162. Engineering the NAP Mouthpiece: Roundtable Discussion, Part 2
During the second half of the NAP Roundtable discussion at the West Coast Pipe Show in Las Vegas, Silver Gray (middle) and Brad Pohlmann (left) fielded questions from the vetting group about the engineering of Charles Peterson’s 2nd production Patent, the NAP.
Silver Gray: It took me about a month to make sure the mechanics were proper on it, which I could do because I had Gary Malmberg’s original. Getting the measurements and making sure they were going to work and making prototypes and looking at how long it’s going to be, how deep does it go. The whole shebang was meticulously thought out [by Charles Peterson], and because it is such an important piece of history to recreate, I wanted to make sure it was spot-on.
The first issue I ran across was the fitting of the stem into the stummel, into the mortise, because System pipes don’t have a standard two degree taper. I put a couple on the lathe, made them two degrees, went to put them in and they wouldn’t work. I had to enlist Brad’s help, “Mister Master Tool and Die.” He fit each one of these stems because it was a trick—not only do they come in at the mortise, then they flare out and then they flare back. It was a masterful piece of artwork for Brad to fit.
Brad Pullman: We were trying to recreate the heft of that iconic Peterson look. And with their new mortise hole, the way they’re making them now, it’s much smaller [than on the IFS mortise from the 1920s]. Even this 314 [from the Early Republic era]—it’s got to be an older pipe because the well is really well done. These are almost like a second drill-down, as an after-thought almost.
And consequently, this hole on my pipe is a much larger diameter to start with, so I was able to get a lot more heft on my pipe’s stem than I was able to get on your new production bowls. What I did is I fit the mortise as best I could, whatever angle it was, and then at the end of that angle, immediately where it ended, I tried to flare it out as much as I possibly could without making it look corny.
Andy Camire: Like they do with a space-fitting DeLuxe step. You’ve got to flight a taper so he can work it.
Silver: And on the new System bowls, the well isn’t as deep as it used to be. To accommodate the chimney on the end of the stem, it had to only go in so far. Each pipe had to be customized in length because some of the wells were deep and some were shallow. Each pipe had to be customized for not only the fit but the depth that it went into the mortise.
Brad: After you cut the blank out of the ebonite, then you’ve got to calculate those measurements and what is left to make sure you’re getting the length that you’re looking for on the rest of the stem after it’s sunk into the mortise.
Andy: It’s not like they’re making these on a CDC machine where everything is identical or repeatable.
Mark: I’ve been studying the history of Peterson’s System mortise engineering lately, one of Peterson’s current priorities is to return internal engineering to its earlier standards. They’ve already resumed in-house rustication and sandblasting, which had been outsourced since the company’s huge reduction in force in the mid-1980s and the loss of its bowl-turning department.
Internal evidence shows that mortise drilling on the System used to be a three-step process. The first one was to accommodate the Morse taper at the mouth, to fit tenon and mortise [hidden under the ferrule in the photo above]. The second drilling was a taper down to the top of the air hole into the chamber [notice the tenon extension has space around it and descends just below the air hole to the bowl]. The third one was for the reservoir, and often curled into the base slightly. They lost the third drilling at some point. Brad’s has this three-part drilling. When you look at the old System demonstrators, you can see how deep they are. They’ll go almost to the bottom of the heel. It’s amazing.
Brad: The second drilling down to the air hole has more of a taper than just straight up like your standard army-mount pieces. The tapered chimneys [the tenon extensions on the Premier and DeLuxe Systems] allow the moisture to flow rather than condense as much as it will on the blocked molded stem extensions.
Silver: What Brad did to compensate for his pipe and mine—we didn’t have anymore of the aluminum extensions—was make a little faux chimney to create a little more length and to reach down into that well a little deeper without the width of the actual stem itself. That was a nice touch.
A 312 Standard System, Made in England, c. 1950 (Gary Malmberg collection)
Silver: But as far as the button, having the original from Gary Malmberg was paramount to making it happen, to knowing what the button height was supposed to be. I tried to write it all down at one point. It was kind of lost in translation, how thick behind the button and wide the button itself was. And then the drill—what was the drill supposed to be and the cross slot, how wide was that? Having that original there was paramount to being able to recreate it. But each button took about four hours just for the button.
Shane Ireland: And that answers why they stopped doing it. Honestly. Even if Peterson wanted to do this, the cost to have this as an option would probably exceed a gold spigot. If you wanted to add the NAP stem to a Premier System, all of a sudden you have a $700 Premier System. I mean, there’s just no way.
Andy: Unless they could make a mold to replicate it.
Shane: It’s impossible to make them by trade, because you’re still going to have to drill this vertical slot, then drill the airhole from the other end by hand. It’s not possible to do this with a mold.
Andy: It would have to be cleaned up.
Rick Newcombe: Mark, do you know how many Peterson sold when they made them?
Mark: My sense of sales was that Charles Peterson pushed it as hard as he could during his lifetime, but the company didn’t sell a lot. The last one we’ve documented is Gary’s, from the Irish Free State era, which ended in 1927. That doesn’t mean we won’t find one that’s newer, but Charles died in 1919, although his second, Jimmy Malone, was there until the ’40s or early ’50s. But with Charles gone and Jimmy being factory manager, they may have just said, “You know what? We don’t have time to do this.”
Shane: It was probably a production decision.
Andy: If you want them, you’re just going to have to go through Silver.
Silver: My secret weapon is sitting right here next to me, because without Brad, it wouldn’t have been possible to get them fitted. I ruined stem after stem trying to get them to fit and it was just terrible. But he has the tool and die experience and the tools themselves, dating back to the early ’80s. Brad’s collet holder allowed me to cross drill and get the slot in without taking it out and relining it up. I was able to take it form one station to the next and get it accurate and clean.
