Tag Archives: first pipe

Carving and Rusticating My First Pipe


Blog by Greg Wolford

Last winter sometime I got myself a pre-drilled pipe kit from an eBay auction; it is from Mr. Brog and is pear wood. I don’t remember exact how I did it but I really messed it up with a terribly wavy cut on the front using a coping saw; I made a few other small cuts that weren’t bad but made the block a mess added to the front cut. I was very unhappy with myself over it and put the kit away, forgetting about it, figuring it was a total loss.

Last week my son found it while he was carving a briar kit I’d bought him a few months ago and gave it to me. I decided that I was going to go ahead and try my hand at carving it, to get a feel for the process and maybe even salvage it. Considering the bad start I had, I didn’t plan on writing about this so I didn’t take many photos. But I’ve been asked about how I rusticated it so here we go.

I used only files and sandpaper, no more sawing (LOL), to do all of the rest of the pipe except for two things: the rim I carved lightly with a Dremel and I buffed it lightly on the buffer. This is an idea I’d where I started, with the wavy face:

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I used various files, including the above pictured vulcrylic file, to shape the block; my plan was to get a volcano type shape and hide the poor face-cut in the process. This proved to be a challenge since the front couldn’t be shaped too much or I’d end up with a much too thin wall.

I filed and sanded, slowly bringing out, more or less, the shape I had in mind. I also worked at the shank to a decent transition to the stem, which was a fair amount of work with all the material that needed to be removed. After I had gotten as far as I felt I could go with the shaping and was fairly happy with it I decided this would be a rusticated pipe; it would blend the faults better I thought and, being pear, there was no grain to speak of.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at rustication and make a tool for a while. I’ve read many ideas on how to do this, mostly on this blog, so I knew what I wanted to try. I have many small screwdriver bits lying around from cheap screwdriver kits I’ve had over the years. The bits are usually not very hard and of low quality, often stripping out on tough screws/bolts; one of these would be my starting point. I held the number 2 Phillips head bit I chose in a pair of vice grips while using a Dremel cutting disk to cut the “X” on the bit tip. This is what I ended up with:

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There are now four cutting “teeth” on the bit, one which is slightly longer than the others (by accident I might say). I then chucked this up in a battery-powered screwdriver that had an adjustable handle; it can be used anywhere from straight to a 90-degree angle. I pressed the bit into the wood, depressed the switch, and began rusticating the stummel. This turned out to be a rather fun and enjoyable process I soon found. By varying the pressure, time the bit was rotating, and letting the tool “walk”, I was able to get a pretty interesting and fairly consistent pattern.

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I used a small carving bit in the Dremel to lightly carve the rim because the smooth rim didn’t match the pipe in my opinion.

I then scrubbed the stummel with a wire brush, to knock off the dust and debris from the process. I applied Fiebing’s mahogany leather dye, two coats which I dried with the heat gun rather than flaming because my grandson was helping me with this entire project. I hand buffed the extra stain off with an old rag and steel wool. Next I sanded the wood lightly with 320-grit paper to knock down the really sharp edges that remained. Them I buffed the stummel with Tripoli to further reduce harsh edges and give it a very small amount of contrast. Lastly, I waxed it with Halcyon II and buffed it by hand with a shoe brush.

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In the end I saved the kit, though it’s not as nice a project as I’d hoped for. But this system of bits ground into various shapes and used with the battery-powered screwdriver is an idea I really think made the project a success. I think that making different tools from different bits coupled with the variations one can achieve with the driver are a great tool to play with in the future, one that I hope others will find useful, too, and maybe find better variations on the idea to share with us for future use. Below is the driver, bit, and extension I used.

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A Medico Lancer, Prince Albert and the birth of my first child


Today, it is a quiet day at the office. Everyone has gone home or out to do work outside the office. It is raining and grey outside. In the warehouse, my daughter is working on designing new jewelry for our foundation. We send the designs to Nepal and the women who our organization has rescued from human trafficking make beautiful pieces for us to sell for them in Canada. I had an urge to write this story for her this afternoon and the muse was active. I want to share it with you. Thanks for reading this.

This week was my eldest daughter’s 30th birthday. Now that means a couple things to me – she is getting older and also I am getting old. When I am in that space I get a bit introspective and reflective. I found myself taking a trip back to the day she was born – February 1, 1982. I remember it well for a bunch of reasons beyond the obvious that she is my eldest!

My wife and I drove to the hospital like all expectant parents a few times with false alarms before the actual event was upon us. But when the time arrived we drove to the hospital – It was the last evening of January 1982 and we were ready for this birth. It was a bit of a circus at the hospital. My wife went through 20 hard hours of labour before they decided to do a C-section. I was the first dad they let into the operating room for a C-section birth. I was robed and ready and the surgery happened about 2am Feb. 1. We were amazed at the beautiful little girl that was our new born daughter. To this day we are still amazed by her – just so you know. I stayed with my wife for awhile and around 6am I headed out to go home.

