It isn’t the winning or losing, it’s being part of the madness. At least, that’s what I believe and I’m sticking to it, mainly because I have no chance of ever being the Danish Champion in slow pipe smoking. Mind you, I am closing the gap, slowly improving with every passing year. This year, I was no. 17 out of 110 smokers with a time of 1 hour, 25 minutes. For those of you who don’t know the rules of this sport, you get three grams of tobacco, a pipe, two matches to light up with and a stamper. No relights along the way. When the pipe goes out, you’re out. The world record, by the way, stands at over three and a half hours. I have a long way to go.
The pipe this year was, as it always is, a Stanwell. This year we got a model 03 billiard in a rusticated finish and I must say, it’s a vast improvement on the pipes we are used to getting at the championships. Normally they are smallish, not exactly firsts and frankly, I don’t smoke them much after the competition is over. They are just too small. This year however, the pipe is a beaut. The classic billiard in a mans size. Well made, well finished and despite its size, light in weight. I’ve been offering it rubbed out Virginia flakes and the like and it seems to go very well with that particular type of tobacco.
No problems with the airway here, it smokes very well and I actually like the look of the thing. All in all, I’m quite pleased with it. Even if it is Italian made. Well done Stanwell. Keep it up.
The bowl is 38 mm wide at the widest point and it stands 48 mm high. The chamber is bored to 20 mm and is 41 mm deep. Length: a whopping 152 mm.
markings: “03”, “Stanwell”, “Danish Design” and 2012”. All markings on a polished area under the shank. The stem bears the Stanwell logo.
Which might not make sense to some. Why have two of the same model? Well, firstly, it isn’t quite the same as the other one. And secondly, it doesn’t look exactly like it either. Thirdly, I got it cheap from a guy who didn’t want it. A long story.
I picked it up at the Danish Championships in slow pipe smoking last year. Someone was lucky enough to win it on one of the spot prizes and didn’t really want the pipe because it was too big for his tastes. I love King Size.. so when he heard that I might buy it, he came straight to me. I did indeed buy it. At about half price. He was happy with the cash and I was happy with the brand new 616.
This one isn’t a “Dry” system, as the other is marked. This is an Oscar Aries. It is still a 616 KS though and has that lovely multi-gray and white stem, in contrast to the plain black stem on the dry.
The engineering is identical in both pipes and this one does have the same well at the bottom of the airway in the shank which makes for the Savinelli system, much like the Peterson system. It probably would not be unfair then, to call this a system pipe too, although purists may disagree.
Not much grain to speak of on this particular pipe and, in that respect, it isn’t among the best lookers that I do own but the form of the pipe suits my big hand and thick fingers and it is pleasant to my eye. It sits comfortably between my teeth too, probably because of the bend compensating for the weight of the bowl. Strangely, Savinelli doesn’t deliver these pipes with a high polish. Both have a half-matt appearance and no amount of polishing on my part has changed that.
All in all, I like this pipe. In fact, both of the Savinellis have a place in the rotation and frequently accompany me on various trips around town. With an easy draw and big enough to hold tobacco for a whole morning, allowing for many relights along the way or for sitting and relaxing for ages in my armchair, this pipe fulfills many functions in my day.
Dimensions are uncannily similar to the Dry System. Markings are slightly different:
“Oscar Aries”, “616KS” over “Italy” beside the Savinelli logo.
“Savinelli product” under the shank.
Well no. At least, not often these days although they can be found. Flawless pipes. But that is getting to be a rarity as the quality of briar is dwindling rapidly and I hear from pipe makers all over Denmark that are complaining about the blocks they are buying from Italy, Sicily, Tunisia and Morocco and other places south of my present location. The best of it was Corsican but production there stopped about four years ago.
There are a number of things that can ruin a block of briar. Sand holes in the wood, inclusions (where a stone or other particulate has been enveloped into the wood) cracks, insect damage or just plain old holes or voids naturally occurring in the root. Pipe makers find these as they carve pipes, sometimes having to scrap the block after hours of work. Most are salvageable by sandblasting or rustication of the bowl but often the block only has one or two small blemishes to be seen on the surface.
