Tag Archives: Pipe related topic

Father Tom – Life in Ordinary Time – Interrupted

Blog by Steve Laug

I have been working on a few Father Tom stories that address some of the inevitable issues of growing older. This is the link to the first one (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/05/19/father-tom-after-the-prayers-have-been-said/). The second one looks at a health issue that I have gone through and survived (and I am sure others of you have as well). I reflect on how the pipe ritual of loading, lighting and tamping seems to bring calm and enable perspective in an otherwise tumultuous experience. The act of slowly smoking the pipe brings quietude that makes room for clarity when processing these and other issues. Thanks for reading. — Steve

When he left the house he had enough time for a leisurely walk to his doctor’s office. He could stop along the way and grab a coffee and sip it as he walked. He could puff on his pipe and as he was pretty much oblivious to the anti-smoking folks he would be uninterrupted in his quiet. He had unconsciously put on his clerical shirt and collar this morning after breakfast but it would serve him well. Nothing was to be avoided more in Vancouver than someone walking down the street looking like a priest. It almost guaranteed that he would be left alone and could smoke his pipe without intrusion.

The path he had chosen took him through the Olympic Village and along the water front of False Creek. He ambled along deep in thought enjoying the slight breeze and the cool of the morning. He was smoking a dark Virginia flake that he had lightly rubbed out and stuffed in his pipe. He had learned that trick somewhere along the way. Once it was smoldering it was a good long smoke and the flavours shifted and changed as the fire burned through the various mixed strands of tobacco in the bowl. He slowly puffed his pipe as was his habit – he did not have to think about it any more it was just normal for him. Some people puffed to the cadence of their pace as they walked but he had learned to separate the two and just slowly savoured the tobacco as he walked.

He was not purposely dragging his heals, he just wanted to take the time to process and think through what may be ahead of him at the appointment with his doctor. The walk was perfect for processing and the pipe provided the smoke screen that gave him space to quietly work through things. Strangely enough his mind had not gone to the “what ifs” but rather he had spent some time reflecting on his life. He had to admit that it had been amazingly uneventful for an aging priest in his mid sixties. He had spent the better part of 35 years as a parish priest in a variety of locations in British Columbia, Canada and a young trainee for the priesthood before that. Even his upbringing to get him to the point of entering the priesthood had been unremarkable. He could easily say that his life had been lived in ordinary time – no real interruptions or troubles other than the occasional bumps in the road relationally or within the parish. But truly he had faithfully and dutifully walked/plodded through the years. Until now his health had also proceeded along quietly and oddly uneventful. He was thankful for that.

Despite the long walk, Father Tom arrived at the doctor’s office early. He sat on the wall in back of the office and finished up the bowl of tobacco he was smoking. He quieted the intrusive white coat shakes that were vibrating through him by letting the pipe do its magic. As he puffed slowly on his pipe he found his anxiety lessening and his heart quieting. When he finished the bowl he went in and greeted the woman at the desk and took his place on the Chesterfield in the office underneath the huge Rodin painting of the dancing women. He closed his eyes and sat quietly, unconsciously fidgeting with his pipe in his pocket. He stirred when he heard the receptionist tell him the doctor would see him now and he could go back.

As he walked down the hallway he stuck his pipe in his mouth – it was an unconscious action on his part and certainly a way of giving himself some comfort. As he walked into the office he had a vague memory that the doctor had said he would be away. The person sitting at his desk was a locum who was filling in for him. When Father Tom came into the office the doctor turned to greet him. Now the problems began…she was obviously uncomfortable. He did not know if it was the collar or the pipe hanging in his mouth or what, but she did not seem able bring herself to tell him about the tests. She fumbled around with the papers on her desk and had a hard time looking him in the eye. Finally, she commented that the results of his blood work were back and there were some concerns. That was it and she left him hanging without continuing. It was awkward to say the least. There was a silence that seemed really long to Father Tom. She sat looking down and he stood in the doorway waiting. He made his way to the chair beside the desk and sat down. Still nothing was forthcoming.

To help her get to the point he started guessing – was it the thyroid test? No. The liver and kidney specific tests? No. The blood chemistry in terms of platelets and white cells? No. Hemoglobin tests? Cholesterol? No. Diabetes? No. He went through each test that he had undergone and to each one her response was no. Finally, he got to the last of the list after all of the above elicited a negative response. He knew before he asked, by process of elimination that the answer would be yes. So he as if was the PSA test – the Prostate Specific Antigen tests which contained markers for Prostate cancer… slowly she nodded yes. No further explanation seemed to be forthcoming so he asked what it meant… she swallowed and said that the numbers had shown a significant increase. What did that mean? No answer… he had enough, he stood and said if she was done he was leaving and would wait until his regular doc came home. She said no… she wanted to schedule a biopsy and an appointment with a urologist for him before he left the office. He sat back down and looked at her… what does that mean? Is there cancer? Again no answer… this was absolutely crazy. He was stymied with what to do next so he just sat there.

She got up and left him sitting there. She did not come back so he walked out to the waiting room and the receptionist. She at least was communicative and handed him his two appointment cards. The first was for the biopsy that she had scheduled for early the next morning and the other for the urologist on Monday afternoon the following week. She assured him that the urologist was very good and a colleague of his regular doctor. She bade him goodbye as the phone rang. He sat on the edge of the Chesterfield and reloaded his pipe. He put the pipe in the pouch of tobacco and pushed it into the bowl. It took longer than usual this time around but he had done it for so long he did not have to think about it. His mind was just whirling.

One of the other patients sitting in the waiting room told him that the office was a no smoking environment. He did not even acknowledge her when she spoke, for he was too numb to care. Once the bowl was right and he tested the draw he rose to his feet and went out the door. He lit his pipe and stood in the entry way puffing on the pipe until he got a good burn going. He started walking home in a thick cloud of smoke. This time he took a straighter path home – up Arbutus to Broadway. Once he was on Broadway he walked until he got to Granville Street. At Granville he stopped a small pub and ordered a pint and sat in the sidewalk café. He had no idea what time it was as his mind was swirling. He finished his pint and relit his pipe. He made his way to 16th Avenue and walked East until he got to Main Street. He was not far from home now but he could not keep up with his own thoughts…he sat on a park bench on 16th in the park between Main and Fraser. The lack of information he had been given rattled him and his normal tendency to assume the worst was not helpful. His head was spinning and he could not quiet his fears. He quietly recited the Serenity Prayer as he sat there. Long ago he had memorized the long version of the prayer as he found that the second half gave him much hope and expressed the desire of his heart. It was that version that he recited there in the park.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.

