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Our Design Process 

The first part of making a pipe is designing it, obviously. This process is a lot looser for me than it was originally, when I would try to elaborately plan out exactly what the pipe would look like when finished. These days, I will as often as not just start cutting and shaping a block, and let the inner life of the grain guide me toward whatever shape the pipe wants to be. I abandoned the complex planning process when it became apparent that briar was simply too unreliable a medium on which to base such detailed designs. Flaws and grain peculiarities crop up on a regular basis, and rigid design work can't cope well with this. I also prefer the less-restricted style of working because it's more stimulating to creativity and at the same time more in harmony with the wood.

Despite the above, design work is still a big part of what I do - just not in the same role that it once was. I still sketch pipes constantly, and invest a great deal of work in designing shapes with good airflow characteristics and visual appeal. However, now most of this designing occurs in a vacuum without specific pieces of briar in front of me. I simply draw out ideas for pipes of different grain patterns and let them accumulate.

These sketches come into play as I begin to work the wood. I'll usually pick several sketches that fit the block and the visible grain, and then narrow my choices as the pipe starts to come to life. In this way I have a pool of solid styles and designs to choose from, yet still retain the freedom to let the pipe become what it wants to.
Below are some sample sketches that give a decent idea what my design files are like.

Some sketches