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The limitations of custom pipes?

Cheeseybacon

Well-known member
#1
Maybe this is a weird question, and maybe not... So for those of you who have solicited a pipe maker for a custom designed pipe, have you ever had any of your requests denied? If so what attributes of the proposed pipe were rejected? Size? Shape? Finish? Bands? Stem shape/color, etc?


I am curious because I inquired with a pipe maker (no, not a carver on this site - clearly a huge mistake on my part) over the Christmas season about having a custom pipe made, sort of as a Christmas gift to myself you might say. After going over what I was looking for, my request was rejected based upon some of the aspects of the pipe that he just didn't want to deal with. I became rather turned off at that point after then being given a hard sell to buy one of his pre-made pipes, which while nice looking, just didn't float the proverbial boat. As far as requests go, while it was very specific, it wasn't exactly outlandish or extreme, it's not like I was asking for something ridiculous like a Meerschaum-lined Morta Oom Paul with a dual airway churchwarden stem made from real amber, so it begs the questions:

For pipe makers here do who accept custom requests, what features or attributes of a pipe are off limits for you, either due to lack of resources, or simply because you just don't want to deal with the required time or hassle? Also, are there certain things that we take for granted in pipes produced in a production-line that are crazy to expect in a one-off pipe? Lastly do any of you consider the reputation/perception of your "brand" before agreeing to do a particular attribute or is the customer always right, no matter how moronic their tastes may be?
 

snake

permanent ankle biter
Sales
Patron
#2
My curiosity is piqued as to
the responses. Im sure there
will be varying answers based
on skillset, imagination, equipment,
and so forth. As this is a pipe
question.. I will be an observer
of the dialog henseforth as I
only make tampers.
 

blackmouth210

Well-known member
#3
I'm not a maker.
So this is strictly from a customer's standpoint...

Some makers specialize or prefer to make only pipes of certain varieties.
Some prefer traditional shapes and sizes. Others don't like traditional shapes/sizes and prefer very unique looking pipes. Others still will only work with certain materials.

I will only request a pipemaker make me something that I already know is in their wheelhouse.
I don't ask a maker to try a certain shape, style, or material for the first time as part of my commission.
I find a maker who already makes the kind of pipe I'm looking for and then request something similar but with my own parameters....but even some of those parameters can sometimes be flexible.
 

soutso

Well-known member
#7
I have a few BSTs and from memory Todd couldn't make what I first asked for. I literally send him pics of several pipes and said "I want that stem, in this shape, in this finish, in this colour, completely bent blah blah" ..... all from different pipes. I can't dredge up the emails as they are on an old computer, I think I wanted a fully bent Apple but Todd explained that the shape I wanted only allowed for a straight or slightly bent pipe. The shank would be too narrow to drill properly. I think I ended up betting a full bent brandy or something like that. Whatever it was, he explained it well and I could see the error in my design. I ended up very happy with what I think would be called a Bent Brandy.
 

Robert Perkins

Teenager at Heart
Sales
#10
Sorry this didn't work out the way that you were hoping, but don't give up.

For pipe makers here do who accept custom requests, what features or attributes of a pipe are off limits for you, either due to lack of resources, or simply because you just don't want to deal with the required time or hassle?
Hank Williams used to sing: "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)" And that's kindof my motto, with regard to pipe making. Obviously, I can't make you a solid gold pipe for $30, but if you've got, say, $3,000, I'm pretty sure I could make that solid gold pipe happen.

Also, are there certain things that we take for granted in pipes produced in a production-line that are crazy to expect in a one-off pipe?
For most of us low-volume pipemakers, custom silver caps aren't really in our wheelhouse. You either have to know silversmithing to make -- or know a silversmith to provide -- a custom, formed silver cap. However, we can turn rings on our lathes or source cast-rings on the internet and incorporate those into our designs.

Other than custom silver caps, though, I can't think of anything we low-volume pipemakers can't do.

