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.