Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Sometimes less is more, amirite? Most of the time, at least a bit of cosmetic art boosts visual appeal, accentuating the positive and minimizing the negative. Some things, though, are best left au naturel. A veil would be a waste of perfection.
You know, a veil like stain. Hey, where are you going? You thought I was talking about . . . really, now, what kind of a blog do you think this is? Wait, I can explain.
It's a joke, of course, and also an attempt to learn. Before last week I was starting to think that my blog didn't add much to site traffic; I'm not sure, I may have been wrong about that. Last Wednesday's total site views were less than 25% of average, and thank goodness one of the 30 people who looked at the new pipe liked it. All but 38 of you unique viewers have no idea just how bad last week's post may have been because you gave it a skip. Some fluctuation is to be expected, but holy cow, was it the title? Maybe some were scared away by the “8 minute read” projection (which I would turn off if I could). One friend said he didn't like pipes with pegs on the bottom. Maybe the previous week's post was bad and last week was the hangover . . . one friend said he didn't like pipes with pegs on the bottom, so maybe the picture repelled 75% of you. Sometimes swinging for the internet commerce piñata isn't all it's cracked up to be.
I realize there's a thing or two going on the world so the low attendance may have had nothing to do with how boring my title sounded. Still, it seemed worth a try to kick this week’s title up a notch, and to type fewer words. “Live Sex” was rejected as, ummm, overpromising. Though "Bare Naked" be clickbait, yet there is method in 't.
When finishing a pipe a maker's options are largely dictated by the briar. You've got grain quality on one axis and you've got flaws on another, and where the pipe hits on that graph says what will work, or what won't. If several options exist, you might choose according to which one preserves the most value, or is most likely to sell quickly, or fills an order. Nowadays everybody wants sandblasts. A smooth pipe will sell, but it had better have grain that will stop a Chicago show collector in full stride. A spot that is bald or washed-out or too flamey is all it takes to disqualify a pipe as a smooth, never mind sand pits.
Once we've blasted the pipe, we have the same grain/flaw graph that determines our options, and on that graph there is a very small area occupied by blasts that will look good with no stain — stain usually being necessary bring out some grain or blend in cosmetic challenges. I won’t say a natural blast is my favorite finish, but I’m glad when one comes along because it’s a finish that tells a story. It’s kind of like watching a tree grow to see a pipe’s finish darken over time. You won't notice growth or a darker shade in a day/week/month, but it catches your attention every now and then. A dark stain won’t change at all, a lighter stain will change some, while a natural finish changes a lot, from both smoking and oxidation. There is a definite “old pipe” color where they all wind up, unless they’ve been stained darker than that. A natural blast gives you the whole ride. I wish I could see how the nosewarmer below looks now.
Natural blasts are rare because there is nowhere for a speck of pepper to hide. Even a smooth pipe (with stain) is more forgiving of little sandpits. And a flawless finish before blasting is no assurance of a flawless finish after blasting. Several times in the past month or so I’ve started out blasting pipes that I told myself could very well have been left smooth, but at least I might be consoled by a nice natural blast. Only one turned out that way. I know very little about Dunhills, but it seems that tanshells are at least somewhat rare. Which would make sense.
Looking at my gallery on the old website it might appear that I made natural blasts with some regularity. The truth is, I probably made ten or twenty brown/red/black/yellow pipes in the various shapes for every one in the gallery, but whenever a natural finish came along I would show it because it was exceptional. I haven't made many natural smooths; I guess the grain never seems so vivid that it couldn't be brought out just a little.
On March 14, 2020 I showed up at the hall for a dress rehearsal and there was a sign on the stage door saying that the concert was cancelled. It was hardly a surprise. On that program was Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which I had been preparing for months. That’s when I realized my old website was kaputgegangen and my shop looked like the lab in Young Frankenstein when Gene Wilder and Teri Garr discovered it. I started working furiously and here we are. I sold my first “restart” pipe on March 29. Of the 50 pipes I have made since, two have been natural blasts.
That seems about right.