, and he happened to have a spade bit from Pimo. It's a really weird coincidence, but only one of many." He borrowed the spade bit over Christmas break in 2003 and, while visiting his inlaws in Illinois, discovered that their neighbor had a woodworking shop. "It was freezing cold with no heater, but he gave me access to his shop and I made two pipes."

He couldn't smoke them, though, because he had no stems and no tobacco. His budget had not accommodated those items, but now he was determined. "I opened up the yellow pages, as we did in those ancient times, and found the only pipe shop within a hundred miles." It was a 45-minute drive in the freezing, icy rain of Illinois in December, but they had replacement mouthpieces. "They were Savinelli mouthpieces. I didn't know that at the time; it was only later when I knew enough to recognize Savinelli. So I bought the stems and a tin of Dunhill Durbar, because the tin looked nice."

When I encounter something new, I get really into it. I'm a little bit compulsive. I like to think that a little OCD helps make me good at what I do.

The mouthpieces fit. "So I had two pipes. I still have one of them, the first one. The first one wasn't good, but the second was worse. I reshaped the second one and gave it to my grandmother's boyfriend."

Soon it was time to buy a pipe to add to his rotation. "I always try to find good deals and to know what I'm buying. The very first pipe that I bought was an unsmoked Kaywoodie All-Briar. It had to have been from the '40s; I lucked into it on eBay. I had that and couldn't really afford any others, but at that time Bear Graves had a project on an early online forum, alt.smokers.pipes, called Pay it Forward." Folks would donate pipes and tampers, tobacco and accessories, and Bear would redistribute those donations to pipesmokers in need. "Bear offered to send me some stuff, and as a poor graduate student, I accepted. He sent a Ser Jacopo and a couple of other pipes I don't remember, and a couple tins of tobacco. So I had maybe three pipes."

Smoking a pipe on the balcony between study sessions became a regular ritual. "Melissa did not join me. She remembered aromatic tobaccos, and when she recommended pipes, that's what she was thinking I'd smoke. I got into Vapers and English tobaccos, and she was less enthusiastic."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff Gracik in the workshop | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

But Jeff's enthusiasm was growing and he decided to try making some pipes. "I got a little obsessive," says Jeff. However, at that time, important online resources available to new pipemakers was almost nonexistent, and learning even the fundamentals was challenging. "Pipemakers can ramp up and learn, with Pipemakersforum and contacts made there," says Jeff, "without having to travel as frequently to learn to do these things. It's a different experience to learn to be a pipemaker now than it was when I started. Certainly much different than when Mike Butera or Tim West started."

Some American pipemakers were for a time secretive about their techniques. They worked hard to independently develop their pipemaking strategies and didn't see the point in sharing them with potential competition. "I think that changed with the internet," says Jeff. "I wonder if all along there were lots of people interested in making pipes, but the absence of information and the time required, exploring ideas and experimenting, dissuaded people from pursuing it. Now there are many outlets for gaining that education; it's easier for people to develop more quickly. The work that we see from new pipemakers continues to increase in quality."

But in the wild-west days of internet pipemaking, there was little educational material for aspiring carvers. "Tyler Beard had a website with a pipemaking instructional on it. There was very little information online at that time, only Tyler's site, and Trever Talbert had information on his site. There was also the Pimo book [Pimo's Guide to Pipe Crafting at Home] that I borrowed from my neighbor, though it didn't provide all the answers I was looking for." He started contacting pipemakers, asking endless questions of those willing to talk with him. A nearby pipemaker allowed a visit, but didn't offer much in the way of instruction. "But it was nice to hang out with a guy who had experience."

I wonder if all along there were lots of people interested in making pipes, but the absence of information and the time required, exploring ideas and experimenting, dissuaded people from pursuing it.

Jeff contacted Tyler Beard and asked questions. Tyler told him that he was starting a forum on his website for pipemakers and suggested Jeff post his inquiries to benefit others. "That was the beginning of pipemakersforum. I was among the first group of members."

