Jared Coles: From Pipe Kits to Artisan Masterpieces

Maybe there's something about working with three-dimensional forms that attracts brilliant minds. Or maybe three-dimensional forms generate brilliance in those who work with them. Either way, smart people think in three dimensions. Look at Michelangelo. Look at Leonardo da Vinci. Smart guys.

We see it in pipe making all the time: really smart people choosing to pursue pipe making. Roman Kovalev was a pediatric neurologist before carving pipes. Peter Heding was a molecular biologist. Robert Kiess of Dr. Bob pipes was a medical doctor. Both Takeo Arita and Peter Matzhold were previously architects. Jeff Gracik holds a masters degree in divinity. There are plenty of examples.

Pipe enthusiasts fit the theme, too; they think about and study three-dimensional forms all the time. Throw a pouch of tobacco in any direction at a pipe show and it will bounce off three PhDs, a theoretical physicist, and two neurosurgeons before hitting the floor. And those enthusiasts without advanced degrees are equally brilliant; you don't need a degree to be smart. The most intelligent person I've ever known reached only the fourth grade. Pipe collectors are like that no matter their education; talking with them often leaves one astonished. They too are constantly assessing in three dimensions.

Jared Cole's Early Pipe Smoking

Jared Coles, however, clearly thinks in at least five quantum dimensions. Jared seems more likely to be running a multinational nonprofit than crafting pipes. Articulate, thoughtful, immersive, he projects a quiet charm fueled by an intensely active mind. He has a degree in economics, yet pursues pipe making because of the satisfaction the craft brings him.

A rebellious nature also seems to be part of the equation, shared by many in our hobby, and that's how Jared started his career in pipes. "I had a grandfather who smoked pipes," he says. "He passed away when I was in high school. And so when I turned 18, I started smoking a pipe to honor his memory, but also as a form of rebellion against my parents, who did not smoke at all. I don't think he was an avid collector of nice pipes. He mostly smoked a corn cob but I've gone a more luxurious route, I guess."

His grandfather knew what he was doing, and Jared has a great deal of respect for cobs. "Artisan pipes are the closest thing to a corn cob in terms of smoking quality. I always recommend that new pipe smokers get a corn cob because they smoke really well."

His early experiences with pipes will sound familiar to many of us. He started with a Dr. Grabow straight Billiard (still his favorite shape) and Captain Black Cherry, and he liked them both well enough to splurge on a nice briar. "I think I spent a wallet-busting $45 on the next pipe after that."

He became a pipe enthusiast and was a full-fledged pipe smoker by the time he entered college, which doesn't sound like it was excessively challenging. "I was kind of bored. I had some time on my hands; I was a transfer student and didn't know a lot of people. I started getting into looking at nicer pipes online, especially those at Smokingpipes."

Jared found himself especially drawn to the work of American artisans Jeff Gracik and Todd Johnson. "One day I realized that there were people making these for a living, and that was kind of a game changer for me." He was not motivated by wanting better pipes for himself, though. "I just really enjoyed the art form."

One day I realized that there were people making these for a living, and that was kind of a game changer

Pipemakersforum.com was essential to his development. "I spent many an hour going over those posts and experimenting and posting myself. I actually don't want to think about how many hours I spent on Pipemakersforum, but it was over a thousand. A thousand hours just staring at that screen, just doing all the research. When I started back in 2008, it was very new. The internet was still just blossoming with all that pipe-making knowledge. So some of the things were really difficult to find, things that I think a lot of new pipe makers would now take for granted."

Jared was living in San Diego at the time. That's where Jeff Gracik lives, and he reached out to Jeff and ended up spending considerable time in Jeff's workshop. "Jeff has a very disciplined and clean pipe-making style, and not just in the style of his pipes, but in his system of making pipes. He's a very clear thinker and that was really helpful for me at the time — to systematize and discipline myself in this new craft."

He still has the pipe he made with Jeff back then. "Great little pipe. That was my crowning achievement for those beginning years, because it was a really good pipe. That was where I learned how to freehand drill, in Jeff's shop." Freehand drilling is achieved by shaping the pipe first and then drilling the tobacco chamber afterward. The pipemaker drills the chamber while holding the stummel in hand. Jared had tried the technique previously, "but it did not go well." He discovered the necessary techniques with Jeff's help.

At that time he had finished around 10 briar pipes, all from kits. He had experimented with alternative woods, like olivewood, and was interested in morta as well, but it was difficult at that time to purchase large enough blocks to carve pipes. "The supply chain was not in place like it is now for pipe making supplies."

Tools are often a problem for beginning pipe makers, and Jared had the additional disadvantage at the time of very limited funds. "Every single tool was Craigslist or Harbor Freight. For pipe making, you really do need some custom tooling, so part of the journey is learning how to create tools. And especially something like a chamber bit or a spoon bit for freehand drilling. They were impossible at the time. You had to make your own. So that was a lot of experimentation and teaching myself some basic metalworking skills."

For pipe making, you really do need some custom tooling, so part of the journey is learning how to create tools.

Commercial pipe making

He had been talking regularly with another pipe enthusiast and friend, John Klose, who had also become enraptured by pipe carving. "We became friends several years earlier, mostly around smoking pipes. And so we were on the phone a lot talking about pipes and pipe making. We were already starting to think about the next step when I visited Jeff's shop." Jared and John started working together as the J&J in J&J Pipes. They lived about 45 minutes apart, with shops in both homes. Some of the equipment, like the sandblasting cabinet, was at John's; some was with Jared, though the majority of the work was done together.

"It's really fun to be in the shop with someone else and be doing that. It was a great time." Jared had not sold any of his pipes before J&J, except to a few friends. "Some of those friends are still friends, and unfortunately they still have those pipes. I see them from time to time." He likes the friends but those early pipes dissatisfy him.