He took a deep breath and slowly let the breath out. He felt a calmness coming back over him that had deserted him since he had received the news. It was a calmness born not of denial but of trust. H repacked his pipe and slowly puffed away while his thoughts became more focused. He knew the “C” word was not final until after the biopsy and the appointment with the urologist but it felt final to him. He would need to set aside the what ifs until that time as they were unproductive now. He knew that whatever happened in the next few days, that his until now ordinary life had certainly been interrupted. All of the ordinary life experiences he had enumerated previously during the walk to the doctor, his quiet uneventful life, suddenly faded into the mist of the potential threat that reared up in front of him now. It seemed strange that only a few hours before he had found comfort in his rituals of the morning. Now that morning seemed ages ago and he had been reeling inside. Somehow the ritual of the pipe and the prayer had brought a new calm over him.

If you had been near by you would have heard him repeat “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…trusting…”. You would have seen an elderly priest, pipe in mouth, talking to himself, deep in thought. He sat that way for a long time, nothing moving other than the imperceptible rise and fall of his chest as he puffed on his pipe. The smoke rose around him and engulfed him in his thoughts. Then suddenly it was if he came to life, he came back to the moment, tamped his pipe, stood up and started walking the remaining blocks home. His mind was quieter than it had been all day. Really nothing had changed but him. Somehow the pipe and the prayer together had given him the space to stand apart from his problem and be quiet. He knew Mrs. Conti would have prepared dinner for him and laid it out. It would be ready for his arrival. He knew that his pipes and his books would be on the table next to his chair. He knew that he had a quiet evening ahead of him. He knew he would face the biopsy in the morning. And he knew that he was not alone as he walked through this.

He went up 16th to Fraser and then up Fraser to his block. Once there he crossed Fraser and made his way home. He opened the gate and climbed the stairs. He unlocked the front door and went inside. He put his hat on the hall tree and went into the kitchen to see what was laid out for supper. He fixed a plate and took it to his chair in the parlour. He sat down, put his pipe on the rest and quietly ate his meal. A thought went through his head and he said it out loud – no, even this is still ordinary time – just interrupted.

A Short Story: A Blend of Tobacco at the Root of a Friendship

One of my side hobbies is to collect old photos of pipemen (both hard copies and electronic versions) and try to craft a story from them. I love to try and imagine the lives of the men and women in the photo and then write a short story from there. This particular story came to me from a photo I have had on my hard drive for quite a while. One day this past week I sat down and looked at it and the story came to me. You might imagine a totally different story and so might I on a different day. That is the fun of the process for me. As for this version of the story I am sure it will be revised over time but I thought I would share it as it currently stands. Thanks for taking time to read it.

2friends Henry and Paul first met at the local pipe shop in Gastown. Henry had come in to replenish his supply of his favourite tobacco and Paul was behind the counter working as a clerk. They were close to the same age and both had a love for their pipes. Being young they did not have a large collection of pipes. In fact if you had followed them home from the shop and seen where they each lived you would understand that like many young men renting a room in the city and working long hours they did not have much more than a change of clothes, a few books and a pair of boots. These two each had the pipe in their mouth, a pouch of tobacco and a match safe full of dry matches in the pocket of his coat. They both had a nail with a large head that served as a tamper as they smoked.

The day they met it was a rainy Vancouver day – normal for November. Henry was on a lunch break from his office on Cordova Street and had run over to the shop to pick up some tobacco. As he came through the door he was surprised to see that Richard was not working that day – or at least he was not out front. Rather, behind the counter stood a dapper young fellow with a waistcoat and watch fob. His sandy coloured moustache matched his hair perfectly. Henry had always wanted to grow a moustache but just did not have much luck with it. Once the young man had finished with his customer he introduced himself to Henry.

“Good afternoon sir, my name is Paul. I am new in the shop so I have not met many of the regulars yet. By new, I don’t mean I am new to the trade. I have been working in Victoria for several years at the Old Morris Shop and just moved to Vancouver. I stopped by and introduced myself to Richard and he hired me. What can I help you with?”

Henry replied, “Good to meet you Paul. I just came to pick up a couple of tins of my regular tobacco. I am quite taken with Dunhill Nightcap and I am just about out. I will take two tins of that if you have them. I am also interested in trying one of Richard’s blends that is kind of like Nightcap. Do you have any recommendations?”

They both made their way to the tobacco counter to see what Richard had available. Henry looked and smelled a few of the blends but nothing quite caught his fancy. So instead of one of the regular blends Paul decided he would custom blend a batch for Henry. He took down the recipe book and found the blend he was looking for. It would provide a base for the mixture he had in mind. He had a few additions of his own that he would put in the new blend. He took down the jars of tobaccos that he would blend to make the batch for Henry. He mixed the components noted on the card on the blending board, added his contributions and then tossed them together to mix the pieces. All the while Henry was watching the “chef” at work. He was amused at the drama of the production in front of him. Paul was so intent on his work that he almost forgot that Henry was there. He just mixed and checked the recipe and when he was done looked up. He had to laugh at himself.

“Sorry about that old chap. I was so intent on the mix that I totally lost sight of the customer. Have a whiff of this. Do you have your pipe with you? Dumb question, I know but it has happened so often that I always ask. Load a bowl of this and see what you think.”

So Henry did just that, he took his pipe from his coat pocket tamped out the dottle and then loaded a bowl of the “recipe”. He took his time packing the bowl – mind you it did not take too long. The whole thing from the question, to the mixing to the filling a bowl had taken a few minutes. When he had a bowl packed he lit a match and drew on his pipe. The smoke curled around his head as he breathed out. He was quiet for a while as he tasted the new blend.

“Hmmm, this is good stuff. I can taste the Orientals, the Latakia, the Virginia and is that a bit of cigar leaf?” He contentedly puffed on his pipe. This was a good blend.

Paul answered, “Yes I put a dab of cigar leaf in – my addition to the recipe. I always have liked the added taste that it brings to a blend. What do you think? Remember it will only deepen in flavour as it sits in your pouch.”

Henry silently puffed his pipe, drawing the smoke into his mouth, sipping the flavour and letting it curl out around the mouthpiece. This was truly a good smoke.
“Excuse me Paul, what time is it? I need to get back to the office before I am late. Can you pack that up for me and I will settle up. I will continue to smoke it over the weekend and be back in on Monday at noon. I am thinking I will need to get some more of this if it continues to smoke this well.”

With that Paul picked a small tin from under the counter, packed in the 4 ounces of his recipe and sealed the tin. He wrote the mixture components on a card and put it on file with Henry’s name and a date. Next time around it would be just a matter of following the recipe – kind of a My Mixture Gastown style. He handed the newly tinned batch to Henry with the words, “Enjoy the new blend my friend. I am sure I will see you Monday and we will adjust things as necessary.”

Henry went out the door, saying over his shoulder, “Talk soon Paul. I am pretty sure this one will be a keeper. I just have a good feeling about it.”

