The Pipe as a Friend


I am coveting another man’s pipe. Well, to be fair I don’t know the guy, and he (as of this writing) does not yet own the pipe. But I have fallen in love with…no, full confession, I am lusting after a pipe I will never own.


The pipe above if by the great carver Hans “Former” Nielsen. If you want to see more of it, or buy it (if you want to be “that guy”) you can do so here at . If you don’t know who Former is, you should and can learn more about him on Pipedia  or can check out this excellent interview on YouTube

This oval shank billiard check all of my boxes. Its a straight pipe with a squat pot-like bowl perfectly proportioned to the shank. The pipe has interest in that it is not just a standard billiard but has a beautifully executed oval shank. The stem is a work of art and looks very comfortable. And the grain is simply stunning. I’ve never smoked a Former pipe, but based on his lineage I trust that it smokes like a dream. And I love pipe history, so the connection to Former and the Danish school is a huge plus for me. So why don’t I buy it? Well, to be blunt I simply will not spend that much on a pipe.

If you have followed my “What is a Pipe” series, you probably have gotten a sense of how I think of pipes. To me, they are tools. I know from the world of woodworking that there are good tools, and bad tools, and beautiful tools. But there are also tools that are priced higher because of the name on the tool. I think it would be a bit silly to buy a chisel that I didn’t intend to use, to hit with a mallet, to sharpen, and possibly one day exhaust. To me, the quality of the tool is much more important than the name on the tool. Likewise I want a pipe that smokes well. It should be pleasing to look at, and feel good in my hand and between my teeth. Beyond that I don’t care if it is stamped Grabow or Dunhill. In other words, I am a pipe smoker, not a pipe collector. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a pipe collector, it’s just a different hobby.

I’ve heard folks discuss the difference between a “tobacco guy” and a “pipe guy.” The tobacco guy is focused on the tobaccos he smokes. He is constantly looking for new blends to try and accumulates a diverse cellar of blends enjoying the different experiences that each brings. Of course the tobacco guy has his favorite pipes and enjoys a new pipe acquisition, but it is the tobacco that drives his interest in the hobby. On the other end of the continuum is the pipe guy. To him it’s all about the pipe and he may prefer one maker over all others, focus on a particular shape or style, or perhaps obsess over the design of the button on the stem. And yes the pipe guy enjoys his tobacco, but is less driven to try every new blend that appears. His cellar will tend to be more deep than wide with a focus on a few favorite blends, or types of tobacco. It’s not a black or white thing, and most people are somewhere between the two extremes, however most people lean to one side or the other. I am a pipe guy.

My pipes are like friends. I remember when I met each one and how we got to know each other during the break in process. And just as I have friends that I can enjoy a baseball game with, and others that enjoy a classic film, I have pipes that go well with burley, and others that appreciate a Virginia perique. And like friends, I enjoy getting to know them better with each encounter. Learning what makes them tick. I will almost always choose a pipe first and then decide what tobacco I will smoke. After all, a good host wouldn’t force his interest when a friend drops by.

We find our friends in the circles we travel. I’m sure that there are many hundreds if not thousands of people out there that would be like minded and make great friends, but we will never meet. They may be geographically isolated from me, or travel in different social circles, or perhaps we just never cross paths. Likewise, there are many many pipes that I shall never smoke. They may be lost in someone’s dusty attic, or bought by someone before I had the chance, or priced outside of what I consider a reasonable expense for a tool. And while I can fantasize about attending a Phillies game with Steve Carlton, or smoking a pipe made by Sixten Ivarsson, I accept that these are fantasy. The secrete to happiness is to be thankful for the friends we have. And if you are lucky enough to be the friend of that Former billiard, then I wish you many happy smokes.



2 thoughts on “The Pipe as a Friend

  1. I have had the experience of a pipe that excels with a certain tobacco. I bought a Doodler pipe, which I think was actually produced by Custom Built, at an antique shop 2 Christmases ago. I knew nothing about it at the time, and bought it just because it “looked cool”. I cleaned it up and gave it a quick refurbish. I think I found your YouTube channel for the first time when I was researching how to refurbish it, actually. Anyway, I cleaned it up and refueled it and smoked some Balkan Sesieani in it, and it was ok, at best. I tried other tobaccos, and they were just ok. But then recently, I smoked some Old Dark Fired in it, and oh, my goodness! For reasons beyond me, the pipe smokes ODF in such a way as to bring the very best out of an already great tobacco, and the tobacco brings the best out of what I had previously considered a mediocre pipe. So, the Doodler is my best friend when it’s time to smoke a bowl of ODF!


    • Hi Brian, Thanks for sharing that experience. I have often admired the Doodler, but have not had a chance to pick one up. But the experience you describe is familiar. I’ve also had pipes that just didn’t seem to find their place suddenly come to life. I don’t understand it, but it is like something magical happens after a large number of bowls. I’ve really only had a few pipes that never worked for me. Enjoy that ODF!


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