“It is much better to see a thing one single time with your own eyes

than to hear about it one hundred times

It is much better to do something one single time with your own hands

than to see it done”.

(Chinese saying)

The typical pipemaker, as we use to know him today, springs up in the 60s by two characters who made a revolution in the world of pipes: Sixten Ivarsson and Poul Rasmussen. They are going to found, without knowing it, what is nowadays called “the Danish School”. Some unique pieces come out from their workshops and, though they start from classical shapes, show innovative style and procedures. With them, the Master craftsman, who desires to go further, can reach the artistic dimension.

Sixten 1Rasmussen 1









Today, after more than fifty years since that experience, the pipe is no longer something made just to smoke. Both for those who smoke and those who make it, it has become a form of expression. Maybe it is for this reason that, during these last years, so many young people want to learn the art of pipemaking.

Now, let’s imagine to follow one of these champing at the bit young men ( young is just a way of saying: there could be some cheerful fifty year old like me, or someone beyond his sixties. It is never too late to enrich your soul).

Well, this young man, if not “son of an artist”, will have to face a long apprentice training.

Chronicles tell us that, some century ago, a pupil in a workshop could become Master only after at least ten years apprenticeship. Nowadays, in the era of global communication and informatics technology, the learning tools have richly multiplied. So, our young man, rather than humbly applying his training to Master “So-and-So” , can start his own self-training by watching videos on YouTube, scattered pictures in the net, specialized sites such as pipedia.com, the numerous passionate bloggers, until he may arrive to the real pipemakers’ web sites. In these last ones he won’t so easily find information on the production process. Therefore he will go back to YouTube and restart the procedure, until he thinks he has perfectly understood what he is dealing with. In the meanwhile he has surely obtained countless information on materials, tools, basic techniques and finishing. The young man will have been infected by the conviction, very common today, that you just need to spend several hours at your computer to become an expert in whatever subject.

He is going to discover, indeed, that all those images and words are nothing but a jumble of notions without a proper connecting thread. Meanwhile, however, he will buy a pre- drilled with methacrylate mouthpiece and, with enthusiasm, will start his adventure using the tools he has got home (who has had the idea of trying to make a pipe, has with no doubt at least some file and hacksaw at home).

The quest will soon reveal itself more difficult than it showed . Root wood is hard and the tools at hand won’t do what you have in mind. The young man is going to make do with a lousy final result, that will be a splendor to his eyes. All the hours dedicated to give shape to that anonymous piece of root wood are going to eclipse the technical- aesthetic objectivity much to the advantage of his pride in succeeding the challenge. He will show his trophy to friends and to his/her partner with a hint of vanity , so that they, who understand absolutely nothing about it, will praise the great skills of the naive guy. So, moved by his own Ego, he will order other pre-drilled to start eventually a great pipemaker’s career.

At his fifth pipe ( don’t be too meticulous, it’s just a rough estimate), the young man is going to think this is the moment to be recognized by the pipe sector professionals, too. Being sure of his success, he will face different possibilities:

1) trying to sell his own pipes on eBay;

2) getting in touch with the nearest tobacconist showing him his masterpieces;

3) posting his pipes on a social network waiting for feedbacks;

4) contacting a dealer by e-mail.

Maybe on eBay he will be able to sell a pipe for ten or so euros (there are always some exceptional cases, but that’s another story), the tobacconist might propose to keep some piece agreeing upon a 50% of the not likely sold out, social networks will give him contrasting feedbacks and the dealer will refuse his pipes.

Despite his efforts, our young man is starting to undergo his first humiliations.

We have reached the crisis moment.

He is going to ask himself what’s wrong. His friends appreciate his pipes and he can’t see any significant differences between his creations and those on the internet.

At this point his destiny is decided.

