On St. Patrick’s Day last I shared with you my co-author Gary Malmberg’s acquisition of an Irish Free State (1922-38) NAP System and how the mouthpiece functioned like nothing we’d ever smoked.
To recap, the NAP button, which Silver Gray has aptly dubbed a “clamshell,” radiates smoke through eight vents from five slots of 36º separation. Smoke is first felt from the side ports then radiates from the three central ridges of the button which extend above and below the lateral vent. Charles Peterson coupled this with his graduated bore in the stem, which moves from 1.5 to 5mm, and his patented reservoir, evidently giving much thought to the way flavor is distributed across the palate.
The traditional fishtail, which evolved in the early 20th century from a round hole at the end of the mouthpiece to a fan or channeled fishtail, pulls smoke onto the tip of the tongue, concentrating the tobacco’s flavor profile at that point. The 1898 Patent P-Lip pulls smoke to the roof of the mouth at a 45° and down across the entire palate, the tongue tip being tucked into the lower shelf. The NAP clamshell button can be positioned in front of the tongue or just as easily ride on the top of the tongue, but either way, much of the smoke is pulled out laterally into the mouth, with only a gentle whiff hitting the tongue’s tip.
This past Sunday, Silver Gray, American artisan and winner of “Best Pipe of Show” at last year’s West Coast (Las Vegas) Pipe Show, completed a numbered, limited edition of 17 NAP mouthpieces. The idea was simply to see how Charles Peterson’s 1906 design smoked by asking people from across the pipe-smoking community—hobbyists, artisans and industry reps—to try it, think about it in comparison with the P-Lip System and traditional fishtail mouthpieces and then talk about it.
The pipes will be shipped to their new homes in the next week or ten days, but until then I thought you’d like to see what went into creating the replicas, with photos courtesy of Silver Gray and Brad Pohlmann.
Making A Start
Silver had all the bowls and participant’s rod color choices by the middle of July. “Upon receiving all the pipes,” Silver told me, “I began by measuring the original from Gary Malmberg. I then determined the length of the stem, then the saddle height, the button height and length. The original’s mortise was much bigger [than current production], so I had to mathematically translate that to the current model’s mortise size.
I then began preparing the rods (which are all ebonite) by bringing them to size. I then had to figure out how to drill sideways… Thanks is given to master carver, Brad Pohlmann, for keeping his tool and die training equipment all these years! He had a piece of equipment that allowed me to keep the rod stationary for drilling! Afterwards, I had to figure out how to cut the tiny slot on the end of the mouthpiece. Once again, Brad’s tool and die equipment stash came into play.”
Drilling the Cross-ventilation Airhole
Silver asked each participant to choose from a variety of stem rods, as you’ll see in the finished mouthpieces, some of them made especially for her. The cross-ventilation airhole is at the heart of the NAP System, allowing air to come out from the left and right vent as well as three upper and three lower vents, which Silver will shape and cut later.
The second step was creating a prototype, something that would help Silver understand the engineering issues involved.
With the prototype made, Silver then gave each participant a choice of the two stem styles documented for the NAP, the “Retro,” a shouldered Peterson “A” mouthpiece (as seen on Gary’s IFS pipe) or the “Sherlock,” the tapered Peterson “AB” mouthpiece seen on Mario Lubinski’s amber-stemmed NAPs and reminiscent of the tapered System mouthpiece used by Basil Rathbone in the Sherlock Holmes films of the 1930s and ’40s.
Tapping the Threads for the Tenon Extensions
One of the most misunderstood aspects of Charles Peterson’s System pipes—both P-Lip and NAP—has to do with the screw-in tenon extension. It’s not a “stinger” nor a “condenser,” but merely a way to move the tenon more deeply into the reservoir. These were made of bone from 1891 until about 1963, when the company transitioned to aluminum. Tenon extensions, called “chimneys” by Peterson craftsmen, are part of the design of P-Lip De Luxe and Premier Systems and were part of De Luxe and Premier Classic Range pipes until the 1960s, both straight and enabling them to perform like Systems, as we discuss in The Peterson Pipe.