Rick: Mark, Silver, and Gary all smoked the original one?
Silver: I did not smoke the original.
Rick: So only Mark and Gary smoked the original. And now you’re smoking Silver’s reproduction, Mark. Are they any different or are they the same?
Mark: They’re the same. But there are a few variables that you’ve got to take into account: Brad’s got a seasoned pipe, and I’ve got seasoned pipe at home as well as this new bowl. Which meant that, from the get-go, it was a bit more awesome in the seasoned pipe.
Shane: Mine are seasoned, too.
Mark: Having a pipe that’s broken in lets you focus more on what the NAP is doing. Having a wider mortise like Brad’s got on his pipe is the second variable. If you guys remember the Peterson culture back in the ’70s and ’80s, sometimes you’d see a DeLuxe System where the space-fitting stem was flushed to mortise, with no gap. That’s because everyone was trying to smoke their System enough to eliminate the gap—it was a kind of “cool factor.”
And sometimes people would artificially engineer this elimination of the gap. I happened to get a hold of one of these pipes from Mike Gluckler of Briar Blues, where a professional had actually champhered a ’75 Centenary Pipe so the space-fitting stem was flush to the mortise, which means that the tenon extension was as deeply extended as it can be. It’s an amazing smoker, the best P-Lip I smoke. I think part of it has to do with the wider mortise, but most of it has to do with getting that tapered tenon extension down further.
Rick: I have a question. You picked this bowl for the vetting group. Is this the only appropriate shape, or . . . ?
Mark: No, I chose a 312 simply because it was Gary’s original and I wanted to eliminate variables in our group experience, if possible.
Rick: Okay. So if I had a Mark Twain or something, and wanted to get a NAP mouthpiece made for it, you could do that?
Silver: Yeah. It takes a little more engineering. Shane’s 303, for example, was quite the challenge. His shank comes out. It doesn’t come up. It’s not quite the bend of the 312 or his 314. It was more difficult to get the right angle on the height of the fullness level before it starts flattening out. I had to re-engineer it a couple of times so that it would have a flow to it.
Shane: And then even then, you know, a company like Dunhill that’s historically been really good standardizing sizes and shapes and options and stuff like that, you’re still talking about using a tapered stem or a saddled stem. Well, none of that has anything to do with how it fits to the shank. You know what I mean?
Rick: If anybody wants a NAP reproduction, how do they go about it? Buy a Peterson pipe from Shane at Smokingpipes, then call Silver to get a stem made? How much do you charge, Silver?
Silver: Well, for a simple retro-fit [on an existing Standard or Premier System], I’m charging $250. But if you can get three or more guys together, I’ll knock $25 off, so $225. Because I’ll already be in the mode to do it. Something larger and more complicated, like a space-fitting mount for a De Luxe, would be a bit more.
Rick: How long does it take you to make one?
Silver: About four hours for the button, not including Brad’s time for the fitting. And then there’s the shaping and then the sanding. It’s quite involved.
Final Thoughts on Smoking the NAP
Rick: Are any of you experiencing dry lips from smoking the NAP?
Brad: I have.
Shane: I’m only getting that because we’re in Nevada I think.
Silver: I’m not getting it because I wear lipstick.
Brad: I’m smoking Capstan right now, no problem. But back home when I ran some Kendal Flake through it, the inside of my lip was like, dear god, bone dry.
Mark: I’ve experienced the same dryness, and after talking to James a few weeks ago, I’ve been making sure the button is back behind my molars, instead of up on the tip of my tongue around the inner lip.
Shane: When I started smoking Peterson Systems again, one of the things I took from the Peterson book was to tuck the tongue underneath the P-Lip shelf. And I’ve been smoking the NAP the same way, with the tongue underneath it. Instead of biting it right right behind the clamshell, I’m biting it back a little further, which also helps.
Todd Becker: Me too. In fact, I’m starting to get a little dental chatter farther down on my stem.
Silver: Wow. That’s good to know. Because then I could make it thinner back further.
Rick: I find the bite on this very comfy.
Brad: The through-hole going back here [behind the clamshell button] necessitates having a little bit thicker dimension in front of it, so that you have enough material that you don’t bite through it. It’s not a classic fantail artisan mouthpiece. If you get it that thin, you’ll go right into the air hole.
Rick: I’ve been smoking this bowl almost an hour, and I could probably smoke it another.
Shane: I may have said this earlier, but after saying that there’s a lack of resistance and so we’re slowing down our cadence, I think really what I’m noticing (other than the comfort) is that I feel like I have a lot more control. I think that’s really what it is. I have a lot more control over how much smoke I’m getting at a time.
Rick: And that it stays lit, too.
Brad: Is everybody noticing a difference in the after taste after you’re done with your smoke?
Rick: Nicotine. I really feel it.
Mark: I was saying earlier it’s a fuller taste, but that’s really what it is—more nicotine saturation.
Shane: I’ve been smoking this tobacco all day. It’s Brown Clunee, from ’85 or something like that. You’re all welcome to try it by the way. It’s not a heavy tobacco on its own. It wasn’t heavy when it was made. But in the other pipes, I was getting a little more sweetness and the flavor was maybe a little more flat. And in this, it seems a lot more intense. A lot more spicy.
The NAP Reproduction Pipe Box Brochure
If you’re interested in obtaining a NAP reproduction mouthpiece,
contact Silver Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to everyone who participated in the NAP Project
Roundtable photography by Marie Irwin
Additional photography by Chas. Mundungus
Special thanks to Truett Smith, lead copywriter at Smokingpipes.com,
for providing a transcript of the NAP Roundtable recording
My co-author Gary Malmberg
currently has a small Patent Amber NAP available, shown below.
If you’re interested, contact him at
email@example.com fpr more information.