329. IPSD 2023: Austin Quinlan, Peterson Craftsman & Artisan Pipe-Maker
HAPPY IPSD 2023!
To celebrate IPSD, I’m delighted to offer you an in-depth conversation with with K&P’s Austin Quinlan, a craftsman of enormous talent and energy as well as some video links to Peterson documentaries. Austin and I met via the blog last year and since then we’ve back-and-forthed on favorite Petes, tobaccos, pipe design and his work as an artisan pipe maker. So light your pipe, grab your cuppa and enjoy! (Oh, and there’s important news on the Pete Geek lighters at the end of the post.)
How did you get into pipes?
I’m a Dubliner, born and bred. I began smoking a pipe 13 years ago, in 2010. I had taken to reading Conan Doyle (big surprise there) and wondered what was so all-consuming about this pipe-smoking malarky that has the protagonist puffing away endlessly, and unable to solve any case without his trusty briar! Which was something I only ever thought about when, on the odd occasion, I would see a gentleman on the street pass me by and wonder what that intoxicatingly delicious aroma was coming from his pipe (which, now, upon reflection, could only have been Condor). So, I popped into JJ Fox across from Trinity College, and bought my first pipe. A Peterson (would you believe!?) Aran-stained straight billiard, and a tin of Sherlock Holmes burley tobacco, and that was it. Sold. Sign me up.
Austin’s Patent apple
What followed was a love affair. I think pipe smoking serves as an antithesis to modern life. It’s not fast, it’s not quick, pipes aren’t made with machines churning them out every second. They’re crafted things, made by people, with the intention of lasting many years, and many decades (as I write this, I’m smoking a Peterson Patent straight apple that’s 120 years old). And you need to stop for a second and take the time to smoke pipes, to pamper them to stay lit, and simply switch off from the fast-paced go-go-go modern world. It creates time to think, time to contemplate. And, moreover, it keeps craft alive. Craft is such a wonderful thing to behold, and when someone truly loves what they make, even more so. And we need to do everything we can to keep it alive. Also, there’s a hell of a lot of tasty tobacco out there to be smoked!
What’s it like to be a pipe smoker in Ireland?
There aren’t many pipe smokers here anymore. I imagine it was great when pipe smoking was so ubiquitous. Pipes and tobacco everywhere you looked. And of course, I wish they were as readily available as the once were, but how it is these days has also created an amazing network of close-knit pipe smokers who many count on as friends. Groups like the Pipe Smokers of Ireland, or the Peterson Pipe Notes community, where we all share our love of pipe smoking and Peterson pipes—where we get to experience the excitement of a new limited edition group pipe, or someone in the group’s new acquisition they’ve been wanting for so long. I think these are some of the things to cherish when thinking about what it is to be a pipe smoker in Ireland today. Even though pipe smokers are fewer, the passion of those few seems to outweigh that there are less of us.
So do you smoke many Petes?
Of course! Petes are the bread and butter of my collection. I think I must have about 40 that I’ve really trimmed down to be my favourites. I’ve also got six or seven artisan pipes from Grechukhin, Tom Eltang and Dunhill. It’s been a lot of years of trial and error figuring out what I like versus what I’ll actually smoke. And as painful as it can be sometimes, I have to let some pipes go if they’re not being smoked. Big chambers I can’t handle. I’ve a 150th anniversary Oom Paul that I love but has a 55mm deep chamber and I just can’t smoke, but it’s such a nice pipe.
I’ve always loved the aesthetic of Peterson pipes. Classic, chubby, durable. I’ve a few straights, but they’re mostly bents. Bent apples are my favourite across the board. The 3s and its variants is probably my absolute favourite, then shapes like the 20s, Baskerville (probably as big as I can go chamber-wise), 2s, 4s, and its smaller cousin the 11s. I also have two silver Systems from the 1940s that are made in England in the 313 and 314 shapes and they are little smoke machines. It’s hard to narrow it down because there are so many great Peterson shapes, especially with some of the new lines we’ve been bringing out like those in the Charles Peterson Collection.
How did you get started at K&P?
