About the Pipes and the Maker
Thanks for visiting the page and I'm hoping that you'll enjoy looking at the pipes, seeing a few you like, and, will pick up a piece or two to add to your rotation.
The guy who designed this site said I should put up an "ABOUT" section to let everyone know stuff about the pipes, how I design them, how I price them, why I make them and throw in some personal background information to make myself sound interesting. I told him I could do part of that if it'll help sell pipes, but I couldn't not figure out any way to make myself sound interesting.
So, let's talk about our common interest: the pipes and the hows and whys I'm making them.
It's a hobby. It's an interesting and fun way for me to pass my post-productive life, create a nice form of functional art and it makes people happy. It gives me a chance to learn new stuff, meet new folks, travel around to learn more about making pipes and making some new friends in the process. The people around here, few of them pipe smokers, are furthermore delighted that I spend time in my shop and away from them and their kids.
I've been a longtime pipe smoker. My first pipe was a Kaywoodie that my high school roommate nicked from the Walgreens on Flagler Street in Miami. Still have it and if Walgreens wants payment I'll send them the seven bucks. For whatever reason, I've also been a huge art fan and in early life my hangout of choice was the Art Institute in Chicago. I thought it was a great place to get cultured and meet classy women. It was a great place to get cultured.
To get to the Art Institute I'd have to take the train downtown and get off at the stop near Wabash Street where, as many of you know, is the world's greatest pipe shop, Iwan Ries. In those days that shop not only had a great pipes selection, but sort of a pipe museum. It helped make the immediate connection between pipes and art.
Here's the tie-in: following retirement I took advantage of Tennessee's offer to take college courses for free. I immediately signed up for courses at Walters State Community College. Art courses. Never had them in college or grad school. I thought it would help make me a well rounded individual. It didn't do that, but it was a great way to pass time in the company of twenty year olds, many of whom were tremendously talented, and learn some things about photography, other forms of art which I couldn't do (drawing, painting) and led me sculpture classes. It was there, after exposure to the wonders of soapstone, that the prof essentially said, "Do whatever . . .", that the connection between pipes and art kicked in. I ordered some briar and stems off ebay, bought a hand drill and dremel and did my thing. The results were predictable, but the kids liked them and a picture wound up in the student art mag. But, they were, from an artistic point of view, an elevated form of crap. But, having little else to do to pass time, I kept on making them. Great excuse to begin accumulating power tools, stains, more briar and to start learning more about making them right.
Thus began a string of visits to real pipe makers and their shops. First stop, a day with Tim West. Great guy, good teacher and exposure to even more expensive power tools and strange concepts like sanding wheels and sand paper. Two stints at the Chicago pipe making seminar with Lee von Ertz, Mike Buttera and Rex Poggenpohl among others (the second one for me being remedial pipe making), and, a session with David Huber and John Inge before the Raleigh show followed.
Perhaps the most helpful sessions were visits to shops of some of my favorite makers and the opportunity to watch them work. Scott Klein, Robert Blackwell, Jessie Jones, Manfred Hortig, Steffen Mueller, Uwe Maier, have been gracious in allowing visits. To my mind these are some of the best in the business and all of them are just great human beings. Jessie, in particular, is a great teacher and has a wonderful way of explaining mechanics and methods.
Learning from meetings at shows, via the web forums, chat sessions and posted videos has also helped. Getting critiques and suggestions are invaluable in making a better pipe, be it from the great makers or consumers.
Which brings me back to my pipes. After six or so years of making them, I am pleased with the quality of the smoke; they function as they should, which is a product of input and suggestions from makers and my consumers. In terms of design, let's face it, there are "high end" pieces on these pages. Like the pipes themselves, as a maker I'm still a work in progress and evolving as I go along. I love the daily experiments with shaping and finishing. I can't say that I have a signature shape, nor do I care to produce the same thing day after day. Routine is the enemy of creation and the works and artists which and who inspire me represent innovation, which I try to conform with practicality. Design plays best when combined with the right feel, weight, bowl size and mechanics.
But the fact of the matter is two prime factors which get folks to buy a pipe are looks and price. So, in making a pipe I try to deliver on both of those. You may note that very few pieces on these pages are "classics". That's not a knock on billiards, bulldogs and the rest. Good shapes, very functional and readily available at a wide range of prices. I want to do pieces which are cognizable as pipes, but which are playful in their shapes, textures and colors. My gut feeling is that pipe smokers want something a little different, but which still resembles something familiar. So, I play a bit with the shape. At the same time, we want something which looks good. That's where the finishing kicks in. Whenever possible I try to bring out the wonderful patterns of grain in the briar and on my smooth pieces, create a nice shiny finish which is pleasant to your touch. Color is another choice I enjoy showcasing. No knock on the traditional black, brown, tan and occasional green. I use them frequently. But, sometimes a change is in order when it can be done in beautiful and creative manners. That, of course, is your call. One other consideration is that pipes are not strictly a "guy thing" as more women are coming into our population.
Textures are also a matter of choice. When the briar does not display nice grain, I consider alternatives such as blasting, rusticating or alternatives. One of those is the driftwood finish developed by Roger Wallenstein. In some ways it creates grain patterns similar to blasting, although what comes out is not always predictable. It allows novel uses of brighter colors or for stone like finishes. It also provides a pipe which will change in appearance over time as the colors tend to fade which brings out the interesting patterns of grain.
The elephant in the room (or on this page) is price. I keep my prices low, not because I ever wanted to create "budget" pipes, but because, growing up as a poor boy, I want keep them affordable. Many of us grew up and enjoying budget priced pipes, but admiring pieces with different styles or higher craftsmanship which commanded much higher prices than we could conveniently pay. I do my best to combine style with an easily affordable hand made pipe and do so in several ways which do not compromise value. I primarily use ebauchon briar of high quality which I import and buy in bulk. I use pre-molded stems and delrin tenons. Perhaps most importantly, I do not need to rely on my time as a factor in price. I'm retired and this is a hobby. And, I'm not a "name" in pipe world .( Hell, Ranz isn't even my name, but I thought it looked better than Ron's Pipes or Smith Freehands. Sounds about the same and still provided a degree of anonymity which after my work life I relish.)
I've had some makers and sellers suggest that price reflects the value you attach to your work. Many say that my prices are too low for the materials, skill and time put into it. I don't disagree as a general matter. Some of these folks are making a living off pipe sales and their craftsmanship and the quality of their work fully justifies the prices they command. I'm not there. The sales are enough to pay for the hobby, my time is well spent doing what I enjoy but the payoff is not so much the dollars and euros; it's the smiles and the feedback. It's hard to beat the feeling I get when after a sale I can watch a guy light up and enjoy the pipe I made or get a nice note about the experience.
I should mention the retailers where my works are available:
The Happy Piper, Janesville, WS
Smokys Tobacco, Knoxville, Tennessee
The Gatlinburlier, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Blue Room Briars, (Online) Marysville, OH
Tobacco Pipes Japan - Premium pipes and accessories, Osaka, Japan
Atelier 9punkt9 , (Online) Stuttgart, Germany
Tobacco Treasures, (Online - Etsy)Winnetka, CA