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Wise Advice For New Carvers

(35 posts)
  1. deathmetal

    deathmetal

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    A few of the just getting started pipe makers were charging impressive prices for their pipes. And they went back home with them. I’m sure they will figure out that they need to pay their dues and earn the respect of the hobbyists for making great smoking pipes before they can get prices commanded by the established makers. And, as always, there were what I call “showoff” tables where hobbyists would display their collections and have unreasonably high prices on their pipes and wonder why no one was buying them. The more astute collectors who had tables with wood at reasonable prices sold a lot of them as many hobbyists were roaming the show room.

    http://pipestud.com/pipestuds-latest-blog/

    Knowing market value and the wisdom of paying one's dues... possibly a great life lesson.

    "My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey." -- William Faulkner

    The Metal Mixtures
    Posted 1 year ago #
  2. cigrmaster

    cigrmaster

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    When I see these new carvers with 500.00 plus prices on their sandblasted pipes, I basically just laugh to myself. In many cases the blasts are average at best and their shaping is nothing to write home about. I could name a few of these new carvers but I think most of us know who we are talking about. There is a guy out there named Ryan Alden whose prices are fair. His blast work, stems and quality of the smoking experience makes him a good value. I said it before he could be the next Rad Davis. I own 2 of his pipes and they smoke great.

    Here is a pipe for 1600.00 that I bet does not smoke 5 times better than a pipe from Ryan. In fact I would be surprised if it smoked as good.
    https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/new/former/moreinfo.cfm?product_id=258922

    Harris
    Posted 1 year ago #
  3. zack24

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    The market is rarely wrong. I went to the Vegas Show 4 years ago. The night before the show, I looked at everyone else’s pipes in the bar...and almost didn’t want to show my pipes the next day because I realized how bad they were. Priced them at $400, took them all home with me...and learned a little along the way...

    Posted 1 year ago #
  4. deathmetal

    deathmetal

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    The market is rarely wrong.

    It is the original "wisdom of crowds." Thanks for sharing that intense short story. Reminds me of the "micro-short" stories that people were writing back in the early 00s: almost like little poems of life experience.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  5. dmcmtk

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    Here is a pipe for 1600.00 that I bet does not smoke 5 times better than a pipe from Ryan. In fact I would be surprised if it smoked as good.

    It's a fair comment, but a bit like apples and oranges. The price is based on the market for the maker's pipes. I'm sure in the last 50 years or so, Former has learned how to make a decent enough smoking pipe.

    Dave
    Duke Street Irregular
    Posted 1 year ago #
  6. cigrmaster

    cigrmaster

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    Dave, Former knows how to carve a pipe no doubt, but after owning 6 of them, I sold them all and like my Rad's and Aldens much more.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  7. sasquatch

    sasquatch

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    It's been an interesting few years here. The market has changed, the number of carvers has dramatically changed, and the number of guys who are interested in actually learning how to craft a pipe well ... hasn't changed. I've seen more frustration lately on all sides - established makers, newer makers who are working really hard and have decent product but are being ignored, retailers, brand newbies.... there's a lot of different pressures on the market. Lots of pipes going to Asia is a factor that awhile back... wasn't a factor, really.

    When I see someone considering an artisan pipe, I ask them their budget, their hopes and dreams for the pipe, all sorts of relevant factors, and try to direct them successfully to a carver who will meet their needs. The cool side of all this is that there's a LOT of room - if someone wants to carve lizard-shaped pipes and decorate them with glued on glitter... they can. Unfortunately, there's a lot of really awful pipes being made under the "artisan" flag and with wider exposure, the wider education about what any pipe should look like at any given price point... that's been a little slower. But whatever - people can buy what they want from who they want, and that's all part of this equation. Finding a fit and making it stick long term is not the same as being "that guy that makes AWESOME pipes" for 9 months.

    The FDA stuff has been scary, there's all kinds of strange shit going on, it's lucky any of us manage to get by in this industry at this point!

    Posted 1 year ago #
  8. dmcmtk

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    Dave, Former knows how to carve a pipe no doubt, but after owning 6 of them, I sold them all and like my Rad's and Aldens much more.

    Harris, fair enough!

    ...it's lucky any of us manage to get by in this industry at this point!

