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pylorns

Preferred Member
Aug 20, 2013
1,964
12
Austin
http://www.pipemakersforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=9973
Hey Guys (and Gals)
Below is the Briarworks pipe-story in a nutshell for anyone who's interested.
First, to answer Oklahoma Red's question, yes, we started a factory in China to produce pipes specifically for the Chinese market. After about a year and a half of traveling to and from China, I realized that the pipes were only getting produced to my standards when I was physically at the factory. Then I was faced with the decision either to move to China for a couple years or accept the level of quality that our workers were capable of in my absence.
So I met with a realtor there, put down a deposit on a nice Villa in the Happy Golden Rainbow Unicorn-Dragon Paradise Palace neighborhood, got my Chinese work-Visa, and readied my wife and three young children for an adventure of indeterminate length. A month before we were set to leave, I woke up one morning and just pulled the plug. I decided that, if I was going to realize a 15+ year dream of creating the finest production pipes the world had ever seen, I was going to have to do it from here. On that note, is anybody in the market for five open-ended first class tickets to Shanghai? :)
So Pete and I got to work designing the equipment we would need to produce shapes never before possible in a "factory" pipe. We contracted with a company to build these machines and, after six months of being extremely dissatisfied, Pete and I donned our welding hoods and went to work building them ourselves. Fortunately, I spent nearly a decade building high end street rods and motorcycles, and Pete was a professional welder for about eight years. The first machines were "stick built" from sketches on napkins and copy-paper. It took us two and a half months of 60 hr weeks to do it, but we created something entirely new, cut from whole cloth. We laid every bead, tightened every bolt, and ran every wire. People may say the pipes are "machine made" (which isn't really accurate), but if that's true, I can tell you that the machines making them was definitely hand made.
After we finished building the machines, there were a couple months of testing and prototyping before we were able to generate any real production. Since then, we've built four additional machines, upgrading each of the previous models as we've tweaked and improved the design. We now have additional machinery in the works and are currently able to produce about 2000 pcs/month. We've hired and trained a team of personnel to finish the pipes to handmade standards, and I can honestly say I'm proud of every single pipe that goes out the door. We've recently brought on three very skilled pipe makers (which I'm sure will become "public" knowledge soon enough), and are hoping to add more.
One of the things I can tell you is that every single person we have working for us--many of whom had never touched a pipe before--can now finish a pipe better (and faster) than just about anyone else on this forum. Plus they've got healthcare and paid vacations. :) I don't mean that as a sharp stick in the eye. I'm simply saying that our guys (and gals) have an opportunity to finish a year's worth of handmade production every week and they're doing it using a process that I've taught them. There's no better training ground than this if you're actually serious about being a pipe maker.
We've had a 19-year old intern here for the past 7 weeks, and when he arrived he knew nothing. He was simply interested in the craft of making pipes and came to us as part of a work/study program at his University in Vermont. Yesterday, I watched him shape, drill, sand, contrast stain, polish, bowl coat, and stamp a pipe that's better than 90% of the so called "Indie Artisan" stuff I see on Instagram. Plus, he did it in a matter of hours, not days. My point is that we are doing real pipe making here, and we are training real pipe makers. I was making pipes before the Internet was even a useful source of information, so I know what it's like to fumble around in the dark trying to figure out what on earth you're doing and how you're gonna manage to do it. Briarworks offers an actual path for learning what goes into a high quality pipe and then provides the repetition to hone key skills in the process. Like Scott said, it really is like a paid apprenticeship in the best equipped, most capable pipe making shop on planet Earth. If you can't come out of here as a capable pipe maker, it's simply not going to happen . . . ever.
On another forum I read a comment from one of the BeardBro pipe makers (my term not his) replying to a potential Icarus customer. He basically said "It's a nice looking pipe, but there are a hundred more exactly like it." He's wrong about that; there are actually a thousand more exactly like it, and that's something I'm proud of. The whole point is excellence in design, engineering, fit-and-finish, and absolute consistency. You should know exactly what you're getting every time, and that is a beautiful, perfectly engineered smoking machine at an unbeatable price. That's what we do here.
His point, as I took it, was that his Indie Artisan pipes were all "unique" and full of "character," whereas the Icarus pipe was serially produced. Problem is, "unique" often means you lack the skill to make two pipes exactly the same by hand, and more often than not, "character" is code for the lumpy shaping and scratches that Micah mentioned.
We have a customer who owns 22 Neptune Dublins, all of which are technically the "same" shape, but every single one of them is different! He knows how comfortable the bit is going to be, he knows what to expect from the fit-and-finish, and above all he knows every single pipe will smoke as well as anything else in the world, my own pipes included. We don't just have automatons doing the same thing over and over. Every member of our team makes decisions about how to finish a given pipe, whether or not to use an adornment, what type, what color, what style mouthpiece, etc. The idea is to offer the consumer a nearly infinite variety of styles using the shape merely as a jumping-off point.
So just to clear the air here, let me say this. If your goal is to make excellent pipes that demonstrate respect for the craft and for the customer parting with his/her hard-earned money, you are absolutely not in Briarworks' crosshairs. In fact, I've personally spent the past 15 years trying to help anyone who is genuinely striving for excellence as a pipe maker, a fact I hope many here can attest to. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I've also created some monsters in the process, and as a result, the market seems to be littered with hastily wrought $400 pipe-turds of late. If you are a purveyor of such pipe-turds, make no mistake, I strive with every fibre of my being to drive you out of the market and back to the hole whence you came, so that consumers and real pipe makers alike no longer have to suffer the indignity of your existence.
That's all for now.
TJ
 