The door bounced closed and once the chime over it was stilled Paul went back to work, cleaning up the remnants off the blending table and putting them in a jar that Richard kept under the counter. The jar was beginning fill up with a good bunch of tobacco and would soon go into the leavings bags that were sold at a great price to the daring pipemen who came through the door.

by Steve Laug 10/21/13

Father Tom’s Briar – Reborn – by Al Jones

Blog by Al Jones

Followers of this blog are no doubt very familiar with Steve Laug’s wonderful “Father Tom” short stories. For those not familiar with Father Tom, he is fictional well seasoned, pipe smoking minister.

On the “Brothers of Briar” pipe forum and we are fortunate to have a real life “Father Tom” as a member. Father Tom is an Episcopal priest in Northern Indiana. He taught for 32 years before leaving the classroom for full-time parish work. He has been a pipe smoker since college, and most of his college pipes are still in the rotation. The pipe is one he bought in the late 70’s in South Carolina. Tom posted a picture of this pipe earlier this summer on the forum and wondered if the finish could be restored. Tom had recently returned from a church assignment to the Honduras. The pipe was very much well-loved and the varnished finish was worn off in the handling areas. The stem was also heavily oxidized. Tom reported that it smoked Granger quite well. Here is the pipe as it was delivered.

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Steve sent me some information on a Wellington brand pipe and this one appears to be a reproduction of that and the Peterson system pipe, including a p-lip military stem. The pipe is stamped “Pietro”. Steve told me that these stems had a reputation of being drilled close to the edge of the stem near the bend. As such, over time, the use of a pipe cleaner wears the stem material thin. Sure enough, after I started to remove the oxidation, there was a small hole and crack on the top of the stem bend. I wasn’t sure the stem could be saved but I thought that perhaps several layers of black superglue blended in would rebuild that area. In total, I applied four light coats of the superglue, raising the surface about 1 mm and covering the hold. The crack still shows thru the material but I think it should hold up to some use. But, I advised Father Tom to be careful clenching that one. At some point a new stem will have to be made for the pipe.

This shows the repair in progress with the black superglue (purchased from Stewart-Mac, a guitar repair supply house).




I finished the stem by removing the heavy oxidation first with 600 grit wet sandpaper, than moving to the 800, 1000, 1500 and 2000 grades. I used 8000 and 12000 grades of micromesh to complete that step. Than, with the stem mounted in the briar, it was buffed with white diamond rouge, than a automotive plastic polish.

I then moved my attention to the briar. I first soaked the briar in an alcohol bath in an attempt to soften the varnished finish. That had some effect, but it was necessary to sand most of the shiny varnish off by hand. I used 600 grit paper and progress up to 1500 grade wet paper. There was one large gash on the bottom of the bowl and one large fill spot, where the putty had fallen out. Not surprisingly, there were other fills on the briar under that finish. I was able to lift out the dent using a heated kitchen knife and steam. I repaired the fill hold with some of the black superglue. Sometimes I think covering the fills looks worse than leaving them and I thought the others lent some character to the pipe that Tom had given the briar (they might have also been handling dings, etc.)





I used a two step process to apply the stain to the briar. First I warmed the bowl with a hair dryer and then brushed on a coat of black stain. I lit the stain with flame to set it into the grain. The black stain was then sanded off with a series of sandpaper, starting again at 800 grit. I then applied a very light, almost neutral brown stain over the black. The bowl was then buffed with white diamond rouge and several coats of carnuba wax. While hand buffing the carnuba wax, I almost had a tragic accident with the pipe – it slipped out of my hands and bounced off my concrete workshop floor. I was horrified but was somewhat relieved to see no visible damage. It was only in the final hand polishing did I notice that the fall had put a dent in the metal cap. Steve shared with me a technique to heat the cap (once removed) and use a wooden dowel shaped into the half-circle to work out dents. Unfortunately, even using heat, I was unable to remove the cap. After discussion with the gracious Father Tom, it was decided to leave well enough alone. I will be picking up a padded piece of carpet to place in front of my work bench.

Below is the finished pipe. My grandfather was also a minister, but didn’t smoke a pipe. I would often watch him in his study poring over notes for his next sermon or wrestling with the day-to-day issues that a pastor faces. While working thru this restoration, I could picture Father Tom thoughtfully puffing on pipe as he completed his pastoral duties. I imagine it has been with him thru many weighty challenges faced by a modern minister. I hope this reborn pipe will be with him for many more years and help work thru the challenges of that endeavor.

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Experiencing a New Smoke Shop in Bellingham, Washington – The Senate Smoke Shop

Blog by Steve Laug

For many years now I have been making the trek from Vancouver, British Columbia into the US to Bellingham, Washington to visit a pipe shop in old Bellingham, a place called Fairhaven. The shop is called the Fairhaven Smoke Shop and is located at 1200 Harris Avenue Suite 100 Bellingham, Washington. When I first started visiting shop 15-18 years ago it was operated be an older gent who seemed like he could have cared less if he had customers, but he had a huge assortment of estate pipes and some great older tobaccos. I got to know him over the years and enjoyed his company. About 8 years ago a young fellow – mid 20’s bought the shop and took over. I had visions of it becoming yet another head shop! But you got to give him credit. He kept it as a pipe and tobacco shop (mind you he added the typical glass pipes and hookahs). He upgraded the shop layout and look, added new pipes and tobaccos and continued in the tradition of a pipe shop. He set up a web presence at http://fairhavensmokes.com/ I really expected the place to shrivel up and disappear in the anti-smoking environment of Washington State. But instead it seems to have done well.

On Saturday I made the trip to Bellingham once again. I really was hoping to get a side trip over to Fairhaven but we did not have time to visit the shop on this trip. My wife and I brought along two of our daughters for the day. Whenever we are in Bellingham my wife and I always visit a little coffee and donut shop on Holly St. called Rocket Donuts so we wanted to show it to the girls. As we made our way to the shop my youngest daughter pointed up the street to a sign that said The Senate Tobacconist and Smoke Shop. I have walked down that street for over 20 years and I had never seen that shop. You know how sometimes you wonder if you missed seeing something because you were focused on other things? That is what crossed my mind when she pointed out the shop. My wife and the girls went in for coffee and donuts but needless to say, I had to go check out the shop.

In a world in which more and more head shops with glass pipes, bongs and the like are replacing the old bona fide tobacconist shops I had really low expectations about this shop. I walked up the street toward it and paused to read the sandwich board on the street. As yet I had not looked in the window. I have to say the sign had elements of both hopefulness and resignation in its words – hopeful: tobacco at the top of the list, and cigars – resignation: herbs and glassware. Before getting to the shop I had already made up my mind as to what I could expect when I entered. Glassware! Herbs! Sheesh, it was almost like experiencing again what I had experienced when the Tinderbox Tobacco Shops became glorified gift shops that also sold tobacco and cigars. So was this going to be a head shop that also sold a few cigars and some tobacco? I tell you what, I almost turned and went back to the coffee and donuts. I really did not want yet another disappointment.


