Classical Training–for a Pipe Maker

A lot of people who try their hand at making a tobacco pipe do so because they want to make a special shape that they cannot afford to buy, such as a blowfish:

No, this is not my pipe. It was made by Kei Gotoh and is in the collection of  Dustin Babitzke, who operates the Briar Portrait Gallery at

But pipe making is kind of like jazz–all the most innovative pipe makers are classically trained.  Before you can make a blowfish, you have to be able to make a billiard.  Consider the following, from Pipedia:

It seems like such a simple shape, and the description implies the same, but it’s actually somewhat difficult to make a good-looking billiard.  Exactly how tall should the bowl be?  How thick should the shank be?  How long should the stem be?  The bowl is 90-degrees to the shank, right? (Hint: it’s not.)  Get just one of the proportions wrong, and your billiard will look wrong.

So, a couple weeks ago, I took some time off from making my usual pipes (Dublin churchwardens with natural tops) and set out to make a billiard.  Instead of briar, I used some osage orange I had on hand, which I’m told makes a pretty good pipe, as domestic species go.

Pipe #29 Bodark Billiard 2014 - - 2

It took me every bit as long to make this pipe as it takes to make my regular churchwardens.  In fact, I think it took longer–especially since I’m working without a lathe.

Pipe #29 Bodark Billiard 2014 - - 6

It’s not a perfect billiard, but I learned a lot while making it. Most of my pipes I make to sell, but I may keep this one.  I’m not going to be making billiards all the time, but I think I will occasionally set my “creative” work aside to make a classic shape, if only to hone my skills.  They say you have to walk before you can run, and walking is good exercise.  So is making a billiard.

This entry was posted in Musings, Tobacco Pipes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Classical Training–for a Pipe Maker

  1. Xuefeng Gao says:

    Dear Professor Schuler ,

    This billiard pipe looks very charming. The shape is surprisingly good which makes me hard to believe that it was made without a lathe. I am going to make a billiard (as a beginner) with just hand tools. I would like to learn if you can kindly share more details and tips.

    Kind regards,

    Xuefeng Gao

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