240. “Project Sparkplug”: the NAP Patent Replicas Two Years On

In the early months of 2019, Gary Malmberg (my co-author for the Peterson book) sent me one of the most amazing Petes I’ve ever seen: an Éire 312 NAP System. He told me to smoke it a few times and let me know what I thought. One thing led to another and before many months passed we had a group of pipemen (and women) willing to smoke recreations of Charles Peterson’s extraordinary second Patent System from 1905, and off we went to the races. 1

As it’s been just a bit over two years since “Project Sparkplug”—as I called it, in allusion to Charles Peterson’s use of horse racing slang in naming his pipe—I thought you might find it interesting to hear how this unique Peterson has fared in the rotations of many of those who were not able to participate in NAP Roundtable discussion at the 2019 Las Vegas Pipe Show and two who were.

Craig’s NAP System 312

CRAIG HAIRRELL: I have been smoking my rusticated Peterson 312 NAP since I got it. Except for several months when I was unable to smoke my pipes, it has yet to rest in a display rack because it’s been far too busy. It has become my favorite everyday smoker and has a permanent spot in my pipe bag. I am a lover of Peterson pipes of all grades and eras and own far more of them than any other manufacturer, but this is the one I reach for when I want an effortless, cool, flavorful smoke. While it lacks the prestige and sexiness of many of my artisan pipes, the next owner will need to pry it from my cold, dead mouth. Of course, I am smoking it as I write, packed with Samuel Gawith Westmorland Flake—a wonderful, but little-known blend here in the USA. Complementing the tobacco is a pint of homebrewed cask ale modeled after Timothy Taylor Landlord, poured from an authentic British beer engine. A wee taste of heaven, even if I’m actually in Illinois.

Silver Gray’s work on this mouthpiece was astoundingly precise. I can only imagine the painstaking process behind creating such a complex button.

As for the actual smoking experience, I notice even greater dispersion of the smoke than from a fishtail, as the cool smoke seems to spread across the entire surface of my tongue. As you are probably aware, the human tongue has specific areas devoted to sensing sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness, and umami, which none of us had heard of twenty years ago. Without trying to avoid sounding hyperbolic, the NAP seems to help the smoke reach all of these areas, providing a fuller-flavored and more complex smoke. Meanwhile, the wide dispersion seems to cool the smoke and avoids the concentration of heat that can lead to tongue bite. The difference is not night and day, but definitely noticeable for me.

Thankfully, I very rarely experience tongue bite anymore, but if I am focused on something other than my pipe, I can still be bitten from time to time. When I am working, I will generally gravitate to a well-bent P-lip Peterson System pipe, as they hang effortlessly and the P-Lip’s top-mounted draft hole prevents tongue bite. The NAP provides many of the same advantages in this configuration. The 312 is lightweight and the rounded NAP button provides enough purchase to hang comfortably with only a light clench. Initially, I used a tape to protect this prized mouthpiece from chatter, but that has proven unnecessary.

One unavoidable negative with the NAP is that it requires a little greater care when cleaning. A pipe cleaner cannot pass through the tiny slot, so the stem must be removed from the pipe in order to insert the cleaner through the shank end. Cleaning the horizontal airway in the button requires a slender pipe cleaner like a Dill’s or Falcon, although the narrow end of a tapered cleaner may work as well. Finally, it is important to de-fuzz the pipe cleaner before use, because clearing loose fluff from the smoke channel is more difficult when you cannot pass a pipe cleaner all the way through the mouthpiece.

I am careful to thoroughly clean the exterior of my mouthpieces following a smoke in to remove the acidic residue from saliva, which significantly contributes to oxidation. This, combined with the high-quality rod stock which Silver used has prevented any oxidation to date, but I will need to buff with care when that inevitable day arrives. Buffing will likely require a bit more pressure and a loosely-sewn wheel to polish the bottom of the grooves. On the other hand, the NAP button does not have the steep angle found behind a conventional button. That is the area which is the hardest to buff well on a conventional mouthpiece. No problem with that on the NAP.

