Experiments with a Reverse Calabash Nosewarmer by J&J Pipes
By: Tom Spithaler
I found myself in a strange position this month. I have several pipe artisans that have agreed to send product for our reviews here on Pipesmagazine.com, but everyone seems to be so busy that I found myself with a deadline and no pipe. I guess this is a good sign. The pipe industry, especially the artisan pipe segment is booming. Pipe smoking in general is gaining in popularity, and the artisan pipe market is exploding with new, quality talent able to produce some excellent pipes. Who’s going to complain about that, right?
One of the first reviews I did for Pipesmagazine was of a Naked Dublin
pipe produced by JnJ Pipes
. This pipe was so popular and so well liked that the review for that particular pipe is one of the most read articles on the pipesmagaznine.com web site to this day. And why not? The quality was there, and everyone could see it. That being the case, and now in a crunch for time, I sent Jared an email and asked if he’d like to send another example of their work for a second review. He agreed, and I am so grateful he did, as this stout little smoker is a dream pipe.
When I emailed Jarod (Jarod Coles and John Klose make up the “J’s” in J&J) and told then of the opportunity, he got back to me almost immediately. Both Jarod and John thought of the same pipe to send, and I was informed that it was “almost finished”. Jarod also told me he thought he could have it in the mail the next day. And he did.
What arrived a short two days later was a brand new pipe literally hot off the press (or lathe as the case may be). Knowing that Jarod and John both really liked the idea of sending this particular pipe, I was excited about seeing what was inside the cardboard box.
Wrapped in paper and bubble wrap, and securely contained in a great leather sock, the pipe that came out instantly grabbed my attention, and I giggled with exuberance and joy. Funny how that happens, how we see something that seems out of the ordinary, and it makes us tilt our heads in an acquisitive manner. Surprisingly though, some of things that get funny looks for their ‘strangeness’, actually turn out to be quite useful – like Noah’s Ark, or the light-bulb. We may mock these things at first, but as soon as we find out how well they really work, we change our minds in a hurry.
The sock, full grain cow leather, is hand sewn and manufactured by J&J. I know this as a previous pipe I received from them was in a similar sock, and I asked of its origin. Proudly I was informed that these socks are all by John himself. Rich in color, supple, and almost pioneer-like in its simplicity, the sock is not only ample for the job it has been given, it is masculine and somewhat sophisticated at the same time. As with ‘accessories’ on a beautiful woman, this leather sock compliments the package very nicely.
It was to become known as the Blasted Buffalo. The pipe itself, begging back to the idea of things looking a bit different, immediately looked blocky, chunky – as if it were an experiment in geometry. Can we make a square morph into a rectangle morph into a trapezoid? The answer, yes. And quite nicely too.
Despite its blocky appearance, the pipe is quite attractive. It is bulky, in that it is quite a handful, but it is small at the same time. In the fashion of a good nose-warmer, this pipe was short in over-all length, but long in style and comfort.
The first thing that you notice is that this pipe is made from a very nice block of briar. Rolling outward and upward from the right side of the stummel, the grain flows river-like, leaving rippling ridges like water colors being blown across a paper canvass. This pipe is a chunk, and a large handful, but hides itself in my hands while smoking. Discreet when being smoked, it stands on its own making an impressive visual impact when sitting on the table.
The briar itself is seemingly flawless. While there are no outstanding grain features to speak of, like a flowing flame grain or a wonderful birds-eye, what J&J have done is take a more common block and turned it into something spectacular. Wide, long, deep, and stout, this little blasted block nose-warmer has a character to it – one that means business. It says tough and hardy, and yet it is so beautifully done, it makes one desire to put it on a shelf as much as it is to put it to work.
The blast is just incredible. It’s soft and yet very pronounced. On the top the rolling figures of the blasted grain remind me of a softer Weaver-style blast; intense, but with no hard edges. The grain is just soft enough to allow some artistic variations in depth of the blast on the heel and right side of this geometric pipe.