But my curiosity got the better of me and I shrugged my shoulders and went over to the window and looked in. I fully expected a typical smoke shop/paraphernalia shop but what I saw was not that. I could not believe my eyes. The glassware was not that visible and what I saw through the window was a pipeman’s feast – lots of display cases with pipes and tins and jars of bulk tobacco front and center. Then in the back, away from the window were bookcase style humidors with many cigar choices. Off to the side in the corner was the collection of glassware. To be honest I never went over to that corner to have a look. It is truly amazing in this day and age to see a shop like this in my neck of the woods. This was a fully-fledged tobacconist!





I opened the door and went in. I laugh now, but I must have looked like a kid in a candy shop. I eyed the open topped display case of tins and pouches of tobacco for sale on my left. I looked at the brands of tobacco that were carried and available and was pleased to see many of my favourite blends. I proceeded down the display counters on the left and looked at pipes – Vauen, Peterson, Ascorti, Big Ben, Stanwell, Butz-Choquin and others beautifully laid out for the buyer to see. There were both briars and meerschaums of every shape and size and price range. The display cases were well lit and the pipes were well displayed. It was a briar feast for the eyes. I only wish I had had more time to look things over more carefully. I walked past the cash register and the Three Brass Monkeys on display in front of it, past the tobacco scales on the counter to have a look at the bulk tobacco selections. There was an unbelievable array of blends – Aromatics, Virginias, English and some straight blending tobaccos – Latakia and Perique. There were even some cigarette cut tobacco. I went through the well labeled Virginia, Virginia Perique and English blends and took each lid off to have a good sniff of the blend in the jars. I skipped over the aromatics – chocolate, raspberry, cherry, vanilla, mocha, caramel and other mixtures with edible names as it has been a long time since I smoked them. I could easily have spent more time going through the many blends that were carried by the shop. As I was only in Bellingham for one day I could only purchase a 100 gram pouch and hope to not get dinged with duty at the border. But I would be back!




I wandered through the cigar humidor sections – I loved the cherry wood cabinets that each housed cedar lined walls and shelves and a humidor unit so that each glass doored cabinet was a sealed unit. The only thing missing that I could see were the Cubans that we have in Canada. There were all kinds of cigars and all kinds of sizes. I am pretty cigar ignorant but the selection seemed to cover a wide range of country of origin, price, blend and style.





I went back to the bulk tobaccos and picked the blend I had chosen, a Dark English – Virginias, Stoved Virginias, Latakia, Orientals and Perique and carried the jar to the scale to have the proprietor weigh it out and bag it up for me. To my surprise the gent behind the counter was the same fellow who had purchased the old Fairhaven Shop, now eight years older. He recognized me and remembered our first meeting many years earlier when he had given me two tins of Erinmore Flake on a visit I made to the shop. I asked him how that shop was doing and he said it was doing well. I asked him when he had opened the Senate and why. He responded that he had always wanted a shop in this area and had opened the doors four months earlier. Business was doing well and he loved the new location. We had a great visit and I asked him about several tobaccos that he did not have. He said he would order them in. I paid for my tobacco and a couple of bundles of pipe cleaners before I headed out the door. I am looking forward to another longer visit soon.


If you find yourself in the Bellingham area, I would heartily recommend that you stop by the shop and have a visit. The shop is called the Senate and is located at 215 West Holly Street, Suite H-20. The phone number is 360-756-7552. It has a great selection of pipes and cigars as well as house blends and tinned tobacco to purchase. The proprietor Mike Waters is a great guy – personable, knowledgeable and genuinely interested in serving the pipe and cigar smoking public. Stop by and say hi. In this anti-smoking state of Washington in the anti-smoking climate of our world it was great to see a new tobacco shop open its doors. It was encouraging to see this young fellow doing well enough in his first shop to open this second one. The store will have a web presence soon as the shop website, http://www.senatecigar.com is under development. Check it often as Mike says that the full site will be open soon. Who knows we may run into each other at the shop. Until then enjoy your pipe!


Steve Laug

Reworking a Mastercraft Custom Deluxe Billiard and Removing Mold

Blog by Steve Laug

This old Mastercraft billiard is the second pipe of the threesome that was sent to me last week as a gift. In his email asking if I wanted them he said they were either going to the rubbish bin or to me so I was not surprised when I opened the box and unpacked them. It had some nice looking grain underneath all of the grime and peeling varnish. But this one was in very rough shape. The stem was chewed in half so there was not enough to save. The inner tube apparatus inserted into the stem looked like it had been destroyed and then somebody bent it close to shape and cut a X cut in the end of the tenon so that it would fit into the stem. The shank was grimy and dark with a white mold residing inside both the bowl and the shank. The pipe reeked of mold. The bowl itself had a heavy but broken cake underneath the mold. It had a coat of varnish that was spotty and peeling where it was worn off the briar. In those worn spots the briar was almost black. The rim was also in very bad shape. The front was burned down from repeatedly lighting the pipe in the same spot with a torch. The back side of the rim looked like it had been scraped on concrete or hammered out on concrete because it was worn and broken down. The three photos below (I apologize for the poor quality – still getting used to this new camera!) show the state of the bowl and stem.




I sorted through my stems and found two options that I thought might work on the pipe. The first one was an acrylic saddle stem that I thought might look good with the bowl (pictured in the first photo below). I turned the tenon and fit it to the pipe but did not like the proportion of the stem and shank length. I then took the second stem – a shorter, straight tapered stem and fit it to the pipe (pictured in the second – fourth photo below). It looked like it belonged on the pipe so my choice was made. It was an old previously used vulcanite stem from my collection of old pre-used stems that I collect. This one would take some work as it was oxidized and had a calcified buildup around the button area. It was also clogged and the slot was plugged to a small pin hole. But it had the right look so it would be worth cleaning up.





I set the stem aside and worked on the bowl. I reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer to get rid of the cake and the mold. I cleaned the reamer with alcohol before putting it away. I cleaned the bowl and the shank with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and Everclear to remove as much of the tars and oils and moldy smell as possible.




When I finished it still smelled moldy, but I had several plans in mind for addressing that. But first I topped the bowl with my usual flat board and 220 grit sandpaper. I place the bowl rim down flat against the sandpaper and work in it a circle to remove the damage on the rim. This one took quite a bit of work to even out the top and get rid of the damage from the burn on the front side of the rim and the roughened back edge done by beating the pipe against concrete. I sanded it, repeatedly checking to see if I was removing enough of the damage to get a sharp edge on the bowl. On the outer rim next to the shank there was a chunk of briar missing that I would try to minimize after topping the bowl. I was able to remove all of the damage of the burned area and most of the damage of the battering the old pipe had taken. The rim looked good. I used a folded piece of sand paper to work on the inside edge of the rim and clean up the damage that was done there and keep the bowl in round.







I wiped the exterior of the bowl down with acetone on a cotton pad to remove the grime and the finish that remained. I repeated this until I could not remove any more finish or grime. The next two photos show the wipe downed bowl.



