I’ve been making pipes since 2006. After a few years of college, going for a Marine Biology Degree, I realized that it would be difficult to make a life in that industry. Like most young people I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. So I came home from school to regroup. Sitting in classrooms didn't sound like time well spent. It came to me one day at home. My great grandfather and my grandfather were both pipesmokers, I grew up with the sweet aroma of Captain Black and Half and Half filling my childhood. It always intrigued me. I was a fairly handy guy, taking apart electronics and putting them back together and helping my dad with house projects. I searched around and grabbed a pipe kit from Pimo. I set off to make a pipe with zero experience. I was hooked.
The peace and quiet of crafting functional art was mesmerizing and great therapy for me at a time when anxiety and stress was crippling my life. That first pipe was sold to a friend for a price I hadn't anticipated and took happily. (I later got it back from him for the lofty price of a brand new pipe with 10 years experience :) From there I connected with Steve Norse of Vermontfreehand.com and bought kits from him, all the while trying to crack into the elite club of high end pipemakers. That was a daunting task as the pipe boom was ramping up. Prices were going nuts and there was a great influx of designs and new makers from all over. Many of them had years or decades of experience on me, so I was able to take lots of inspiration from their pipes. I later got the chance to speak with many of my heroes in the industry, and I couldn't be more grateful for their guidance and mentoring.
In the following years I was working with Coopersark on ebay, starting my pipes at 1 cent and accepting 2/3 of the final auction price. This wasn't a bad deal most of the time, but then it started to get crazy. As the collecting boom peaked, my pipes 3 years in were selling for astronomical prices. This seemed to perturb quite a few people but the bidders spoke louder. One pipe in particular sold for $3000, up from the no-reserve starting price of a penny! I was completely freaked out by this but it did enable me to justify this as a career so off I went.
Upgrading my equipment, materials, and chops changed the game for me. It gave me a new appreciation for the craft I fell into. Pipemaking is such a special art. Most of the time an artist just needs to make something look attractive. Their work hangs on a wall or holds your keys when you come home from the office. Pipes have to perform well, first and foremost. Aesthetics come next. Most pipesmokers don't care much if their pipe is shiny or has pretty grain, and many prefer a gnarled pipe proudly exhibiting its flaws and cracks (see Bones). For those collectors that DO want the whole package and even more so those who scour the industry for the very best of the best, a pipe must be a mix of beauty and performance. This is where my sights were aimed.
The process I mention above is neverending. New materials come out, new types of finishing are discovered and mastered in the industry, new machines make work more efficient. Then again, Its just briar, ebonite, a little wax, and a lot of sandpaper. The magic floats in when you least expect it. And thats when you find the result isn't the sum of its parts. I still make pipes this way 17 years after that first and somewhat horrid, but necessary, pipe.
I have also branched off into other areas within the industry. Heres the rest of the story:)
Bones is probably the most well known, but before that was The Briar Cigar®️. In 2011, I started playing around with a new cigar shaped pipe design. At the time, The pipe was much smaller and honestly didn’t perform well. The next version was stubby but of a significant capacity with a cap including holes. Then I did a full redesign and pursued a patent. Shortly after, I was speaking with Mimmo and he suggested including a plenum space similar to that which Revyagin was employing in his very high end works.I believe he coined the term “Reverse Calabash”. I gave it a shot and the pipe instantly performed perfectly. I revised my patent and started on the first batch of 100 in my own shop. I made a few batches and then turned over the work to Tommi Ascorti who did an excellent job on the next few hundred. He was in the process of taking over Caminetto and just didn’t have the time to produce the volume I needed so we found a small factory in Italy. They absolutely nailed The Briar Cigar®️.They have been producing it ever since. I was awarded the US Patent in 2017 after a long and expensive process. The Briar Cigar®️ can be seen as a novelty, but many find it a great performing pipe for short breaks. I have shipped them all over the world and even to theaters of war where soldiers have gotten great use from them. You can recap the pipe while smoking, stow it in a pocket, and the pipe would self extinguish. Servicemen loved this feature.
In 2014 I came out with Blackjack. The handmade pipe boom was starting to wane. Many potential customers wanted unique American designs but couldn’t shell out the $500+ prices I had at the time. So I decided to create a line showcasing some of the more important aspects of my design and engineering but in an Italian made serially produced package, The price was affordable and it caught on quickly . There have been a bunch of these shapes over the years and they are priced in the $129 range. They have branched out from the original color scheme of black and nickel to brown and copper as well.
