Originally posted Friday, March 10, 2010
Earlier this week I received the above-pictured sandblasted pear from Jack Howell. I’ve been talking about getting this shape from Jack for years after having seen and admired a pear in my friend Ed Anderson’s collection.
Like many shapes that appeal to me, Jack Howell’s pears have a gestural, natural quality. Aesthetically, the shape’s long and curvy lines have been pared to the essential. Howell’s pear exemplifies the less-is-more concept.
Like Jack, himself, this pipe has a what-you-see-is-what-you-get character. Except for its subtle horn trim ring, the pipe’s aesthetic value emerges from its honey-combed and ridged briar contours. The horn’s color is so consonant with the stain that it nearly disappears. If it were not for translucent quality of the horn, refracting and reflecting light differently from the wood and ebonite surrounding it, it would be nearly invisible.
Jack’s sandblasts are exquisite. Every sandblasted Howell I own has a different blast character, and each of the styles is harmonious with the shape and tasked to the pipe’s character.
I am particularly struck by how much of Howell seems to show up in his pipes. Modest. Honest. Straightforward. Disciplined. There is also an exuberant quality, but it too is restrained. Jack’s pipes seem comfortable with themselves. If they were a movie character, they would be the strong and silent type. Gary Cooper comes to mind.
This pear is my ninth pipe from North American artisan Jack Howell, representing a comparatively significant commitment from a collection standpoint. So, why do I keep adding Howells to my collection?
First and foremost, I love the way that Jack’s pipes perform as smokers. To a one, they are sweet, articulate, and clean smokers. I prefer an almost imperceptible resistance in a pipe’s draw because I find that this engineering approach concentrates the tobacco flavors on the palate. That very slight resistance also helps moderate the burn zone temperature as the bowl doesn’t gulp oxygen, resulting in burning the natural sugars in the tobaccos. Reading this, it will come as no surprise that Jack’s pipes don’t smoke hot - something that is quite important to me.
Secondly, hand feel is a big deal to me. The tactile aspects of shape and finish influence how often I find myself reaching for a particular pipe. Sharp, angular, or unwieldy contours put me off. I know myself well enough to know that I don’t want to be distracted when I’m smoking my pipe. If I’m constantly seeking a comfortable way to hold a pipe, I tend to leave that pipe in the rack. The curved contours of the pear make it feel natural in the hand and its sandblasted finish efficiently disperses heat.
Third, Jack’s pipes are priced for real-world, working men like me. At $285, I bought this pipe without a smidgeon of guilt or hesitation, knowing that the value I will experience will far surpass many far more expensive pipes. While I have paid a lot more for some of my Howell’s, the air never gets too thin when it comes to price vs. value. I appreciate that.
Let me make one thing clear. Jack Howell doesn’t make cheap pipes. He makes great pipes and sells them at prices that make a great artisanal pipe accessible to people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. It makes me feel pretty good that I can pass Jack’s name along to someone who I know has kids with braces, tuition bills, a mortgage, a car that needs brake work, etc. - who loves pipes as much as I do. It makes me feel real good.
Fourth, Jack knows what I like. He listens. He pays attention. Once I made an off-hand comment about liking bigger buttons as they reduce the pressure I apply with my teeth when I’m clenching. A bigger button makes it possible for the pipe to hang in my mouth without effort. Ever since, Jack has been making the buttons bigger on pipes he makes for me. Similarly, he knows that I don’t like heavy pipes. Every pipe I get from Jack has had every extra millimeter of wood removed that is possible while maintaing the shape. This is the essence of what getting a tailor-made pipe means. It means that whomever makes a pipe for us listens and is responsive to our desires.
Those of us who know Jack know that he is also a renown flyfishing rod-maker. He literally wrote the book on the subject of making bamboo fly rods. My step-dad, who also crafts custom fly rods, received Jack’s book this last Christmas, thanks to Jack remembering that I wanted to acquire a copy for him. One day, late last December, one showed up on my doorstep. How can any of us overvalue a friend and artisan like this? This book is literally a treasure to my step-Dad and, while I can’t know how much Jack knows on the subject, my step-Dad has assured me that this is one fantastic and useful book. I can’t say that I’m even slightly surprised.
When any of us order a tailor-made pipe, it is very important that we know what we like in a pipe, how we smoke, our tobaccos of choice, our favorite finishes, and the extent to which weight and hand-feel matter. We also need to communicate those things so that we can get what we really want. There are reasons that we appreciate some pipes over others. In the commissioning process, we can help shape those ends.
Friday, March 12, 2010 - 09:11 AM
Neat pipe bud, and a great article.
Jack is an all-around stand up guy
Friday, March 12, 2010 - 11:17 AM
Having just seen this pipe in person, I can add my note of appreciation as well. It is a beautiful pipe indeed & looks like it will provide a lifetime of fine smokes. I am the proud owner of two Howell pipes (one was a commission) and these are unsurpassed in my rotation at any price level. Fine work from a great guy! Thanks, Neill, for letting us take a look at another gem.
Friday, March 12, 2010 - 03:30 PM
Neill, what a nice pipe and a wonderful tribute to a wonderful pipe maker.
I have 2 Howells with another on the way, and I have to agree, every aspect of a Howell pipe is simply amazing. I also agree that Jack takes the time to listen and he delivers in spades.
Saturday, March 13, 2010 - 04:54 AM
I’m very happy to read a beautiful article about Jack.
A great carver and a charming and interesting man.
Thank you Neill.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - 02:40 PM
Having been introduced so enthusiastically to Jack Howell’s work by you when we met, I can add nothing other than hearty confrimation of your assesment of the quality of Jack’s work. With three in my stable and another on the way, I now have enough direct experience to be able to give a hearty AMEN.
Thursday, March 25, 2010 - 03:30 AM
Neill, I could not agree with you more about the pipes and the man. Your pear is a pipe to make a blast junkie like me go into a cold sweat! The shape is superb, as I also enjoy the handfeel of a pipe as much as I do the aesthetics.
I”ve purchased 5 Jack Howell pipes and whenever I decide to pull one off the rack I get really excited. For all the reasons you have mentioned, I know I’m about to have an experience that transcends mere tobacco combustion. The fact that I also know it will be a superb smoking experience too is just icing on the cake!