The narrow slot also prevents using a pipe cleaner mid-smoke to clear a draft hole clogged with tobacco or moisture. That is, IF it the NAP-style button had been applied to a mouthpiece with a tenon and the smoker adhered to the long-held pipe smoker’s maxim that “thou shalt not remove a tenon-equipped stem when hot.” This 312, however, is a military mount, so this is not an issue with this particular pipe.

I wish to express my gratitude to Mark Irwin and Gary Malmberg for pursuing this noble experiment. I feel extremely fortunate to have been included in the small group of testers. My thanks also go to Silver Gray, whose great skill and dedication made this project possible. Finally, thanks to Peterson and their parent company, Laudisi, for providing the Peterson pipes.

I will treasure my Peterson NAP pipe for the remainder of my days.

 

 

 

GARY MALMBERG: My NAP replicas get smoked maybe once a month, and I always look forward to smoking them. My tongue tip, which has been regulating air flow on fishtail lips since 1965, enjoys the curious feel of the bumpy NAP, and the dermal surfaces in my mouth, which became unresponsive to heat and flavor decades ago, enjoy the subtle dispersion of vapor escaping randomly through the NAP slit. I own a “Silvermade” NAP on a modern Peterson, a Silvermade NAP on a pre-WWII Peterson, and the deeply bit-into original K&P-made NAP mouthpiece from the latter, and all three stems smoke equally satisfactorily for me.

 

 

JOSH BURGESS: I started smoking my NAP System the December after they were produced. We were home from Dublin for Christmas and I was really eager to try it because I thought it was such an interesting project. Beyond my obvious connection to Peterson, I’m kind of a sucker for historical recreations. I smoked it a lot at first, but these days it mostly sits on the shelf, while I regularly reach for P-Lips and Fishtails. I thought the stem was well made and comfortable, but I didn’t enjoy the smoking experience. Unlike some others, I had the sensation of the draw being really tight. Over time, I realized that this wasn’t actually the case, but that the smoke was simply being more widely dispersed across my palate. So I was really thrown off by the fact that the smoke stream itself wasn’t as concentrated as what I normally experience. I never quite adjusted to that.

 

 

There are rumors that Mr. Pitt plans to endorse the NAP System.

LINWOOD HINES: I have continued smoking my NAP.  I love it!

I will grab this pipe because of the NAP stem more often than I should let the world know about – I would be afraid that some nefarious, jealous pipe guy would be led to a life of crime by breaking in and stealing it.

Perhaps just in this pipe (a System)–it freaking works!  I like it much more than a P-Lip, especially the modern ones.  It, as you know, definitely spreads out the smoke stream in a cascade of light smoke; it seems to heighten the taste of the tobacco, and it makes smoking cooler (in temperature–not culturally, unless Peterson could get Brad Pitt to endorse it) .

I would like to know what it would do in a typically made pipe, but I am afraid to find out because I would to retrofit all of my other pipes.

I do recommend that Peterson include such stems on at least higher-line System pipes, and hire more people for the onslaught of orders that will come.  Honestly, I love it.

 

 

Jim Amash, aka “JimInks”, legendary tobacco reviewer & comic book artist

JIM AMASH: I like the way the NAP bit distributes the smoke in my mouth. The bit is very comfortable and clenchable, although I do prefer the P-Lip, probably because I’ve got more than forty years of experience with it. Silver Gray, who made the stems, said the bit is fragile because of the thinness of the stem where I clamp down with my teeth. Because of this, I limit using the NAP stem to when I’m relaxing, reading or watching television. I prefer to clench when I smoke, so when I’m moving around, I use the extra P-Lip. Given all of that, I do recommend the NAP bit to those who don’t clench, and I enjoy it when I use it.

In regard to flavor tasting, it seems to me that with the extra distribution of smoke in the mouth, I capture a few more nuances from the tobaccos than I do with the P-Lip. That is a plus if you are smoking a complex blend. Whether it’s a straight Virginia, a VaPer, a burley based blend, aromatic, English or American English, the NAP bit gives me what I am looking for in a smoke. The NAP bit doesn’t make my smoking experience hotter or cooler no matter what genre I am smoking in a pipe. Comfort is what we look for in a pipe, and I get that with the NAP bit.

