Would You Buy a Semi-Handmade Former For $530?

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fjc623

Member
Nov 24, 2014
136
323
New York
Recently purchased a Former pipe. The pipe is very light in weight mouth piece very comfortable seems to smoke well
but I was expecting an exceptional smoke as all the hype with this carver and not to mention the prices that are up there
i see no difference then the name when I compare to Castello,
Ferndown or Dunhill.

For a pipe that is a prefab I would not waste the money.BE59ECE2-D2A2-4863-8FE3-F0098730E6D9.jpeg34530ADC-2A89-411C-85F5-8E494F47D6BA.jpeg
 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
14,169
19,424
SoCal
jrs457.wixsite.com
So Former makes a pipe that is very similar to the Eltang Copenhagen Collection and Sara Eltang Line, called the Former Signature Apple. The stummel and stem are premade, but the shaping and finishing is finished off by Hans. I was introduced to this pipe by @shaneireland after I watched @npod buy one at the West Coast Pipe Show. (If it wasn’t you, Neal, correct me. But I remember it being you buying one.)

The pipe immediately caught my eye, and Shane explained to me what it was. I have wanted one since, and almost pulled the trigger on one months ago, but it was brown and not black, like I prefer.

I have now noticed that they recently shot up over $100 in price, from around $400 to $531 (I can’t speak for how much they sell for on Smoking Pipes, because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one in stock there). There is no problem with a carver increasing prices - it’s a hard way to earn a living - however, I want to ask you guys: Is a partially handmade Former worth this price point? I still like them, but I have been pushed a little bit further away from considering one now. Would love to hear what Former owners think.
I have no idea if it's worth the price point. This is a completely subjective decision. Do you like it at the price plus tax and shipping? then you have your answer.
 

wyfbane

Preferred Member
Apr 26, 2013
4,888
2,767
Tennessee
I lean more towards paying for aesthetics more than a lot of members here, so I would be the first one to tell you or agree that you should follow your heart and buy what you like regardless of cost.

That said, I have only spent more than $385 once on a pipe and it was this Van Erck:

20210110_211733.jpg

I paid $600 but that man put $600 worth of effort into this baby, regardless of how quickly he turned it out.

I see all these pipes in the $6-1400 and I see the beauty, but sometimes not the effort/magic/etc.

If that pipe of yours lets you see the magic, go for it.
 

frozenchurchwarden

Preferred Member
Mar 1, 2014
3,010
2,551
Recently purchased a Former pipe. The pipe is very light in weight mouth piece very comfortable seems to smoke well
but I was expecting an exceptional smoke as all the hype with this carver and not to mention the prices that are up there
i see no difference then the name when I compare to Castello,
Ferndown or Dunhill.
I hate to say it but I have yet to see a British Pipemaker ship a cleanly made button.
At least Former has that going for him.

My samples size was only 4 pipes from three carvers, but all at prices over $200 and it's enough to set the trend in my mind that carvers in that part of the world must see the stem as something more disposable than lasting, which I can't totally disagree with but it goes to show that different regions all have their quirks.
 
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UncleRasta

Preferred Member
Sep 26, 2019
1,324
17,319
Monterey, CA
In my 18 odd months of pipe smoking, I've yet to break the $100 barrier for a pipe, so I'd have to say no. My experience with cameras and other gadgetry tells me that the more I read up on stuff the more intense my hankering gets, and I become more susceptible to buying "qualities" I don't practically need. That said, if you have the budget for it...go for it.
 

shaneireland

Member
Jun 14, 2014
127
796
Conway, SC
www.smokingpipes.com
So my answer is obviously “yes” because I own one of Former’s Rusticated signature Apples, and two different smooth versions of the exact same shape.

Whether or not one should buy one of these is a matter of many, many subjective things, namely price.

Aside from that, I wanted to clarify a few things...

“Semi-handmade” is indeed a little silly. Nearly all pipes are made by hand with the help of tools—outside of some very rare 3D printing, even phrased pipes are often just turned from templates and then still heavily worked by hand once they come off the machine. There’s many ways to copy a shape or work from a template, and trust me when I say the time one might be saving only matters when they’re making a lot of pipes (factories).

The real distinction here is preform stems vs. hand-cut. High quality preform stems can be made amazing by the hands of a master who is going to work them for comfort (they really are saving time on the tenon part, since they can cut the mortise to a standard size every time assuming they’re using consistent preform stems). Hand-cut stems are a huge pain and that’s a lot of what you’re paying for with Dunhill, Castello, and up.
Of course, some people make terrible hand-cut stems, so it’s not always a sign of quality or value.

Former’s decision to shape these little Apples from a template is based on one thing: consistency. He’s an amazing pipe maker, one of the best , and that’s why he makes this look easy (since someone mentioned that they saw a video of him working). He could turn these entirely by eye/hand, but he’s worked for decades to improve his tooling and workshop, so why not keep things extremely consistent by using machinery intelligently? These are not “prefab” that he’s sourcing from somewhere else—they’re made by him in his shop from a template and still require a lot of painstaking work that has to be done by hand.

The truth is, it takes as much skill to produce the same shape over and over within very tight tolerances as it does to whip out a bunch of slightly different Apples. It saves cost and allows a wider segment of the market to own a piece of him; a piece of pipe making history.

And I know I’m not alone, but if you’re like me, it’s nice to have some “modest” high-end pipes for daily use/travel. I love other pipes for different reasons, but if I could only smoke one pipe for the rest of my life, the Former Rusticated Apple would be a serious contender.

There’s a reason these little Apples sell out instantly all the time, and rarely become available on the secondary market...