Enter the filler. A kind of putty. What the contents are, I don’t know but it has the appearance of very thick reddish brown paint. Apply with a toothpick to fill the hole and allow to dry. Sand off the excess after it’s dried. Voila. Stain and polish and the blemish is invisible. And yes, they all do it.
The problem is, that to us mortals who buy pipes, these blemishes, called fills, are invisible. That’s the whole point. We aren’t supposed to see them. Eventually, however, we will. Because the filler doesn’t colour up the way the briar does as we smoke our pipes over the years. Finally, the fill becomes visible. Like the one pictured here. A lighter coloured spot in the wood. I don’t need to point it out. If you can’t see it, you’re blind.
Fills do not detract from the smoking experience. They have no effect on the mechanics of smoking. Nor do they affect a pipes flavour. They might annoy the eye, but not the pipe. I have been looking at my humble collection lately through a magnifier and have found a few. Surprisingly, not so many on my older pipes. One or two on some of my newer acquisitions. The one pictured here is on an old horn, made around 1920. So this is not a new invention by pipe makers. It’s an old tradition.
I’ve decided to ask both my pipe suppliers to make a point of laying the flawless pipes they produce to one side. I’m thinking of starting a new line…..
Being honest, I didn’t get this one for Christmas. My birthday falls in November and so it was, that my dear wife, being aware of my affection for the unusual in pipes, bought this one for me.
Basically, it follows the lines of a prince but the boxwood section on the shank and the reduced, almost saddle, stem makes this one stand out a bit in my otherwise overfilled racks. The boxwood is separated from the briar with a decorative vinyl ring and the stem bears a silver ring to delineate the shift from shank to stem. The pipe is bored for a filter, which I duly removed and inserted a plug to fill the expanded airway.
I suppose I would have to declare this one as having more flame grain than anything else but that does not detract in any way from my pleasure as I look upon this lovely pipe.
Stanwell or not, this one was produced at the new factory in Italy. Many have been a bit suspicious of “Danish” pipes being made in Italy, raising suspicions about quality and form and the engineering that we are used to from Stanwell. Rest assured, this one sticks to the rigid demands to which we are accustomed. The airway is open and the draw is easy. The general finish is as good as it gets and the pipe, despite being a tad heavy in the mouth, is comfortable to smoke. It is not one for the clenchers out there. It does, however, sit very comfortably in the hand and I enjoy the smoking of it. The stampings on this particular piece are very crisp and the silver Stanwell “S” logo is well placed on the stem. The pipe is marked “Stanwell” over “Danish Design” over “XMAS 2011”.
Had I got this in my Christmas stocking, I would have been well pleased.
Bowl: 50 mm diameter and 46 mm high.
Chamber: Ø 30 mm and 34 mm deep.
Total length: 105 mm.
The button is 18 mm wide and 7.5 mm thick.
Ever had one of those pipes you take for granted? You know the one. It’s always in the rack, generally un-noticed and not the prettiest piece of briar in the collection that is your pipe rotation. And yet it still remains there because it’s the one you go to when you have to do stuff. Stuff like gardening, walking the dogs, cleaning the car or stacking next years firewood. I have one. It’s an old billiard from Georg Jensen. I know it is twenty four years old. The pipe is clearly stamped “SSM 87”, which means that it was produced for the South Sealland championships in 1987. This pipe then, has a history. I picked it up many years ago in a local auction. I remember it being in relatively good condition and it was fairly easy to clean it up and refurbish. It hadn’t been smoked much. Things have changed since then and “Old George”, as I call it, became one of my regulars for outdoor use. Rain or shine, this fellow comes with me and takes a hammering, time after time, and still keeps going strong.
The Georg Jensen I know of was not a pipemaker. He was a designer. Designing everything from chinaware to decorative gold and silverware, furniture and lord only knows what else. It might be an idea, to try to find out who made this pipe. As it was made for a championship, there must have been quite a few made, which would probably involve some kind of industrial production. That limits the field slightly but still leaves a dearth of options. I may have to research this. I just piqued my own interest.