It was a beautiful February day in Escondido, California. There was a light breeze but it was warm. I remember getting in the car and wishing I had a cigar to smoke or a pipe. It was time to celebrate my new daughter! That is not startling in itself, but what makes it an interesting moment is that I had not smoked my pipes in about 7 years. Somehow I had laid them aside during university days and not thought much about them. In fact I had no idea where they were at that moment – at my parents, at a thrift shop, in the trash… I did not know but I knew I wanted a pipe now!

So where does one get a hold of a pipe at 6am. I remember dropping the car in gear and heading to a 7-Eleven Convenience Store not far from the hospital. In those days they carried pipes and tobaccos. It did not take long to get there. I remember pulling into the store parking lot and getting out of my car. As I did I heard a shout – “Up against the car, hands on the hood.” I looked around and it dawned on me I was the one being addressed. I raised my shoulders and hands in a question mark and the voice said, “Yeah you do it now.” So with that I did what I was told and was immediately frisked by a young police officer. He took my license and left me standing against the car hood. I tried to ask him what I had done but he refused to answer and told me to be quiet. So, contrary to my normal behaviour, I did as I was told. In what seemed like an eternity he spun me around and handed me back my wallet and a ticket. I was flabbergasted. I asked him what in the world I had done. By this time the store clerk and a few early morning coffee drinkers were gathered looking at me. All he said was, “It is on the ticket, read it yourself.” With that he turned and got in his car and left.

I could not believe what had just happened to me. I looked at the ticket and saw that according to him I had run a red light. Whatever I had done it did seem like overkill. I mean come on it was 6am and the roads were empty. And what about the “up against car” stuff? Ah well, I shrugged it off and went into the store. They had a fair assortment of Medico pipes and some over the counter tobaccos. I was not a fan of the carved Medico’s so I was looking at smooth ones and found a nice looking billiard that I liked. It was a nice dark brown and had a great feel to it. It was placed on the counter and I turned to the tobacco. I seem to have remembered that my uncle had smoked Prince Albert so I bought a package of that tobacco and a bic lighter. I was set to celebrate. I also grabbed a good cup of coffee and headed to my car.

I opened the pouch of PA and took a good whiff of it. Man did it smell good to me. I took a pinch and began to load the new pipe that I had purchased. It was loaded in no time at all and I touched the flame to the bowl and I was on my way to bliss. I sat and sipped my coffee and the smoke for what seemed like a long time. I was in the zone. It was heavenly. The first pipe I had had in a long time and a perfect way to celebrate this morning’s event. I pulled out into traffic and headed for home. It was about a 20 minute drive so I stopped at least one time I remember and repacked the bowl. I spent the better part of the drive on that second bowl. When I got home I pulled up under the palm trees. As I got out of the car my dogs came to me and we sat on the porch and enjoyed the new morning. What a day. I don’t know how many bowls I smoked that morning but I do remember it was quite a few. I fell asleep with the pipe in my mouth and a last bowl going. I slept that way until a good friend woke me to see how the birth went.

Each Feb. 1 I still get that old Medico out and fire it up in memory of that day. Today, I know that it is made of Brylon and not briar. It is what many would call a cheap pipe. And it is certainly not one I would ever buy today but it has a beauty to me that goes beyond its appearance. Plus it has a magnificent story attached to it that comes back to me every time I smoke it. I return to that corner parking lot in Escondido in my memory and enjoy that first smoke on a glorious morning – I was a new dad! Many years have gone by now, my daughter is 30 this year. But the memory never fades for me. A few years ago I had to make a new stem for the pipe because I had chomped it up to a point that it was not repairable. I think it actually looks better than ever. It is now a nice looking church warden with a brass band; sports a good hard cake and smokes extremely well.

Happy Birthday to you my dear daughter. I raise a bowl to you.

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Memories of that first pipe


I still remember the day when I first started smoking a pipe. I was 16 years old and had friends who smoked cigarettes all the time. But those never interested me the way a pipe did. I was employed as a waiter at a local hotel and restaurant. Each shift we were given break times where everyone grabbed a drink and a smoke in the hallway away from the customers. Those were the days where employers provided a place for their staff to smoke. It even had a big black ashtray and nice chairs to sit and rest a bit. It was a perfect time and place for a young man to learn to smoke a pipe.

I had a regular customer I waited on who smoked a pipe after each meal I served him. I can see him to this day, pushing back his chair and packing his pipe and then lighting it with a silver Dunhill lighter as I cleared his table. He would sit and enjoy the smoke and order a scotch to complete his dinner. I can still smell the smoke in my memory and the smells were delightful. His pipe smoking brought to mind my uncle Gene and his pipe. I loved my uncle and I loved the smell of his pipe. So the time, the place, the tutors all combined to open the world of pipe smoking for me.