Their first pipe show was in Los Angeles in 2011. Drivable distance. Like every first pipe show for every new carver, it was a sobering experience. They sold only one pipe, and that sale was with a discount. Jared says that it barely paid for the gas to get there.

They sold only one pipe, and that sale was with a discount.

"But we're grateful for some really good advice. Jeff was there and he had a lot of encouraging and fatherly discipline to give us at that time. Steve Liskey was very generous as well. They were honestly very decent pipes, but we had come in expecting to sell very expensive pipes. We were not yet acquainted with the level of quality expected in an artisan pipe, and we priced ourselves out of the market. So it was a little difficult for people to get too interested, but it was a good experience because we needed the kick in the pants to really up our game."

Especially apparent were the discipline and the attention to detail that was required of artisan pipes. "I think we ended up buying Brad Pohlmann a beer at that time, at that show. And he sort of waxed philosophical about stem making for about an hour and a half. Brad is quite an intense fellow, and so it was a really good lesson on stem making. I mean, he went into all of it and he was very passionate about it. So that was a real eye-opener too, just how intentional you have to be with every element."

Shortly after the show, Jared called Sykes Wilford, founder and CEO of Smokingpipes, about marketing J&J pipes. "He must've been in a really great mood that day. He said, 'Sure, we'll try it out.' And so he put me in contact with Adam Davidson, who worked with me — especially in regard to stems and button work — to get everything ready for coming out to the public on a platform like Smokingpipes."

They elevated their production values and were making 150-200 pipes a year through retailers like Smokingpipes, including one in China, and through Instagram. "We were over-producing a little bit for what we could market ourselves at the time. So it was really great to have good relationships with a couple of retailers because we were producing quite a few pipes and needed to sell them more broadly.

Jared and John continued with J&J for about four years before amicably dissolving the partnership. "We had reached a point where we needed to make it work better financially; a pipe maker's lifestyle is not very luxurious. We were getting a little bit older and thinking about the future. John had just married and I had been married for a little while and we were thinking more about how to better support our families. John decided that he wanted to do video and production work because it afforded him some more flexibility with his family." Jared decided to continue pipe making independently.

a pipe maker's lifestyle is not very luxurious

Jared Coles Pipes

Jared purchased John's interest in J&J and the pipe making equipment, and the two friends diverged. "To start a new business, you get a website, get a bank account, start things fresh. I thought about keeping the J&J brand, but I was eager to make a name for myself. That was a little ambitious but I wanted it to be my name on the pipe. And so I started from scratch, except that this time I had the right tools, and people in the community already knew me.

"One thing that I do really miss is that John was passionate about tool upkeep and maintenance and all that stuff. That is not my passion, but I really miss having someone who fills that role."

Jared Coles pipes range from traditional shapes to the avant-garde, and he has dedicated himself to the quality and detail necessary in artisan pipe making. "I have a pretty large catalog of things that I'll do. I'm a pretty diverse pipe shaper. Most of the time I will have some idea: I want to make an Apple shape, for example, and I'll make a few iterations at the same time and let the blocks decide on the little variations between them."

Jared prefers saddle mouthpieces. They aren't easier to make, but he likes their style and finds them more comfortable. He's also developed his own techniques for dual-finished pipes with contrasting red and black hues combining smooth and sandblasted textures, which are notoriously difficult. Any deviation in line and border is obvious, and perfection is essential. "It's a matter of being careful and then having to go back and sand again and again. I'll blast it and then I'll do the smooth portions and stain them all together. But the staining of those pipes, especially with the red, smooth portions, is very difficult. There's a lot of procedure that goes into that finish."

With two children and a third due any day now, Jared's time has become more difficult to budget, and he currently makes only about 60 pipes a year, each one impressive and each well able to compete with the work of the most accomplished carvers worldwide. They are smoothly flowing shapes with organic sensibilities and stunning finishing work, and his pipes are awaited by the smoking public. Like any pipe maker at this skill level, demand far outpaces availability, and his future seems to be one of constant refinement of techniques elevating already superb pipes.

Any deviation in line and border is obvious, and perfection is essential.

Something he's especially looking forward to is the return of pipe shows where he can more easily talk with customers and enthusiasts and what they value in design and execution. He especially anticipates the camaraderie. "Just interacting with people in the pipe community is beneficial and enjoyable."

One thing is sure: his future pipe shows will be easier emotionally than that first show in 2011. When people examine a Jared Coles pipe, they are seeing the epitome of the craft. Jared need not worry about deficiencies in the minute details that artisan carving requires. He has that under control.

Category:   Makers and Artists
Tagged in:   Jared Coles Pipe Culture


    • Saurasri Sen on April 11, 2021
    • A well-written article,as Chuck Stanion always does. Let's all wish the very best for Jared Coles' third child and may his upcoming years be full of many exquisite pipes and laurels.

    • Rick Newcombe on April 11, 2021
    • I have sat next to Jared Coles at several pipe shows and can tell you that, in addition to being a talented pipe maker, he is a very sincere and friendly fellow. His commitment to making great pipes is something I really admire, and the fact that he is a nice guy too, well, that's just something that everyone should know.

    • Phil Wiggins on April 11, 2021
    • Good Pipes Awesoms A!!!

    • Phil Wiggins on April 12, 2021
    • Sweet Pipes Awesome A!!!

    • Michael Pugliano on April 12, 2021
    • I went to university with Jared and remember smoking pipes with him when we were both fairly new to it. Now I still smoke pipes and proudly own a couple of his. Cheers, Jared!

    • Matthew Castaldo on April 21, 2021
    • Although we've never met in person, Jared has a warm receptive personality, and clearly both a passion and gift as an artisan. I own a few of his pipes and must admit, each one is in heavy rotation.

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