The Art in the Artisan Pipe Part II: Nate Rose of RosePipeCo and ‘The Willows Pipe’

“How would you like to own a badger pipe?”

This question came to me via Instagram this past January. I was in a conversation with Nate Rose of RosePipeCo about unusual pipe shapes; when out of the blue, he asked me about collaborating with him in creating a new pipe for my collection. Of course, I’d pay for it, as pipe carvers should be paid for their work, but Nate assured me that I would be involved in the creation process. I didn’t have the money at the time, but I told Nate that I’d be happy to for my birthday. As soon March came around, my wife and I set aside the needed funds and sent them to Nate.

Nate Rose, Pipe Maker Extraordinaire

Nate Rose

First, let’s get to know a bit about Nate’s story. Nate Rose is a relatively new pipe carver, having started his craft four years ago up in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. Despite being new on the scene, Nate’s been featured on both the Pipes Magazine and Maple City Pipecast podcasts. In fact, I highly recommend you listen to the March 20th 2019 episode of the Maple City Pipecast, where my buddy Dave interviewed him for his carver series.

Nate has been busy since he picked up his first briar block, and constantly has new projects sitting on his workbench. His pipe portfolio ranges from smooth billiards and classy Bings, to craggy pokers and rugged bulldogs. Never satisfied with simply repeating his greatest hits, each pipe Nate has their own embellishments that give each pipe their own unique personality. Nate also dabbles with bamboo shanks on occasion, producing stunning pipes that catch the eye— and let’s be honest, pipes with bamboo shanks never disappoint. Although Nate’s carved a variety of different shapes, he’s always eager to stretch his creative muscles and venture into uncharted territory.

“I really enjoy my billiards, but there are so many shapes I haven’t tried,” said Nate, on which shapes he’d love to try carving. “[I’d] like to try prince or author, [that] would be different.”

From my time getting to know Nate over this past year, it’s easily apparent that he takes his carving with the utmost seriousness. Nate doesn’t just rely on his own judgment when carving his pipes, but shows his finished pipes to another, more experienced carver for a second opinion. “I have someone I look up to,” explained Nate. “He’s my mentor/master if you will. All my pipes go through his ‘grade.’ I call him my Qui Gon Jim. Honestly, I’ve been under his teaching for 2 years.”

For all of his impressive pipe carving skills, Nate’s pretty humble about what he’s accomplished so far in his short career. Though pipe carving is just his side hobby, it’s his true passion in life. “Pipe carving truly gave me some of the most confidence I’ve ever had as a human,” he told me. “[I] wasn’t great in school. I work a pretty standard blue-collar 9/5 factory job, but when I walk into the shop and throw my apron on, I come to life. It’s incredible.”

Since pipe carving is only a hobby at this point in Nate’s life, it’s not always easy for him to devote time to his shop. “The biggest challenge I currently have with running my business is honestly finding time to carve,” admitted Nate. “With the new baby and balancing life, kid, and my relationship, my carving time is limited.” As a writer, I can relate to Nate’s struggle with juggling a passion with work and family. Sometimes you have to put your passion aside and spend time with the more important parts of your life. But when there’s a free moment, you go out there and get to work.

I first became aware of Nate through Dave, as Nate was already working on a commission for him for a riff on the Missouri Meerschaum Cobbit pipe. Since Nate had a partnership going with Dave, I felt confident enough to take the plunge and commission my pipe through him. It also helped that Nate had an Instagram page where I could check out his previous work. Nate had countless pictures of himself working in his shop, as well as various photos of completed pipes from his portfolio.

As I mentioned in Part I of my Art in the Artisan series, it’s essential for pipe carvers to have some sort of presence on social media. Otherwise, their work gets lost in the void, overshadowed by tech savvy pipe makers that know how to market their work. Nate understands this, and uses social media to not only increase his brand awareness, but to interact with the wider pipe world.

“If it wasn’t for social media, I probably wouldn’t have become a carver,” recounted Nate on his social media use. “Instagram gave me a platform to learn and interact with other carvers. It’s also is my main source for sales. The only time I spend marketing is when I post general stuff going on in my day-to-day shop life.”

