A Beginning – My Adventure in Carving – A Finale… with more to come.

briar-block.jpgWell this has certainly been an adventure. The process alone takes time, and is both rewarding and heartbreaking. When I cut into this block and saw the flaws that existed, I figured this attempt was lost, my first shot, a bust. But low and behold, with some time, patience and a little creativity I finished with something that I did not see immediately.

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A Beginning – My Adventure in Carving – Part I

rough-cut-rear.jpgAs many of you may recall from my article on my local carver Brian Kalnitz (https://theeagerbeaver.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/brian-kalnitz-the-work-of-a-local-artisan/), I have spent many months watching and learning from him. It began as a simple curiosity and evolved into an intense desire to produce the same works of art that I saw Brian creating. I have always had an attraction to art and the creation of it, although my definition of art may be different than most. My business, residential concrete work, in my opinion has always been artistic in nature. The process of taking blank canvas which is in the form of someones backyard and out of that creating a patio or walkway that incorporates with the landscape so that it looks as though it has existed there from the beginning. There is more put into the process than people may think. I have always prided myself on not just simply asking for dimensions, but asking a customer what they want to feel when they look out their window. This is how to truly create something that is from them, and simply brought to life by me. Continue reading

King Charles Smoking Mixture (Germain) – Initial Tin Impression

Now I have gotten grief for how I do my reviews (initial review after 3 or 4 bowls, followup at end of tin), but I find this most effective for me both to document my initial feelings about a blend, and then to compare it to my final opinion. So, for those of you “Doubting Thomas'” just remember, this is a journal of experiences, and I am not trying to be a professional reviewer like some other sites boast <grin>

The road to trying this blend was an interesting one. I found it sitting on the shelf of The Tinder Box, a local store we have in the area. They most certainly focus on cigars and cigar accessories, but oddly enough they have a pretty decent selection of tinned pipe tobacco. While browsing the shelves one afternoon I noticed this neat little tin sitting there. It had an English guy on the front, and English name and seemed like it should be a good English blend, and it was on sale for $6.50 a tin. There was also about 12 tins sitting on the shelf, so it seemed to me that maybe this was just a rather unknown blend in our area. It is also not odd to find some really old tins there as they don’t seem to get much pipe smoker traffic in the shop.  So, I moved on to my next step in the process.

I tend to make buying tobacco complicated. One might think that for $6.50 a tin, I should have just grabbed it and nothing gained nothing lost if it turned out to be bad. I however tend to be a bit more frugal, and don’t like wasting money on bad tobacco. If I’m gonna spend it, even a measly $6.50, it better be worth it in my mind. Many would say that we burn our money on tobacco as it is, I don’t want to feel like its any more literal. So, I researched the blend on-line, browsing reviews, asking around in the #pipes chat room. The reviews were rather mixed, but I tend to not take total stock in a review until I try something myself. As I have said before, everyones tastes are different, so who knows, this could have been “the” blend for me. Many in the chat room are familiar with the manufacturer, and commented that they produce some good weed. So my mind was made up.

I was in the area today, so I decided to stop and pick up a tin. I gladly handed over $18.00 for a tin of King Charles Smoking Mixture and a tin of Dunhill 965. I quickly returned to my truck and immediately opened the tin. I had every intention of enjoying this, and I was not waiting. I first observed that the seal was certainly intact as I could hear the “whoosh” when I popped the lid. The label says that this blend is “straight Virginia’s, Orientals and Latakia, with no added flavors…”. The tobacco was well packed in the tin, actually had formed a solid little block inside the cellophane. There was a sweet fermented smell to it, not a bad smell at all, but different. My guess would be a combination of the Virginia’s and the Orientals. The Latakia does not stand out in the tin aroma at all, it seems non-existent. The cut is ribbon, almost shaggy, but not a fine cut. There is a shininess to the tobacco, I think I detect the presence of sugar crystals, but I cant be sure. My guess is that this tin has been around for awhile.