    How do you make a small fortune as a pipe maker, start with a large one!

    Posted 1 year ago #
  9. georged

    georged

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    Using Sasquatch's observations as a jumping-off point, the single biggest "big picture" game changer was the advent of the Internet. Effectively overnight, anyone who wanted to sell a widget had a significant percentage of Planet Earth as their potential market.

    Before that time, pipe makers either worked in factories or spent DECADES building a reputation as a soloist. And like pop stardom in the music business, only a few were consistently good enough to make a decent living at it.

    That last detail was dismissed/overlooked by people who fixated on the four-figure prices that pipe making's rockstars received for their work, though, and the Gold Rush was on. Anyone with an internet connection, access to a post office, and a small wood shop could Live the Dream if they wanted to.

    They thought.

    The rest we know. Self-delusion---whether willful or of the Dunning-Kruger variety---is a powerful thing.

    Dogs live such short lives... and spend most it waiting for us to come home
    Posted 1 year ago #
  10. mso489

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    I'm not a pipe carver, but I am an observer. I suspect that some of the new carvers asking master-carver prices are reacting to the investment in machinery and tools and materials. To them, the prices of their pipes added up are a fair reflection of their expenses. Like any business, they have to anticipate operating at a loss at first, and then maybe breaking even, and if they are lucky and their skills develop quickly, eventually making a profit, and eventually if they are extra good, and lucky, a good profit. Pipe carving is like teaching, not a profession to be entered with great wealth in mind.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  11. alan73

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    My advice to young carvers...make fabulous pipes , price them low at first, sell them, create unmet demand, where you can get commissions and start selling pipes easily for higher prices . Build it and they will come. The network effect is strong in the pipe community. Produce high priced and only mediocre pipes = expensive personal hobby or limited success.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  12. weezell

    weezell

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    and the Gold Rush was on
    In example the"Cigar Boom" of a few years back. Correct??...

    "the weez"...
    Posted 1 year ago #
  13. jvnshr

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    In example the"Cigar Boom" of a few years back. Correct??...

    Or Bitcoin.

    Javan
    Posted 1 year ago #
  14. newbroom

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    My take is that if you're making pipes to survive, you'd better do your homework, but, if you're making them because you love pipes and tobacco, art, function, and challenge, have at it.
    You can ask for whatever you think your work is worth.
    Ya, the market IS a niche.
    Most of 'we' regular readers of this forum already have enough pipes and tobacco to get through the winter.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  15. briarblues

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    Years ago, I used to be in the school of , you need to learn your chops and build a following / reputation, before you may ask significant prices. I used to shudder when I saw a new carver asking $300.00 and above for pipes, when the carver had maybe a year under their belt.

    Now my views have changed dramatically. As George pointed out, the internet has changed the game radically. No longer are pipe carvers secretive about techniques. No longer do they refuse to share their wealth of knowledge with the up and comers. Pipe carvers ( for the most part ) are more than willing and in many cases go out of their way to help those following in their path.

    Also with the internet these newer carvers can see what their counterparts are creating and what the current minimum standards are as far as what buyers will accept. They either reach that minimum level or keep trying to attain it. Some do, some don't. Those that do strive to surpass what was just finished.

    Personally I now look at any carvers work without a thought for their length in the industry / hobby. I look only at the quality of fit and finish. I look at their "eye" for shape to grain relationships. Quality of stem work around the button. Drilling precision. Chamber interior for dye " splash ". If I see stain below the rim it "suggests", to me, some minor lack of finishing finesse. I will look closely at the overall finish. Is the staining done evenly? I then feel the pipe in hand. Is the finish smooth? Are there any flat spots or weak edges?

    Quite honestly in the last decade I have been more than impressed with many of the newer carvers than ever before.

    My advice would be to get a carver mentor. An established carver that is willing to share techniques. One that will critique each pipe as it stands, from a carvers eyes, not a buyers eyes. Buyers use their heart. Accept the critiques and never take them personally.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

    Posted 1 year ago #
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    bigpond

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    Calling bs on this. Mike, your post is well articulated and thoughtful, per usual. However, as you can see all across Instagram, there is no end to the number of folks that can create an eye popping pipe photo. Having a pipe in hand may certainly reinforce an initial impression of quality, but it’s largely an illusion when it comes to the most meaningful metric of the smoking pipe.

