James Gilliam from JESC Pipes http://www.jsecpipes.com/sold-pipes.html and I had been emailing back and forth regarding a refurb he was doing. We talked about different processes and he wrote a piece for the blog on a pipe maker’s look at refurbishing. In the process he showed some pictures of a nice little bamboo shanked pipe that he had made for himself. I really liked the looks of it and commented that should he make another I would be interested. Not long after that I received an email from James about a little bamboo pipe he was carving that would be rusticated. He sent me some pictures of the shape and later of the unstained bowl. Once it was done he sent some pictures and a simple note saying, “It is yours if you want it but there is no obligation.” When I saw the finished pipe it called my name and I sent James the payment via Paypal and the deal was completed. He named it Masika and the picture below gives its vitals.
In this review I want to look at the pipe from a more technical side and walk through its construction, feel and delivery of the smoke to me. I drew the pipe from the brown cloth pipe sock and here is what I found. Once it was in my hand I have to say that honestly I was not prepared for what awaited me when I opened the package. I had read the dimensions and saw the pictures but somehow they did not capture the beauty and patina of this pipe. The bamboo has a patina to it that makes the pipe look far older than it is. It is a darker brown tone that I have found only on older bamboo pipes. I don’t know how James accomplished the patina but it is virtually the same colour as some of my older Yello Bole Bamboos and Kaywoodie Mandarins that are over 50 years old. It was very lightweight. Somehow in my head I had not captured what 20 grams felt like very well. This thing is virtually weightless.
Looking at the externals of the pipe. James seems to have used several stains to give an undercoat that shows through the top coat and a contrasting top coat as well. Depending on the light and angle of the pipe the colour highlights look different. They are a variety of browns and blacks that come through with the light and the angles. The rustication is well done and tactile but not rustic or rough. The best descriptor I can use in speaking of it is to describe it as refined. The band of smooth around the shank ahead of the black band and bamboo and the smooth rim are a great contrast to the rustication and the stain variations on the bowl and shank. I have already spoken of the bamboo and its attraction for me. There is a twist and bend in the bamboo that gives it a feel of struggle and pulling back. I like the look of the twist and turn of the bamboo as it gives a character to the shank that a straight piece would not give in the same manner. The black band between the briar and the bamboo makes a great transition from the pipe to the shank. James also used a small band of black before the stem as well. The two bands serve to set off and bookend the bamboo shank of the pipe. The hand cut ebonite stem is very well done and comfortable in the mouth. It has a nicely shaped button that is sharply cut and catches well on the back of my teeth. The slot in the button is oval shaped and there is a smooth V slot that facilitates the movement of smoke across the mouth.
Moving from the externals of the pipe to the internal mechanics. James your workmanship on this pipe is stellar. The angle of the drilling is done in such a way that the bowl is of a uniform thickness throughout. The bowl bottom is relatively the same thickness as the walls of the pipe. The bowl is drilled at the same angle as the exterior of the pipe. The draught hole is precisely where it should be – centred at the back side bottom of the bowl. The bowl is coated with a neutral tasting bowl treatment. I don’t know the components but it did not add any flavour to the tobacco nor did it come off with the first smoke. I don’t usually like bowl coating but this one was not a problem to the smoke. I am confident that James is not covering flaws in the interior of the bowl. Holding light to the bowl revealed a clean and smooth airway with no impediments. Looking down the bamboo shank at the stem end it is clear that it is not lined with any material even in the mortise. I believe that James used a tenon to anchor the bowl shank and the bamboo but I am not clear as to the material. The tenon on the stem is crafted of stainless steel and is a good snug fit. The inside of the stem is also very smooth. There is no roughness or constriction where the stainless steel tenon ends and the stem material begins. This transition is smooth. The airway flattens out like a squeezed drinking straw so that the diameter does not change but is flattened and opened.
I have been smoking this pipe consistently since it arrived and it smokes very well. The bowl break in was quite easy from the first bowl. It smokes dry and clean with no moisture buildup or gurgle to the bowl. From the first I have been able to smoke it to a dry ash. With each smoke there is no damp dottle to deal with in the heel of the bowl. The draught on this pipe is very smooth – no whistling sound and no sense of having to suck or work to get the air to move through – it is effortless. It has been and will continue to be a pleasure to smoke, exactly what I look for in a pipe that keeps its place in my rotation.
I would highly recommend that you have a look at the pipes James sells. He is a pleasure to deal with and fine craftsman. I know others who have commissioned pipes from him and found the experience a pleasure. I cannot speak highly enough of the workmanship on this pipe and ease of the deal with James. Give him a call and order a pipe or at least check out the website that I noted above. Have a look at the beautiful work that he does.