So, I decided I was going to pack and fire up a bowl right there. I grabbed a little bit of the tobacco, broke it from the neat little block and packed up my Kalnitz Dublin. The tobacco is a little moist, and in all fairness could probably use a little drying time before smoking. Even without that, it lit rather well. Unfortunately, this is where the enjoyable part of the experience ended. This did not have a good flavor to it at all, as a matter of fact, it was rather one dimensional. I tend to expect in a blend like this that at least one of the components will stand out, or that all of them will compliment each other. This didn’t happen, and I found this blend to be overly mild. There was not noticeable Virginia contribution, the Orientals seemed to be hiding and the Latakia must have been on vacation. All I seemed to get was smoke and not even hot air. This could be compared to puffing on an Ultra Light cigarette, and I was left wanting to crack the tin of Dunhill 965. In addition to the lack of flavor, which for the record made a repeat performance in the 2 subsequent bowls I smoked throughout the evening, the room note was REALLY bad. My other half has been able to handle all varieties of Latakia, with the occasional, “It smells like a campfire, but its not a bad thing”. This blend was compared to burning garbage, which in my book can not be viewed as even remotely favorable.

I’m in a pickle with this blend. Normally I will finish up a tin, even if the initial experience was not all that favorable. There are the arguments that you need to allow your taste buds to get used to the blend, that the pipe needs a few bowls to really allow a blend to shine, or even that a pipe should be dedicated, or a meerschaum used to get the true flavors of the tobacco. However, after discussing this with a friend who’s opinion I value, I’m not sure if I’m willing to go that distance. My friend made the wise statement that “Life is too short to waste time on bad tobacco”. For the first time in my tobacco experiences, I think I might agree.

At the very least, I will toss this tin on my smoking table and if I’m feeling generous give it another go in a month maybe. I had hoped this blend would be agreeable. For $6.50 a tin, and a healthy stock of what seem like rather old tins sitting on the shelf of a local b&m, this could have been a great find. Unfortunately, I have been left feeling like I would have been better off buying any number of tobacco’s in its place. Even $6.50 can get you an ounce or so of some really good blends in bulk.

Current Rating: 2 out of 5 Pipes

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Brian Kalnitz : The work of a local artisan.

I have had the advantage since I began smoking a pipe, of not only having a local B&M to frequent, but having the owner of that B&M be a carver. Smoker’s Haven of the Southtowns lies tucked away in a little plaza in West Seneca, NY. Its a small eclectic shop that brings back memories of the glory days of pipes and tobacco. The walls are littered with old advertisements, pictures, vintage posters and various tobacciana memorabilia. On any given Saturday, you can walk into this shop to another time and see Brian Kalnitz, owner and carver working away behind his  bench. You are sure to get a greeting from him like you were an old friend, and he will stop what he is doing and walk around the bench to extend a dusty hand to greet you. I had the benefit of frequenting this shop many times as a young man with my Uncle. He was a regular customer there, and when I picked up the pipe again, my first thought was that this was the place I needed to go. I wandered in one Saturday and received that very greeting. I was a bit apprehensive walking into a shop, with a bunch of older guys sitting around smoking. I wasn’t sure if I fit in, but within a week, I was one of the guys. This is my Saturday ritual, as I’m sure you know if you have read some of my other articles. This particular article will not focus on the B&M so much as the work of Brian. His pipes are sold in his shop only, and until recently, he had no exposure beyond those that wandered into the treasure chest of Smoker’s Haven. I decided that it was necessary for Brian to get himself a web-page, and with my help, he is now on-line, if only as another way to showcase his work. This article will be a testament to that artistry, and we will look at some of the pipes that Brian has crafted, including a recent acquisition of mine.

