A Closer Look at the 2022 American Pipe-Making Exposition

For nearly a decade, the American Pipe-Making Exposition has been an annual event here at Smokingpipes, each edition highlighting the work of today's top American pipe makers through the lens of a specific challenge. In the past, these themes have ranged from specific stem or finishing styles to the use of bamboo or other alternative materials, but for 2022's Exposition, we've tasked these vanguard artisans with creating pipes that reflect Calabash engineering.

What is Calabash engineering?

Calabash pipes date back centuries and are among the most iconic classic pipe shapes. Even non-smokers are familiar with the shape, as it was the pipe Sherlock Holmes smoked in many contemporary plays and films. Archetypally, Calabash pipes are made from South African gourd with a meerschaum tobacco chamber or cap. Because the gourd is hollow, it creates a vast condensation chamber that works to cool and separate moisture from the smoke. In recent years, pipe makers, particularly those in the US, have revived and modernized this theme, swapping gourd and meerschaum for a variety of different mediums, experimenting with more nuanced shaping, and further innovating the internal engineering.

Within the last decade and a half, another type of Calabash has emerged as well: the reverse Calabash. Rather than having a removable tobacco chamber and a cooling reservoir beneath it, reverse Calabashes feature condensation chambers within the shank of the pipe. This innovation opened the doors to even more creative shaping liberties, as pipe makers were no longer confined to the traditional gourd form; they could craft any shape, in any style, with Calabash engineering.

For this year's American Pipe-Making Exposition, we gave the carvers a broad scope, a vast canvas on which to play and experiment. Crafting a pipe with Calabash or reverse Calabash functionality is extremely difficult, but the most successful creative work often originates from the hardest challenges. These American carvers were up to the task, however, as this year's submissions are truly exceptional. Many nod to traditional pipe design while pushing the theme forward. Others redefined the theme altogether, refocusing it toward the modern era with an entirely unique approach. All showcase the sheer talent and creativity that thrives in today's American pipe-making community.


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Bill Shalosky: Smooth Eye Scorcher Calabash with Mammoth

Bill Shalosky

If you've been following American pipe making over the past several years, you likely recognize this entry as the work of Bill Shalosky. It's one of his signature shapes — one that he calls "The Eye Scorcher" for playful, obvious reasons. Essentially, it's a compact Nosewarmer but with a bowl that's even taller than the pipe's overall length.

When we first received this pipe from Bill, I questioned how exactly he incorporated Calabash engineering; however, upon closer examination, the top of the bowl is removable and serves as the Calabash chamber. He's fashioned it all from the same block, so the grain aligns perfectly, and, at an arm's length away, it's nearly impossible to tell that there's any sort of division there. But it functions like a traditional Calabash: It has the tobacco chamber up top, with a cooling chamber below, and everything is removable to help with maintenance. Overall, it's a playful combination of Calabash engineering with one of Bill's most recognizable signature shapes.

It's dressed in a smooth contrast stain, with exceptional crossgrain ascending all the way up the flanks, and birdseye dominating the front and the back. Bill has then accented it with an intricate band of mammoth — which itself boasts an array of diverse colors, patterns, and textures — as well as a hand-cut cumberland stem. So really fun work from Bill, and immediately recognizable as a Shalosky pipe.

Scottie Piersel: Gourd Calabash with Briar

Scottie Piersel: Gourd Calabash with Briar

For her entry into the Expo this year, Scottie Piersel has submitted something profoundly traditional with a very modern twist. In fact, she's the only pipe maker to send a traditional gourd Calabash. The form itself is quite traditional, and it's also made from South African gourd — South Africa being the region where most gourds that are used for pipe-making originate. Gourds are interesting pipe-making materials because the shape of the gourd really determines the shape of the pipe. This piece is gorgeous and has great proportions, so Scottie did an excellent job of selecting the right piece for her submission. Then, of course, she's elevated that traditional form with modern fitments and accoutrements.

The cap or tobacco chamber is removable and made from briar, with the rest of the pipe serving as the cooling chamber. Scottie's left plenty of plateau on the rim of the cap, and that gnarly, craggy texture contrasts nicely with the very smooth texture of the gourd itself. But she's also continued that plateau into the gourd where they meet, so it creates a nice continuum. Moreover, she's capped the back of the gourd at the shank-end to accommodate a traditional, push-style tenon. For the stem itself, Scottie's used a beautiful piece of brindled vulcanite, its colors ranging from jade, to black, to a little bit of blue, with a very dense pattern. And as a pleasantly surprising little Easter egg, Scottie has created an inlay using that same vulcanite beneath the cap.