By the summer of 2004, he had made five more pipes, though he was still in school. That's when one of his classmates said, "Hey, my brother-in-law is a pretty famous pipemaker; I should connect you." That brother-in-law was Todd Johnson.

"Todd invited me to visit, and I was there three or four days. At that time I was using my drill press for everything, a drill press and a Dremel, that was it, because that's all I knew how to use. I was intimidated by other tools and didn't know how to work them, and certainly didn't have the money to purchase them. But at Todd's I learned how to use a lathe, and I learned some Danish pipemaking techniques in the tradition of the Ivarsson family."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff Gracik | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

He made two pipes while there, and when he got home he took a loan from his wife, from the family fund, to invest in a lathe. "Melissa says she's my angel investor, which she is. Todd offered to sell me some briar, so I was able to get some reasonably good briar at an affordable price." He thought about pipes constantly, sketching in the margins of his notes in class. "It was an accelerating spiral I couldn't get out of. I was enamored of the whole experience of making a pipe, the experience of creation. The opportunity to get my hands dirty and actually have a product to show for it at the end of the day was very different from a research project that might take three months and might not even be conclusive. It was rewarding in ways that my academic work was not."

Jeff received a call from Todd later that summer, when he and Melissa were in Illinois visiting her parents, to recommend that Jeff visit the Columbus pipe show. "I didn't know what a pipe show was," says Jeff. "It was at that show in 2004 that I met Jeff Folloder, Art Ruppelt, Jody Davis, Michael Lindner, Tonni Nielsen; I met all of these people and I had maybe three or four pipes with me, the first I had made since visiting Todd." Tonni was favorably inclined once he saw Jeff's work, and invited him to visit his shop. After almost swallowing his tongue in surprise, Jeff said okay. Tonni lived three or four hours from Jeff's inlaws, and on a following visit he was able to spend about 24 hours at Tonni's shop. He was also able to visit Jody Davis in Arizona, when Jody was making pipes full time and caring for his daughter before returning to his rock star life as guitarist for The Newsboys a couple of years later.

It was an accelerating spiral I couldn't get out of. I was enamored of the whole experience of making a pipe, the experience of creation. The opportunity to get my hands dirty and actually have a product to show for it at the end of the day...

At the Richmond show in 2005. Neil Flancbaum, leather artisan at Smokin' Holsters, told him that he liked purchasing pipes from new carvers, and he selected a rusticated burgundy Lovat with cumberland mouthpiece, saying it appeared to be a good pipe. "I was flattered," says Jeff. When he told Neil the price was $150, Neil scoffed and told him he never paid more than $125 for a new carver's pipe. "What a coincidence," said Jeff. "This pipe is $125." That was his first sale.

"I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have fallen in with the crowd that I did," says Jeff. "I didn't know who Lars Ivarsson or Bo Nordh was before visiting Todd. I had no idea. My early influences helped set a trajectory."

Early in his career, Jeff kept hearing from pipemakers about how important it was for him to find his own voice, his own style. "Over and over again: Find your own voice. And I think that's such a difficult task to give someone who doesn't yet thoroughly understand the construction process. It seems an impossibility. So I just started making pipes, trying to make pipes like Jody made, borrowing shapes from him, and I borrowed from Tonni and Lars, just borrowed all over the place. Then one day you realize you're not replicating a model any more, you're drawing from your own mind, and it evolves into its own thing. And then you start hearing, Hey, I can tell that's your pipe from across the room. And you say, Really? How? To me it looks like an amalgamation of my influences, but if it looks original to you, thanks."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff Gracik in the workshop | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

Among the most crucial lessons of that time came from Jody Davis, who advised that significant emphasis be placed on the mouthpiece, because the mouthpiece is the most important element of a pipe, and one that young pipemakers sometimes overlook. "Aligning the holes and making them the right diameters are of course critical," says Jeff, "but beyond that, making sure the mouthpiece is designed to be very comfortable. And I was really drawn to Jody's idea of making them repeatable, with the last inch of the mouthpiece the same from pipe to pipe, or very similar. I found that a really attractive idea and adopted it for myself and experimented with trying to find measurements that worked. I didn't want to copy Jody, I wanted to see what I liked and what my customers responded to. Since that first year, I've really refined what I want my mouthpieces to look and feel like."