But I digress. The old pipe is a very good smoker. It delivers every time I light it and it does not appear to be fussy about what I offer it. It smokes both Virginas and latakia blends with equally good results, doesn’t ghost easily and has always been a sweet pipe. It has never soured, despite my abuse of it. As I said, it isn’t the prettiest piece of briar I own but it is surprisingly dependable. There is a smidgeon of cross grain on the front of the bowl but nothing to get excited about. It does have a general pleasant appearance though, being from a bygone era where billiards were stylishly longer than high. The stem is exactly half the length of the pipe. Easy draw, lightweight and comfortable, I suppose that’s why I hang to this old warrior. In fact. I wouldn’t be without him.
Markings: “Georg Jensen Pipes”. “Made in Denmark”. “SSM 87”. And here’s the one I wonder about, “Goodwill”. Which has me thinking of Kriswill as a possible maker.
Dimensions: Length: 157 mm. Height: 50 mm. Bowl Ø: 36 mm at the maximum. Chamber: Ø 19 mm x 41 mm deep.
So how about you, dear readers. Do you have a pipe that that can take it the way Old George does? Let me know.
…and the mystery is solved. Thanks to some hard work by one of my readers..
The pipe maker is a Per Georg Jensen. Now working for MacBaren tobacco. I clipped this from the MacBaren website and I hope they will forgive me for this:
So, there he is.
I went to visit my friend and partner in crime, Benner, yesterday. The reason for this visit was to deliver a pipe for repair and to collect some some new pieces for my sales site. It’s always a pleasure to visit friends and yesterday was no exception. We chatted, got our business done and smoked a pipe together over a beer. An afternoon well spent. I selected some lovely pipes too. Keep an eye on the sales site.
As I was about to leave Benner asked me to wait for a second, he had something for me. Off he went to wherever it is he hides the good stuff and came back with a pipe sock in his hand.
“This is the ugliest pipe Karl Erik Ottendahl ever made.” He said. “It lacks style, form, grain and shape. It’s so ugly that I won’t sell it and at the same time, I don’t want to keep it. You might think it’s a great pipe. I don’t. It’s yours if you want it. Smoke it. Don’t sell it.”
Benner and Karl Erik were great friends and colleagues. This meant something to him. Benner knows I like large pipes. I think he believed he’d found a good home for it, and hence, “Smoke it, don’t sell it.”
Well, I said, Thanks Benner. I’ll take it and give it a try.
I smoked it today. He’s absolutely right about the pipe. Looking at it, it isn’t pretty. It’s a clump of a pipe. Big bowl, off centre and the shank is out of line. Not only that, the shank is not even. It has a bulge on one side close to the bowl and is curved inward by degrees on the other side. The mouthpiece is also out of whack, both horizontally and vertically. The shank does not meet the bowl evenly on both sides. The bowl is not round. Even the conical relief on the stem is uneven and out of line with centre. Aesthetically speaking, this one is a disaster. The grain is hopeless too. There is very little. In fact, it has a rather large and unsightly blob of a knot on the right hand bottom of the bowl which counterbalances what might be straight grain on the left.
There is a little redeeming birds eye on the rim, but that’s it.
It is heavy, out of balance and surprisingly comfortable to hold.
As I left Benner he said something else. “You never know” he said, “it may turn out to be the best smoker you have.”
You know what? He may be right. The airway is perfect even though this pipe is bored for a filter. I threw the filter away. I can’t stand ‘em. The internal engineering is absolutely on the money. The pipe smokes perfectly and easily. No tugging on this one. Smoke simply flows through it. Delightful.
This pipe has finally come home. I’ll never part with it.
Which brought me to this revelation in my pipesmoking; a good pipe is no more than the airway it surrounds. Shove the aesthetics aside for a moment. If the airway is good, if the engineering is as it should be, everything else is just for the eye. Had I been blind, I would have smoked this pipe without ever finding fault. The casing around the airway is secondary to the function of smoking the pipe.
The best smoker I have? I don’t know. But it’s going to be one of the best. Of that, I’m sure.
Markings are a little unusual for a Karl Erik. He stamped it with his surname. “Ottendahl”.