Lastly, she has packaged the entire piece in a handmade, book-style box, which she's dubbed The Great Calabash. Scottie impressively reverse-engineered a paper-mache model for a book. The execution is inspirational and a creative way to present this traditional yet modern pipe.

J. Alan: Smooth Nautical Dublin Calabash with Briar Cap

J. Alan: Smooth Nautical Dublin Calabash with Briar Cap

For his submission into the Expo this year, Jeff Gracik of J. Alan pipes created an absolutely stunning version of his signature Nautical Dublin shape with Calabash engineering. At first glance, it may seem an unassuming form, if only because it appears to be one piece of briar that's been stained in two different ways. And indeed the entire pipe was carved from a single block, but the lighter-stained cap is removable. Upon closer inspection, the main body of the pipe, which contains the cooling chamber, is covered in straight grain that perfectly aligns with the birdseye along the removable cap, which is a testament to just how meticulous Jeff always is with construction.

The rounded edges of the rim and bevel provide an almost mushroom-like aesthetic, contrasting the more cleanly domed renditions of the Nautical Dublin we've seen previously. There's also some slight asymmetry from the teardrop line, which extends not just through the shank but also along the front of the bowl and cap. The contrast between the natural-stained top and high-contrast body is visually striking, too. It's immaculate work and remarkably cohesive overall.

David Huber: Sandblasted Magnum Reverse Calabash Lovat

David Huber: Sandblasted Magnum Reverse Calabash Lovat

David Huber has approached this challenge in a particularly interesting way. Essentially, he's submitted a giant Lovat with reverse Calabash engineering. David's hollowed out the shank to create the internal cooling or condensation chamber, and it is pleasingly inconspicuous. For anyone first examining this piece, it would be easy to overlook the internals and see only a Magnum pipe. In fact, if there were ever a pipe with Calabash engineering that would be perfect for Chuck Stanion, it would be this pipe. It is just a gorgeous piece of work. David's done an excellent job of incorporating that critical Calabash engineering into a more unassuming form and has done so with beautifully grained briar. The sandblast is incredible, and the smooth-polished rim offers sophisticated contrast of texture. The proportions of the bowl to the shank to the stem are all on point, and there's some slight Danish cheeking to the bowl itself. It's stimulating in hand and an excellent piece overall, especially for those who prefer larger pipes.

Abe Herbaugh: Smooth Calabash with Musk Ox

Abe Herbaugh: Smooth Calabash with Musk Ox

Abe Herbaugh took a more traditional approach to the classic Calabash shape but flexed his creative muscles through his materials. The stummel itself is crafted from briar, but the shank and the cap are fashioned from musk ox horn, which is a rare material in pipe making but one that Abe has employed frequently over the past couple of years. Musk ox horn differs from the traditional horn often seen adorning pipes, mainly in its grain patterns and colors. It projects a wavy structure and pattern that is deep, complex, and almost iridescent — when it catches the light, it shimmers almost like a gemstone or precious metal.

While the musk ox horn is the showcase of this piece, the shaping and overall composition are perfectly balanced and compelling. The military mount is subtly accented with a ridgeline. The stummel itself is crafted from beautifully grained briar in a stunning cross-cut pattern with birdseye whirling along the front and back; indeed, Abe seems to have shaped the curve of this Calabash to perfectly match the trajectory of the crossgrain along its flanks. It's a stellar piece representing spectacular craftsmanship — one certainly worthy of Abe's highest grade, the Crane.

Jared Coles: Sandblasted Calabash with Silver

Jared Coles: Sandblasted Calabash with Silver

Jared Coles has achieved a number of truly interesting things with his submission into the Expo this year. Firstly, it's a straight pipe. Given that our challenge this year is to incorporate Calabash engineering, you might automatically assume that, because it's straight, Jared has created a reverse Calabash. He has not. This pipe is instead a traditionally engineered Calabash complete with a removable cap and a cooling or condensation chamber beneath it. So Jared has defied expectations and turned an iconic archetype on its head, so to speak, by designing a much taller bowl than you'd otherwise expect. It's really more of a Rhodesian-style bowl, with a slight flare ascending to the cap that tapers back down as it approaches the rim, perfecting a uniquely modern execution of this theme.