That design philosophy has narrowed the types of mouthpieces he prefers on his designs. "The thickness of the button, the height of the button, and the thinness behind the button has pretty much stayed the same since, but when I was first making pipes, I was trying to make all kinds of things, with half saddle and saddle and tapered mouthpieces. Now I make saddle mouthpieces almost exclusively, because I think they're more comfortable, and my customers have reinforced that opinion."

The comfort of the mouthpiece is a characteristic that Jeff constantly refines, though at this stage modifications are almost imperceptible to the observer. Still, as important as the mouthpiece may be, Jeff's success would not have been achieved if he made grotesque pipes with comfortable mouthpieces. "You also want the pipe to be beautiful to look at, and you want it to be durable. So that's a design feature that I've paid attention to over my whole career.

I was really drawn to Jody's idea of making them [stems] repeatable, with the last inch of the mouthpiece the same from pipe to pipe, or very similar.

"Early on I would make stems that were not visually balanced, and not physically balanced, so they weren't comfortable. Now I'm much more attuned as I'm creating a design; I'm always aware of what it might feel like to smoke this pipe. I can look at someone else's pipe and know, even if I wouldn't make it that way, that it looks right, or that it doesn't look right. If you put 10 of us in a room and lay out 10 random pipes from a pipe show, we'd probably agree on which ones were right and which ones were wrong. There's a sense of visual balance. If the mouthpiece is too long, it's pretty obvious. I've had pipemakers ask me to evaluate their work, and I might say, well your mouthpiece is too long, and they'll ask how long it should be. Well, for this pipe it should be about this long. How do you know? It just looks right. I suppose we could develop a formula, but spend some time looking at pipes and you'll figure it out. Humans are gifted at taking what seems like a simple concept and making it endlessly complex."

Jeff's early questions to pipemakers were aimed, he says, at making sure the pipe would stay together. He found that some put more thought into making pipes that looked great than about the long-term effects of their construction methods. "I learned from broken pipes that were returned for repair. For example, at the time I was using brass tubing inside bamboo shanks, and the brass had seized inside the bamboo shank because it had corroded. Jody recommended I use stainless steel. I was having other problems with it loosening, and Jody said I needed to study Jess Chonowitsch's work. Then I got to know Jess and visited him, and we talked through the whole process. He had spent a lot of time repairing pipes, and Jody spent a lot of time repairing pipes, which helps them think about durability for whatever process or material they're developing."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Stem work | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

Another issue Jeff experienced was with Delrin tenons pulling out of mouthpieces when the glue weakened. "It's not the end of the word, you just make another tenon, but after that happened a couple of times over several years, I thought, wait a minute, these are really good customers sending back these pipes. I wondered how many first-time customers bought a pipe and the tenon came out, and they never bought another, thinking this guy makes pipes that break." The prospect of any of his pipes going unused horrified Jeff. So he decided to minimize those possibilities. "Slowly, over time I went over all the areas of construction to evaluate my methods in terms of durability. I always have an eye for that now. If I'm putting an adornment on the end of the shank, what are the instances where it could break off, how could it be weakened through heat or over time, is this the right glue for this application. When I make a pipe, I never want to see it again. It's not that I hate it, it's that if I see it back in my shop, it better be really well smoked and in someone's mouth, not in pieces, because that is failure."

Many helped Jeff as he was learning the intricacies and attention to detail necessary for making pipes that compete with the best in the world. Sykes Wilford, founder and CEO of Smokingpipes, was an early influence. "Sykes's feedback was valuable in the early years, and we became friends early on, but he was a really good sounding board for me, critical of my pipemaking. Every pipe show I would just toss everything I brought in front of him and get his assessment. And we still continue the tradition today, for pricing feedback and show-and-tell. He's able to see influences that I'm unaware of, or imagine problems that I hadn't foreseen."