I placed the bowl in an alcohol bath for several hours while I worked on the stem and worked on several other old pipes that I have on the go. When I took it out of the bath, I dried it off with a cotton cloth and scrubbed it with a tooth-brush dipped in alcohol from the bath. I dried it again to check on the finish. There were still several spots where the varnish remained – the shank and the bottom of the bowl. One benefit of the bath was that the glue softened on the over pressed band and I was able to remove it from the shank. I sanded and scrubbed the old glue off the shank and sanded the bowl with a fine grit sanding sponge. I wiped it down with another acetone cotton pad. It still needed to soak a bit longer to finish breaking down the varnish that remained. While it soaked I cleaned up the silver band with silver polish and the jeweler’s polishing cloth. Under all the tarnish I found that the band was stamped Sterling.
I removed the bowl from the alcohol soak and dried it off. I used a lighter to burn off the alcohol from inside the bowl and the shank. I then recleaned the inside of the bowl and the shank with Everclear and many more pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. The amount of tars and sticky oils and grit that came out of the shank was incredible. It was no wonder that the pipe still reeked like mold. The next series of three photos show the pipe after soaking and sanding.




I scoured the shank until it was fairly clean and then set up a retort to do a more thorough clean. The retort sends vaporized alcohol into the bowl and shank and in essence boils out the grime with hot alcohol. As the alcohol cools it returns to the tube and with it the grime and oils from the pipe. I repeated the retort three times on the pipe until the alcohol came out clean. I then took apart the pipe and cleaned out the shank with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs a third time. There was even more oil and grime that came out of the shank. I cleaned off the surface with an acetone wipe and then reset the silver band with Weldbond glue. I turned it so that the Sterling stamp was on the top of the shank and pressed it on to the shank until it was even with the edge of the shank. Weldbond dries fairly quickly to touch so that the band would not be loosened when I went on to the next step in my cleaning process.




After removing the retort I cleaned the bowl and shank. Yet even more grime came out. I put the stem back on and took the four photos below to show the state of the pipe at this point. I did this more for an encouragement to me as this one was proving a difficult rework. The photos gave me a picture of what I was aiming for in cleaning this one up. If I lose sight of that it will end up in the bin as rubbish.





When the alcohol dried in the bowl and the visual showed a clean bowl and shank I took a sniff of the bowl. After all of this work the moldy smell still was present in the bowl and shank. This called for more drastic measures. I used the Dremel with a sanding drum on it and sanded the inside of the bowl until the briar was bare and clean. Then I filled the bowl with salt and alcohol to leach out the oil from the inside of the bowl and shank. My hope was that in doing this I would also kill the stench. I plugged the shank with a cork, filled the bowl with kosher rock salt (I was out of my normal cotton bolls) and set it up on an old ice-cube tray. I used an ear syringe to fill the bowl with 99% isopropyl alcohol. I set it aside and went to bed to let the treatment do its work while I was sleeping. The two photos below show the bowl after filling with alcohol.



In the morning the salt was a dark brown as pictured below. I emptied the now darkened salt and dried out the inside of the bowl by flaming the alcohol with my lighter. It still smelled like mold though the smell was definitely losing strength.


I cleaned out the button area of the stem with the dental pick and then ran several bristle pipe cleaners through it and then followed up with regular pipe cleaners. I soak both in Everclear to clean out the stem. I then sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the calcification that was all over the stem. I also gave the stem a quick sand all over with the 220 grit to remove the top oxidation. I ran the flame from the Bic lighter over the surface to burn off the oxidation. It did a great job of removing what I had loosened with the sandpaper. I continued sanding it with a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the remaining oxidation. I rubbed down with Obsidian Oil and set it aside with the bowl while I went off to work. The Obsidian Oil sat on the stem and soaked in for the 9 hours I was at work.





I refilled the bowl with salt and put a cork in the shank. I again used the ear syringe to fill the bowl with alcohol and set it aside to work on the stem. It too sat for the nine hours I was at work.


When I got home from work the stem looked quite good. It was significantly more black and the oxidation was gone except around the stem shank union. More work to do there. The salt was a dark brown, but slightly lighter than the first treatment. I dumped out the salt and cleaned out the bowl and shank with cotton swabs again. When I finished the smell was better but present nonetheless. I cleaned out the bowl with alcohol and cotton swabs again.


I needed another bit of encouragement at this point so I decided to stain the pipe with a dark brown aniline stain cut 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I applied the stain, flamed it and then buffed it on with Tripoli and White Diamond (photos 1-4 below). The brown did a fair job of coverage but I would need to give it a second coat of stain using a oxblood colour to do some blending with the dark areas on the bowl.





I worked on the stem with fine grit sanding sponges and 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. There were some minor tooth dents that still showed up so I passed over them with a Bic lighter and was able to raise them. More sanding was needed and I repeated the sanding described above.





Once the bowl dried out it still smelled so I decided to repeat the salt and alcohol treatment a third time. I filled the bowl with salt and isopropyl and set it aside over night (photo 1 below). In the morning the salt was little lighter brown this time (photos 2-3 below). I dumped the salt out and cleaned the bowl and shank again. This time the cotton swabs came out fairly clean. I flamed the inside of the bowl. Once the bowl dried out it still smelled so I decided to repeat the salt and alcohol treatment again. I filled the bowl with salt and isopropyl and set it aside over night. In the morning the salt was once again a dark brown. I dumped the salt out and cleaned the bowl and shank again. This time the cotton swabs came out fairly clean. I flamed the inside of the bowl. Though the inside of the bowl and the shank was very clean the musty smell still remained, though less prevalent. This was one stubborn pipe bowl to clean.




While the inside of the bowl dried out I decided to restain the bowl. For the second/top coat I used a oxblood stain. I applied it and wiped it off (first photo below). The coverage this time was much better. The dark reddish stain blended well and covered the dark areas of the bowl. The finished colour is a nice older deep reddish brown look (second-fourth photos below).





I decided to sand back the inside of the bowl yet again. I used the Dremel with the sanding drum a second time. When I was finished the inside of the bowl was very clean and fresh looking. The smell was still there. I stuffed the bowl with cotton bolls and then used an ear syringe to fill it with white vinegar and set it in the ice-cube tray to let it work. I have used that in the past to remove stubborn ghosts so I thought I would give it a try on this one.


While the bowl soaked I worked on the stem with the remaining grits of micromesh sanding pads – 3200-12,000 to bring back the deep shine on the stem. Sanding them with the higher grits of micromesh really gives a deep shine to the stem. It is amazing to see the difference between each of the successive grits of micromesh. I did not take photos of the steps as almost all of my refurbishing posts have shown the polishing process with the micromesh. The next two photos show the finished stem. Once the bowl is finished I will buff the bowl and stem with White Diamond and then give the whole a buff with multiple coats of carnauba wax to polish.