beastkhk

Senior Member
Feb 3, 2015
327
0
Is this to introduce the company of sorts or was there recent some sort of controversy? I feel like I am missing something.

 

pylorns

Preferred Member
Aug 20, 2013
1,964
12
Austin
You have to follow the whole thread - on pipemakers forum to get a better idea. Briarworks has been around a bit so they are not "introducing" themselves per say.

 

beastkhk

Senior Member
Feb 3, 2015
327
0
First time around I missed that the thread had multiple pages. I will go back and get caught up.

 

buroak

Preferred Member
Jul 29, 2014
1,858
0
The Icarus and Neptune lines look to be very high quality products, but I like my tired old catalog shapes. I hope Briarworks will get round to working their magic on traditional shapes. They have a great thing going and I wish them success, I just wish they made something I want to buy.

 

frozenchurchwarden

Preferred Member
Mar 1, 2014
1,999
53
I've loved the premise of Briarworks from the first moment I heard about it on the radio show. It's just unfortunate that the pipes I'm looking for are nothing like what Briarworks makes (I'm looking for big bowled Churchwardens, preferrably with a 9mm filter slot, and that's about as far as you can get from an Icarus right now).

 

moriarty

Member
Feb 3, 2012
144
0
I read the entire thread and I'm afraid I am with Flatticus on this one. It smells rather nastily of bullying and cliquishness to me. Todd Johnson seems to consider himself the father of American pipemaking and, while he has been doing it for some years and has helped several good pipemakers learn their craft, I don't think he is all that. I don't doubt his competence but for the four-figure sums he sells his pipes for I am personally far more attracted to other pipemakers' work. If I Google for photos of Todd's pipes, in fact, I cannot find one that I like. In the thread he makes a point of attacking the integrity of any pipemaker who he views as making a pipe that is not excellent within its price range. Well, yes, but who judges this and what makes Todd so sure that his pipes match up to those sold at a similar price by Former, Skovgaard, Roush, Parks, etc. in artistry and quality? He acknowledges that the "turd" pipes have a large customer base and sell successfully, so he can't claim that ability to sell pipes at a certain price is a reliable measure of their worth.
I assume these "turd" pipes are the pokers and similar that have such a keen following these days, judging by his remarks about beard oil, beanies and motorbikes. Why can't pipemakers make these and why can't customers buy them if they like them? Why does smoking a poker with a coloured stem and carved flames make you such a dangerous half-wit? Because the self-appointed father of American pipemaking doesn't like the way the mouthpiece is shaped? Really? And isn't it simply a good thing for all of us that more people are getting into pipes and tobacco because of the popularity of some of these pipemakers and the way they are reaching new customers? What is there really to whine about and be so determined to stamp-out?
Better, I think, to concentrate on making and selling his own pipes rather than attacking other pipemakers and their customers. I note that certain very well-regarded pipemakers who normally post regularly on that forum kept themselves well out of the discussion. Good. I don't think the thread reflected well on the members of Todd's clique.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
18,464
1,139
All I know is that out of the entire pipe club that I am a member of, when his rep laid all of those pipes out for us to look at on a special pipe club night where his pipes were the only ones being pitched, everyone picked them up, examined them, scrutinized them, seriously considered buying, but then we all ended up buying something else, some even more expensive pipes. We had come to buy, and his rep was the only rep there. It was amazing that his pipes were unanimously rejected by serious pipe men who seriously collect pipes, without anyone saying anything negative. They just didn't appeal to us? Maybe they were too far out of the ordinary for us? Maybe they were all just too small? Maybe too fat and squat? Maybe they were all ugly? I can't read the minds of all of the other men who chose to walk away from those pipes. Others may love the things. I hear good stuff on here occasionally about his pipes.
Of course, his representative being a snobbish asshead who couldn't stop making fun of our favorite pipe makers didn't help any, ha ha. Maybe he just makes poor choices in employees? Just speculating, ha ha.
I wish the guy good luck, and maybe he will make a pipe that more people will like one day. And, those that do like them, good on you. Differences make the world go around, right? I am rooting for him to make a good one that becomes popular. We need more pipe companies.

