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.

I had a vision for this pipe, however; mother nature threw a curve ball at me. The creative process should be called the “compromise” process, because what you see in that simple block of wood, what you envision may not always be what you get. It’s no different than going on a hike in the woods and finding the path blocked by a fallen tree. You may want to go down that path, there may be something there that you wanted to see, but you never know, if you take the other path, you may find something more beautiful than you ever imagined.

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The remainder of this pipe was a 2 part process which I will compress into this article. After the previous work, what was left was some important details. The drilling of the mortise, airway and chamber were last weeks project. With some patience and instruction from Brian at the shop, I got a well drilled airway, a bit off center, but smack dab at the bottom of the chamber. 

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One of the major flaws on the side of the bowl goes through to the chamber, its not large, but there none the less. I realized this was going to require one of two actions; never smoking the pipe which is ludicrous, or some sort of bowl coating to protect the spot. My guess is that with some care and patience a decent cake can be built that will protect the spot. I am a slow steady puffer to begin with so I don’t often warm up a bowl when I’m smoking it.  So, with this part of the process done it was time for some fine sanding and some creative work to start.

I spent a week with this piece, looking at it, drawing on it, walking away from it, trying to ignore it and then coming back to it. Many different ideas came and went. The original plan was some sort of rusticated wax drip, but after some conversation with others and deliberation, it seemed unnatural. The final product was decided as I sat down with the dremel. Up to that point I had NO idea what I was going to do to incorporate these flaws and still find some natural look and feel to this piece. A major factor in my decision was due in part to the final sanding.

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Hand sanding is really a necessary part of a pipe that I think many dont realize, and I don’t just mean a quick run a little paper over the the piece and move on. The hand sanding was probably the second most time consuming process. To me this is a major point of seperation between machined pipes and handmades. Several grits and carefully sanding the whole piece helped pop out the grain, which surprisingly was a halfway decent flame grain. I followed the grain with my rustication to give it the look of natural fissures in the briar. So, away I went with the dremel and what I came out with was in my opinion a natural rustic pipe that even with its flaws is gorgeous. It was fitted with a vulcanite stem, which was a challenge because of my slightly off center drilling. The rustication was stained with a dark brown, buffed clean and then a medium brown stain was applied to the entire pipe followed by a light brown. The result was a rich warm color that shows off what grain the pipe does have. Caranuba wax was applied then the pipe placed under a warm light to allow the wax to heat and absorb a bit into the wood, then the pipe was buffed a final time to bring out a glassy shine.

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I am very proud of this pipe. There was a lot of time and energy devoted to the process both physical and creative. If there is anything that I learned from this it is that I love it. This is my first but will not be my last. My desire to continue learning and be able to create smokable works of art is strong and will continue no doubt for as long as I draw breath or at least draw smoke from a pipe. I would tell anyone who had an interest in trying their hand at creating a pipe to go for it and do it with gusto. There is no more rewarding feeling, and it far surpasses the acquisition of any pipe out there. If you know the emotional effects of PAD multiply that by 100 and that is the feeling you get when you are working on a piece. To see your vision become a reality is nothing short of amazing. I have had the good fortune of learning from a very talented carver, and that is a priceless commodity in my journey, however; even the best learn through trial and error. So, pull your stool up, relax and get started on a journey that may just be a beginning with more to come.

~Justin

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