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

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The Art in the Artisan Pipe

If you’re like me, when you took up pipe smoking, you started off with a factory pipe. For me, I started with a Peterson, but Savinelli’s, Stanwell’s, Nording’s, Comoy’s, etc are all great first pipes. Go on your online vendor of choice, and you’ll have all sorts of pipe manufacturers to pick from that are in your price range. Heck, you could just buy one brand of pipes for the rest of your life and be happy.

            Spend any amount of time on the pipe section of social media, though, and you’ll discover an entirely new world of pipes. These pipes aren’t made in a factory, but rather in the garages, basements, and workrooms of hard working and pipe carvers. All around the world, talented men and women spend all day taking blocks of briar and carving them into stunning works of art. These countless men and women have taken their love and appreciation for tobacco pipes to the next level, leaving their mark on the pipe world with their own personal style.

            I have a ton of respect for these entrepreneurial pipers, as being an independent pipe carver takes hard work and dedication. It’s easy to be a bystander and take independent pipe carvers for granted, but we shouldn’t. To be a pipe carver and survive in this market, one must wear many hats to succeed and make a living with their passion.

First, they have to have the talent to shape a briar block into a desirable pipe. Just one misstep or mistake, and that billiard that would’ve gone for sale now becomes their own pipe in a best case scenario. It also takes multiple pipe carvings before a pipe maker can start offering their pipes for sale. Some pipe makers even choose to live with another pipe maker to learn under them as an apprentice. That alone is an investment, as that takes time away from their families and their non-pipe carving work, not to mention money spent on travel, food, or room and board. Not to mention, a pipe carver must decide whether to follow the light side or dark side of pipe making in their apprenticeship. I’d say more on the subject, but George Lucas did a few pretty good (and not so good) allegory films for pipe making. Just replace “Jedi” and “Sith” with “pipe maker”, and you’ll understand fellow padawan.

            Then there’s the money investment to become a pipe carver. The pipe maker has to buy the necessary tools, briar blocks, and stem materials to make a pipe. Even if they already have the needed equipment, the supplies alone comes out of their pockets. That’s a lot of money to spend on following your dreams of having your own line of pipes.

            So you have the necessary equipment and supplies and can carve a billiard, so you’re set, right? Not so fast. After learning how to carve a pipe, next you have to develop a style, a signature look that’s all your own. This comes with practice, and lots of it. You carve a pipe how it’s supposed to look, and then look for ways to separate yourself from the pack. If you only carve generic pipes, you’ll easily lose yourself from the rest of the pipe makers out there. That doesn’t mean you have to create wild, out of this world briars, but you need something that screams you. You need a brand to distinguish yourself.

             Even if the pipe carver has the skills and style down, there’s still an uphill battle to become established as a successful pipe maker. The pipe maker has to juggle being a pipe carver, as well as a business entrepreneur and a brand marketer. The pipe carver can’t just worry about carving a good pipe, but learning how to sell their pipes. Otherwise those beautiful briars are going to languish on their shelves, gathering dust as they wait to be bought.

            What does this all mean? Well, the pipe maker can’t hide in their workshop and carve; they have to get out there and sell their wares. The pipe maker can’t put all their hopes into being picked up by an online pipe retailor; they’ve got to get noticed first. The good news is that there are a wide variety of methods to get your name out there to attract prospective buyers. The pipe maker isn’t limited to making a webpage or etsy store to sell their pipes. Some pipe makers have managed to make a decent business by simply selling their newest pipes on Instagram, even before they’re finished. It might take a bit of time before the pipe maker gets to this point, but the tools are there.

            Likewise, social media is a great place for a pipe maker to connect with a wider audience. It’s a way for the pipe maker to show pictures of their work as it’s being done, as well as adding a personal touch by being personable to commenters. By interacting with fellow pipe smokers, the pipe maker can develop lasting relationships with potential customers. The person complimenting your new Dublin might not buy that specific pipe, but later down the road when they’re looking for a new pipe, they’ll know whom to contact.

            This, of course, adds an additional wrinkle to the mix— customer service. The pipe maker has to reply to emails and direct messages, answering inquiries and potential commissions. And when the pipe maker sells a pipe, they also have to address possible issues the customer has with the pipe. The pipe maker can pour their heart and soul into a pipe, but if it’s not what the customer wants, well, then it’s back to the workshop and hope it doesn’t affect their future business prospects.

            Also, as a pipe maker, they’re at the mercy of what their customer wants. While they can make the kind of pipes they want to make, many take on commissions. The pipe maker might want to be creative and carve all sorts of shapes, but if it’s not what the customer wants, then they have to put those ideas aside and make their commissioned pipes. Want to carve an egg or cutty? Tough, you have to carve five poker pipes in a row for your clients. And if you make it big with a certain shape, expect to make more just like it.

            With all this in mind, I have the utmost respect for the hard working pipe makers out there. Having followed the pipe world on social media for the past five years, I’ve seen promising pipe makers come and go. Some pipe carvers will work hard to establish themselves from the rest of the pack, put out their hard work, and disappear a year later after failing to find an audience. It’s not an easy line of work, and the market is full of competitors, all looking to have a piece of the proverbial pie. And let’s be honest here, there’s not a massive amount of pipe smokers out there. To make it as a pipe maker, you have to be determined and be willing to keep going through some lean times.

            And these are all the possible issues that I, a non-pipe carver, can see from the outside. There could be other hurdles that I haven’t accounted for in this article. It’s a tough business.

