One thing leads to another and it wasn’t long before I ordered another pipe from Blakemar Briars. Well, I say another, make that 2! I thought I’d give the very reasonably priced Aristocrat range a go and emailed Mike Billington to see if there was available stock. Mike replied in the affirmative and told me that the current stand-up bent pipes on his website were actually smaller than the sandblast I previously received and would I prefer the larger version as he had a few in stock but not displayed online. I agreed that the larger sized pipe (Peterson 306 size) would suit my needs than the smaller shape (basically the size of a Peterson 304).
Blakemar Briars is a pipe making company based in Northamptonshire, England. The business was established in the 1870’s by Thomas Martin, and has remained in family hands to this day. The current owner Mike Billington has worked there since 1970 – guided by his uncle, Richard (Dick) Martin until his passing in 2003, using lathes, hand tools and knowledge only gained by experience. The end product is a hand made pipe with great smoking characteristics and charm. From time to time Dick’s early pipes appear on ebay which maybe worth checking out if you fancy a slice of history?
Despite not owning a Blakemar, I had for some time been eyeing their wares online. One thing that always struck me was even the most expensive pipes seemed quite reasonable and the more affordable range almost give away. On the face of it the quality looked consistent across the board and it is fair to say each Blakemar pipe is as good as the next regardless of cost, only superficial grading of briar and its finish really dictates the final price.
The Senior Pipe Reamer is a precision tool designed to remove and maintain a suitable layer of cake within a pipes tobacco chamber. I’m pretty sure if you have been smoking pipes for a while you’ll have considered adding one of these to your arsenal? Same here to be honest. I’ve pretty much used a knife in the past and while it does a good job, you have to be mindful of gouging the chamber out of round. Also cake can be quite delicate in places and its all to easy to get carried away and remove way too much or equally bad produce an inconsistent cake depth (thicker one side than the other).
I was excited and apprehensive about smoking the Tortuga. Its such a nice pipe I almost didn’t want to “spoil” it! But a pipe is for smoking so I put thoughts of scorching the rim and burning the bowl to one side and unpacked the tobacco I ordered from Black Swan to break this pipe in.
I would be using a 50/50 blend of Gawith Hoggarths Kendal Black Cavendish and McConnell Oriental Turkish Blend. These are classed as blending tobacco’s, but can be enjoyed on their own, particularly the slow burning Black Cavendish. The Turkish burns hotter and quicker so combining the two should make for a long lasting pleasurable smoke. Both arrived in what I would call perfect smoking condition, in as much as there was no need to air dry either before blending.
A long, long time ago when I was about 17 I smoked a tobacco pipe. I really enjoyed the “hobby”. Some might call it ritualistic. Its definitely something to be savoured and not rushed. There is so much more to pipe smoking than just the pipe. Its an experience from start to finish. Firstly teasing the rich golden strands from the pouch or tin while simultaneously breathing in the unlit aroma. Then packing the bowl – not too tight or loose. Just lighting the contents and keeping the fire going requires concentration and takes time to learn. Only then can you sit back and truly enjoy the fruits of your labour. Dedication is key.
In the early days I didn’t even own a commercially made pipe – I made my own (with the help of my father). These were by no means briar masterpieces, oh no, simple, rustic examples made from the knurled apple tree that dominated our garden. The mouthpiece (or bit) was made from a dried and hollowed out elderberry stem and entered the “bowl” corncob style. Crude? Looking back, yes!