Around the same time, I met Mike Lancaster. He founded Tobacco Pipe Collectors, a club for collectors and enthusiasts of Artisan pipes and their makers. He asked me to come onboard as a partner to source obscure pipemakers and encourage collectors to check out their pipes. Mike was always the captain of that ship, forming a massive community and boosting the careers of many currently well known makers. I was usually behind the scenes turning the gears. Mike and I both got busy as the years went by but the impact of TPC was gigantic in the pipe world, especially for the artisans that benefitted from Mikes promotion. Sadly Mike passed away April 11, 2023 from cancer. We miss him dearly. (above is one of my favorite photos of us)
Bones is my economy line starting around $40. This brand has taken off wildly since 2015. I was mulling around ideas with my late friend, Chris Chopin, before its inception about how to offer an inexpensive and transparent pipe to my customers. I hated seeing those ugly pink putty fills on cheap pipes. Lots of other guys saw this as a problem too but it had never changed in decades. I wanted the flaws and pits to be shown off. Some can be quite unique and beautiful. I also saw an opportunity with my Italian friends in that they had tens of thousands of stummels dating back nearly 100 years. These were off casts planned to be puttied and stained for the economy market and most had been forgotten over time. I asked my friends to go on an adventure in the basements of the buildings on the property. My friends factory is situated in Northern Italy on the old Rossi campus, which was broken up years ago and leased to a variety of pipe factories.
We decided to stem and finish some of these off casts forgotten to the ages. Chris suggested I should make the price so shockingly low that it would gain fame as a household name. “You should make them $49”, he said. “Ok they’ll be $39!”, I replied :) And that’s how it went. I produced a small video over 3 teaser installments and posted the videos to YouTube. People were pumped to see what I was going to release. When those red letters “BONES $39” came up at the end of the third video, we were off to the races. I sold about 600 pipes in a matter of a week or two. It was wild. Over 75,000 pipes, 450 unique shapes and 8 years later, Bones has become more than I ever thought it could be.
I also collaborated with Missouri Meerschaum to make my Reverse Calabash Wasp design on a larger scale. The original was produced for the Cobfoolery contest in which artisans and hobbyists compete with corncob pipe designs. This project was their first ever collaboration with a pipemaker in their 150 yr tenure. It was a true honor.
In the following years I introduced the Arbutus series, utilizing the gorgeously grained Strawberry Wood. Arbutus is the scientific name of a close relative of Briar. The wood performs very similar to briar but thrives as a sandblast. The softer summer rings provide ultra deep and wild sandblasts. Shortly after Arbutus I started making what I called at the time, One Piece Anse pipes. I had imported a ton of super tiny blocks of briar that couldn’t be used for normal sized pipes so I designed something new. The ONE series is what came from this . I made the first 100 or so of these but the demand grew and I outsourced it to my Italian friends. At this point it had developed into 4 shapes. The ONE series is highly pocketable and portable. They smoke exceptionally cool because there is no turbulence as the entire pipe is one piece of briar with straight smooth airways. Not having a traditional stem with delrin and acrylic/ ebonite completely removed the possibility of condensation and thusly, produced a drier and cooler smoke. They shouldn’t smoke as well as they do , but they do :)
Around this time, I also dared to reinvent the BaccyFlap into a modern design. I made my prototype in briar and then sent it off to a machinist to remade in aluminum. This became and excellent option for the modern pipe smoker. Super durable and sleek. I call it the Flapjack. The current version features a 2 start thread for even more moisture retention.
In 2019 I was recruited to consult and make pipes for an Amazon Prime series. The Underground Railroad was set in the early to mid 1800s. There isn’t much documentation on pipes and specific tobacco use during this time apart from the Civil War. I had to deep dive into history to find the appropriate culture that we were planning to present. I made a few dozen “slave” pipes made as they may have been made on a plantation at the time with the rudimentary materials and tools allowed. Several higher end meerschaum, and Arbutus pipes were also needed. I was even able to cooperate with Chris Kelly of Eldritch Pipes to create Ambite, the best synthetic Amber substitute available. It was camera perfect and made a great replacement for the very brittle amber stems available at the time. I was involved from start to finish with the prop and design department. It was a lot of fun seeing all the costumes and various props going into the production. The series was released in 2020.
Sean Reum and I started doing a pipe podcast in the past few years called “Beyond The Pipe”. You can listen to it pretty much anywhere. It’s been a blast to sit and BS with a fellow Pipemaker. Subsequently we thought up a new collaborative line of pipes produced in each of our shops called “Workshop”. We started it as a place to make more affordable handmade pipes and experiment with different new finishes. It’s been quite successful and customers like the price point and the high quality of work.
I have had several tobacco blends over the years. The earliest was produced by Russ Roulette under the name Morgan Cake. It was discontinued, but the folks that still have some are in for a real treat with so much age on it now. Recently I worked with Sutliff to create Bayou Buck, White Rabbit, and Jackalope. These are available at cupojoes.com and tobaccopipes.com. You can also find many of my pipes there. Please see my website for a current list of retailers.
There is much more to come, so stay tuned.