He Who Waits

November 8, 2006


As I went through my newly found box of pipes (see October 26th  entry) there was one that I had to set aside out of stubbornness if nothing else.  The pipe that you see above is an incredible piece of craftsmanship.  I don’t know if there is another pipe maker that can equal the crisp panels of a Poul Ilsted pipe.  And those of you who know his work will recognize this pipe as one of his signature shapes, and an absolutely gorgeous example it is.  The grain looks as if it was painted on, and the rosewood (or tulip wood) stem band is absolutely stunning.  His pipes go for a pretty penny, and this pipe today would be out of my price range.  A pipe like this should be right up there in one’s collection as to desirability.  So why, up to know, has this pipe been such an utter disappointment?  (if like happy endings, stick around)

A bit of background is in order.  I bought this pipe from a good friend five or so years ago.  He needed the cash for another pipe that he had fallen in love with, so he sold this one to me at a darn good price, maybe $225, which is a steal.  The pipe smoked fine, not great, but fine, so I was happy.  Then, a few years later I was in a similar situation as my friend, raising funds for a pipe that I had to have so I sold the pipe to a friend, basically for what I had paid.  Unfortunately the pipe was back to me within a month.  I was told that the pipe was leaking tobacco juice from between the stem and shank.  I was amazed as the pipe had never done that for me.  The pipe had been fine, but I took the pipe back, as was the right thing to do.

The first thing that I tried to do was to get the pipe to do the leaking thing.  I tried but the pipe didn’t even produce a drop of juice.  Unfortunately the one thing that I did notice was that the pipe was smoking like crap.  It was smoking hot with an absolutely acrid flavor.  As I hadn’t smoked the pipe for a good while before selling it that might have been the case when I shipped it, but I really can’t know.  My friend is very knowledgeable, and extremely honest, so I know that he had done nothing to the pipe.  I was perplexed, to say the least.

There was one thing that I did figure out  and that was due to the way that the pipe was drilled there was a sort of shallow ditch running the length of the mortise roof that cut a slight recess into the face of the mortise/shank.  However slight, it was probably responsible for an imperfect seal between tenon and mortise allowing a bit of juice to escape.  With my smoking style that had never happened.  That’s not really all that unusual as individual smoking style can make a pipe a loser for one guy and a winner for the next.  My smoking style was well matched to the pipe.  Well, for the most part, anyway

The problem still remained that the pipe tasted like crap.  Everything that I put into it, from my staples like Haddo’s to Cumberland to Semois all tasted like crap.  I tried the alcohol/salt treatment three times with no change.  The pipe was worthless to me, and this surprised me greatly.  Everyone that I had ever talked to had found Ilsteds to be fabulous pipes with my experience being the aberration.  I was tempted to buy another one (I sure couldn’t sell the one that I had to fund the acquisition) but it didn’t seem right to me in that I already had one.  I considered giving the pipe away so that someone else might give it a try, but I didn’t want them to have the same disappointment that I had experienced.  Besides, the pipe is just so darn pretty.  It has sat since unsmoked.

So, fast forward over three years to yesterday.  As I unwrapped the pipe I had this inkling of a premonition that the pipe would smoke well.  I don’t know how I knew this, but I did.  Last night I filled it up with Brindle Flake, the tobacco that I have been smoking a lot of lately, and fired her up.  Sure enough, the pipe smoked like a dream.  Initially there was just the faintest edge of the old acrid flavor, but as the flake kicked in it was soon gone.  The one thing that I have noticed is that the pipe’s airway seems very wide open, in fact almost too wide open, so I’m wondering if somewhere along the life of this pipe (my friend who sold it to me wasn’t the first owner) the pipe was opened up, a technique that has gotten to be popular, and in my opinion way overused. I suspect an amateur hand (not my friend) caused that shallow ditch in the mortise roof.  But in any event, it matters not as I now have my Ilsted back smoking like champ with the only tobacco that I will put in it.  I have no firm idea of what the story was with all of the issues, but I seem to have found the right balance for the pipe, a ritual that I will follow for as long as I own it.

This all goes to show about what they say about he who waits.


One Response to “He Who Waits”

  1. Nick Psaki said


    What a wonderful shape, and I am delighted the outcome was happy. I have seen Ilsted’s on eBay (in fact, I thought this was one I saw for sale last week), and have long thought very highly of his aesthetic sense.

    One day, I will off-load a lot of my miscellaneous pipes, and knock down one of the Great Danes.



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