Posted by Joe S. Kimbrough II on 6/11/2020
The other day, traffic on I-65 South gave me fewer struggles than
usual, so I sailed to The Briary. I leisurely walk to the front porch in the
bright, mid-May sun, and a customer reaches the front door about the same time
I come around the corner.
I ask him for a minute to get the
alarm off and the lights on. Then, we settle into the varieties of pipe
tobacco. Skip comes through the door a couple minutes later. He holds three
pipe bags over his head. I continue my explanation of the different Cavendish
processes, and another customer walks in. Skip puts the tobacco pipes in their
socks on the bar and helps the newcomer.
An average morning gets a whole new
dimension once the customers leave. Skip Elliott brought three new smoking
pipes of his creation. These are the first Elliott pipes I've seen this year. I
reach for one of them as Skip pulls the collection to himself.
He begins shuffling the bags around
the tobacco bar. "Now, Joe, nothing is ever easy," Skip says. He
talks about the quirks of briar and never being able to guess where problems
will show up. He reports his knowledge of how others create pipes. Standards
arise in any industry, but especially when your industry has been around as
long as ours. Then, he says, "But the thing is that briar is unusual.
Sometimes, you must take what it gives you. It takes some time, but you have to
do it." Skip's personal investment elevates Elliott pipes into the artisan
Now, it's new pipe time. First, Skip pulls his interpretation of a Castello 55 from its sock. A yellow stem swoops into the short shank and grabs my attention. Then, I ask Skip about the front of the bowl. From Castello, this shape has more of a bulgy look. Skip points to the fabulous grain along the pipe and tells me of the shame to waste that grain. He took more time to give the bowl a more traditional Billiard shape. Still, he left the defining 'chin' on the front of the smoking pipe. He finishes with, "It took more time, but the tobacco pipe has to look good." Next, Skip grabs a Liverpool from its bag. The filigree, silver band between the dark bowl and brindle stem catches my eye. I tell Skip that Aubrey will like that band. Skip says, "Well, he better; the pipes for him." Skip used Grecian briar for this smoking pipe, and he left the pipe large because he found some excellent birds’ eye in it. Briar defies expectations for pits and flaws, so you leave it alone when you find a good piece, according to Skip.
The real challenge is the band. First, the band can rise above the shank and create a gap between shank and stem. Can't have that; everything must be flush. Then, you risk the tenon not fitting on the mortise. Once the band is made, Skip spends some time filing to ensure an absolutely perfect fit, and the tenon fit comes after that. This way the stem fits perfectly. This work takes longer, but a lack of this personal investment creates a sub-standard smoking pipe for an Elliott pipe.
Once the Liverpool is back in its bag, a pipe of Skip's own design emerges. A translucent white stem flows into a green ferrule on top of a light stained bowl with wonderful birds’ eye and cross grain. Skip announces, "This is the '91'." I tell him about the fantastic bend, and he has me grab a pipe cleaner.
There's not even the hint of resistance from button to tobacco chamber. Skip hands me the pipe and says, "Now, there is no other pipe like this in the shop, and I hope that's enough bend for you." He explains the ferrule makes the difference. After drilling the draft hole at such an extreme angle, the pipe cleaner is bound to snag, but the ferrule creates a guide that makes the process easy.
Skip reports several tries with these pipes, but the successful outcome is worth the personal investment. Skip could have followed any number of directives for Oom Pauls, but he moves his pipes to the artisan category with his choices.
Now, a customer already bought the 55, and the Liverpool and '91' went to Aubrey and me. You can see Skip’s latest creations on the website, or ask Aubrey and I about them during your next visit. Look forward to seeing you and more Elliott pipes real soon.