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Mikhail Revyagin, 2008.
Workshop

My workshop is set in a trailer, which looks more like a living room than a workshop inside. It can be viewed on my web-site or, simply, by searching “Revyagin” on youtube. It’s located in Moscow. I spend five days a week in there. I am “nocturnal”. I usually work nights, as creative work requires loneliness. I return home to my family for two days a week.

Background & History

I was born in the city of Grozny, Republic of Chechnya in 1972. In 1992 the war forced me to leave. As a Chechen refugee upon settling in Moscow, I had to try a few different jobs including driving a taxi for two years until I was able to buy a small apartment in a Moscow suburb and a car. None of the jobs I held were “mine” and, finally, I found an answer right under my nose! I was already smoking a pipe and usually smoked clenching it in my teeth. Smoking a pipe while driving a taxi made me think a lot about pipe balance and at some point I decided to make a pipe myself.

Difficulties & Obstacles in the Beginning

Most beginner pipemakers experience the same main and biggest obstacle – poverty. Everything else is secondary.

Was it difficult to find the right tools?

Russian proverb says: “Those who search shall find”. I cannot say that it was difficult. In time, I found everything I needed, adding new tools and new practical methods for their application.

How did you learn to make pipes?

At first, I used to buy cheap briar pipes and had them re-worked. Then, advertised myself as a repairman to Moscow pipe shops. A good school for a pipemaker. I am a self-made pipemaker. It is my philosophy and an issue of principle to find solutions to problems presented by the craft by myself.

Source of Briar? Thoughts about Briar Quality?

I buy all of my briar from Jaume Hom company in Catalonia, Spain. The company is operated by the father and son. We understand each other very well and I thank God for the chance to meet these two professionals.
There is only one briar criteria that is important to me – briar beauty. I never considered briar origin to be very important and never asked Jaume Hom about it. I don’t really believe in the widely-accepted legends about Corsican briar superiority over briar from other origins and about advantages of long aging of briar. The grain tells it all. I consider myself a real briar maniac. All of my inspirations come from the block of briar in front of me.

Design Philosophy

In my mind, briar draws a parallel with an ancient Greek myth about Prometheus, who gave people the gift of fire and who was, in turn, punished by Gods for stealing it. Likewise, briar is giving carvers a gift of beautiful grain and, for that, punishes us with its hidden flaws. I look at briar as a living organism (I guess you can call me a Pagan worshipper, laughs). Pipe-maker is a part surgeon, in part mine-sweeper, archaeologist, sculptor-miniaturist… Briar doesn’t like to give the shape out right away. I have to fight for it, take risks and be prepared to loose… Jewelers have an expression – “romancing the stone”. I romance my briar trying to guess and free up the only right shape that is hidden inside the block.

How Many Pipes Do You Make per Year?

Every month I make about five pipes (60 a year would be the good number). My web-site has a catalogue of pipes made in 2006, 2007 and 2008, where each pipe has its date of birth.

Pipe Finishes

100% of my pipes are smooth. I don’t use a grading system.

Time to Finish a Pipe

I never start and finish one pipe right away, preferring to leave and set it aside once started. I usually work on 30 pipes at the same time. Each pipe has its own «pregnancy term» from one month to one year. My pipes grow like crystals. Sometimes I «forget» about them for a while and then come back to finish them months later…

Approach and Methodology of Pipemaking

All my pipes are completely hand-drilled. I don’t use electric drills of any kind. Manual drilling has a lot of importance to me, as it gives more freedom to my sculpting techniques and helps me develop my own system of images. I actually dislike all electric machines in general. The only part of the pipe that I drill on a wood-lathe is a mouthpiece tenon. Even tobacco chamber is being finished using a Dremel tool. Sometimes I cut my tobacco chambers asymmetric. I think this method opens carver’s design possibilities for discovering new shapes.

Revyagin Pipes

Is pipemaking a full-time job now?

Of course! Pipemaking is not my hobby. It is my life now! I am a happy man being able to do what I love. I don’t need any other hobbies or jobs.

How many years have you been carving pipes?

8 years.

Which life experiences helped (and still helping) you in pipemaking?

Patience. Lots of patience. (laughs)

Mouthpieces

I always cut my own mouthpieces from scratch. I consider using pre-cut mouthpieces as cheating the craft of artisan pipemaking.

I mostly cut stems from German vulcanite rod; less frequently from Cumberland. I prefer German vulcanite.

Bowl coating

I coat bowls mostly for the photography; they do LOOK better carbonized (laughs). I don’t consider bowl carbonization to be a very important contributing factor to a good pipe smoking experience. My coating recipe is not a secret – I mix carbon with quail egg-whites. This coating is tasteless and can be easily washed off if not wanted by a smoker. I usually coat all pipes unless there’s a special request not to… or I was too hungry and ate all of my quail eggs (laughs)…

Thoughts on Pipe Engineering

Smoke channel diameter is an old (and, frankly, quite boring) argument to me. In my pipes, I use 4mm, 4.2mm and 4.5mm depending on other design factors of each particular pipe. My own smoking preference is 4.2mm.

For some time, I was also very interested in hand-made system pipes with titanium cooling inserts. These pipes were designed with an idea similar to the one used in the Falcon system pipes. Falcon pipes are more of a practical smoking instrument with the system visible from the outside. My titanium system pipes looked the same as normal artisan hand-mades with the entire titanium spigot system hidden inside the shank.