This pipe was one that Brian carved for me. It was payment of sorts for maintaining his website and keeping it updated with new pictures. This pipe is actually a replica of a pipe that Brian’s father carved some 20 years ago. I saw the pipe sitting on a rack in Brian’s office and said “I’ve got to have a pipe like that.” Brian found a piece of briar that would suit the shape and size and the project began. I decided this was a good opportunity to really watch Brian ply his trade. From sketching out the shape, to rough cutting and then shaping on the sanding wheel, I watched this pipe be born out of a simple non-descript block of briar. I even had my hand in the making of this, as all the final hand sanding was done by myself, as well as the staining, buffing and polishing . The involvement in the process made this pipe even more special in the end.

Brian comes from a tradition of pipe carving. His father, Milt Kalnitz has been carving pipes for over 50 years, and has made pipes for actors, singers and even a president. Both of these amazing artisans have remained rather unknown through the course of their career’s, but it is evident in the quality of the work that Brian does, that the tradition is being carried on well. Brian and his father Milt are among a few carvers who still use the basics as far as tools. Rough shaping is done with the aid of a band saw, and fine shaping is done with sanding disc’s, hand sanding and carving. No lathe or templates are used in any of their pipes, and the chamber and airways are done with a hand drill and a great deal of care and patience. Although the term “handmade” is often debated, to watch Brian craft a pipe is to see an example of this in my opinion. Brian has proven masterfull in both the design of a piece and the engineering. His ability to use the grain to compliment the shape or vice versa can be seen in most of his work. He is a self proclaimed Chartan lover, and you will see Chartan inspiration in many of his pieces, including the pipe he crafted for me.

I consider myself lucky to have this caliber of artisan close by. I am also proud to say I have the distinct pleasure of beginning an apprenticeship of sorts with Brian. I have begun working with him every Saturday in the shop. Hand sanding, buffing, polishing, watching and learning. My interest in carving develops every time I watch Brian shape a pipe, and my hope is that with some time and patience, I can learn some of the tricks of the trade and begin carving my own pipes. As I experienced with the pipe that Brian made for me, there is a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure derived from having your hand in a creation that is both beautiful and functional. Brian may be unknown, but for me, he ranks among the best.

I have experienced something that I have never experienced before I became actively involved in the pipe smoking community. There is a kinship, a sense of community among most pipe smokers. Their generosity and interest in making your experience more enjoyable are endless. Many only get to experience this among the forums and chat rooms we can find on the Internet. I am lucky enough to have this much closer to home. The added benefit of having an artisan the likes of Brian Kalnitz makes my enjoyment of and commitment to this hobby even stronger. Please, if you have a few moments, take a look at more of Brian’s work at: www.BrianKalnitz.com. And if you are ever by chance in Buffalo, NY, take the short ride to West Seneca, and pop in so that you too can experience the hospitality and craftsmanship of a truly amazing carver.  

Ecto-Goop !!

Yes, I know, you get visions of Ghost Buster’s in your head when you hear a word like that, but I’m not referring to some “not from this world” slime dripping off of a ghoulish figure. I figured it was time for me to make my lasting contribution to the pipe smoking community, and I will do so in the form of a word, Ecto-Goop.

After a conversation in the #pipes chat on sorcery.net., I got to thinking. There are all these various words that are often unique or borrowed for use in our little hobby. Cake, Broken Cake, Dottle, Flake, Broken Flake, Ribbon, Twist, Cube, Sliced, Weed, Shank, Bowl, Rim, Chamber, Bit, Tamp, Char, Blast, Grain, Straight Grain, Cross Grain, Bullseye, Birdseye and I could go on and on.