The Creation of Willows Pipe

Nate in his workshop

Once Nate received his payment, we went straight to work messaging each other over ideas for this badger pipe. Now, as a writer, I like coming up with stories for my commissioned pipes, giving them a kind of backstory so the pipe has meaning to it. In my head, I envisioned the pipe as something Mr. Badger from The Wind in the Willows would carve for himself. I wanted the pipe to look like Mr. Badger picked up a gnarled block of briarwood out in the woods and carved a pipe for himself, keeping most of it’s original appearance intact. The pipe itself would resemble tree bark, with a hint of green moss showing in the wood. I knew this would be a challenge, as an effortless looking pipe requires a lot of skill and craftsmanship. However, Nate was more than up to the task.

As for the shape, I wanted to do something a bit different than the norm. With pipe shapes on the market, it’s rare to find a pipe that veers from the standard shapes out there. Because of this, I like combining or mixing shapes for my commissioned pipes, just to try something different. For example, my Marvic commission pipe is a mix between an Egg and Cutty shape, something veering on the nautical side.

For the Willows pipe, as Nate dubbed it, I’d combine two of my favorite shapes—the Lovat and the Dublin. I love the almost stumpy quality of a Lovat stem, and knew I wanted to incorporate it into the body of the pipe. Instead of the usual Billiard bowl, however, the pipe would be in the shape of a Dublin. The cone shape of a Dublin pipe makes it a perfect selection for flakes, and mixing it with a Lovat body would give the pipe some originality.

After giving Nate my directions for the shape and look, I gave him complete control over the carving of the pipe. When I work with a pipe carver, I try to give them the bare essentials for a direction to go in, and set them loose. I wanted Nate to have fun carving the pipe and not bog him down with micromanaging every little step along the way. After all, this wasn’t just a pipe for me, but something I wanted Nate to show off to others and increase his business. As great as it is for me to get my commissioned pipe, I’d feel even happier knowing he got more customers out of working on my pipe.

As I guessed, Nate prefers having the freedom to take a commissioned pipe in the direction that speaks to him. “I really do prefer mostly freedom other then obviously picking the shape and maybe a particular colour you’d like incorporated,” he said about dealing with commissions. “But there is something pretty special when you are given super specific details and can manage to knock it out of the park.”

Of course, when you commission a pipe, you’re not just ordering it off a shelf and expecting it to arrive in a few days. Nate already had a few pipes already on his bench ahead of mine, so I’d have to wait a bit before he could get started on it. However, patience is the hallmark virtue of pipe smokers, so I bided my time as I waited for Nate to start working on my commission.

One of Nate’s strengths is that he’s a great communicator. I never had to send him messages inquiring as to the status of my pipe. While waiting for him to start, he kept me updated on how long he thought it would take before he could start on mine. Once he did, he sent me constant updates, from pictures of his sketches on the briar block, all the way to completion. With every message, he checked with me that I was happy with the direction he was going in, giving me plenty of chances to make changes if they were needed. Nate offered his input, and generally I’d listen to his suggestions. For example, I originally picked out a red stem to go with my pipe, but he thought a green stem fit better with the tree theme. However, Nate didn’t want to make the change without my consent. I agreed with his assessment, and we made the change.

It’s suggestions like this that reveals Nate’s thought process when he tackles a new project. When he picks up a block of briar, he doesn’t just go straight to work, but takes a thoughtful approach in how the pipe will end up when it’s all said and done. “I find when it comes to a new shape or style of rustication, I get over excited to dig in,” he explained. “So I have to make myself take a day or two just to look over my sketch and ideas on paper before I begin.”

“Also a coffee and pipe will slow me down,” he added. “That helps.”

After Nate finished carving the block, he went straight to work on rusticating the pipe. Playing off the tree bark theme, Nate came up with a complicated effect that he called a ‘Wasp Nest.’ This involved carving out multiple tiny panels into the pipe, while filling the grooves with countless tiny dots that went all the way down and into the stem.

“I find most of my inspiration comes from nature or pictures in general,” reminisced Nate, when I asked him about his inspiration behind the rustication. “I see something and start wondering ‘if that wasp nest was a pipe, what would it look like?’”

Satisfied with the rustication results, Nate next moved onto staining and finishing the pipe. Since the Willows pipe is supposed to look like tree bark, Nate went with a dark red and black color scheme. As an added element to the finish, Nate applied the tiniest hint of green shading to give the tree bark some moss. While the moss effect isn’t immediately apparent, upon closer inspection the shading adds a bit of whimsy in the design that is often lacking in pipe making. It’s details like this that elevates the Willows pipe in ways that few carvers think to include in their pipes.