Lastly do any of you consider the reputation/perception of your "brand" before agreeing to do a particular attribute or is the customer always right, no matter how moronic their tastes may be?
I have yet to meet a commission I wouldn't take because I thought it might tarnish my preeminent, matchless, and transcendent reputation ... pft ... but I guess it's possible. I do know that if you wanted me to use unsafe materials, like a lead pipe fitting or a toxic wood, I would balk at that.

But that's just me. Some other pipemaker might draw the line at making something they see as "average" or "ugly" or whatever.
 
#11
I can see some people who make things and take commissions (not just pipe makers to be fair) turning down or refusing to take jobs if they don’t think they can do it or do it well. Some makers have preferences for what they can or like to make and prefer to stay in their wheelhouse and some like to push themselves. There’s no point in asking Missouri Meerschaum to make a Kaywoodie and I also don’t want a Kaywoodie corn cob for example.

I’ve also been in the position when you know someone is going to be a PITA to work for and you decide you don’t need that hassle. Not saying you are, just an example.

To bring it back to pipes I’ve only asked for two makers to make something for me. I think I prefer seeing what’s been made and going from there, but the first one I saw a pipe the maker had made and approached them to say I liked that and could I get one. Details were hashed our stem/colour etc but they gave me the options and I chose from them.

The second I basically said I like your work, have at it. Which I think kinda threw them, but I ended up with a great pipe as I knew I would and in a shape that I probably wouldn’t have picked out myself but that I really like.
 

Fr_Tom

PSD Chaplain
Old Ted Award Winner
#13
I have had two made (two and a half made if you count the briar bowl for the gourd calabash). I was a little more flush back before I made the move to parish ministry.

My style with these sorts of things is to have some general guidelines. So you tell them you want a rusticated saddle-bit straight bulldog with a 13/16 bowl ID and a vulcanite stem. The folks doing all this are artists and don't deal well with too many specs I claim. They also know more about what works for them and need a little room to express themselves. They will have a couple of clarifying questions. You wait.

Sometimes you hear that the block ended up with some spectacular grain or they have come into some cumberland stock and think it would work really well. So they want to hold out a smooth option or an alternative stem option. They need a little room to work.
 

blackmouth210

Well-known member
#14
Sometimes you hear that the block ended up with some spectacular grain or they have come into some cumberland stock and think it would work really well. So they want to hold out a smooth option or an alternative stem option. They need a little room to work.
Great point.
The pipe material sometimes dictates the final product. Letting the maker have the freedom to bring out the best in any given piece of material usually ends well for the customer.
 
#15
I will only request a pipemaker make me something that I already know is in their wheelhouse.
I don't ask a maker to try a certain shape, style, or material for the first time as part of my commission.
I find a maker who already makes the kind of pipe I'm looking for and then request something similar but with my own parameters....but even some of those parameters can sometimes be flexible.
^ This ^
 

Russ H.