One word that we use often is Goop. Now this tends to have a pretty simple meaning, and I’m sure we have all experienced it in our pipe smoking days. Thats right, we have all been there, opened up that jar of tobacco, took a deep whiff of its wonderfully sweet aroma. Had that sensation of apple pie, or vanilla ice cream and started salivating at the thought. So what do we do, we buy ourselves an ounce, excited about the prospect of tasting those same sweet aromas. We rush home, pick out our favorite pipe, and load up. Then comes the fun, strike the match and light… and then… YAK ! It sure as hell doesn’t taste like it smelled, and aside from the burning sensation on our tongue, you realize you have a whole damn ounce of this mud. Well, you suffer through it and when you empty out that first pipe full, you notice that there is a nice chunk of tobacco in the bottom of your pipe. No, its not dottle, we all know that dottle is the partially burned maybe even some unburnt tobacco mixed with some ash in the bottom after a bowl. This is far from dottle. You look down into that little chamber and catch yourself debating whether to grab your pipe tool or the power drill. You conclude that the power drill may damage your precious pipe, so you settle on your pipe tool. You dig, and dig, and dig… and then… KERPLUNK !!! Out comes this mass… this… chunk of stuff. You poke at it a bit… and have visions of your wife swatting a bug as is scurries across the floor. Alas, it doesn’t move, it just sits there. You quickly empty your ashtray along with the chunk of stuff into the garbage, for fear that it may mutate into something larger and consume every good piece of briar you own.

Ever wonder what this is, that chunk of stuff… well… its Ecto-Goop. Yes, mutated, evolved, inhuman, unnatural, disgusting, sad excuse for tobacco bi product. So, next time you consider buying that apple pie flavored tobacco, remember the Ecto-Goop that may invade not only your pipe, but also your home, and possibly… the world. Anything that can do this deserves more than being called goop, its most certainly Ecto-Goop.

Followup on McClelland #2020 – Matured Cake Mixture

As promised, I am providing the “after” portion of my “before & after” tobacco reviews. I have almost finished my 1oz. sample of this tobacco, with the exception of maybe a bowl or two.

I have enjoyed this tobacco very much. There have been a few things that pop out after working my way through this sample. First is the opportunity for tongue bite. I tend not to puff fast enough or hard enough to get bit, but I have noticed that right after light up with this weed, you can get a little nip, and the eager puffer might get a full fledged chomp on the tongue if not careful.

Second is that this is not really a blend for people that don’t enjoy Latakia. Now thats not to say that this blend is laden with the smoky condiment, but in order to pick up the nuances of the Latakia in this blend, you need to have an appreciation for the full fledged taste of it. Since I have been focusing more and more on Latakia blends, this blend has become even more enjoyable. Another important point that I made before was the lack of a dominating tobacco in this blend. This still holds true, but to me is what makes this so enjoyable. The tobacco’s really do work together well. There is a smooth creaminess to the flavor that although not a “wow”, is really just enjoyable. This blend has the ability to be a nice  sit down and read a book smoke, or a mysterious concentrate and find the flavors smoke, it can go either way.

Overall I would give this a 9 out of 10 for sure, the only reason it is not a 10 is that this is not “THE” tobacco in my rotation. It is tasty, has enough body to make it enjoyable and just enough subtle flavors to keep it interesting. This will find a place in my cellar (as soon as I get one together) for sure.

Tobacco’s to Try…

Well, since I started back into pipe smoking, there has been a list of tobacco’s that I have wanted to try. It started out as tobacco’s that I read about on TobaccoReviews.com. From there, it expanded into blends that were recommended to me by friends at my B&M and friends on-line in the various chats, #pipes & #alt.smokers.pipes. (Sorcery.net & Undernet respectively) When looking at my list now, I wonder, what were the reasons for wanting to try these various blends? Often it was because it sounded good, and looking back I notice how many aromatics I have on that list. Most of these were picked because they sounded like something I would want to eat, but since picking up this hobby, I have come to realize, what is good to eat is most often not good to smoke.

I have really narrowed this list down. My tastes have changed just in the last couple months that I have been smoking. I started out liking Va’s and Aromatics, and have graduated to Va’s, VA/Pers and light English Blends. This has been an interesting journey, with many ups and downs and many disappointments along the way. I quickly discovered that I did not enjoy the goopy, overly sweet taste of Aromatics, and that with a little time and patience, Latakia based blends no longer tasted like “Dirty Socks”.