When I make a pipe, I never want to see it again. It's not that I hate it, it's that if I see it back in my shop, it better be really well smoked and in someone's mouth, not in pieces, because that is failure.

Perhaps Jeff's most influential customer has been Rick Newcombe. "I've learned an immense amount from Rick over the years. Another coincidence: I didn't know Rick when we moved to San Diego, except I'd met him at a couple pipe shows, the way you meet someone who doesn't know who you are at a pipe show. In 2007, we'd just moved here and were living in a university apartment because we didn't have any money. I got a phone call and it was Rick Newcombe. And I thought, oh my god, Rick Newcombe is calling me. I have no idea how he even got my number. He said, Hey, you're a pipemaker, right? After I picked my jaw up off the floor because I was getting a call from Rick Newcombe, I said I sure am, why are you calling me? He said, well, his friend Jim Benjamin had just passed away, and had left all his pipe repair equipment to Rick in his will. Rick didn't have the space or the need for it, so he invited me to come to Jim's workshop and take anything and everything that I could use."

This happened at a time when Jeff desperately needed tools and lacked the resources to acquire them. "I couldn't believe it. I got tools there that I still use today. Rick had never bought a pipe from me, so I didn't even know he knew I made pipes. He said, can you be there tomorrow? I knew I'd be there no matter what. I had been finishing up a pipe for myself, a beautiful ring grain, long shank Lovat, and I was going to use a factory mouthpiece on it, since it was only for me. I thought, it's not a handcut mouthpiece, but I took it anyway as a gift for Rick to thank him. So I got all this stuff, came home, the back of my Corolla was completely packed full. Got the stuff moved in and the next day I got another call from Rick. He said, Hey, I was looking at your pipe, it's beautiful, the sandblast is great. But Lars Ivarsson had taught him a trick to test the airflow. Instead of putting it in your mouth, you pass a pipe cleaner from the tenon end through the end of the mouthpiece to see how easily it moves. He did that with the pipe I gave him, and the mouthpiece cracked and broke."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff Gracik & Rick Newcombe | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff was mortified. "The most famous pipe collector in the world just gave me all this stuff, and in return I gave him a pipe that broke before he could smoke it. I said, send it back and I'll make you a new mouthpiece, no problem. And Rick said, let me pay you for that. He insisted and I said no. When I got the pipe in the mail, there was a hundred dollar bill in the box. That's the kind of guy he is. He knew I was a struggling pipemaker. That was his first pipe from me and he still has it. It has a handcut mouthpiece on it now, one that has not broken, thank you. I guess I make mouthpieces well enough now, because I've made several replacement mouthpieces for Rick's favorite pipes over the years, as a training exercise and to help out Rick. I'm so grateful that I got that phone call and I was home to answer it, and that Rick wasn't offended that I gave him a broken pipe."

Far from offended, Rick was worried at the time that he might offend Jeff, and remembers the episode as much less embarrassing than does Jeff. "Jim Benjamin [legendary pipe refurbisher] and I were very close, and when he died on the Fourth of July in 2007, I was told that he had left his pipe refurbishing equipment to me, including 32 buffing wheels. I figured I could use one or two in my garage to shine up my pipes, but I wondered, what am I going to do with the other 30?

I couldn't believe it. I got tools there that I still use today. Rick had never bought a pipe from me, so I didn't even know he knew I made pipes.

"Jim lived in San Diego, and I had heard about Jeff Gracik, who at the time was a young pipe maker in San Diego who people had told me about. So I thought, Jeff would be perfect. In addition, I knew that Steve O'Neill had been trained by Jim to follow in his footsteps in setting up a pipe refurbishing business. So I invited both Jeff and Steve to meet me at Jim's house."