Oh, and aesthetics aside, it’s just a great size for me personally. I always tell folks they should buy pipes that appeal to them aesthetically, and if they know their preferences well enough, ones that are a practical size for them or for a certain application.
 

shaneireland

Member
Jun 14, 2014
127
796
Conway, SC
www.smokingpipes.com
Recently purchased a Former pipe. The pipe is very light in weight mouth piece very comfortable seems to smoke well
but I was expecting an exceptional smoke as all the hype with this carver and not to mention the prices that are up there
i see no difference then the name when I compare to Castello,
Ferndown or Dunhill.

For a pipe that is a prefab I would not waste the money.View attachment 59568View attachment 59569
Again, Former’s pipes aren’t “prefab.”

And this is a cool little Billiard! It’s an older piece with his script stamping. I hope you enjoy it.

As far as the “hype” relating to smoking qualities, the dirty little secret is that once you pass a certain threshold of price/quality, it’s much harder to notice changes in the quality of smoke. Especially since so much of the quality of one’s smoke comes down to technique 🙃

Former, Dunhill, Castello and Ferndown are similarly great pipes in the hands of an experienced piper. It’s the same reason Sea Rock and Collection (or Shell Briar and Amber Root) tend to all smoke well, with slight differences being random (related more to the differences between blocks of wood than craftsmanship) or psychological (I paid more for this pipe, or love this pipe’s looks more, so it tastes better).
 

python

Administrator
Staff member
Apr 8, 2009
3,750
6,949
Maryland
pipesmagazine.com
I can't speak to the process that Former uses for semi-handmade, but I do know something about semi-handmade pipes.

I own a few Luciano pipes and they were semi-handmade. The owner, Luca Di Piazza, referred to it as being "Hand Finished". He explained to me how they did it and what they did was this:

They used a machine to cut the main shape of the pipe and then finished the pipe by hand. Included in the hand finishing process, among a lot of other things, was drilling, stem work, etc. The stem work was done entirely by hand. The machine cutting the shape out of the briar saved a ton of time.
 

shaneireland

Member
Jun 14, 2014
127
796
Conway, SC
www.smokingpipes.com
I can't speak to the process that Former uses for semi-handmade, but I do know something about semi-handmade pipes.

I own a few Luciano pipes and they were semi-handmade. The owner, Luca Di Piazza, referred to it as being "Hand Finished". He explained to me how they did it and what they did was this:

They used a machine to cut the main shape of the pipe and then finished the pipe by hand. Included in the hand finishing process, among a lot of other things, was drilling, stem work, etc. The stem work was done entirely by hand. The machine cutting the shape out of the briar saved a ton of time.
This is exactly right. The point (at least one of them) I was trying to make is that this applies to a vast majority of pipes that have ever existed. One could even make the argument that turning a pipe by hand (not from a template) on a wood/metal lathe is a “time saver.” Saving time and working smarter, not harder, just aren’t inherently negative things. Just like doing things the hard or old-fashioned way doesn’t always mean “better.”

I generally just try to preach that how a pipe was made matters much, much less than whether or not you dig it.
 

hoosierpipeguy

Preferred Member
Jan 28, 2018
7,086
31,391
I think the question was whether this pre formed pipe was worth $530. It's not perfectly clear exactly what Former starts with and what he adds to it after that. Does the pre form come from his personal stash of quality briar or what? And does he just start with a piece of briar that has been "pre cut" or does he also get a pre fabricated stem and modify it? I'm must curious, none of those questions are really germane to the worth question.

Regardless of the answers, the worth question is still relative to the market. If people are paying $530 for these pipes, then it is obviously worth $530. Whether it is worth that to each individual is solely up to that individual. Me. no. But I have a few Artisans I'm partial to and that is purely subjective as well. Let me say it differently. If I was a big fan of Former and I liked this pipe, I could see paying $530 for it.

These subjective question threads are "special". Kind of like your wife asking you if her jeans make her ass look big.
 

shaneireland

Member
Jun 14, 2014
127
796
Conway, SC
www.smokingpipes.com
I think the question was whether this pre formed pipe was worth $530. It's not perfectly clear exactly what Former starts with and what he adds to it after that. Does the pre form come from his personal stash of quality briar or what? And does he just start with a piece of briar that has been "pre cut" or does he also get a pre fabricated stem and modify it? I'm must curious, none of those questions are really germane to the worth question.

Regardless of the answers, the worth question is still relative to the market. If people are paying $530 for these pipes, then it is obviously worth $530. Whether it is worth that to each individual is solely up to that individual. Me. no. But I have a few Artisans I'm partial to and that is purely subjective as well. Let me say it differently. If I was a big fan of Former and I liked this pipe, I could see paying $530 for it.

These subjective question threads are "special". Kind of like your wife asking you if her jeans make her ass look big.
Forgive the previous long-winded responses.

To answer the question “how are these different from his other pipes?”

The only differences are that the bowl is shaped (by him, in his workshop) from a template. This allows for a high degree of consistency, but he’s using raw, unshaped blocks of briar to achieve this just like he would when making any other Former pipe. Mostly when he’s going through a batch of briar, like almost every other maker, the blocks are first sorted to size. They’re only “graded” (either literally or simply by determining if they’ll be rustic, sandblasted, or smooth) once they’ve been shaped.

The stems are high-quality acrylic preform stems that he will modify to his specs (they’re thin and rounded; very comfortable). So, the fact that they’re rusticated, and the fact that the stems are modified preform, account for the price differences between the little Apples and the rest of his work. Like I said, if he makes one of these and the grain is good, he’ll finish it smooth and charge much more than $500, but still less than a smooth with a hand-cut stem, or that’s larger in size, has better grain, etc.