Published: 15 April 2013
I lean dramatically to old factory pipes and am not much of an artisan pipe guy. Part of that is me rationalizing what I can afford, but at the same time I have paid artisan prices for a few of my old factory pipes. At the end of the day certain old English makes put a spell on me that doesn't wear off, and knowing this I put my money where I know it will keep making me happy after the acquisition. That, and classic English shapes are anything but dull for me. They are beautiful objects of utility that hit all my benchmarks; lightweight, shapes that showcase the interpretation of the shape and the grain, and generally excellent smokers. The slight differences between six different maker's billiards never fail to fascinate and attract me.
There have been pipe carvers that have caught my eye, but even when I see a pipe I like, if the whole catalog doesn't thrill me it kind of puts me off that pipe and I move along. There are only two contemporary pipe makers who pass that litmus test for me, and one of them is Chis Asteriou.
Chris is a young architect from Athens, and I first really became aware of his work through smokingpipes.com. Beginning seriously as a hobby pipe maker in 2007, his 2011 output was 19 pipes. In 2012, 51 pipes left his bench, and he plans on making around 60 in 2013. In addition to the Asteriou pipes you may find at smokingpipes.com and Massimo Musico's shop in Rome, Chris does accept commissions.
Much of Chris' work to date has been inspired by the English classics. I remember the first pipe of his that really knocked my socks off, a beautiful Liverpool at smokingpipes. Fantastic grain and lines that would have made Comoy's jealous. I actually had that kind of bank on account there at the time, and I agonized over that pipe and a Dunhill Chestnut billiard. I love that billiard but every time I smoke it I think of that Asteriou Liverpool and I will have to commision one from him at some point just so I can stop kicking myself for not buying it.
while back I asked Chris if he'd be interested in an interview, and he was more than happy to cooperate. So without further adieu, here is the inaugural Cake and Dottle Interview, Chris Asteriou:
Cake and Dottle: Chris, for a guy that is fairly young and hasn't been making pipes for that many years, you've chosen a very classic approach in paying homage to the English classic shapes. Most artisans follow the Danish school, to the point where many of these makers are nearly indistinguishable from each other. What prompted you to follow a different path and take a more English approach in your design?
At the beginning I was an Italian pipe enthusiast, drawing inspiration from Baldo Baldi’s and Paolo Becker’s work. At some point, I‘ve been fascinated by the billiard shape, I started to think that this might be the ultimate smoking machine and went to study proportions and scale matters.
In the ‘conquest’ of the perfect billiard, I realized that, for me, the early 20th century English factory ‘catalog shape’ pipes were the most elegant. I was thrilled to find so many proportionally different billiard shapes.
At the same time, some very interesting conversations took place, with an English pipe collector and friend of mine. The main subject was the English perspective in pipe making.
These conversations and the additional research made me to realize that those shapes were lost in time.
So, finally my aim was to make an English pipe, with vintage proportions but with cleaner contemporary lines. Besides, those are the pipes that I love to smoke.
The fact that I am fascinated to craft English shaped pipes doesn’t prevent me to love working with bamboo and with some Danish style pipes, as well.
C&D: I've seen a couple of your Liverpools. Allow me to heap some praise on you; your Liverpool is classically inspired, yet has its own unique lines and is as instantly recognizable as a Comoy's shape 30 or a Dunhill shape 36. I know you've used steel shank reinforcements at the mortise on some of your pipes. Do you only do this on shapes where the shank is more slender, or do you feel that the added reinforcement is just an all around good idea?
Chris: Of course a big inspiration is the Dunhill #36. The Liverpool is my favorite shape. As a pipe maker I try to explore the different possibilities given by the shank/mouthpiece length ratio. If you add the shank diameter, shank tapering, mouthpiece fishtailing and bowl height in the equation, you will end up with countless different shapes. It’s a very versatile shape. My personal approach to the classic Liverpool shape is with slightly lengthier and thinner shank, ending in a fishtail mouthpiece.
I use stainless steel tubes in the mouthpiece’s tenons for adding strength to the ebonite in all of my pipes. (There are very few exceptions without tube)
I make my tenons, traditionally, turned from the same stock as the mouthpiece and don’t use derlin. The mouthpieces are drilled with a taper 4mm drill. In pencil shank pipes, with shank diameter of 8-9mm, the tenon can’t exceed the 6mm, exterior diameter. The ebonite is very soft material and a tenon with 4mm, interior diameter, and 6 mm of exterior diameter, isn’t very steady. Adding a steel tube will make a slender but very firm ebonite tenon.