    And here’s where most new artisanal pipes fall down. The wood ain’t good, You aren’t grabbing properly seasoned blocks off the drying rack when you’ve been carving for 6 months. Watching endless hours of YouTube videos from j.alans stream will not speed the aging process, though you may be able to polish a slot like the dickens afterward.

    I became aware of this when I purchased a pipe from sp’s debut lot of Ping Zhan’s pipes. Lovely pipe, well finished but it smoked wet and a it flavored every bowl with a bitter tang that is still present despite a few years on now. Since that experience, I’ve noticed this same character repeat from the majority of artisanal pipes I’ve purchased from new folks, whereas it is universally absent from the old dudes that don’t use Instagram, like cavicchi, for example.

    My own tinfoil hat moment is new carvers see bowl coating as a panacea for undercured briar.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  17. briarblues

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    bigpond, Thank You for the kind words. I agree with your assessment of the final requirement for a fine smoking pipe. The initial views of a fresh pipe in hand un smoked can only suggest how well the carvers techniques are. How much they care about fit and finish. It says nothing about how the pipe will smoke.

    As far as "curing" briar, a term which I dislike. I didn't know briar needed to cured of any ills. I prefer to say well aged. I was once told by a briar supplier that once a block leaves the seller it needs a full year of aging before the briar may be "worked", unless the tobacco chamber and air passage has been drilled. Then it requires only 6 months. To my mind, that seems like a short time, unless the carver uses some extra techniques to speed up the aging / drying process. Castello and Ardor both allow their briar to sit for a minimum of 10 years prior to "working" the briar. Others wait a few years.

    For a newer carver I suggest it would be wise to purchase briar that already has some age.

    Regards
    Michael J. Glukler

    Posted 1 year ago #
  18. zack24

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    Lovely pipe, well finished but it smoked wet and a it flavored every bowl with a bitter tang that is still present despite a few years on now.

    The "bitter tang" suggests that the briar cutter didn't boil the briar long enough after cutting to remove the resins or change the water between batches. Or maybe one of the local donkeys just chose to pee on that particular Erica Arborea as part of his daily ritual...

    Working wet briar is a pain- I was buying 50 blocks at a time from Calabria Pipes in Italy- spent a couple of days visiting with them maybe 5 years ago...and when their briar showed up, it was wet. The only way to get a decent finish was drilling and letting it sit for a few months. After I accumulated a few shipments, I ended up with stock 1-3 years old and there was a big difference. On the other side- I have some huge Algerian blocks that I've owned for 35 years- They're hard as a frikkin' rock, and I'm not sure whether it would make a decent pipe or not...

    Lately, I've been buying big blocks of Mimmo Grade 2- I can usually get a couple of pipes out of it, and the quality is pretty consistent...but it runs maybe $45 a block....

    On the whole subject of new pipemakers- the biggest problem is that it takes time to figure out that the pipes you spent hours slaving over weren't very good. You can get better quickly spending one-on-one time with a great carver...or you can get feedback from going to the shows, but it simply takes time for most of us mere mortals to improve...and that requires making a bunch of pipes- I set a goal of three pipes a month (about all I can do with the amount of time Greta and I spend working for a living). Looking forward to the next 2 weeks- I actually get to have some fun and make pipes...!

    Posted 1 year ago #
  19. jpmcwjr

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    Wondering what might happen to/with a fully carved (finished) stummel that is then boiled to further "cure" it. Would it go out of shape? Split? Warp? I know a lot of guys here are afraid of any water getting on their pipes, so it'd take some balls to find out the answer to that. But your take- and other carvers- would be appreciated.

    I am trying to think if I had a pipe that still smokes funky, but fortunately don't have one.

    Oh, also, how long per boil? Then air dry and re-boil, or.....?

    I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
    Posted 1 year ago #
  20. deathmetal

    deathmetal

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    Or maybe one of the local donkeys just chose to pee on that particular Erica Arborea as part of his daily ritual...