Patron-Fight The Good Fight
Patron
#16
In reading through this thread it had me thinking from both sides of the fence. First--I am NOT a pipe maker so basically this is my humble opinion.
From the makers side:
-They have a certain level of skill--they may, or may not have the skill to do what I want.
-Tools-they may, or may not have the tools for the job.
-My request for a certain shape, stem, etc. may be of an idea, or concept that will require awkward drilling, or end up with the finished product being kind of
iffy---thin bowl, angled drilling where the hole ends up making the shank paper thin--something kinda like that--that the pipe maker says to themselves--
this is gonna end up being a train wreck--pipe may burn out, etc.
From the buyers side:
-I may not understand why the maker doesn't want to do it.
-They may not have the resources for specific materials I am asking for such as --an un-obtanium stem material, shank adornments.
An example might be that I request a pipe that has Whales tooth adornment, or other rare stuff that perhaps even the law prevents such materials being used,
or obtained.
In the end the person we are asking has every right to say--"I can't do that."
The person making the pipe knows what they are capable of, and the tools, and resources they have to work with.
It's best that VERY CLEAR communications take place between the person asking, and the person making.
Here a while back Maddis had posted pictures of some pipes He was getting ready for the Chicago show last year. I literally fell in love with a Cherrywood pipe He had done. I knew I wasn't getting to the show, and I knew once it was shown at Chicago a buyer would snag in right up. SO--I contacted Maddis--He said He could do something similar, and I figured instead of me bothering him with all kinds of ideas from me---let His hands, His mind, His skill bring to life a true Maddis pipe in all aspects in a similar way. Let me tell you---what I got literally blew me away. WHY?--because my request was a simple one--a very organic Cherrywood done the Maddis way. He would have clearly told me if He wouldn't do it.
I'm of the mindset when I started with my BST, and Maddis pipes that I wanted the pipes to be totally, and all the makers ideas, concepts, and in the end these pipes for me are more than just pipes. They came from the heart--Their visions from mental pictures, and ideas--from there through their skilled hands a totally awesome pipe came to life--the pipes are ALL--every aspect a Maddis pipe, or a Todd Bannard BST pipe.
I would never dream of attempting to push a guy into the corner asking them to something they felt kind of iffy about, and to the OP--I'm not saying that this is what happened--PLEASE do not think I'm saying that. Again I think there needs to be full, and open dialog between the person asking, and the person making said pipe. After all at least the OP's request to the maker--the maker was up front, and said--nah--I don't think I can do that. I feel that's better than you shelling out the money, and in the end you have a pipe that the maker feels bad about, and you the buyer feels bad about. It would kind of stink when the maker in the back of his mind says to himself---"Man--I really don't like the way this turned out, but this is kinda what the guy wanted me to try, and make."--I really am not too comfortable with it leaving my shop, bbuutttttt---well I guess we'll ship it."
Then the buyer gets it--maybe he sees the drilling is a little iffy, things are maybe not really what he thought--the buyer starts to have second thoughts on what he requested---both parties have remorse, and in the end niether are too happy about the outcome.
It pays to stop the problem before it starts.------all of this rambling comes from a guy who is a mechanic by trade--I get all kinds of requests about fixing things in ways that are not really to reliable, or the best way. I try to stop problems before they start. I know what its like to be on the end of----Hey this job you did--well--I changed my mind. Well fella I did, and gave you exactly what you requested--exactly. Now there is friction because of the end result didn't work as the one requesting it thought it would, or should.
 

Maddis

Sales
Sales
#18
I do think things go well, on average, if you give the maker some degree of latitude. It's hard to get around the fact that it's more satisfying and captures a maker's attention more if there are creative and/or technical decisions to be made, as opposed to being told precisely the size, shape, stem color, bowl diameter, depth of blast, stain color, etc. on a commission. When someone makes something with full attention and creative investment it usually shows in the product.

That said, I've had people give me highly detailed specs with great results because they knew pipes, knew what kind of pipes I make, and our tastes lined up. On the other hand, I've also turned down requests for, "a bulldog sitter, natural sandblast, with a red and green speckled acrylic stem" or that kind of thing. Usually a little dialogue and clarification can bring customer and maker to a middle ground when you start that far apart.
 
#20
I do think things go well, on average, if you give the maker some degree of latitude. It's hard to get around the fact that it's more satisfying and captures a maker's attention more if there are creative and/or technical decisions to be made, as opposed to being told precisely the size, shape, stem color, bowl diameter, depth of blast, stain color, etc. on a commission. When someone makes something with full attention and creative investment it usually shows in the product.

That said, I've had people give me highly detailed specs with great results because they knew pipes, knew what kind of pipes I make, and our tastes lined up. On the other hand, I've also turned down requests for, "a bulldog sitter, natural sandblast, with a red and green speckled acrylic stem" or that kind of thing. Usually a little dialogue and clarification can bring customer and maker to a middle ground when you start that far apart.
It was @MakDragon who asked for that, wasn’t it? Just blink twice for yes.