Rick told them to take whatever they liked, and they both packed up their cars. "Jeff said he wanted to give me a pipe to thank me. It was beautiful, and I was very grateful. I marveled at how well it smoked. So after a few bowls, I separated the mouthpiece from the shank and ran a thick pipe cleaner through the mouthpiece, and it cracked where the button is at the lip end. Wow, I felt terrible! I also was pretty surprised because this had never happened to me before. I remembered that Jeff said he had just made the pipe for himself, and I wondered if he had a secret technique for putting pipe cleaners through it."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Nautical Dublin | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

Not wanting to appear ungrateful for the gift, Rick was reluctant to tell Jeff what had happened, but when he did, Jeff didn't seem surprised. He said he'd filed that mouthpiece for his own use and forgot to warn Rick to be extra careful.

Jeff made a new mouthpiece. "Now, 12 years later," says Rick, "I still enjoy that pipe, and the mouthpiece is fine. I find that the J. Alan mouthpieces are exceptionally comfortable.

"A few years after that, Jeff spent a day at my house helping me set up various pipe machines in my garage, and he gave me lessons in thinning down stems that are too fat. We had dinner that night and he asked if I had any suggestions for his pipe making, and I said yes, that if I had his skill and wanted to become one of the best pipe makers in the world, I would copy the best pipe makers in the world — copy their designs and techniques — at least for a while. Then, as you progress, you will develop your own style while incorporating the things you have learned by painstakingly studying the masters. He did just that, and now has his own unique style and thousands of pipe collecting fans."

While building the necessary array of tools he'd need for pipemaking, Jeff was already dreaming about improving his pipe finishing to a level similar to S. Bang pipes, which have been looked to by pipemakers as the gold standard of finishing. "I struggled with that finish, where the colors on a contrast stain are so clearly separated and the colors don't mix. I poked around for years and tried to figure it out. Jim Cooke helped me understand it a little by recommending other kinds of stains, and Cornelius Manz was enormously helpful. The American community I was part of was really interested in speed, in making beautiful, well made pipes, but making them as quickly as possible. And Cornelius influenced me to slow down, to be proud of what I'm making, making sure my customers won't have a bad experience, making a great pipe. As long as it takes. So I refined how I finished my work. Before, when I would make a smooth pipe, I started the finishing at noon and could be done a couple hours later with a polished pipe. But after a few days it had dulled and it wasn't so great anymore. Cornelius sent me on another trajectory where I discovered all these other types of finishes and did a lot of experimenting for over a year, settling about seven years ago on a finish that does really well for me, but it takes a long time, four or five days."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff Gracik(s) in the workshop | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

Almost all J. Alan pipes are contrast stained, requiring the application of two different colors. Typically the dark stain is applied first, then lightly sanded off. "The dark stain will seep into the more porous grain on the pipe; it'll seep in a little deeper there, so the stain is removed when you sand from the harder areas. Then you put a light stain on top of it, and it brings out a visual relief in the grain, creating that contrast. The problem is, if you use two stains that use the same solvent, when you put the lighter stain on top of darker stain that you spent all that time sanding, it's putting that first stain back into solution briefly, and it smears. Then you spend the rest of your time trying to figure out how to unsmear it. It's complicated further when pipemakers use a finishing material, something that makes it shiny, that has the same solvent again, and now you're putting both those stains briefly into solution, and they're mixing and blending, and it can be really difficult to get a really nice stain under those circumstances. I learned from traditional woodworking techniques that if you use two colors, they should use two different solvents. One might dissolve in alcohol, another in oil, another in water, so when you apply one after another it won't lift that previous color."

The American community I was part of was really interested in speed, in making beautiful, well made pipes, but making them as quickly as possible. And Cornelius influenced me to slow down, to be proud of what I'm making, making sure my customers won't have a bad experience, making a great pipe.

Jeff spent many frustrating hours resanding and refinishing those pipes, and this discovery was essential. "What I do now takes a lot more time, but the results are consistent and I never get complaints. It's time consuming, taking about five days. It takes about a day less for natural pipes. I don't have to sand them quite the same way." That took care of the staining process, but Jeff still wanted the final glossy shine of an S. Bang, and he figured out how to achieve it.

