Blog by Al Jones
I completed my first pipe commission this week with, working with James Aydlott, who makes “Royal Oak Briars”. James has been showing his creations on the Bulldog Lovers Facebook page for several months. I was very impressed with his shaping and stems, particularly with the classic shapes. Initially I didn’t realize his pipes were branded “Royal Oak Briars”, which I had seen advertised on Micheal Lindners site, “The Pipe Rack”. Micheal Lindners pipes are very highly regard and I met him last year in at the NYC show. James has been working in Micheal’s shop, and in the past two years started his own line. The connection to Micheal Lindner gave him was definitely a factor in the project, as to that point, I had not yet seen a Royal Oak pipe in person. Thru Facebook and several pipe forums, I was able to communicate with folks who owned Royal Oak Briars and all were quite pleased and encouraged me to proceed. James was very upfront with me and he was clear that if I didn’t care for the final product, I was under no obligation to complete the purchase. As you will read, I was completely thrilled with the finished pipe.
James had made and shown a Comoys 498 Extraordinaire recreation (straight Chubby Rhodesian) that was sold thru The PIpe Rack. I complimented James on his shaping and thru subsequent messages, I learned he was starting on a pipe that would be an homage to the Comoys 499 Extraordinaire. Since I am fortunate to own that model Comoys, that immediately piqued my interest. I let James know that I was interested and I was able to see the pipe unfold and offer some personalization along the way. The pipe would be blasted and I requested a polished bowl top. The last decision was the golden tan stain, which I thought turned out magnificently.
One very important detail to me on any pipe purchase is the weight of the pipe. My 499 Extraordinaire weighs 68 grams. I asked James if he could create the shape under 60 grams. James nailed that request and the pipe weighs 59 grams, which coincidentally is exactly what most of my GBD 9438’s weigh, one of my benchmark shapes.
Below are some pictures of the pipe in the early and latter stages.
The pipe is drilled perfectly with an open draw. James tells me that the draft hole is drilled with a 5/32″ bit and tapering to 1/8″ in the stem. The pipe smokes wonderfully, with an excellent draft and no moisture. It also packs easily, not something I always find with a pipe with an open draw. I am very impressed with the stem work, it seems James has learned his lessons well from Micheal Lindner. The button end is beautifully funneled and the tenon also has a concave detail that I like. James feels the funneling on the tenon helps minimize moisture buildup in the pipe. On the button end, the height is just right for holding without being uncomfortable. I also like how the button has a concave feature. James uses briar from a variety of sources. For this pipe he used briar from Mimmo that had been aged for four years. James feels this briar made it possible for him to achieve my weight goal. The blast is nice and craggy, which is also my preference. We mulled over several stain choices before deciding on the golden tan. I think it gives the pipe a wonderful glow.
James uses a bowl-coat on his pipes, made from a gelatin/activated charcoal substance. As someone who primarily purchases estate pipes, I hate breaking in new pipes. This is my second pipe with a bowl coating of this nature, and I’m now a big fan of this process. James assured me the product was neutral and in use, I agree completely. Smoking the new pipe, it felt like an old friend from the get-go.
Another unique aspect of a Royal Oak Briar is the stem logo, which is a blue acrylic dot in a copper ring. As an Ashton fan, I love that detail. Many artisan pipes lack a stem logo. To me, that was another appealing aspect of the Royal Oaks Briars line. A member of the PipesMagazine forum commented on the stem logo that “it was like the cherry on top of a sundae”.
James work combines classic shaping, solid mechanicals along with quality briar and ebonite materials. He was easy to communicate and work with and I enjoyed our conversations. Hopefully, we’ll meet some day at a pipe show. I’m looking forward to having this one in a solid rotation and I can highly recommend Royal Oak Briars.
Below is a comparison picture with my 1930’s Comoys 499 Extraordinaire, the inspiration for this pipe.