I have found it quite interesting how be base our tastes on those around us. I’m not just talking about the people that we smoke around. I’m referring to the smokers that we spend time around, and in my case, the smoke shop that I spend time at. My shop is of the old school, with the smokers of old that enjoyed the heavy black Cavendish based blends coated in sugary toppings. When browsing the tobacco bar at my local B&M, you find a laundry list of blends that are all sweet, goopy, and have, of course, black Cavendish as their base. This had much to do with the blends that I smoked when I first got back into pipe smoking. I of course, looking for direction, asked my guys at the B&M for suggestions. Of course, they are going to recommend the tobacco’s that are available. After trying every single tobacco at the tobacco bar, I soon realized this was not going to cut it. If it were not for TobaccoReviews.com and the chat rooms, I would have either given up, or settled on one of those horribly goopy aromatics.

My goal was interesting when I started back on the pipe. I was not obsessed with sampling except for one reason, to find an all day blend. I figured that for me, to truly enjoy this, I needed to find an everyday blend that I could fall back on, and sample in the meantime. I quickly realized that one lone blend was not going to suffice, and decided that I would find an “everyday rotation”. Basically, 2-3 tobaccos that were my baseline blends that I could rotate between for my everyday smoke depending on my mood. After graduating to Va’s and VA/Pers, and eventually light Latakia blends, I decided on a simple formula. I like those 3 blend styles, I should find one of each to put into my baseline rotation. So, I decided this was my goal. Find my 3 “favorites” and then I could sample outside of those. This would allow me to always have 3 different go-to tobacco’s in the event I needed an old reliable, but I could still enjoy others on the side. This obviously is separate from my cellaring plans. The intent when I find a blend I like that is outside of my baseline tobacco’s is to get a quantity and cellar it. Obviously first and foremost to enjoy the benefits of aged tobacco, secondly to ensure that it was always handy if the mood struck me.

This brings me to my current situation, and the reason for this entry. I’m pretty sure that I have found at least ONE of my baseline tobacco’s. Middlebury Mixture has become my go-to blend in the “light English” department. Now the difficulty has become that lately I  have been sampling several English & Oriental blends that I really like. Whether they have the ability to become an all day smoke and bump Middlebury for the baseline spot is yet to be determined. My VA and VA/Per selection is still up in the air. There are several that are in the running, but I have had such a focus on my English blends lately I have had little time to devote the proper attention to the Va’s and VA/Pers. This dilemma is only worsened by constantly receiving tobacco either as gifts from other pipe smokers, or samples from my B&M. Although receiving free tobacco is not a curse, it can be a distraction. It is difficult to focus on one blend and finish the sample when you have a slew of other blends that sound enjoyable piled up in your drawer.

Today I was lucky/cursed enough to receive 3 samples of some McClellands blends. The upside of these blends is that they are selections that I had on my list to try and they classify as options for all day smokes/baseline blends. They are bulk, they are reasonably priced and are readily available. I will smoke each of these samples and subsequently review them on this site. First is bulk #2030-No. 1 Grade Balkan, made up of stoved Va’s, Cyprian Latakia, lemon Carolina, and Greek Orientals. Second is #2045-Oriental Mixture, made up of light Orientals and sweet Carolinas with a touch of Latakia. Finally #5110-Dark English Full, made up of Stoved Va’s, light Orientals and light Latakia. I am looking forward to trying each of these blends and getting to review them right here.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Samples of tobacco keep arriving from generous friends. Then, there is the initial list that started with my pipe smoking. Now granted, I can probably edit that list down quite a bit, removing the Aromatics that I no longer have a desire to smoke, however, those I’m sure have been replaced by Va’s, VA/Per’s or English blends I have come across in the last few months. This should be an interesting journey, and I’m quite sure the quest for my all day smokes or “baseline” tobacco’s will not be complete for quite some time. But, then, a new quest begins. Cellaring ! Yes, thats another article all together. Stay tuned.