Blog by Steve Laug
Not too long ago I saw a set of photos that Mark Domingues posted on Facebook of a pipe that he had just finished. It ticked all the boxes for me – thick shank, apple shape, tactile rustication, multidimensional stain colour and a tortoise shell tapered stem. I saved the photos of the pipe that Mark had included and have inserted them below. I sent him a message on Facebook about the pipe and we struck a deal. I purchased the pipe from him and now only had to wait for it to arrive. I don’t know about you but I hate the wait between when I purchase something and it arrives at my door. Add to that the fact that I live in Canada also adds time to the transit from the seller to me. I suppose it is my impatience but I check the tracking information daily and the mailbox as well. I am like a kid waiting for my catalogue order to arrive.
Yesterday morning I received notification that the package was out for delivery. At lunch time I called my wife to see if it had arrived and sure enough there was a package for me. I always reserve my excitement a little bit because I have experienced being excited for a pipe only to get home and the package was not the right one. The afternoon dragged on at a snails pace. When I did get home I looked at the Customs documents to see if it was from Mark and it was! Ah the expectancy of opening this kind of box. The box was a compact box and it was undamaged and UNOPENED by Customs. There were no duties attached to the pipe that needed to be paid.I turned the box over in my hands making sure that I had not missed any damage or slicing of the tape and there was not one issue. I used a sharp knife and cut the packing tape along the edge of the box and lifted the flap. Mark had done a great job in packing this pipe for shipping. The first thing I saw was Mark’s Business card on the top of the packing material. The box was filled Styrofoam peanuts and nestled in the midst of them was what looked like a child’s white sock! Mark innovatively had a draw string sewn around the ankle of the sock so that it could be drawn shut. He had created a pipe sock out of a crew sock! Well done Mark – Bravo! I removed the sock from the box and knocked off the packing materials that stuck to it and laid it on my desk top. I loosened the draw string and removed the pipe from the bag. The pipe is a beauty. I turned it over in my hands and examined it. The shape is very well done and the rusticated finish is eye catching. The way Mark did the stain and the rustication makes the finish sparkle as I turned the pipe over in my hands. The rustication goes right up to the edge of the bowl but does not compromise the rim top at all. There is a thin smooth band at the shank end which makes a good connection spot for the stem. The fit of the stem to the shank is perfect.There is also a smooth area on the underside of the shank where Mark stamped his Lone Star Briar logo. The logo is vertical on the shanks and is an outline of the state of Texas with LSBW (Lone Star Briar Works) on the inside of the outlined area. The stamping is a little wobbly looking with both the outline and letters double stamped. It still is legible under a lens but not so without a lens.The stem is a Tortoise Shell acrylic that is beautiful and picks up some of the colour from the bowl and shank. The flow of the taper is even and ends at the button with a comfortable thickness that is too my liking. It is very smooth and well finished. There were small scratches or sanding marks that are visible on the top of the stem toward the shank when looked at closely. The underside is far better with no visible scratching. The photos below catch the marks that I am speaking of. The button was thin and comfortable feeling in my mouth. It is not a heavy pipe and sits well in my mouth even though I tend not to be a clencher. Those are my first impressions of the aesthetics of the pipe as I turned it over in my hands. I moved from aesthetics to mechanics pretty quickly. Because I work on so many pipes from many different makers I have become pretty picky when it comes to the mechanics of new artisan pipes. The 3/4 inch diameter bowl had walls that were sanded smooth and there were not any rough edges from the drilling. The airway entered the bowl at the bottom and was centered. From the perspective of looking down the bowl the drilling is spot on. The chamber is straight down from the top of the bowl and does not deviate either toward one side or the other or front to back. The smoke chamber is also proportionally well centred in the bowl and is pleasing to my eye. I have had some beautiful pipes that are just a little off and it bothered me to no end. I removed the stem and looked at the mortise. The shank had been given a slight bevel to draw the tenon and shank face flush against the shank. That bevel was somewhat rough and out of round but it functioned well. That detail was the only detraction from the