Once the vinegar had soaked in the bowl for several hours I removed the cotton boll and dried out the bowl. I then used a Dremel with a sanding drum to sand back the sides of the bowl yet again. This time I extended the diameter of the bowl to get rid of the surface area of the bowl interior. Once I was finished with the Dremel I hand sanded the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the small ridges left behind by the drum sanding. The last two photos in this sequence show the newly sanded bowl.





I took the bowl outside and put it in the bright sun on my patio. I wanted to let the heat and the UV rays from the sun do more work on the potential mold in the bowl. The evening is cooling down and the sun is no longer as warm. I brought in the bowl and wiped down the inside of the bowl and shank with an alcohol based anti bacterial wipe. I took it to the buffer and gave the whole pipe a buff with White Diamond. I then gave it several coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean flannel buff. The pipe is like new and it SMELLS GREAT. I finally beat the moldy smell. The final four photos show the finished pipe.





Mark Twain on Nicotine Nannies – The Moral Statistician

I came across this old file on my computer and thought I would pass it on to you all. I always enjoy Mark Twain and here he takes on the nannies who would tell us how to live our lives. Incredibly refreshing to read!

Originally published in Sketches, Old and New, 1893

I don’t want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.
I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc. etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc. etc. You never see more than one side of the question.

You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time. And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all those little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can’t save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment where is the use of accumulating cash?

It won’t do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. And you never dare to laugh in the daytime for fear some poor wretch, seeing you in a good humor, will try to borrow a dollar of you; and in church you are always down on your knees, with your ears buried in the cushion, when the contribution-box comes around; and you never give the revenue officers a full statement of your income.

Now you know all these things yourself, don’t you? Very well, then what is the use of your stringing out your miserable lives to a lean and withered old age? What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don’t you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as ornery and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your villainous “moral statistics”?

Now, I don’t approve of dissipation, and I don’t indulge in it either; but I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices. And so I don’t want to hear from you any more. I think you are the very same man who read me a long lecture last week about the degrading vice of smoking cigars, and then came back, in my absence, with your reprehensible fire-proof gloves on, and carried off my beautiful parlor stove.

A Review – Ozark Mountain Briars, Craftsman Series, Straight Egg

Blog by Steve Laug

I am fairly certain that many of you have not heard of either Ozark Mountain Briars or of the carver, David Johnson. I have had two of David’s pipes in my collection since 2007 and have found that both of them are well made and aesthetically beautiful. The first one I purchased was a rusticated ball or apple shape. The second is this straight egg shaped smooth that I am reviewing today. Both were reasonably price and promptly delivered. I am not sure if David is still making pipes, I hope so. I see his pipes appearing on EBay periodically so if you have the opportunity to get one I don’t think you will be disappointed.

He carved this pipe as one of his higher lines, the Craftsman series, in 2007 and I picked it up at a discounted price because of some very small sand pits on the bottom of the shank. When it arrived in the mail I opened the package and took out the suede leather pipe glove that the pipe was placed in for protection and storage. I was amazed at its beauty. As I held it in my hand I could not believe how light it was. The 1.32 ounces / 37.4 grams make it light enough to be a comfortable clencher. The length of the pipe is 5.45 inches / 138.4 mm. The chamber diameter is .80 inches / 20.3 mm and the chamber depth is 1.50 inches / 38.1 mm. It is comfortable to hold in the hand.


The pipe has a smooth finish and is stained with a 3-step process to bring out the grain. The bowl is egg shaped but slightly canted forward with elements of a Belge shape. The grain is decent on the pipe. I am not sure which stain David used first but the understains are darker and serve to make the grain stand out. The overstain is almost a yellow. The combination gives a dimensionality to the finish that is fascinating. The trim bead on the end of the shank is made of Marblewood and adds a nice finishing touch. The unique grain and shape of the bead is distinctive and feels great in the hand when held during a smoke.


The stem is a hand cut Ebionite half saddle or half taper depending on your point of view! The top half is saddle and the bottom is tapered. The saddle portion is well done. It is soft cut on the saddle and then tapers back to the button. The saddle is rounded and has a very gentle cut to it. On the underside the stem blade tapers gradually back to the button where it flares to the same width as the flare on saddle. It is just the right thickness at the portion that rides in the mouth – not too thick or too thin. It is made of quality material as it has not oxidized in the years I have had it. The tenon is an integral part of the stem and is chamfered inward to form a dished end that is well-polished. The button is the size and shape that I really like – thin at the edges with a very slight rise to the centre top and bottom, forming an eye shaped end view. The lip on the button is very not to thick and fits well behind the teeth for a comfortable feel. The slot in the end of the button is also funneled and flattened to deliver a mouthpiece that has the same diameter from start to finish. David also rounded the ends of the slot giving it a finished look. The attention to detail shows the love of his craft that is transmitted into each of his pipes. It is a comfortable and well executed pipe. A pipe cleaner passes easily through the pipe with no obstruction.


I have two Ozark Mountain Briar pipes and both are identical in terms of internal mechanics. David has well-crafted airflow dynamics in his pipes. The draught is clean and easy with no whistling or tightness. It has an easy draw that makes smoking it a pleasure. The bowl chamber is drilled to slightly over 3/4 of an inch with a .80 inch diameter. The tobacco chamber was coated with what David calls a Pre Carbed coating. It was neutral in taste and did not distract from the tobacco that was smoked. The cake built up on the bowl very easily. The draught hole is centered slightly above the bottom of the bowl and seems to have a slight funnel leading into the shank and stem. The fit of the stem to the shank is excellent – smooth and tight with no light showing at the joint. The tenon fits well in the mortise and sits deep in the mortise against the bottom. The airway is in the centre of the mortise and aligns with the airway in the tenon. The edges of the tenon have been polished and rounded and the airhole countersunk so that it meets the airway in the mortise. Looking at the airways with a flashlight it is clear to see that they are smooth and polished with no rough edges. The interior of the pipe is smooth and polished from the button to the bottom of the bowl.


I broke this pipe in with some aged McClellands 5100. It is a dedicated Virginia pipe and always delivers a good tasting smoke. I have found that David’s other pipe also is a Virginia machine. It also smokes cool and dry and deliver good flavor with the Virginias that I choose to smoke in it.

What’s Inside The Cupboard?

This beautiful oak cabinet sits on top of my pipe cupboard in my office at home. This cupboard came to me as a gift when I was the president of the Vancouver Pipe Club from a member down on Whidbey Island, Washington. It came as a bit of a surprise and one that was very welcome. It is well made with brass knobs for handles and inset brass hinges on the inside of the doors. The joints are well done and the nails have been hidden well behind putty in a subtle way to make them less visible. The back of the cabinet is also finished and smooth. It is fastened to the back with nails or staples and the holes are filled and the back stained to match the rest of the cupboard. The detail done even on the back side of the cupboard speaks to the fine craftsmanship of the piece. The top of the cupboard is set off with a crown moulding that makes it look far older than it is. The paneled doors also give it an air of antiquity with the decorative beaded moulding around the inside panel. The flat base extends beyond the width and length of the cupboard making a very stable base for the piece. It is designed to be either a free standing piece or to be hung on the wall. Inevitably when people visit me in my office they ask about the cupboard and what might be in it. The closed doors seem to hide something that must be important. Some folks ask right away what it contains while others glance at it throughout the visit and then either in the midst of things or at the end as they are about to leave. It seems that they just have to know. I love the fact that the design is unique enough and secretive enough that it calls forth questions.