There’s always been a lot of controversy and different opinions amongst Russian pipe-smokers about the design and look of my lip buttons. See, I view the button as part of artisan’s trademark. I came to this design after much iteration. Each one of my buttons takes at least two days to finish. I consider them very comfortable with the thickness of 3.2. to 3.5 mm at the bite area.

Favourite Shapes

I love classic shapes, especially elegant classic shapes, where the diameter of the shank-to-bowl joint is no more than 12 mm (1/2”), such as billiards and Canadian billiards. The contour line of shank and stem should form a nice uninterrupted line. Such design requires complicated and skillful hand-drilling. I also like freehands. Lately, I make more freehand pipes trying to crystallize my own “line of pipe imagery”.

Horn is my favourite shape of all times. I consider this shape to be the most difficult to make. Horns made by Bo Nordh were my strongest inspirations in developing design style. I think I was successful in not only “copying” Bo’s horns, but also developing my own horn engineering (the order of drilling and the use of double drilling). I named this evolved horn an “Elephant Trunk” – it has a wider base and significantly lighter weight. The most challenging (and interesting) thing for me in making an Elephant Trunk is being able to hand-drill the mortise. Once I’ve developed this methodology, I stopped making “regular” horns and only carve Elephant Trunks now. Noteworthy, my double drilling in the shank is very smooth and pipe-cleaner passes through with no difficulty at all. I use special tools utilized by jewelers that allow me to polish the transition inside.

My other (most recent) love is what I call a “grotesque-bulldog”. It’s funny, in the beginning, I was avoiding bulldog shape in general because I dislike using wood-lathe; yet hand-cutting bowl grooves on a bulldog was just too scary a thought. But when I was able to overcome this fear, the first trial was surprisingly accurate. I even polished the grooves inside.

Now about the “grotesque” part. See, since it’s possible to cut symmetric shapes and grooves, then it should also be possible to cut asymmetric grooves; they can be cut crossing each other, spiraling etc. Hence; my idea of asymmetric bulldogs as an implementation of my pipe-making motto, which I can summarize as ‘Back to the Past!” My own pair of hands is my only “programmable wood-turning lathe” (laughs)

Design Inspirations

My designs are tightly connected to the briar grain following the best Danish design traditions. Briar grain as a kind of God’s template that I feel I have to follow. As a kid, I used to read a lot about Vikings and their ship-making techniques; they used similar approach when cutting logs for their ships…

Do you work alone?

Only alone. I can’t even think of letting someone else do something with my pipes…

What do you like the most about pipemaking?

I guess pipemaking gives me the greatest opportunity to do a lot of things that I like simultaneously. Making a pipe, smoking a pipe, listening to classical music or audio-books, learning languages… combining self-improvement and education with my favourite work…

What do you dislike the most about pipemaking?

Briar dust and pain in my hands used to frustrate me a lot. However; good air cleaners and humidifiers resolved the first problem. Experience took care of the second problem. I learned to distribute manual force better and relax my hand muscles. Better technique replaced having to use unnecessary (and exhausting) manual pressure. I am quite satisfied now.

Selling Pipes

Most of my pipes are sold in Russia. A few were sold to German pipe collectors. I don’t really market my pipes to anyone. A lot of marketing would result in more orders. More work is a mixed blessing. I am worried that it could potentially disturb my creative cycle. Language barrier is also a factor.

Pipe Shows

Undoubtedly, pipes shows can be very useful in pipemakers development. In 2007, for the first time, I went to the Slow Pipe Smoking Championship and Pipe Show in St. Petersburg. I haven’t been able to get to other venues yet because of their relatively high costs.

Interesting People

In St. Petersburg, I met Rick Newcombe. His book “In Search of Pipe Dreams” made a big impression on me. I recall being “knocked-down” by a photograph of Bo Nordh’s horn in that book. I’ve never seen such a harmony and technical difficulty complementing each other so well! Too bad I couldn’t speak to Rick more because of my poor English.

I noticed people smoking a pipe usually have higher level of intellect; hence, knowing pipe-smokers normally enriches person’s own intellectual level in addition to just making a lot of friends.

What do you smoke yourself?

I only smoke pipe holding it in my teeth and only when I’m working.

Smoking Bans? Future of Pipemaking?

I think that smoking bans will somehow affect the larger pipe factories and high-volume pipemakers. It’s likely that the number of utilitarian pipe-smokers is on the downtrend, because of all of the propaganda and anti-smoking buzz. But my market is clearly a smaller world of artisan pipe collectors. Collecting is more related to arts, and it’s going to be very difficult to prohibit collecting art. So, I’m an aggressive optimist! (laughs)

What would you like to change in the modern pipemaking process?

I am actively looking for new engineering designs, methods and techniques, which, in turn, could result in new shapes made entirely by hand. Old and proven pipe engineering is good, but it needs to develop in time. “Elephant Trunk” and “Bumble Bee” designs are the examples of my principally new shapes.

What would you like to change in your pipemaking process?

Nothing in technical sense, really… If anything, I’d wish to improve my living conditions and travel a bit; maybe having an opportunity to work somewhere else…

© 2012 Mr. Pipes Art Pipes by Michael Revyagin