Besides the additional reinforcement, the steel tube is ‘reproduction’ of the legendary Comoy’s Blue Riband tenons.
C&D: It's obvious where you've drawn your inspiration from. Do you collect any of the classic English makes?
Chris: Apart from pipe making, my inspiration comes from industrial design and Architecture. It’s my profession, so there are some ‘rules’ that applies in both arts.
I have several old English pipes in my rotation. I try to collect Dunhill billiards and liverpools, but I don’t see myself as a collector, I prefer to be a pipe smoker.
I see some Dunhill, Orlik and GBD pipes in your Flickr uploads. Which classic makes have you taken the most inspiration from in making your own pipes?
Chris: I believe that Dunhill’s, especially the patent era of the early 20th century, are the best designed English pipes with the greater style. I have spent hours studying the catalogs and trying to understand why these pipes are so attractive to me.
On the other hand, a big inspiration is the elegant bowl’s contours of the Comoy’s. Also the silver banded early BBB pipes are great examples.
C&D: What is the most enjoyable aspect of pipe making for you, and conversely, what part of pipe making do you find the most frustrating?
Chris: The best part of pipe making for me is the mouthpiece and especially the bit-lip-slot area. I am an ebonite mouthpiece fetishist, spending a lot of time so as to make it comfortable. Another favorite is forming the shape in the sanding disc.
Drilling the block properly is the most frustrating part of the entire process.
C&D: You've made some very nice rusticated shapes. Any intention of adding a sand blaster to the shop?
Chris: My workshop at the moment is a very small room. A sandblaster will not fit. In the future and in a bigger space, I will certainly add one.
A sandblaster will give me the opportunity to explore a big chapter in English pipe making, the shell. For the moment I try to duplicate the craggy sandblasting effect with the rustic method.
C&D: The world has changed a lot in the last few decades as public sentiment has trended anti-tobacco. Great old pipe makers and historic tobacconists everywhere have disappeared. Is there a history of pipe smoking in Greece? How likely are you to see someone smoking a pipe in Athens today? Have some of the historic Athenian tobacconists managed to survive the times?
Chris: Greeks are heavy smokers… cigarette smokers. Pipe smoking in Greece was hip back in the 70s, but it only lasted about a decade. Nowadays pipe smokers are few. The truth is, that there isn’t any pipe smoking culture in Greece. The majority of pipes that are produce in Greece or sell in Greece are with 9mm filter and the tobaccos are mostly heavy cased- bad quality aromatics.
I can ‘mark’ two tobacco stores in Athens as ‘historic’. One of them still has a good selection of pipes.
Although, pipe smoking in Greece is not very popular, there is a very significant connection between my country and the pipe. Some of the world’s best briar wood is growing in Greece. We produce and export a large amount of briar. There are two briar mills.
Apart from briar you can find in Greece some high quality oriental tobaccos. Mc Clelland’s ‘grand oriental’ series use some of this tobacco.
is an excellent online vendor for both pipes and tobacco. How did your relationship with smokingpipes.com start?
Chris: For a couple of years smokingpipes.com was my favorite e-shop. The way they presented the pipes was perfect. The photos were very detailed, the descriptions were accurate and the amount of pipes, to choose from, huge. So, when I felt that I wanted to show my pipes to the pipe community, smokingpipes.com was a natural choice. I send them an email, talking about my pipe making, and then some pipes.
C&D: Name one of your contemporaries whose work you've drawn inspiration from and why.
Chris: From the very first beginning Italian Paolo Becker was my favorite artisan. I believe that Becker is the only one that designs the next generation of English pipes. Never before have the classic catalog shapes felt so fresh. His smart designs are a hybrid of English elegance and Italian neo classicism.
C&D: I agree regarding Becker. The strongest, most unique voice currently in pipe making.
There isn't really any room for error when you're making sleek interpretations of the classics like Chris is. In what I've seen from him so far, he can do anything he wants to. I just hope that as he continues to develop his own unique voice, these classic forms remain in his repertoire. A gentleman, and an impressive new force in the world of artisan pipes. I am very proud to have hosted this interview with him, thank you again Chris! New Asteriou pipes were posted the day of this interview, so go take a look!