perfect drilling. The walls of the mortise were also smooth with no roughness – to me a very good sign. The airway at the end of the mortise is centered though because of the bevel it looks off in the photo. The open, smooth airway and mortise give an unobstructed flow of air from the chamber through the mortise. I blew air through it and also sucked air through and the flow was perfect. Well done on the mechanics of the bowl and shank.I turned my attention next to the mechanics of the stem. The tenon is a Delrin insert which is a nice surprise. Many of the pipes I have picked up and worked on have integral vulcanite or acrylic tenons. This tenon was well set in the stem. There was no sloppiness to the drilling or to the area where the tenon face and the stem face met. Very smoothly done and well fit. The tenon itself fit well in the shank – neither too loose nor tight. The airway in the tenon end was chamfered (beveled) into a nice smooth funnel to give more focus to the incoming smoke from the bowl. It is a stark contrast to the bevel on the shank end. From my measurements the depth of the mortise is the same as the length of the tenon. There is no gap where tars and oils can build up. Well executed. The airway in the rest of the tortoise shell stem is smoothly drill and is centred from the end of the tenon to the end of the slot. The stem tapered both on the upper and lower sides but also on the right and left. It flows to a narrow end with a thin button. The air way flares in the button as you can see in the photo below with the light shining through it.To me the button is a critical feature that either makes the mouthpiece comfortable and adds to the overall appeal of a pipe or detracts from the rest of the pipe. Mark has done a really good job in creating a comfortable and really well functioning button. I would describe the shape of the button as a prolate spheroide (North American football). There are no sharp edges. The top edge of the button is a bit more crowned than the underside but both are thin with an edge that is high enough to comfortably hold behind my teeth but not bulky and thick. The slot in the button is smoothly fashioned and fanned out from side to side and slightly to the top and bottom made to deliver a smooth flow of smoke from the bowl to the mouth. I looked down the stem from tenon to button and back and the airway was smooth and unobstructed. Lining up the stem and turning it into the mortise was easily done and the fit between the stem and shank end was flawless. I blew air through and sucked air through the complete Pipe and found that the airflow was very good. The flow was perfect to my liking. Overall I was very pleased with the mechanics of the pipe. With the aesthetics to my liking and the mechanics well done only one thing remained. I needed to load up the pipe and enjoy an inaugural smoke. That would confirm the craftsmanship of the pipe.
I got the chance to load the bowl with some of a Balkan Blend I put together this afternoon. It is a great blend to test a pipe. I have smoked quite a bit of it so I know the taste it should have which is why I chose to start with this blend. Forgive the crazy label. It is an old jar I had around and I blended the the tobaccos in that jar back in October. It has melded very well and I enjoy it!I decided to break the family rules this afternoon and have a bowl in the house. It was quiet and most of the household was away. So I put the packed pipe in my mouth and touched the flame of the lighter to the tobacco. I pulled the flame into the tobacco and then it caught. I drew the first smoke through to my mouth. The draught is effortless and smooth. It did not take long for the tobacco to begin to smolder along and give me a good smoke. There are no obstructions on the draw. The stem is just right in terms of thickness. I was able to hold it in my mouth as I typed the end of this review. The bowl was easily kept lit as the draught was perfect. I effortlessly puffed on it while typing this and working another pipe. I had to relight only a couple of times when I became too focused on what I was doing and forgot to puff. It delivered a good tasty smoke from the first bowl. There was none of the taste of burning briar that can often be imparted in an inaugural smoke. This is a well-made pipe.The bowl lasted for the better part of an hour as I wrote and worked. When it was over there was a dry white ash in the bowl. There was no moisture in the smoke or in the leftovers. It was a great smoker and one I would come to again and again. Thank Mark for a great pipe!
If are interested in seeing more of Mark’s work and picking up one of his pipes or commissioning him to make a pipe for you, contact him on Instagram @lonestarbriarworks on Facebook Messenger under Lone Star Briar Works. He regularly posts new work to his page there and I am sure you will see something you like. Thanks for taking time to read the review.