 

lostandfound

Preferred Member
Sep 30, 2011
908
0
This is all very confusing to me. Who are the pipe makers selling $400 turds, exactly, and how do they relate to the Icarus and Neptune lines of pipes? I've seen a couple of threads praising these pipes, but this thread seems to be to the opposite effect.
It seems as if this is all some kind of complex marketing strategy. After all, if these pipes are being made in the quantities reported, they need to be moving off the shelves.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
18,464
1,139
A marketing strategy of insulting his customers because, of course, we are too stupid to realize that his pipes are greater than these stupid artisan pipe makers. We should all just line up and buy his, because everything else is just turds. I think his ego overran his logic and reason. Maybe he was drunk?

 

pitchfork

Preferred Member
May 25, 2012
3,840
12
I had seen that post before. It was made on the pipemakers forum, so the intended audience probably wasn't this forum. I've never handled, let alone smoked, one of his pipes, but from pictures they appear to be incredibly well made. And he trained under some of the Great Danes, so there is that. Most of them don't appeal to me, either, but that's just me.
I would be interested to know who the turd makers are, though!
If you liked this post, though, you should seek out the stinky ebonite thread on the same forum. Epic!

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
18,464
1,139
Sorry, as I reread all of this... His sales representative at our pipe club meeting was this way also. Maybe this was really posted by that guy. ...while drunk.

 

pylorns

Preferred Member
Aug 20, 2013
1,964
12
Austin
I'll just leave this here. About the 3:20 mark

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfegjiZSi9s

 

zack24

Preferred Member
May 11, 2013
1,726
0
Who are the pipe makers selling $400 turds, exactly, and how do they relate to the Icarus and Neptune lines
Nashville has a history of several pipemakers who either worked for or with other pipe makers. Some of the pipemakers left the fold, became very popular, and personalities began to have conflicts. When there's a pipe event in Nashville, you'll find a pretty clear division on who you see and who you don't see at various events...It's too bad- in general, they're all a bunch of talented guys who are fun to hang around....

 

warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
7,553
427
Didn't we beat up on these guys not too long ago? "Briarworks" may make a decent pipe, for which the market is quite limited, but obviously no one in the organization understands marketing. When your marketing strategy is based, even partially, on denigrating the competition, it means you do not feel your product can stand on its own.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
18,464
1,139
^^Bingo!!
I'm not sure what the video was all about. What is the connection between the video of the guys with beards and the comments Todd made? That just confuses me.

 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
26,705
1,088
I'm not up on this saga at all, but I can't say that characterizing all of the pipe artisans other than yourself as some kind of brigands is a charming psychology. All of us occasionally see the competition as the devil's spawn, but this is not a true perception and not an attractive side of human nature. I'm glad Briarworks is devoted to making really good pipes at reasonable prices. None of their products has yet attracted my flinty, hypercritical, months-to-make-a-purchase self, but I hope they'll keep working at it and not stick too many pins in the voodoo dolls of their fellow pipe makers.

 

warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
7,553
427
I left out one observation. Rather than a lack of marketing knowledge, his actions could simply be the result of an over sized ego. Viewing that video sometime ago, I realized that these folks, while making a passable product, are contemptuous of the very people they hope to sell to. That says "ego" to me.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
18,464
1,139
I've seen it before. They make a few sales, a few articles get written about them, and just when people start listening, they find you drunk and naked in the dinning room, pissing in the ashtrays. :puffy:

 

jackswilling

Preferred Member
Feb 15, 2015
1,777
2
I can't relate to anything going on in that video. I am no prude, been around course people, a lot, but I cannot relate to any of this, the over-wrought pride, the inability to say something coherent, and the disdain for potential customers. Don't get it.

 
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