Cupboard 002

Once the doors are opened the quality workmanship continues to be evident. The way the craftsman organized the inside is pretty simple. It is designed to hold 24 pipes facing bowl out toward the front and has two drawers at the bottom for holding other accessories or in my case some of my pocket pipes. The slotted bar at the top third of the first half and the top third of the second half of the cabinet is made up of twelve U shaped cuts in each one that hold stems easily without them turning or being damaged. The U’s are sanded smooth and given a coat of Varathane or varnish so they are well done. The two bases below the slots are also scooped out with a router and sanded smooth for the bottom of the bowl to sit in without damage. The U cut and the scooped base hold the pipes securely. The top base and the bottom one are set into grooves that have been cut into the side walls. The case is very stable and has no side to side play. The drawers are designed to slide easily into the slots cut and polished for them. In my case I use the top shelf for six of my Dunhill pipes (left side of the top) with two others laid behind them, three of my John Calich pipe and one Ashton, one Steve Weiner and a Tinsky Dublin. The second shelf houses the rest of my Tinsky’s. All but one of them has been smoked. The unsmoked pipe in the picture came at a time when I was drawn to smaller bowls. It is being reserved for a time that may not be true!

Cupboard 001

Once I succumb to the curiosity of my visitors and open the doors on the cupboard all of the ones who are pipemen love looking at the pipes and the workmanship of the cupboard. The non-pipesmoking guests just shake their heads, unable to figure me out. I don’t say anything that would enable them to figure it out. I just reach for a pipe and polish it while they stand looking at me and the cupboard with what appears to be a growing incredulity. One day when I get my shop set up I want to use this cupboard as a pattern and make a few more for my other pipes. I love the way the doors protect the pipe stems from oxidizing in the light and keep the pipes looking pristine. The bottom drawers are a great place to stow away folding pocket pipes that I do not use very often and other pipe paraphernalia that I seem to continue to accumulate.

Father Tom – A Serendipitous Encounter in Frankfurt

Father Tom heard the announcement over the intercom at Heathrow that his plane was now boarding so he hurriedly left the smoking cage and made straight for the gate for his flight to Budapest. He knew that he would change planes in Frankfurt on the way and was hoping to get the chance to pick up some pipe tobacco from the Duty Free on the layover there. He also hoped that Jack Spratt and his wife from the Vancouver/London flight would not be on the same plane.  He was weary of obnoxious passengers. He wanted to have a little quiet down time to read over his notes for the conference in Budapest. His pipe still hung unconsciously in his mouth, though the tobacco was long since burned away and the dottle disposed of in the cage. He absentmindedly touched the pipe at different points in his walk to the gate. People would glare at him as he walked along oblivious to their stares and pointed comments about not smoking. If he had noticed he would likely have had some witty repartee to give back to them.

By the time he boarded the Frankfurt bound plane he had returned the pipe to his jacket pocket without much intention, so he had no further problems. It seemed too fortunate to be true that his troublesome travel companions were not on this plane, as he was used to a bit of hassle on his flights. He settled into his seat on the aisle so that his right leg could straighten out in the aisle once they were underway. His leg always gave him problems when he sat too long so he had learned to accommodate his aches and pains. The takeoff was uneventful and his seatmates were soon sleeping. While he read through his materials for the seminar in Budapest, he reached in his pocket and stuck his pipe in his mouth and unconsciously gnawed on it. The flight attendant made it a point to remind him of the no smoking rules.  He pointed to the bowl showing that it was empty and commented that it was his soother and would keep him quiet on the flight. As an afterthought he said, “You wouldn’t want a cranky old man whinging on this leg of the trip.” With that the flight attendant laughed, shook her head and continued down the aisle.

He settled into his reading and writing, interrupted only by the food and beverage service – some type of dark bread and a strong cheese,served with a thimble sized cup of strong coffee. He missed his mug of fine coffee and grimaced as he sipped the strong, dark, lukewarm brew. He was looking forward to finally landing in Budapest. The conference was scheduled for three days so he had booked several extra days following the conference so that he could do some sightseeing and visit the local tobacconists. He had searched online for and found some pipe shops that looked interesting. As he thought about that he took the pipe from his mouth, held it in his hand and looked out the window. He wondered how soon they would be landing. He was actually looking forward to the layover in Frankfurt – another bowl would be a comfort and maybe he could pick up some stout German lager as well. Within moments of his thoughts the plane began its descent and the announcement came over the speakers that they would be landing soon and should turn of electronic devices… He chuckled and said to himself, “That wish did not take long to be granted.”

The plane landed smoothly and taxied to gate. The passengers quickly maneuvered their way off the plane. About mid-stream among the disembarking crowd was Father Tom. His pipe hung from his mouth as he clutched his briefcase in his hand. He had put his flat cap on and he was a man on a mission. Once off the plane he looked for a smoking area where he could fire up his pipe. Seeing none, he asked at the information desk where he might find one. Somehow in his bumbling German he was able to understand where he was being directed…or at least he thought he understood. So he started on his way toward the spot pointed out to him. When he arrived he realized that something had been lost in the translation as he found himself standing in another queue for Security. He was trapped in a line that could not be exited so he moved forward with the crowd. When he arrived at the desk of the Security Officer he was asked to put his bag, coat and shoes on the belt to be scanned. He did as he was told but forgot to take the pipe from his mouth. The officer pointed at the pipe so he looked down to see his pipe in his mouth and placed it in the tray as well.

When he had passed through the scanner he realized that he was still in the gate area of the airport and had actually moved to the sets of gates where his next plane would depart. He went to the information desk and asked again for the smoking area. The attendant had a blank look on her face so he pointed to his pipe and acted out smoking… she nodded. She understood and pointed him to the area. Ah… finally he had accomplished at least a part of his mission. He expected a cage like the one at Heathrow so you can imagine his surprise when he found the newly renovated smoking lounge in Frankfurt airport. It was beautiful and new. He found a comfortable seat in an unoccupied corner of the room and soon was totally oblivious to anyone else in the room, happy to have achieved his mission. He filled his bowl, lit, tamped and relit the pipe and soon he was quietly enjoying the solitude of his smoke. He became almost invisible in a cloud of sweet Virginia smoke. No one sat near him so he could get lost in his thoughts and enjoy himself thoroughly.


