Pipe maker Rad Davis recently agreed to talk with Bear Graves about pipes and the life of a pipe maker:
Bear: Unless born into a pipe making family, very few pipe carvers grew up thinking that they would wind up carving pipes. Tell us a bit about your background, and what interests and events led you to choosing this most unusual form of artistic expression.
Rad: I was a fly fishing guide in Montana during the summers for ten years. During the winters, I dabbled in cleaning up and selling estate pipes on Ebay. One day, I found a practically unsmoked Peterson with no stem on Ebay, and it had a very low Buy It Now price, so I bought it, figuring I could get a stem replacement and re-sell it. I found Mark Tinsky's site, and sent the pipe off to him for a new stem. While looking over his site, I found that he was a fly fisherman, and we arranged a trade. I would tie him a dozen flies in exchange for the stem replacement.
A couple of years later, I found an old Ben Wade Danish Hand Model at a local flea market. It had no stem, so off I went to look for Mark's site again. This time, I saw that he had just recently relocated to Helena, MT, where I lived during the summers. We arranged another trade for flies, and then got together when I got to Helena that following spring of 2003. We fished together a few times, and he offered to make me a pipe and let me watch. I was fascinated, and said I thought I might like to try that.
He said he had some drilled blocks that weren't salable for one reason or another, and I was welcome to play around with them. It was a downward spiral from there. I've never had so much fun at a "job".
Bear: Every pipe maker seems to have differing sources of inspiration, as well as an aesthetic or theme that is apparent in most of his work. What are your primary inspirations, and how do you maintain your theme?
Rad: I don't know that I have a theme as such, unless it's that I'm always looking for something new to do, shape wise. My inspiration pretty obviously comes from the Danish aesthetic. I really like an organic, flowing shape, and the Danes just do it for me. I also like to play with classic shapes and see what can be done with them in terms of flow, shank lengths, etc. to make them different while still being recognizable as a classic shape.
Bear: If a man has not tried your pipes why would he buy one? Why should he try one? From the artist's point of view, what makes your pipes special?
Rad: I would hope that he would buy one because the shape has attracted him, and he simply has to have it. [chuckles]
I think what makes any maker's pipes special is a recognizable style, so that someone looking at it (not necessarily from "across the room") can tell who made it. Then there's the attention to all of those small details that tells a potential customer that the maker really cares and is passionate about what he is doing.
I've had enough feedback from customers to know that my pipes smoke very well. I do nothing special other than make sure the draft hole enters the bowl on the bottom and is clear of any constrictions/obstructions and carries the same air volume from bowl to button. If this is accomplished then the pipe will smoke very well.
Bear: Describe a "perfect" pipe making day.
Rad: That's easy. Everything goes right. You start out in the morning with a new shape idea, you make it, the shape looks great, and it sells that afternoon.
Bear: Brilliance in brevity, Rad. Many pipe carvers, on occasion, experience the carving equivalent of "writer's block". Does this ever happen to you and, if it does, what do you do to get the train back on track?
Rad: Of course it happens to me. When it does, I do what many other makers do and bitch and moan about it on all of the forums until someone says, "There, there, it'll be ok.", then I feel all better. In actuality, I usually just make a billiard.
Bear: Which, if any, pipe makers influence you? What is it about their pipes that impress you?
Rad: Most every pipe maker influences me in one way or another. There really is no one particular maker whose work influences what I do or what shapes I'm going to try. I think I tend to be more influenced by a general style or look rather than any individual's. As I said before, I like flowing organic shapes, and the Danish look gives me that, but so do many Germans, North Americans, etc. Mark Tinsky taught me what equipment I needed to have in order to make pipes and how to make pipes efficiently. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Bear: Do you smoke a pipe? What is your favorite tobacco?
Rad: Yes. Right now, my favorite tobacco is Krumble Kake from Smokers Haven.
Bear: What are your plans for the future, both in the continuing development of your craft, as well as general plans for life?
Rad: I plan to keep on making pipes and exploring new shapes until I can't anymore.
Bear: Aside from making pipes, what other things or interests are you passionate about?
Rad: Fly fishing, although I don't get much chance to go any more. The fishing down here is all saltwater, which doesn't hold much interest for me. I like cold, moving water full of large trout. Oh, and lobster; I also like lobster.