    Careful! You'll start a trend, just like kopi luwak.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  21. tslex

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    My wife is a potter and a baker. Primarily she makes items she likes, that satisfy her, or that fill a need of a friend. But she does sell some of her wares. The truth we have come to understand is that it is VERY difficult ever to recoup what a handmade item is "worth" to the maker. The time, attention, talent, discarded failures, costs of equipment and materials -- these things are not obvious to most who might buy these things.

    Pipe buyers are at least reasonably educated lot when it comes to their hobby. You don't hear too much "$200 for a little hunk of wood?!" talk at a pipe show. [Whereas I have often heard something like: "I can put my flowers in a water glass and they'll last just as long as in the hand-thrown, exquisitely fashioned, beautifully glazed vase that woman is asking $80 for."]

    I think pipe buyers generally have a sens of the artistry and engineering at play in a pipe. The other side of that coin is that while LOTS of people buy pottery, folks from across the spectrum of knowledge, I think pipe buyers tend overall to be a more discerning crowd -- if only because there just are fewer of us. This means those starting out are up against a crowd of educated buyers, with exacting standards, and a sense (usually) of tradition that's going to demand a certain degree of dues-paying and demonstrated performance.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  22. tslex

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    zack wrote:

    On the whole subject of new pipemakers- the biggest problem is that it takes time to figure out that the pipes you spent hours slaving over weren't very good.

    That is precisely true and very wise. My wife learned early on not to fall in love with any piece until it was truly, utterly, complete and satisfactory. Potters have to deal with the unpredictability of the kiln. Stuff just happens. Pieces crack; glazes go horribly wrong. And when everything is finished, you have to be able to look at it and ruthlessly say "not good enough."

    One reason I'm NOT any kind of artisan, I think.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  23. zack24

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    Oh, also, how long per boil? Then air dry and re-boil, or.....?

    The burls are kept moist for several months after harvesting, then cut, and boiled. I don't know exactly how long he air dries them at that point- I think he mentioned around 3 months. The reality is that most wood air dries to ambient moisture at around 1" per year, so a 2" thick block would need a couple of years. Boiling a finished stummel would be a bad idea- it would completely screw up your mortise...

    Posted 1 year ago #
  24. mso489

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    One of my favorite carvers (I own about six of his pipes, or more) must have inherited the family farm. He sells only at the state fair and the regional pipe show, not online at all. "I'd spend all my time taking pictures." He prices his pipes to sell to impulse buyers (and his devoted experienced pipe smokers) at the state fair, and with decades of training and craft behind him, keeps the prices within reach of farmers and blue collar guys. I admire his pipes and his ethic as well. It sure shows up in the smoking characteristics of his work. Jerry Perry of Colfax, N.C. He's really one of a kind.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  25. sablebrush52

    sablebrush52

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    My advice to new carvers is simple. Have another career to support your carving. This isn't exactly a gigantic market.

    It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. - Mark Twain

    It is pointless to argue with a fanatic since a dim bulb can't be converted into a searchlight. - Jesse Silver
    Posted 1 year ago #
  26. crashthegrey

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    Jesse, that is incredibly sound advice.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  27. warren

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    Good enough, isn't.

    A man without a shillelagh is a man without an expedient.
    Posted 1 year ago #
  28. sasquatch

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    What the world needs, what the world really needs... is more poorly executed blowfishes, with more fossilized walrus nipple adorning the shank.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  29. jpberg

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    Dude. You said that was one of a kind.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  30. sasquatch

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    I said your wife was pretty too.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  31. deathmetal

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    They promised me no new taxes.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  32. zack24

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    Sasquatch- your comments on fossilized Walrus nipples are so sexist- everyone knows the finest material found on ancient walruses is the Oosic- fossilized Walrus penile bone- i’ve Used it with great care and discernment on maybe 20 pipes this year...the smell of hot, burning Oosic as you grind it down is memorable..

    Posted 1 year ago #
  33. deathmetal

    deathmetal

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    But if you rub the pipe too vigorously, it becomes a churchwarden.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  34. sasquatch

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    Oosic! I been doing it wrong the whole time! No wonder I'm not rich from pipes yet.

    Posted 1 year ago #
  35. davet

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    if you rub the pipe too vigorously, it becomes a churchwarden

    Posted 1 year ago #

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