Suddenly his quiet repast was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. He came back to the present and was prepared to give a ready retort to anyone asking him to put out his pipe; but before he could speak the chap at the other end of the hand came into focus.  It was an older gentleman wearing much the same dress as he did that came around the chair to stand in front of him. He even sported a pipe in his mouth. He was saying something and Father Tom had to quickly shake away his surprise and listen. The older gent seemed to guess Tom had not heard him, so with a twinkle in his blue eyes he repeated himself.

“Good day sir. May I join you for a bowl while I am waiting? I have been sitting in this room in the opposite corner smoking a bowl by myself when I saw you come in. I thought to myself it would be a fine thing to have a word or two with a fellow pipeman. Do you mind?” said the old gentleman.

Father Tom shook his head in amazement and said, “I apologize for my speechless surprise a moment ago. I am so used to having to defend my right to smoke my pipe that I was shocked to see a pipe in your mouth. I had no idea there was another pipe smoker in the room. Certainly, it would be great to have you join me for a bowl. What are you smoking? What kind of pipe is that you have?”

And with those questions the agenda for the layover was set. The thought of a pint of lager quickly disappeared from his mind as the good father and the old fellow exchanged names and settled into the kind of conversation pipemen the world over enter into with one another with little effort. The older gent’s name was John and he lived in Oxford, England. He was also heading to Budapest for a business meeting regarding some materials his company was exporting to Hungary. They enjoyed a great hour and a half smoking and talking about pipes they owned or had sold, ones that were on the wish list and old tobaccos that they missed. They heard the intercom announcement for their flight and headed for the plane to Budapest. On the way out the door they tapped out the dottle from their pipes into an ashtray on one of the tables. They chatted on their way to their gate and made arrangements to get together after their meetings and check out the local pipe shops. They both had done some homework and had come up with the same two shops that each of them had on his list to visit – the Pipatorium and Gallwitz Tobacconist. It was likely a curious sight to behold for the other travelers, as the two older men, each with an empty pipe in his mouth, chatting up a storm made their way down the aisle. They were like long lost brothers reunited after years of being apart.  They traded seats with another passenger so they could sit together and soon were lost in an ongoing discussion. The flight to Budapest went quickly and soon they had landed. They left the plane, picked up their luggage and parted company for their respective hotels.

John said, “See you on Wednesday when I am finished and we can spend the evening laying out the plans for our walkabout on Thursday. Who knows we may find a couple other shops to check out as well. I know that Davidoff has a shop here and there is also a Cigar shop shaped like a tube that we can check out near the Vaci Utca. Hope you enjoy your conference.”

Father Tom responded, “Talk to you soon John. I am looking forward to Wednesday evening. We can have some dinner and a bit of Hungarian wine and layout the plan. Good luck on the business meetings.”

They left the plane, nodded to each other as they made their way to meet their rides. As Father Tom waited for his ride he thought to himself, “What a serendipitous turn of events to meet another pipe smoker in Frankfort and to have each booked extra time on their trip to visit some tobacco shops. The trip was going to be a memorable one regardless of the outcome of their individual meetings”. The random events of travel had come together to their mutual favor, for a change from the typical trials both had known.

Steve Laug 03/22/13 Copyright 2013

A Restart into the World of Pipes

After birth of my firstborn daughter, when I was 30, I picked up the pipe again for the first time in about 10 years. My first foray back into pipes was to buy a cheap Medico Brylon pipe, Medico filters, pipe cleaners and some Borkum Riff from a local 7-Eleven in Escondido, California. (Some of you may well remember the days when the local convenience store sold both pipes and pipe tobacco and had them readily displayed for convenience. Some of you may have missed those good days.) It did not take long before I began to start looking for a different pipe. I visited local Tinderbox stores and did not find one that struck my fancy. Mind you it was 1982 and I was not into the traditional shaped pipes and some of the freehand shapes just did not do it for me either. One day I happened on a little shop in Vista, California just across the street from where I was working. I stopped by on my lunch hour one day and got engaged in a great conversation with the older gentleman who was smoking a pipe was sitting behind the till. He said he was the owner of the shop and that his name was Bill. (He was probably about the age I am now, but when I was 30 everyone looked older in my mind.)

We talked during that lunch hour about the kind of tobacco I smoked and the pipes I had. I told him I had only smoked the tobaccos I had purchased through drugstores, grocery stores and convenience stores. That limited the tobacs to Sail, Borkum Riff, Velvet, Half and Half, Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Albert and Mixture 79. He laughed and said I had not really smoked anything that he would consider worth the time. They were staple tobaccos but I needed to try something of better quality and fuller flavour. He introduced me to some of the better bulk tobaccos that he had available and gave me some sample of Virginia and Virginia and Perique blends to try. I was hooked and quickly quit buying the Borkum Riff. I also tried a nice toasted Cavendish that became my go to blend for quite a while.

I showed him my little Medico Brylon billiard and I have to give him credit, he did not mock it or laugh when he saw it. He asked me some questions about whether it burned hot or wet. He talked about caring for the pipe and keeping it clean. He showed me how to pack the pipe and tamp it. All things I had learned before but things he wanted to make sure I understood. After all of that he introduced me to the world of estate pipes. He had a display case filled with a wide range of pipes of all brands and shapes. I wish I knew then what I have learned since because I remember that the pipes he had were well maintained and restored. I went through many of them and in the course of our conversation he talked about how briar would smoke better than the Brylon I currently smoked.

He asked me a price range of pipes I might be interested in. I was not sure so I gave the price as $25-40 would work for me. After all I had spent $5.95 on the Medico. He again did not laugh or shake his head in disbelief. Rather he put about 6 different pipes on the top of the display case for me to look at in that range. He walked me through the information on each pipe and showed me the condition of them and any issues that they may have had. He said I would need at least two pipes in order to give ample time for them to rest between smokes/days. Added to the little Medico that would give me a rotation of three pipes and that was a good start. I sorted through the lot that he had put up for me to look at and chose two pipes. The first was a Ben Wade – Preben Holm freehand. It had a great blast finish and felt really good in the hand. It was broken in well but Bill had reamed the cake back to a thin coating on the bowl. The stem was buffed to a shiny polish and the pipe truly looked new to me. The plateau top was great and I loved the look of it. The second one was a little Alpha, Israeli made pipe that had a more classic look to it. I am not sure of the shape of it to this day. The stem was a simple saddle bit with a denture stem on it. That is where the name Alpha Comfit came from. This was also very clean and ready to smoke. (I have since had the stem replaced. I sent out to Lee Von Erck in Northern Michigan, USA and he did the stem for me about 15 or more years ago).


Ben Wade – Preben Holm


Alpha Comfit

Both of these pipes are still in my collection and have provided many years of fine smoking pleasure for me. They have darkened over the years and have a nice patina to them now. They are pipes that I frequently pick up in my rotation because they always deliver. The photos above show the two pipes as they are today. I should polish and buff the stems a bit to remove the tooth chatter and oxidation.