Patrick Slazansky Pipe Review
    April 23rd, 2013

Slovakian Newcomer Makes His Mark

Tom Spithaler

It seems there is always one ‘thing’ about a pipecrafter’s style that draws my attention. There is always one sort of standout characteristic that tells me, "You need to get to know this guy!" Things like Bruce Weaver’s blasting techniques, the finishes of Dotter pipes, the classic ‘tough guy’ poker shapes from Mark Balkovec (who can do much more than a classic poker I assure you …), etc. You get the picture.

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Dotter Pipes
    March 19th, 2013

Croatian Creativity: Black Bamboo Freehand #84

Tom Spithaler

In 1989 I went through Infantry Basic Training at Ft. Jackson, SC. I was sworn in 7 September, and left basic training 14 December and was assigned to Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington. Basic Training is designed to mold a young man into a soldier. Training is drilled into you by a succession of skilled, task-oriented Drill Sergeants. Each task repeated over and over and over until that one task becomes a response of nature, rather than a ’skill’ you have to stop and remember. If you have to take the time to stop and think, it will be too late, and you’ll become a battlefield statistic.

I remember a lot of my days in basic training; the heat, the cold, the commitment, the hard work, and the brothers that were made there. But something else really stands out from those days in basic. The only day off I had was Thanksgiving Day. That was the only day we were granted the privilege of leaving post with a 24 hour Pass. On that day, I sat in the living room of the home of a high school friend of mine, and watched the beginnings of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. That day CNN was filed with images of the Berlin Wall being crushed, torn asunder, and family members who had been stuck on opposite sides of that wall, emotionally embracing each other after having been separated for nearly 50 years.

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Testing a Teipen
    February 7th, 2013

A Free-Hand Dublin of Excellence

Tom Spithaler

Nestled in west-central Indiana, the city of Cloverdale has a population of 2,172. It hosts a single McDonalds, an Econo-Lodge and a beautiful natural attraction called Cataract Falls along Mill Creek. Cataract Falls is the largest waterfall in Indiana with a drop of over 80 feet cascading over a set of double waterfalls. The epitome of small town America, Cloverdale has a proud heritage going back nearly 150 years, and looks like a community right out of a Normal Rockwell painting.

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The Breakfast Egg
    December 21st, 2012

The Brilliance of Thomas Bazant

Tom Spithaler

When I was young, I was a little different than the other kids. I suffered from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis that was diagnosed at the age of five. Because of the growth variables and bone and joint weakness caused by this disease, from age five to eight, my activities were seriously curtailed. To this day I distinctly remember the doctor say that I needed to rest, and not get involved in any strenuous activity or sports in order to ensure a somewhat “normal future”. That line stuck with me.

With that said, my dreams as a young man are what really made me different. My dreams were simply to walk without pain. For me walking more than ten or twenty feet was a triumph at times. While most kids my age dreamed of professional sports or vacations in the Caribbean, I dreamed of walking – long hikes through the woods at home, backpacking through Europe, seeing the lands of my ancestors in Germany and Poland, and walking the same beautiful hills that the Von Trapp Family did in “The Sound of Music”. That’s what I dreamed of.

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How to Smoke a Vegetable
    August 8th, 2012

James Gilliam’s Hand-Crafted Squashed Tomato

Tom Spithaler

How a shape appears to a pipe-carver as they sit and stare at a raw block of briar is a mystery to many of us who are collectors and smokers. Perhaps not so much to the artisans that are actually doing the carving, but as for me, I’d be lost. Some people though, much like I have read about Michelangelo, see the finished product in the raw material before a hammer, file or chisel is set to the material. Michelangelo is quoted as having said to a contemporary, that it is not that he has to carve the figure out of the marble that stands before him, as much as it is to simply take off the material that he knows does not belong there.

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East Coast Bias: Part 2
    June 28th, 2012

Pipe Crafter Kurt Huhn Goes Formal

Tom Spithaler

In last month’s review we looked at the first of two pieces that Rhode Island craftsman Kurt Huhn made and submitted to be scrutinized under my malevolent elucidation (insert your best evil laugh here). But seriously, looking closely at the Chubby Billiard he sent (see previous review), and seeing the fine craftsmanship applied in what is essentially a theme on a classic pipe, I was not sure what to expect from the other sample, a squat Brandy.

Well, Brandy, she’s a fine Girl. What a good wife she would be… I digress, and must apologize for the uncalled for Looking Glass song reference. That being said, it does remind me a bit of the past. My past.

As a freelance journalist and photographer for the local newspapers in my late teens, I remember the first photo I ever had published. That picture of the flaming Chrysler K-Car paid me $30.00 and made the front page of the local paper, with no by-line. As a reward, my photography mentor, the husband of my again Journalism instructor in High School, invited me to his home and presented me with a fine glass of peach brandy - in the proper glass of course. It just so happened that he was a pipe smoker as well from the hills of West ‘Verginny’ (as he pronounced it in long, drawn-out form) and knew full well how to relax and celebrate. As we sat and sipped, he smoked his pipe. This was not my first exposure to pipe smoking, and sad to say, not my first exposure to brandy either, but it was my first exposure to a proper brandy glass and a brandy shaped pipe.

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