“Handmade in Denmark” with a model number(?), “3”. The stem bears the “O” logo and not the more known and recognisable “KE”.
The pipe is a crooked 150 mm long, the bowl is 60 mm high. The chamber is Ø21 mm and is 43 mm deep. The airway is 4 mm in the shank.
It may be an ugly duckling, but I already love this pipe. It has a great future ahead of it.
I’ve been pretty busy of late so posting here has been light. My time has been consumed by summer activities including my gardening and working some really strange hours. The good news is, that my gardening labours are finally bearing fruit. Or leaves. Depends on how you view it. I have been harvesting tobacco for the past month or so. One leaf at a time.
The plants took off about two months ago after lying still in the garden for four weeks or so. Suddenly they started to go up, and out. Taking the advice that I could find on internet forums, I have been harvesting leaves as they yellow on the stalk. The leaves get hung on strings in my woodshed and they die slowly and turn a rich golden brown colour. This is known as “colour curing” and is necessary unless one wants to smoke green leaf, which isn’t particularly attractive either to the eye or the palate. I have invented a system that allows me to add leaves to my strings at one end and remove finished leaves at the other. Henry Ford would be proud of me. The leaves are heavy when picked but dry out to be extremely light. Some of that weight will be put back as curing goes on as I need to rehydrate the leaves later, but that’s another story. As my leaves dry, I store them in a cardboard box where they will wait for further treatment. One can decide to simply leave them hanging where they are and they will naturally air cure over about six months to a year. I can’t wait that long so I decided to attempt fermenting my leaves.
There are several ways to achieve fermentation. The simplest is to stack the leaves in piles and monitor the internal temperature of the pile. A natural fermentation will generate heat and when the centre of the pile reaches 50° one simply opens the pile and rearranges the leaves. Fermenting tobacco releases unwanted substances and will generate a smell of ammonia. Once that smell is gone, the tobacco is ready for aging or storage. This process requires constant monitoring and a lot of work. Not really my cup of tea. If you screw it up, you get compost.
I decided to build a fermenting cabinet. One needs a container large enough to hang tobacco bundles in, a heat source, humidity and circulation. I considered building a cabinet out of wood and styrofoam. I had made plans and drawings. I consulted with other growers. And then a miracle happened. Our old refrigerator broke down. I now have the perfect container for my fermenter and my dear lady has a new fridge. Everyone’s happy.
My set up is simple, because I’m not a genius and I hate complication. Keeping it simple has always been my motto.
So.. I ran an electric lead into the fridge through the condensation outlet, so I didn’t need to get too technical with the tools. I hooked up a light bulb and an old computer fan to the lead and plugged it into the wall. Hey presto, light, heat and circulation. Humidity is supplied by an old paint tray filled with water. That gives me a large surface area of water to evaporate and it provides the exact 75% humidity I need to ferment. Luckily, I get the right temperature from the light bulb too. Had it been too high, a weaker bulb would have done the job, too little and a stronger one would have had to be inserted.
I found an old tubular curtain rod and cut it to length so that it fits across the top shelf supports in the fridge. My tobacco gets hung, in tied bunches, on that.
I hung a thermometer in the fridge together with an old hygrometer from a humidor. That gives me a method of controlling the heat and humidity inside the cabinet.
I fitted a locking latch to the door to keep it firmly closed and, finally, I drilled a couple of holes in the sides of the cabinet to allow air in at the bottom and out at the top. Air comes in at the bottom left and out at the top right. Heat rises, as does the water vapour and it appears to work as I want it to. I can see steam leaving the outlet holes in the evening. The fan provides circulation inside the box.
I paid pennies for the whole set up. Cheapest thing I ever built.
All I need to do, is top up the water tray in the evening and check the tobacco for mould. If that appears, then I’ll stop the process, dry the tobacco again, brush off the dead mould and then restart the fermentation process. Apparently, that’s OK and is not detrimental to either the tobacco or me.
My first tobacco will be ready in about two weeks. Then I’ll have to figure out how to store it and age it. The best of it all is, that it will be smokeable from that point on.
I can’t wait to try it!