 

 

SAMUEL CHESHIRE: I still have the NAP pipe and smoke it from time to time. I keep it at the brick & mortar shop where I work as an educational tool for new pipe smokers interested in Petersons. I don’t think it does well with my favorite blends. I’m finding that it produces a large amount of air flow, and as my preference is VA flake, I find it hard to use the NAP as these blends overheat quickly. I still find that my trusty P-Lips preform better for VA flakes. I do think the NAP works exceptionally well for latakia blends and aromatics. When smoking the NAP with an aromatic I never get tongue bite. The mouth feel is great and didn’t take long to get used to. Cleaning can be a bit frustrating as it’s hard to get a pipe cleaner in through the tip.

 

 

JORGEN JENSEN: In 2002, Hans Oddvar (who lives up north in Norway) brought a photocopy of an old Peterson catalog from America. “It’s not interesting,” Hans said, “there’s only photos of pipes. You can have it if you want it.” I did.

I never get tired of looking at the 1906 catalog, and it’s especially great to flip to page 117: “Petersons Latest, a Triumph over Nature”—“Smoke Peterson’s NAP!” I have often turned to that page in subsequent years, and when Mark asked me if I would join a group of NAP smokers it was a wonderful surprise.

When I got mine, I just looked at it for several days. Then I fired it up and smoked it hard for a number of days, which is my usual strategy with an unsmoked pipe. I’m up to 83 bowls at last count, and the pipe is more than broken in, with a great carbon cake.

I like the pipe and the way it smokes, and while I can’t give an academic explanation for it, to me the word that comes to mind is soft. It’s a very soft smoking experience.

I keep my NAP on the sofa table in its box with its original papers along with nine unsmoked, mostly Deluxe Systems, as there’s no more room for pipes in the madam’s old and lovely family furniture. Being within reach like this, I often pick up and look it and every now and then have a bowl.

I would recommend the NAP to any pipe smoker at any time, although I doubt there are enough Pete Geeks to make commercial production a possibility.

 

 

MARK: For me the NAP System has been a holy grail, at least in the sense that I never thought I’d ever be able to smoke one, let alone companion one. It’s not my everyday smoke, but it’s got a definite place in my rotation. I especially enjoy it when I know I can stop and just smoke it, without the distractions of a movie or a book—so it’s a real companion for a contemplative smoke. It consistently delivers an amazing flavor profile, but I find I need to smoke carefully, with a slow cadence, paying attention to what it can deliver. I don’t like to clench it, not only because I don’t want dental abrasions on Silver Gray’s work, but because I need to place it a little further in my mouth than a P-Lip or fishtail. What also amazes me is just how far a bowl of tobacco goes when smoking the NAP. I seldom pack more than half a bowl, and even that will last me what a full bowl would with a P-Lip. So—my thanks yet again to Charles Peterson, whose genius designed, executed and made available such a pipe; to Gary Malmberg, who found one and shared it with me; to Silver Gray and Brad Pohlmann, whose artistry and engineering savvy brought off the replicas; and to the group of willing conspirators who took up the challenge, smoked it and gave their opinions on their experience.

 

One final note: Silver Gray has placed the NAP in her repertoire, which tickles me no end. For SPC’s 7th Annual American Pipe Making Expo a few weeks ago, Silver sent not one but two of her exquisite creations with the NAP mouthpiece:

Smooth Canoe with NAP Stem

 

Sandblasted Eskimo Egg with Mammoth and NAP Stem

 

If you’re interested in adding  a K&P NAP System [you provide the bowl] or one of Silver’s own NAP creations to your rotation, you can contact her through her webpage and the usual social media. I believe she may still be offering group discounts when 3 or more pipes are commissioned at the same time.

1 If you’re new(ish) to the blog or to the World of Pete Geekdom, you can catch up on the history of Charles Peterson’s other System pipe and how it came to be recreated in posts #124, 144, 160 and 162.

 

Photos of Silver Gray pipes courtesy Laudisi.
Many thanks to the Pete Geeks who contributed to this post
and the NAP vetting project.

Continue Reading 240. “Project Sparkplug”: the NAP Patent Replicas Two Years On