That question was put to me, when I was waiting for the bus on my way to work. I had just missed the first bus and that meant 28 minutes waiting for the next one to come. For such unforeseen delays, I always have a ready stuffed corncob pipe in my pocket. It does not matter if I knock it against the nearest hard object when the bus arrives, something I would never do with my “fine” briar pipes.
The tobacco in question was “Solani X Sweet Mystery” and the man who asked the question was Henrik Rydberg, who, in his firm “Hrhantverk”, is making beautifully handcrafted things in wood, which he and his wife Mia sells at markets and via a website on the internet. Quite recently Henrik has also started to make pipes, but without having any significant experience as a pipe-smoker. He has only smoked a few of his own pipes, just to test them. The time for my bus approached and none of us had a pen and paper … I certainly did not want to miss this contact… so Henry had to borrow my cellphone and call his own mobile from it. In that way we got each other’s cellphone numbers. Later that afternoon, I phoned Henrik and we agreed to meet next Friday afternoon, as we were both free from work that day. Later that evening I watched his website and having seen pictures of more than half a dozen of his pipes, I was looking forward to our next meeting with great excitement.
It was a hot summer Friday in late July, when I took the bus to Henrik and Mia, living in a rather centrally located part of “Hisingen”, a district in Gothenburg. In a shady part of the garden, I was treated with coffee and our pipes were lit. On the table, there also was about two dozens of Henrik’s homemade pipes.
In the design, there was absolutely nothing to complain about. Only a few small technical details needed to be corrected, such as the fit between the shank and stem, where a few of the pipes had small gaps (a detail that can easily be fixed).
All the pipes he showed me were smooth and the grain excellent. Many of the pipes were churchwardens, a shape that I love but unfortunately is quite hard to find today. The others were also in classic shapes. When I started to examine the inside of the pipes I noticed Henrik’s lack of experience as a pipe-smoker, and we had a long and interesting discussion on aerodynamics, thermodynamics and interaction between the shape of the tobacco chamber and the smoke channel, and the importance of the thickness of the walls for heat distribution and durability.
I had brought some of my favorites among Danish “factory pipes” from Danmore, Georg Jensen, Kriswill and Stanwell, so we had a good comparison, although I had not included any pipemaker pipes. I picked out a beautiful churchwarden and two of Henrik’s first attempts in the art of pipe-making. The two early creations were beautifully designed and of a medium size. The churchwarden was a real beauty, but the tobacco chamber was too V-shaped and in the bottom, it ended in a rather small vertical hole. The two early creations were to remain unchanged and are fully smokeable, despite some minor faults in the interior design.
When we had had our coffee and our pipes were smoked to the bottom, we went into the house and down the basement stairs to Henrik’s minimal workshop, only slightly larger than an ordinary walkin closet. Here Henrik started to modify my churchwarden. He drilled the smoke channel from 3.5 to 4.0 mm. and drilled the tobacco chamber into an U-shape instead of the original V-shape. The result was a hit! A first-class pipe, for which I undoubtedly had been prepared to pay a couple of hundred dollars. But all Henrik asked for the three pipes was 500 crowns. Spending an afternoon with a fellow pipe-smoker is always a pleasure. Seeing a person’s development from the start to being an incipient pipemaker lying before me on the table, in the form of a few dozen pipes, was a memorable experience. And to finish the afternoon by seeing the most beautiful of Henrik’s pipes being transformed from being just beautiful, into a first-rate smoking instrument as well, that was a feeling of bliss.
Then, later in the evening, calmly to fill that masterpiece with tobacco and find that it certainly lived up to what it looks like … what more could you ask for? Especially when you got this masterpiece at a bargain price.
It is probably time to start keeping an eye on pipes signed with a small (almost invisible) engraved “Hr” in the bottom. A new star has begun to rise over the smoky western Swedish horizon and probably we will soon be able to meet Henrik as a member of our association.