The great thing about the bone extensions was that there was no fluctuation in heat transfer—the bone being same ambient temperature as the vulcanite. Over time, however, the bone tenons would become tacky and even fuse to the vulcanite threads. This doesn’t happen with the aluminum tenons, but the downside of the aluminum is that it sometimes causes condensate and can make the pipe gurgle, especially during the break-in period of a new System. This doesn’t cause the smoke to become wet, but it’s annoying. Someday Peterson will figure this out and have their tenon extensions made of nylon, Delrin or some other non-heat conductive polymer.
The hazards of tapping threads
The Morse Taper
Never heard of a “Morse taper”? Well, neither had I, but you can read about it here. In slightly technical language the principle of the Morse taper is that of the cone in the cone. The trunnion (the stem or male portion) and the bore (the mortise or female portion) are both uniformly tapered. When the trunnion is placed in the bore—that is, the stem placed in the mortise—they come into intimate contact. Sounds kinda sexy, doesn’t it? The conical taper of the stem compresses into the walls of the mortise as it moves into it. Thus, the stresses inside the materials keep both components fixed together. And the better they fit, the less air turbulence is felt.
“When it was time to begin the taper to fit into the [mortises of the] existing stummels,” writes Silver, “I noticed that none of the current 312 model’s stems were the same diameter at the end, and each went a different depth into the mortise. I determined that a standard Morse Taper of 2 degrees (used by pipe makers drilling the stummel and making the stem at the same time) would not be possible.
“So, after messing up a couple of rods, it was again time to enlist Brad’s help. He was able to custom fit each rod to each stummel by using the stems dimensions that came with each pipe. It involved hours of work.”
Retro and Sherlock
By the end of the month, Silver had the buttons roughed in on the Retro mouthpieces and the Sherlocks tapered and tapped (the threads cut for the tenon extensions). Don’t ask about the secret process for drilling airholes in Silver’s pipes, whether graduated bore (as per Charles Peterson’s specifications) or her own. “Brad taught me early on to just say “Squirrel!” * when anyone asks about drilling.” That’s part of the magic of a Silver Gray or Brad Pohlmann pipe.
“I then took each rod to the grinding wheel,” said Silver, “and shaped the stems into the two designs—the Retro and the Sherlock.” She worked in batches, doing the Retro first . . .
. . . and then the Sherlock. Brad Pohlmann did the taper and bending on the Sherlocks, eager to recreate the beefy effect of the 1930s AB mouthpieces. He told me the taper was actually two tapers and had to be done in two stages to recreate the original effect, because the mortise on contemporary Systems is much narrower Systems from Basil Rathbone’s day.
After bending, Silver went back and worked on the upper part of the Sherlock bends, flattening them to create an even more pronounced effect.
Afterwards, says Silver, came “hours and days of sanding, laser engraving, more sanding, then final polishing.”
How Was the Original NAP Made?
I asked Silver and Brad about the engineering of the original NAP mouthpiece and whether they thought it was a strictly hand-cut affair. Silver said, “I have no doubt that the old NAP stems were hand cut. I also believe the reason they stopped making them was because of the sheer number of hours it takes. It wouldn’t have been profitable to add that many hours on top of a hand-turned stummel. That, combined with the loss of craftspeople who knew how to execute them, is probably why it disappeared.”
Silver’s Own “Clamshell”
“As far as making the NAP for others,” Silver told me, “Brad and I have discussed what it would take. If someone wants a Peterson System retro-fitted, I would charge $250 per stem. If the person can get three or more people together, I would charge $225 and do them as a batch. If someone wants just the button added to a pipe they’ve commissioned from me, the fee would be $125, as the button is half the project!”
I’ll be at the West Coast Pipe Show at the Briar Books Press table for the Peterson book and will also give a presentation on Peterson traditions lost and found. Silver and Brad and several members of the NAP vetting group will also be there to smoke their NAP replicas and talk about their experience. We hope you can join us!
NAP production photographs by Silver Gray & Brad Pohlmann
with thanks to Smokingpipes (Silver’s top photo)
and Mario Lubinski (amber NAP)
*Cf. Pixar’s Up! (2009). You know you need to watch it again.