The first requirement is a smooth base layer. That takes hand sanding with successively finer grit sandpaper down to 1000 grit, until all the scratches are gone. "That's where the shininess comes from initially, but then I apply carnuba wax, not only because it's tradition, but because I don't want my pipes to shine all the time. I want them to dull somewhat, because of expectation and because it helps the pipe bond with the person. If a pipe stays shiny forever, it starts looking and feeling like plastic."

Another subject that every pipemaker must consider is the internal engineering of their pipes.

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Surfing Volcano | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

Jeff has shifted his opinion somewhat regarding the internals, influenced by people like Rick Newcombe. "Rick and I have had long discussions about his preferences. I was pretty rigid in the first four or five years about what I thought was right. And I think this was largely affected by some of the pipemakers I was in contact with — that the pipemaker knows best, and the more I conversed with smokers, the more I realized the need to listen to them. I can have an opinion, but I'm not the one smoking the pipe. If you prefer a 9/64ths draft hole and you're ordering a pipe, I'll make it. If you order an 1/8th inch draft hole, I probably wouldn't do that. Rick likes a wider draft hole, but not that big. I have a special drill bit, the Newcombe drill bit, that I use for pipes I make him."

When Jeff was learning his craft, there was a movement among pipemakers that promoted particular engineering cues, especially prevalent on Pipemakersforum, where Jeff was learning so much. "They believed that you need a 4mm or 5/32 airway consistent all the way through, with a deep funnel at the mouthpiece. I still believe that to be correct and don't vary much from it, because I try not to introduce problems into my pipes. For deeply bent pipes, there are problems, so you'll rarely see them from me, and only by commission. And I'm uncomfortable making them because, what if this person sells it and a collector gets their hands on it? I have to choose projects and clients carefully."

I just started making pipes, trying to make pipes like Jody made, borrowing shapes from him, and I borrowed from Tonni and Lars, just borrowed all over the place. Then one day you realize you're not replicating a model any more, you're drawing from your own mind, and it evolves into its own thing.

J. Alan pipes are so named because Jeff thought the name "Gracik" was too hard for people to remember, so he used his middle name instead. Alan Brothers pipes are a different but related brand, launched in 2015, and a way for Jeff to work with his brother, Jeremy. Both Jeremy and his wife had corporate jobs requiring significant travel, and Jeremy thought making pipes could be a good way to stay home with their children. "Being a stay-at-home parent of school-age kids is not a fulltime job," says Jeff. "So we kept thinking about ways to work together, and we brainstormed the Alan Brothers line. We worked out sourcing and materials, and I taught him how to make pipes. I was experiencing a lot of interest in and demand for my work, especially from people who were not able to afford it. At the time there was a lack of pipes I'd consider smokable out of the box in a lower price range, and we wanted to provide that. That was the inspiration for Alan Brothers pipes.

"We sell several hundred pipes a year in six or seven shapes. We've learned a lot from the project. Neither of us had done a start-up before, except for J. Alan pipes, but that was such an unexpected, organic thing, it just kind of grew out of the earth on its own." Now, though, the staff was doubled, and preparing a marketing plan, working with manufacturers, and defining separate duties was new territory, and had to be done from a couple of thousand miles apart. "It's been an opportunity for us to spend time together. We were close growing up, and he stayed in Pennsylvania where we grew up. We see each other two or three times a year now. Alan Brothers isn't a fulltime job, though, and he's working for another company based in LA, so he's in LA quite a bit."

Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes

Jeremy and Jeff Gracik of Alan Brothers | Photo courtesy of J. Alan Pipes

At last Jeff Gracik has reached the point where he can indulge himself with fastidious selection of the pipes he makes. Regarded by the best pipemakers in the world as one of the best pipemakers in the world, Jeff Gracik may continue to refine his work, as all carvers do, but many collectors agree that he has achieved a level of excellence that requires no modification.

Comments

    • Timothy Kennedy on August 4, 2019
    • Very interesting

    • Timothy Kennedy on August 4, 2019
    • Very interesting

    • Mitch on August 4, 2019
    • Good read on the evolution of a Pipe maker. Now let me see how much they cost

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