By now, you likely recognize the name Roman Kovalev, the idiosyncratic figure behind Doctor's Pipes. The former pediatric neurologist, race car builder and driver, distillery owner, and founder of a barista training system doesn't exactly lead a quiet life, and his pipes are no different. Far from understated or classic fare, is work often makes use of various organic media (grass, moss, seeds) as well as polymerized dinosaur bone, stone, and Japanese mokume-gane metalwork.
We've been seeing some especially interesting things from Roman as of late, along with the unveiling of a fresh grading system. Recently, we checked in with Roman to walk us through his Grading system, as well as his methods for drilling a curved airway:
1. Flash grade.
"Applicable for both smooth and blasted pipes. It is the first stamp in my grading system. This grade will be applicable for pipes with nice grain and blast, with or without decorations. Although they are hardworkers, these pipes will have their own individuality and beauty. Needless to say, they will be made with the same quality and craftsmanship as every pipe I make."
2. Double Flash grade.
"This stamp is also applicable both for smooth and blasted pipes. For smooth pipes: very good grain patterns and/or very interesting, unusual and very impressive bamboo.
Working time spent is important and taken into consideration, but not the main factor, and the overall result is the main focus."
For blasted pipes:
"Generally, I do not consider blasted finishes to be of lower quality, compared to smooth finishes. Sandblasts are quite impressive in their own right, and quite often I am designing a pipe specifically for a blasted finish, as I feel it will serve to best underline both the shape and material. In my humble opinion, there is no difference in finishing techniques, in terms of quality and result."
3. Grand Flash grade.
"Only the most superior pipes will get this stamp. These are pipes with excellent shape, outstanding grain, extraordinary bamboo, great craftsmanship and a degree of technical complexity. It is my highest grade, and the decision to apply it will be made with no justification of even minor deficiencies."
"Any of the pipes bearing any of the above stamps may be made with combined finishes, decorated with my signature polymer materials, various metals, bones and so on. You need to understand that quality-wise there are no first or second class pipes - the same approach is taken to fashion any pipe coming from my workshop. I am proud of every pipe which bears my name."
"I am always being asked about how I am drilling bended bamboo. I am not making any secret out of this. My method is described in detail, with all necessary explanations, on my Facebook page."
"Briefly, I'm not using conventional drill at all. My approach is a combination of two techniques. First, I burn through the planned path in the bamboo, and secondly I pass through this path with ball borer.
"Initially, you need to determine the radius of the draught hole's expected path. To burn the draught hole, I am using 3 mm steel wire. At first, I quench it, making it soft. Then, I give it a shape to match with the designed radius of the draught hole. Next, I forge the wire to make it square with the section. Later I temper the wire in water. As a result, we get a hard square wire, keeping its shape. Without tempering, the wire will be able to reduce its predetermined radius. So, we got a tool."
"Once the tool is ready, I take the stummel, with predrilled tobacco chamber, and fix into a holder to prevent any movements during the burning process. The homemade wire tool is also being fixed in a special holder, allowing it to rotate over the alleged center of circle, forming a draught hole. Then, after heating the end of our tool with a burner, I rotate the wire holder to start the burning process. It requires quite a long time, as 1 mm of briar is being passed in ten ñ twelve approaches. So, it takes hours to get complete air passage through the stummel. A similar approach is applicable for bamboo, but burning through bamboo is much easier and faster."
"At the next stage, we are passing through the draught hole with a ball borer. I am using ball borers of 3, 3.5 and 4 mm without a holder, as they are welded to a metal cable. Then, we pass the cable from the tobacco chamber towards the mortise. Drilling takes place by pulling the bore; not by pushing it. This typically goes quite smoothly and without any problems, quick and easy. No problems with shavings, as they remain after the borer passage and easily fall down to smoking chamber."
"That is all there is to know about my curved drilling technique. It works, but requires a lot of time and patience. I have used this technique since 2011, and a lot of pipes have been made since then."