A full 5.3” long and 2.3” tall and weighing in at 87 grams this pipe is set up as a theme on the reverse calabash style, which does seem to be growing in popularity. More on that later. Trapezoidal from the top, a bulging triangle from either side, and square from the rear, this little nosewarmer comes at you visually like a Picasso painting. I’ve seen houses made like this by classic architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And just like the two previous comparisons, this pipe is just simply stunningly beautiful. Quirky, yes. “Post-modern” – maybe. Great looking pipe that will attract a lot of attention – absolutely.
I love a blasted pipe. First of all there are so many ways to do it, so many persona styles and techniques. Many are similar, but like snowflakes, none seem to be identical. Much of it has to do with the briar that is being blasted for sure. Softer vs. harder blocks reveal different results even with identical basting techniques. It has been intimated at times by other writers that blasting is used to cover up bad briar. Perhaps, this is sometimes true in rare occasions, but certainly not in this case. This block would be just as beautiful smooth and polished.
I love how in a blasted pipe the stain really helps the briar come to life. Not only is the stain intensity affected by the grain of the briar, but also by the depth of the blast. Another added variation to the stain intensity is the grain flow over which the blast is located. To understand what I’m saying, the opacity if the stain varies from point to point and shows significant differences on the sides from what we see on the bottom.
The stain is a traditional deep red, dark brown combo.
Un-blasted areas remain on a chamfer of the bowl’s interior rim, which adds a line of demarcation, and a bit of elegance. Also, the back of the bulbous shank is smooth along with the underside for the placement of the now familiar J&J logo.
The stem is interesting. Looking like traditional ebonite, this stem is actually made from a product called Juma. Juma is of the thermoplastic family along with acrylics and the like, but carries slightly different characteristics. Juma is used as (among other things), for making knife handles, and more predominantly – plumbing fixtures and water pipes. Because of this particular formula, Juma works great for sealing in water, and makes an excellent choice for stem on a reverse calabash pipe. Also like the more common acrylics, Juma can be had in alternative colors and blends, including such styles as faux ivory. No matter, it shines like crazy and 99 out of 100 pipe aficionados will take a look and feel and swear on their bibles its ebonite.
Somewhat short, just shy of 2” counting in the tenon, it is massive in diameter to accommodate for the large shank containing the calabash expansion chamber. More than three quarters of an inch in diameter (.763”), I have high-powered rifle barrels that are not as big around. However, as we will see in the next section, this is necessary.
Juma is made in a variety of places, including the Far East and the United Arab Emirates. This particular stem material, along with about 80% of the rest of the world’s inventory of quality Juma comes from Germany, quickly taking over the world of plastics with over 7,000 individual companies in Germany
now applying their world famous engineering to this market.
Juma, as it applies to application of making pipe stems also has the great feature of being extremely thermoformable; allowing the user to bend and shape the product as necessary when heated to reasonable temperatures. This is the first time that I have experienced a pipe with a Juma stem, and I’m a fan.
This may seem like your average day to day pipe with a funky shape, but let me assure you, this is no ordinary anything. The engineering put into this pipe is nothing short of spectacular on a number of different levels.
First I promised to go into further detail regarding the “Reverse Calabash” design. We are all more than likely aware of who is arguably the world’s most famous pipe smoker – who funny as it is, is actually a fictional character – Sherlock Holmes. He smoked the traditional calabash design.
The name ‘calabash’ comes from the calabash gourd family (Lagenaria siceraria). This gourd, when harvested young is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable, and when allowed to grow to maturity and dry, has been used for centuries as a bottle, pipe, and even musical instruments. The body of the Sherlock Holmes pipe was made of such a gourd, with an added meerschaum insert. Add a long accommodating ebonite stem, and you have a calabash pipe. The meerschaum insert rests on the top of the gourd, providing a vast expansion chamber under the meerschaum that allows the smoke to expand and cool. This process reduces bite and provides a cooler, fresher smoke.
The reverse calabash system utilizes and expansion chamber as well, but in this case, the chamber is located in the stem, not in the bowl. We visited this earlier looking at the Morgan Briar Cigar.
The tapered expansion chamber in this Blasted Buffalo is nearly as big as the bowl itself measuring over 1.5” deep and three-quarters of an inch wide at the shank end. One could nearly place the stem in the bowl, flip this Buffalo upside down, and smoke it the opposite way.