  1. If the young man is a big-headed full of himself, he will keep on making his pipes, even showing them in one of the many forums on the argument. He will surely find there someone who knows less than him about pipes and he will gain, with time, a certain notoriety into the group. He may even succeed in selling some of them at symbolic price, but above all he will dedicate on giving advices as a slick pipemaker (the monocle is king in the realm of the blind).
  2. The young man was just following his realization need, so he will easily find something else and abandon this idea of making pipes.
  3. The young man is of humble attitude, he really wants to learn and he is definitely in love with the object pipe. He is going to look for a Master.

Let’s leave the first two to their destiny and start following the adventure of the third brave young man.

Well, this one is looking for a Master. How can he do it? In the internet age it will be sufficient to write an e-mail to a successful pipemaker he wants to emulate. He won’t write, of course, Dear Master, I would have the honor to be your pupil – it would be wonderful, if we still used these respect and kindness forms, but this young man comes from an education to synthesis and his time runs faster than ours – he will rather shyly ask for some technical information as: Good morning, my name is Youngman and I wanted to ask you where do you buy your root.

Let’s do now a fantasy effort while our mental camera shifts on the small group of still living Masters. My experience takes me to bet that 80% of them is going to ignore this information request. Surely not for lack of generosity or for jealousy. It is just that these belong to the eccentric category, quite famous already and of anarchic attitude. They like playing alone and don’t have a feel for teaching. In other words, incurably haughty and incredibly nice guys.

The remaining 18% may find the time to answer but, being real Stakhanovites, they will merely suggest some sawyer’s name they happen to know.

There is a 1% that will ask for money. Those have picked up the chance to do business with personal teaching. The young man cannot afford it and discards it in advance. The one who will answer with real helpfulness, will be our young man’s potential Master.   Why did he? It is sometimes only a strange plan of the destiny but, more likely, he is a man who believes in the joy of transmitting free knowledge (by the way, did you know that Stradivari took with him in his tomb the formula of the magical paint he used for his violins?).

For some time the relationship will stand as potential, because it may also not work. For example, the young man has got the will but not the talent, wants to get at everything too rapidly or doesn’t tolerate critics. Or the Master, as time goes by, finds him unpleasant, or feels that the young man has got strictly economical interest that he dislikes.

Anyway, as we don’t want the story to end up here, let’s leave the above cited cases and let’s pretend the two like each other.

At the first time, the Master’s helpfulness to give his opinion about the terrific pictures sent via e-mail will surprise the young man (from now on referred to as pupil). He can hardly understand that it is a real pleasure for the Master to transmit his knowledge for free. In a world devoted to robbery, what is that pushes a man into transmitting his knowledge for free? The pupil will enjoy this otherness and strengthen his conviction to be in the right place. At last, wishing to be a pipemaker in the third millennium, shows per se an unconscious tendency to become estranged from a world in which you don’t identify yourself.

The telematics –mailing relationship will, sooner or later, be unsatisfying and the pupil will go directly to the Master’s Sancta Santorum.

He will undergo there the revelation, like Saint Paul on his way to Damascus: watching the Master at work he will understand that, since then, he had understood nothing. His mind will put all the picked information and what were just some scattered inexplicable puzzle pieces, will become a clear vision. He’ll go back home in a trance, pervaded with the desire to put immediately into practice what he saw and worried for the costs he is going to face to adapt his workshop properly.

From now on the pupil will start the real adventure and, if he is really skilled and stays humble, he will in a few years enter that parallel universe inhabited by aliens called pipemakers.

Then, some day, the pupil becomes Master and, checking his emails on the computer , he will find one that says: Good morning, my name is Youngman and I wanted to ask you where do you buy your root.

Final note

I hope the young aspiring pipemakers will not be offended for the way I treated them in this article. I was, and still am after all, one of them. The first time I posted the photos of my pipes to my Master Mimmo Romeo, he, notoriously affected by prolixity, answered laconically with just three words: your pipes suck. It was not easy to conquer his and, shortly after, his wife Karin’s trust.

Then I hope Masters will not get offended. The category division was a literary need. I know that no Master can be pigeonholed into a category, least of all a pipemaker who, by nature, wishes to be free.