            Now, with that preamble out of the way, why should you consider buying your next pipe from a pipe carver? Don’t worry, I’m not going to stand in some derelict pipe workshop and beg you to buy a pipe from a poor, needy pipe carver like I’m in some commercial in the middle of the night. I get it, it’s easy to just go onto a pipe website and simply pick a new pipe from what’s available. However, having purchased a few artisan pipes myself, I can tell you, buying a pipe from a pipe carver is a rewarding experience.

            Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. First, you’ll be paying more for an artisan pipe. Normally, you’ll find factory pipes priced around $100 or less, depending on the brand and finish. Some of those factory pipes can still cost as much as $150, but $100 is the baseline from what I’ve found. You can find some artisan pipes around the $100 mark, but for the most part you’re looking at $150 or more, especially if it’s a commissioned pipe. If you want one of those fancy schmancy blowfish or reverse calabash pipes, expect to pay more.

            It’s a simple matter of economics. A pipe carver doesn’t have the same resources that a factory does. They work at a slower pace than the factories, because it’s usually a one-person operation. While a factory can churn out many pipes in a single day, the pipe carver can take multiple days on one pipe, depending on what they’re making.

            Likewise, when you order an artisan pipe, expect to wait a few weeks before it arrives. This is especially true if you’re commissioning a pipe from scratch. You have to wait while the pipe maker finishes the pipes they have on the bench before they can get to yours. Then, the pipe making process can take a few days, depending on the shape and finish you want.

            Also, depending on the pipe maker, you might not have much to go on in terms of their general reputation. If you’re working with a new pipe maker, you’re trusting that they’re competent at their job. It’s an investment to their work, and sadly not all investments work out in the end.

            Finally, once you get your pipe, if you’re not happy with it, you have to deal with the pipe carver to get the issue sorted out. You can’t just contact smokingpipes and try to return the pipe. It all depends on the pipe carver you’re working with, and when you’re dealing with a person rather than a company, there’s a chance you might run afoul with the pipe maker. And should that fight become public on social media, well, no one wants to see that. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of too many instances of this.

            Now that we have the negatives out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff!

            When you’re commissioning a pipe, you’re creating the pipe YOU want! You’re not limited to the available stock on a website or in a pipe shop. If you’ve always dreamed of owning a full bent poker pipe, there’s a pipe carver out there that’ll make it for you. If you want a billiard with a grey finish with rustication, there’s a pipe carver that’ll make it. Want a Bing pipe with an apple bowl? There’s a pipe carver that’ll make it. The only limits with a commissioned pipe are your imagination and the skills of the pipe carver.

            When you work with a pipe carver, they’ll generally be in contact with you every step of the way. With all my commissioned pipes, I received constant updates of the progress of my pipe, with questions and suggestions of what to do next. I’ve never been out of the loop during the carving process, and every decision was made by me, unless I gave the carver the freedom to do what they wanted. From the rustication on the pipe to the choice of stem color, I had the final say. If I wanted a billiard with a neon pink stem, and they had that stem, they’d shrug their shoulders and do it as they questioned my taste.

            When you own a commissioned pipe, it’s completely different from owning another factory pipe. Every pipe has a story behind it, and with a commissioned pipe, you’re part author. You know where it came from, as well as who carved it. And one day, when you reach the end of your pipe journey, you have the chance to gift it to someone else. One day, I’ll be able to give my commissioned pipes to my son (should I have one), and tell him the story of each pipe as I pass it along to him to keep. You’re not just commissioning an average pipe; you’re creating an heirloom.

            By commissioning a pipe, you’re also investing in someone’s personal business. You’re not handing your hard earned cash to another company, but to a person who’s following their dreams. That pipe you ordered helps someone keep their business open, and the feedback you give helps the carver develop their skills. It’s a real win-win situation, you get a pipe to treasure, and the carver gets to make more pipes.

            If you’re buying a pre-carved pipe from an artisan pipe maker, you’re still helping them out. By buying one of their pipes, you’re not only helping them out financially, but also letting them know that something they made caught their eye. This helps them in knowing which styles and shapes to focus on in their spare time. That alone is valuable feedback to the carver, and they’ll appreciate your business.

            The relationship between pipe carver and customer doesn’t end the moment the pipe arrives in the mailbox, either. Once you have that pipe, you have the chance to support their work beyond the money you sent them. Take pictures of the pipe! Post the pictures on social media and tag the pipe carver. Talk about the pipe on your pipe forums and social media. Show the pipe off and tell people where you ordered the pipe. The pipe carver can only do so much in self-promotion.

When you tell people about your artisan pipe, you’re giving the pipe carver valuable help in getting their brand out to the pipe masses. A happy customer showing off their pipe does more for the pipe maker than countless Instagram photos of their work. There’s no better way of saying thanks to a pipe maker than spreading the word about their skills.

            Over the years, I’ve purchased four artisan pipes, three commissioned and one purchased from etsy. All four of them are fantastic pipes, and I couldn’t be happier with them. I heartily recommend that all pipers take a chance on an artisan pipe maker at some point in their hobby.

            So, for part 2 of this series, I’ll be talking about my most recent pipe commission. So stay tuned to learn more about the pipe, and more specifically, the pipe maker: Nate Rose of RosePipeCo. Hopefully, by the end of this series, you’ll consider saving up and taking the plunge with a pipe carver.

Until next time,

-TheBadgerPiper