The Saruman

Let’s roll back to 1998.  We all accessed the net with dial-up modems and most online pipe chat happened in Alt.Smokers.Pipes and on IRC.  The Lord of the Rings movies hadn’t come out yet, and there was no advance publicity about them.  LOTR was still simply this quiet, understatedly amazing fantasy series known mainly to voracious readers and fans of fantasy and SF.  Back in that distant time, I’d been making pipes for a few years for friends, and the main theme I kept returning to was LOTR.  I’d done hobbit pipes, Lothlorien pipes, and more.  But once I’d won the Pipes & Tobaccos carving contest and interest started to pour in, I wanted to up my game and start making some genuine, professional level pipes to sell.

(A side note – Originally I took this pipe and two others to a local brick & mortar shop, which was the traditional way to sell at the time.  The pipes sat in their shop for a week and they called me to say come get them, they’re not selling.  Being savvy in this new internet stuff, I took them home and sat for an evening and wrote up my very first website, then put them on it.  All three pipes sold immediately and I pocketed all of the money instead of half of the money.  With that one event, my career, and selling philosophy, was set in motion)

This pipe was the first I ever sold.  With it went a scroll that I wrote up and signed, along with some printed-out comments from Usenet, February 1998.  Recently it’s come back here as a donation to help with our fundraiser for my wife (Full details HERE), after she and her parents suffered a string of health issues and natural disasters all through the nightmare year of 2018.

Getting it to a saleable condition, however, was a challenge!  I would ideally have left it as-is, but the stem literally fell out of the mortise, it was so loose.  Back then I turned it too loose to start with, and didn’t know enough to ignore a bit of very bad advice I got from the internet, the old “Heat and squish” trick.  A lot of guys will tell you this – If your stem is loose, just heat it up and press it against something and it will bulge and then fit tighter.  This is an awful “solution” because what you get is a tenon with a wide part that will eventually wear the mortise down to its own size, making the rest of the tenon not contact, wobble, and eventually loosen and fall out.  But, alas, I didn’t know any better and 20 years later it came back to haunt me.

This was going to be a major challenge, because it needed an all-new tenon but I had to fit it, centered, into an original stem that was hand-rounded, do it without taking any thickness out of the thin mortise walls, and be able to match the naturally-colored 20yo stain for any parts I did sand.

Annnd… Wouldn’t you know it, but the original stem exploded when tightening in the threaded replacement tenon.  >POP< and that was it.

BUT, once it was obvious I needed to make a whole new stem, I was really quite happy, because I feel like now I can do a considerably better job than I did on the original:

Also, I had the chance to improve one aspect of the design.  Back then, I drilled the pipe as a moisture well/expansion chamber pipe, Peterson-style.  The airholes of stem and shank deliberately did not connect and the well took the moisture.  Over the years since, I’ve come to prefer a connected airhole, and I had the chance to fix this quirk on this pipe by using a technique I dreamt up 15 years ago or more, the guided tenon outlet.  In a nutshell, rather than having the airhole centered in the tenon tip, I drilled a smooth, subtly angled airhole within the tenon that let the opening exit on the front side.  Voila:

The result?  A pipe that was never intended to pass a pipecleaner… will now pass a pipecleaner, from bit to bowl!

It looks a bit odd up close, but it does the job nicely, and I’ve found over the years that this technique opens up a lot of shape curvatures and drilling angles that were previously unworkable.  Now when I post this pipe for sale, again, it will be the best of both worlds – A beautiful, professionally cleaned and waxed example of my early carving style with the bowl in untouched original form, and a modern, better-cut stem coupled with a much improved airhole connection.  Most people never get the chance to go back and make something from their past better, so I find myself oddly grateful to have had this run through our workshop once again, after all these years.