Of course, Jared has reinforced that modern spin by selecting unique materials. The cap itself and the stem are made from resin that's been hand-cast with aluminum shavings. The resin itself is semi-translucent with the addition of the highly reflective aluminum shavings scattered throughout the cap and the stem. Those shavings reflect light and bounce it back through the semi-transparent resin, imbuing the entire piece with an almost shimmering effect that complements the wedding-band-style silver accent at the shank end, and beautifully contrasts with the black sandblasted stummel. Overall, it's very Coles, both in terms of shaping and color palette — we've seen Jared do a lot of things with these more ambery colors and very high-contrast palettes in the past — and in this example he has attained a new level of achievement.

Pete Prevost: Partially Sandblasted Calabash with Juma

Pete Prevost: Partially Sandblasted Calabash with Juma

Pete Prevost's submission this year is a very modern-looking, perhaps even mid-century take on a classic form. Essentially, it's a tall, svelte, canted Dublin shape with a removable cap, but what we really love about this piece is the juxtaposition of traditional Calabash functionality and form with something more modern, streamlined, and Danish-inspired. There's a nice balance between the texture, as well, with tanblasted ring grain along the cap itself, and it's finished smooth in a complementary color but also with some of the plateau preserved. That subtly rustic edge juxtaposes nicely with the more streamlined and slender form, and the white Juma stem offsets and balances the bowl and the cap. It's also surprisingly substantial, especially from Pete, who is known for making much smaller, more intricate, and tightly-knit pipes.

Adam Davidson: Sandblasted Victorian Calabash

Adam Davidson: Sandblasted Victorian Calabash

Within his regular body of work, Adam Davidson has shocked and awed the pipe community for many years with his creativity, signature shapes, and daringness as a designer and craftsman. This piece exemplifies all of those elements. Essentially, Adam's entry into the Expo this year is an oversized Victorian Cavalier with a large cooling chamber in the body. The form is inspired by Adam's signature Cavalier shape, which itself is inspired by old Bavarian-style hunting pipes — historical smoking instruments that, arguably, were among the oldest pipes to feature cooling chambers.

Featuring elements reminiscent of Victorian lamps and Victorian ironwork, this Victorian Cavalier Calabash is something that Adam sketched out roughly as soon as he heard the idea for this year's exposition, and the execution is definitive. It's quite large overall — it's about the same length as my entire torso — but the chamber and overall posture make it still a very practical size for smoking.

It features a number of discrete parts that are able to be disassembled: there's a large cooling chamber in the middle, as well as a traditional Cavalier foot, which can be removed for cleaning. And the stem is seriously impressive; it's handcrafted from a giant piece of Ebonite and follows a serpentine flow that echoes the Victorian era as well as the Bavarian hunting pipes of its inspiration. Moreover, the bowl and the body of this Victorian Cavalier were made and cut from the same block of wood. The grain patterns are unique and interesting, and the overall execution is phenomenal. Incredible work from a craftsman who never ceases to delight.

Scott Thile: Smooth Calabash with Bocote, Zebrawood, and Maple

Scott Thile: Smooth Calabash with Bocote, Zebrawood, and Maple

Scott Thile surpassed expectations with his entry into this year's Expo. It is a gorgeous pipe with three different bowls, a hardwood stand, and a beautiful tamper. The pipe itself is a traditional sort of Gourd Calabash shape, so it has that iconic, sweeping profile as well as an internal cooling or condensation chamber beneath the cap. The main part of the stummel is crafted from Italian plateau briar and is beautifully grained and commended by a stunning contrast stain.

Moreover, Scott has included three unique caps: The first is Italian briar with bocote wood along the outside; the second is Algerian briar with zebra wood; and the third is strawberry wood with birdseye maple. All feature briar or strawberry wood as the chamber material, but the outer domes of the caps vary between these exotic woods — each with its own distinctive grain patterns and qualities. The birdseye maple is particularly stunning, as the densely packed whorls possess a shimmery, iridescent quality when the light hits just right.

Scott has packaged all of this together with a beautiful, handmade stand that he crafted from locally-sourced hardwood maple and walnut. Included in the stand is a gorgeous tamper made from that same birdseye maple, which also possesses that shimmering effect, and a tamping foot of brass. Very impressive work from Scott: a truly beautiful Calabash shape, with three different caps to choose from, and a gorgeous presentation.

Ryan Alden: Scorpion Tail Calabash with Bamboo, Meerschaum, and Spalted Pecan

Ryan Alden: Scorpion Tail Calabash with Bamboo, Meerschaum, and Spalted Pecan

Ryan Alden's entry into the Expo this year is simply wicked cool. It's very avant-garde and almost alien in form, but Ryan's also achieved some interesting things with construction and engineering. The shape itself follows a traditional gourd form with a sweeping silhouette, and though quite large, it's exceptionally well-balanced. In hand, the smoking posture is natural despite its curling length.