Here’s where some more of that great engineering comes into play. The stem when removed looks ginormous, and it has a pretty snug mortise to tenon fit. I Turing or twisting the stem to remove it seems to make it tighter. So, I ended up wiggling it up and down slightly to get it to come loose. When I mentioned this to Jared at J&J, he make it clear why the fit was so tight.
With the calabash expansion chamber cooling the smoke, whatever moisture is in the smoke it by nature going to condense. We all know how foul getting this juice on your tongue can be, and how unattractive the sound of a gurgling pipe is as your draw bubbles through this condensation. Not so in this pipe.
Around the inside of the base of the shank of the Blasted Buffalo is a small black ring. This ring is made of acrylic, and acts as a seal when the stem is fitted into place. First of all, we know the Juma plastic of the perfect choice for this stem, as it has a natural design to hold fluids and resist leaking. But adding the dissimilar material ring to the interior of the shank is truly an engineering stroke of genius. Dissimilar materials will bond together more tightly with greater friction (thus the hard stem removal), and seals this fitting with certainty.
I could see where, if held it tipping forward as most would, that the Blasted Buffalo might, after long uses, drain the condensate back into the base of the bowl, but a.) It will never drain into the stem (unless you are hanging upside down while smoking), and b.) I did not experience this myself after smoking two full bowls of a rather moist tobacco.
I was going to enjoy this pipe’s trial run. In part, because J&J confessed they had just started creating reverse calabash style pipes, and in part because I was going to try a new tobacco blend that I have anxious to partake of.
Packing a bowl with Sutliff Private Stock Kentucky Planters blend has been on my “to do” list for some time. From their list of non-aromatics choices, the Kentucky Planter blend is a high-body mix full of white Burleys and finished by blending all the Triple AAA Burley types in that Sutliff has to offer. The recipe of course is secret, but having no Latakia, the tin notes are bold, yet not overpowering, with that familiar aroma of ‘times gone by’ in America.
Ribbon cut, then blended together the rolled and curled ribbons of flavor packed nicely in the bowl. Moist, it still flamed right up with the first match and instantly I knew I had found what I was hoping for from Kentucky Planter. Traditional Burley tobacco aromas mixed with a light vanilla nutty flavors that I really enjoyed. Not loaded with masking flavors or additives, Kentucky planter was easy to smoke and appreciate. The tobacco burned nicely, and made a soft light ash that virtually blew away from my bowl leaving it very clean.
The smoke was cool, comfortable and enjoyable. But I had to know; was it the pipe that kept things so cool, or the nature of the blend of the Kentucky Planter. I had to compare this revere calabash Buffalo using the same tobacco in a traditional billiard style pipe. The Sutliff Kentucky Planter burned just as well, and smoked just as enjoyably in my billiard. But the smoke was warmer. It seemed clear to me that the reverse calabash system really did work, and quite well.
So where does this pipe fit in my rotation? Not real sure. I definitely love the pipe. It has esthetic beauty, it smokes well, it’s small and large at the same time, and it is my only reverse calabash system pipe. Add to that, the Blasted Buffalo now has sentimental value.
This pipe is from J&J, and Jared and John have treated me very well over the years. But more than anything, I have watched these two fine young men grow and mature as pipe makers. Our initial conversations were about how they had just gotten their start, how some great names had allowed them to glean from them, how they were going to the West Coast Pipe Show for the first time. There was excitement, and joy mixed with a little naivete. Well, the boys have grown up, and people are paying attention to their work. Their product is excellent, and it is now available through some national distributors as well. They have made a great name for themselves, and their pipes are synonymous with quality.
Thanks Jared and John. I has been a pleasure looking at another one of your works, and a pleasure growing with you in this industry. Bravo.
About the Author:
Tom Spithaler is an Award Winning PSEA writer and member of the American Press Association who has cut his professional teeth in the outdoor and firearms media. Tom currently blogs at www.briarmeditations.blogspot.com, and operates Spithaler Media Services. A husband of 20 years and father of three, Tom currently resides in Tenino, WA. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org