I remember leaving work on my dinner break that evening and driving across the river to a Rexall Drugstore on Shoup and A Street to pick up my first pipe, a lighter and some tobacco. I took my time looking at the pipes on display and chose a nice Medico briar – a matte finish straight Dublin, no shiny flashy pipe for me. I believe that it was actually sandblasted and stained an oxblood colour (it is gone now and how that happened is a story for another time). The lighter was a disposable Bic and the tobacco was Borkum Riff Whiskey Soaked. I carried my new treasures back to the car and sat fondling them for quite awhile before heading back to work.

I served my customer their meals and drinks and waited with growing anticipation for my first break. I would not say I was patient because actually I was not. I wanted to try break out my new pipe and try it now! When the break time finally came I went back to the smoking hallway, opened the packaging of the new pipe and blew air through it and enjoyed the feel and weight of it in my hand and mouth. I peeled the tape off the pouch of Borkum Riff and opened it. I inhaled the fresh smells and felt very “adult”. I stuffed the bowl of the pipe with tobacco to the brim. I had no clue what I was doing and I packed it so tight there was not much draw. But hey, what did I know. I tried to light the thing but could not keep it going. It was like sucking air through a coffee stirrer. I spent most of that break trying to light my new pipe. I ended up not smoking a bowl at all that time around. I emptied the tobacco out and tried it again… still too tight. Break was over, I had not smoked my pipe yet and I was a frustrated.

The later dinner crowd came in and my pipe smoking customer arrived. I served him his meal and he ate a leisurely dinner. He ordered his scotch and while he was waiting pulled out his pipe and a tin of tobacco. My eyes lit up as I watched him. Maybe I could ask him for help; at the very least I could watch how he went about packing his pipe and learn that way. The dinner hour was over and the restaurant was pretty empty. I watched as he loaded his pipe but could no help but politely interrupt him to ask for his help with my new pipe. He took my pipe his hands like it was a precious thing. Looking back I realize how kind he was. He smoked Dunhill pipes and Dunhill tobacco, but he never batted an eye at my “cheap” pipe and drugstore tobacco. He handed it back to me and agreed to help me out. He took out his pipe and had me hold mine then we both packed them at the same time. He had a great teaching method. He had me put the amount of tobacco needed for a bowl on a paper napkin. We each took the same amount of tobacco. Then he showed me how to pack the bowl in thirds with each one packed a bit more firmly. We lit our lighters and we gave it what he called a charring light and then tamped and did a second light. I saw that I needed to pick up a tamper, but even as I thought about it, he reached into his pocket and handed me a pipe nail. He pulled out a chair and had me join him. He told me to suck gently and take my time so as not to singe my tongue. I tried and succeeded in at least smoking the whole bowl with him. Many lights and relights later, my bowl was finished far before his was. I thanked him profusely for teaching me how to pack a pipe. He laughed and encouraged me to keep practicing.

As I cleared his last dinner items away I remember that he winked at me and told me not to drink any alcohol or carbonated beverages as it would cause me a bit of pain. He seemed to know that I had singed my tongue and was suffering a good case of tongue bite. He recommended apple juice or a cup of tea as a soothing drink to ease the discomfort. I thanked him again. I finished my shift for the night and sat down for a second bowl in my pipe. I packed it right this time first try. I fired it up and used his nail to tamp it. It burned my tongue like the dickens. My tongue felt like raw meat. I wanted to lay the pipe down but persevered until the bowl was finished. I may not have been the brightest young pipeman but I was committed. Over the next days I worked with that pipe and practiced smoking slowly. The tongue bite healed and lessened. I was well on the road to being a pipe smoker, not a small feat when you consider what I was smoking!

I have never forgotten that old gentleman who initiated me into the art of being a pipeman. The memory of his kindness is what keeps me passing on the same to other new pipe smokers. I do so with care packages of refurbished pipes and samples of tobacco as well as lessons on how to pack that first bowl. The pipe nail he gifted me is still in my cabinet… I think(I say I “think” because over the years I have handed out dozens of them and may well have given away the original). I continued to smoke that Medico for the next couple of years and it became a well seasoned pipe. I soon added several other pipes to my bag and I was on my way to building a collection. Somehow though, during university years my pipes lay idle. I have no real idea why that was as I look back. There was no real reason for it. Maybe as I think about it something will trigger my memory and later it could be the reason for another story. But I do know that I did not pick them up again until the morning my first daughter was born some seven or eight years later. I have no idea what happened to that old Medico and the other pipes. It may well be sitting in a cupboard in my parents’ house. However, the lessons learned from my old friend made the next time I picked up the pipe much more enjoyable.