Construction-wise, the stummel is crafted mainly from bamboo — Ryan has incorporated some stunning sections of bamboo with pronounced knuckles and a balanced rhythm. For the removable caps, Ryan has provided not one but three distinct options: The first is crafted from briar with a pecan wood inlay; the second is also made from briar, but darkly stained and sandblasted; and the last cap is made from solid block meerschaum, which Alden hand-turned himself.

Furthermore, Ryan has expanded boundaries in terms of engineering, particularly the idea of Calabash functionality. The largest section of bamboo serves as the main condensation or cooling chamber, but then, at the foot and in the last section of bamboo, he's stepped the internal drilling up and down. That stepping creates additional turbulence and helps to separate even more moisture from the smoke. That innovative approach to the internals is what we love to see in this challenge — that pipe makers are not only challenging aesthetics and challenging form, but also challenging function.

Ryan has taken that functional approach one step further by providing a beautiful stand to complement the piece. It's made from a variety of different gorgeous materials, including big leaf maple burl, leopard wood, cherry burl, bamboo, and ebonite. There's a section of the stand that holds pipe cleaners and other accessories, as well as slots for the different bowls. It's a stunning presentation overall, and received Ryan's very first Double Ace grade.

Alex Florov: Smooth Reverse Calabash Ryu ni Shukufuku Sareta Tako

Alex Florov: Smooth Reverse Calabash Ryu ni Shukufuku Sareta Tako

For his own unique perspective on Calabash engineering, Alex Florov has crafted a stunning reverse Calabash in particularly intricate form. The line work, the paneling, the bridge of plateau crossing the bulbous shank and bowl, and even the paneling through the stem on both sides of the stem, all acknowledge Gotoh-san. Fittingly, Alex has called this pipe the Ryu ni Shukufuku Sareta Tako, which translates to "octopus blessed by a dragon." It's a surreal form projecting a nautical theme with intricate and detailed craftsmanship. That Alex was able to achieve so much complexity of form, as well as reverse Calabash engineering, in such a compact pipe is incredibly impressive.

Todd Johnson: Wu-Tang, Chris Ying, David Chang, Deng Feng, Yin-Yang Calabash with Bamboo, Juma, and Clay

Todd Johnson: Wu-Tang, Chris Ying, David Chang, Deng Feng, Yin-Yang Calabash with Bamboo, Juma, Bakelite, and Clay

Todd Johnson never fails to submit something spectacular for the American Pipe-Making Expo, and this year it's this curling, Horn-like Calabash. Most of the pipe comprises a long, curling section of bamboo, which is impressive in and of itself because it's drilled smoothly throughout. Todd didn't share exactly how he accomplished this — he kept it an impressive trade secret.

It's fitted to a Juma stem and a trim Bakelite accent at the end, but most spectacular and the highlight of this pipe is its porcelain Calabash chamber. Todd did not make it; however, he commissioned it from a Tawainese master of traditional Chinese pottery, specifically teaware, named Qiu DengFeng. Todd lived in China early in his life and maintains a fondness and appreciation for the artistry and craft of Chinese teapots. In this traditional craft, artisans use a unique type of clay specifically designed to absorb the tea and enhance the drinking and brewing experience, and these teapot artisans are incredibly respected, and their work is collected worldwide, selling for tens of thousands of dollars. It truly is an art form in and of itself, similar to pipe making.

This porcelain tobacco chamber is the first we've ever received and most likely the first of its kind. Aesthetically speaking, it has a beautiful glaze imbued with a light blue color that Todd matched with the Bakelite accent so that it's balanced between the two ends. It fits into a section of briar where the Calabash cooling chamber resides. Accompanying that, though, is a regular briar bowl. You can take the whole Calabash portion off and fit in the second bowl, which is simply a traditional, standard briar chamber with no Calabash engineering, for those times when you may not want to smoke a Calabash. It's stunning work from Todd, and a remarkable collaboration with one of the most respected artisans in Chinese teapot making, something we've never seen before. It's the first of its kind and amazing work from Todd.

And that's this year's American Exposition, celebrating the art of Calabash engineering in American pipe making. Thank you to everyone following along and to all the artisans and cravers who participated. This exposition is something we look forward to every year and it's thrilling to witness the innovations of these talented carvers. We're honored to see and handle these pipes and be able to show them to everyone out there.

Comments

    • William D on July 18, 2022
    • Wow! Incredible detail and beautiful pipes. Thank you for publishing this.

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