With the Willows pipe completed, Nate packed up the pipe and shipped it off to the USA. As any pipe smoker will tell you, waiting for a new pipe in the mail can be an agonizing process. Each day I checked the mailbox, hoping to see that rectangular box waiting for me to open, but walking away in disappointment. The box showed up on a Friday afternoon in April, which was a welcome surprise to kick off the weekend. It didn’t take me long to open the box and admire the beautiful craftsmanship of the pipe.

From Carver to Customer, A Review of the Willows Pipe

The Willows Pipe

The first thing that sticks out to me when looking over the Willows pipe is how different it is from all my other pipes. The oval bowl is reminiscent to some of the Dublins I own, but the unusual sloping rim at the top is a wonderful touch by the carver. The swirling red and black colors on the panels is truly a sight to behold, with no two panels having the same color pattern. The hints of green moss in the cracks of the wasp nest shows Nate’s expert use of color, just having enough for the observer to notice without it taking away from the overall color scheme. This is a pipe you want to sit down with and study under a bright lamp, just so you can notice all the little details that went into the carving.

The overall weight of the pipe is just right, not too heavy to clench, but not too light so you have that nice “pipe” feel when holding it in your hand. The airway has been properly drilled, something some of my factory pipes can’t say, and easily passes a pipe cleaner without any issues.

If I have one criticism of the pipe, it has to be with the stem. The stem itself is nicely carved, and the added rustication detail Nate did on the portion closest to the shank is a fine touch I never would’ve considered. While the stem is a bit longer for a Lovat, overall I can’t complain. The silvery green stem dazzles the eye, and to lose any of it would be a crime according to pipe law.

The issue comes from the button, as the edges are a bit longer than they should be. It makes clenching the pipe a bit difficult, as the pipe jostles around if I bite down on it, and it’s not easy to keep my teeth past the button. Looking back on the stem, Nate concurred that he wishes he could’ve adjusted it a bit more.

“The only thing looking back that I might consider changing on Willow would maybe be her stem. I wasn’t in love with it when I was done, also the button wasn’t [what] I [can] do now.”

While the button has its issues, I found an easy solution to the problem that required no modification to the pipe. At the most recent Chicago Pipe Show, I purchased some rubber stem bits and fit it over the Willow’s stem. The soft rubbery bit instantly solved the button issue, and now I can clench the pipe without any hassle. No harm, no foul as far as I’m concerned.

As soon as I filled my Willows pipe with some tobacco, I sent Nate a picture of me enjoying his latest work. For Nate, seeing his customers enjoying their new pipe is his greatest reward as a pipe maker.

“The best part honestly about being a carver is seeing photos of people enjoying my work. That’s a pretty fulfilling feeling.”

When looking back on the Willows pipe, Nate is proud of his work, as he should be. “Honestly, lately I think my pipes have taken a whole different level, which is great. BUT I’m pretty proud of Willow, that pipe was the beginning of some seriously new things coming out of my shop. I love that pipe.”

As do I, which is why I’ve already commissioned a new pipe from him. While we’re still getting ready for the planning stage, I’m already thinking of different shapes I’d like for Nate to try. I can’t think of a better show of endorsement of someone’s skills than a repeat customer, and Nate has my full backing.

Without a doubt, Nate has an unbridled enthusiasm for pipe carving. It’s in his blood, and creating with his hands keeps him going every day. “I’ll never stop carving. Hard to give something up that fulfills you internally from a creative standpoint.” And you can’t argue with that kind of passion.

While Nate has multiple projects in the works, you can still commission him for a new pipe. “I’m currently working on a pretty special pipe that’s important to me for personal reasons, [so] stay tuned.”

If you’re interested in commissioning a pipe from Nate, you can contact him via direct message on his Instagram and Facebook pages at RosePipeCo. There, you can follow Nate’s adventures in pipe carving and see his latest work, as well as previous pipes he’s completed. Nate’s prices are reasonable, and within range of budget minded pipe smokers looking for an artisan pipe without breaking the bank. Send him a message, and you too can own the RosePipeCo pipe of your dreams. Be sure to tell him Badger Piper sent ya.

Until next time, you can find me here, enjoying my very own badger pipe as I write my next update. Happy puffing my friends.

-TheBadgerPiper

~\U~\U~\U~\U~\U