I was laid off at the start of the lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic in early March 2020 and spent three months unemployed. Like everybody else, I had a lot of time on my hands, which for me was largely spent with my pipes. I ended up joining some of the Facebook groups like PSOI and the Peterson group and became more active on them.
One day, I saw the post that would change my career entirely: Glen Whelan was advertising a position in the Peterson factory. It was strange, considering I had only just said I wish I could just play around with pipes all day as a job only a few weeks before. I applied and got an interview. I immediately got along with Glen Whelan, Johno Fields and Maggie Pym. As you might have guessed, I got the job! I’ve been there a little over two years now.
Where all have you worked since entering service?
I started in pumice and buffing, studying under Kieran, buffing the stems of paper marks and back then we took the stain up for the finishers. These days the finishers do that, and buffers take out the paper marks on the stems. I had a knack for it, and soon helped a little in Finishing whenever they needed a hand, which soon lead to me being moved to Finishing. I was Head Finisher for just under a year, while picking up as much as I humanly could in as many areas as I could. A little bending here and there, a little staining—I wanted to learn everything so I could be useful wherever needed.
These days, my main responsibilities are papering, bending, as well as head of repairs. And recently I’ve also taken on Quality Control and the Estate Restoration Department for Smoking Pipes Europe, which I’m very excited about considering it’s close to what I loved doing so much at home during the Pandemic.
A typical workday is day-to-day dependent, but oftentimes my mornings start with papering and bending. I’ll try to clear as much as possible before switching over to QC for the entire afternoon. And then the likes of the repairs, estates, and other bits get thrown in here or there throughout the week. The variety is what I love most, being as useful as I can, in as many places as I can, and never having a day that’s the same.
What’s it feel like working for the world’s oldest continuously-operating briar pipe company?
Sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself of everything this company has done and achieved, and how amazing it is to be a part of it. When I first started in Sallynoggin, my commute would have me get a bus to town, and then out of town. And each day I’d pass the old K&P building on Bachelor’s Walk, just off O’Connell Street. You could see the original boarding on the top of the building still with Kapp & Peterson LTD scrawled across in white paint, as well as the KP plaques on the doorways. It served as a great reminder of how rich the company’s history is, not only in pipe making, but in Irish history.
The Bachelor’s Walk K&P sign off O’Connell Street (2013)
Not to mention how much of an inspiring character Charles Peterson was. It would have been amazing to meet him back in the day. The closest I can get is our Joe Kenny, one of the last links to Charles himself, which of course you know. Joe was trained by Paddy Larrigan, Paddy Larrigan was trained by Jimmy Malone, and then Jimmy was trained by Charles Peterson himself. So I try and learn as much as possible from Joe, and he’s always so happy to teach. The likes of Joe, Martin O’Brien, and Tony Whelan are such treasures. I always love picking their brains about what production has been like over the decades they’ve given their service. Especially Tony, having worked in the Stephen’s Green factory, which I would have loved to work in. I’d only have to walk 25 minutes from home. I do very lucky to be working for a pipe maker whose product and history I’m so passionate about.
You said you’re now head of estate restorations at the factory. Did you do that at home before working for K&P? Do you have any refurbishing tips for us non-professionals?
I’d always bought new pipes, but during lockdown, I took to buying old Petes and Dunhills and trying to fix them up. What I do at home isn’t nearly as thorough as at work. At home I focus on the inner workings of the pipes, as opposed to the appearance.
A Darwin B42 restored by Austin at the factory
Something I always liked about estate pipes is when they look old, not nasty, but well loved, ones that have been clearly used but also cared for over the years. The best thing to do when learning restoration is keep it simple. Buy yourself some 99% isopropyl alcohol, a reaming kit and some bristle pipe cleaners. If you want to go a bit extra, grab a shank brush and a mortise brush. Then it’s just a matter of cleaning it up, doing a salt/alcohol treatment on the bowl and a little lick of carnauba wax, some obsidian oil for the stem, and boom, you have your new smoke machine. After the clean up, just a little TLC to keep it the pipe going for many cherished decades. (Or a few weeks till you see something prettier and trade it in!).
I’m very OCD when it comes to keeping my pipe clean. I always clear it out after a smoke, use two pipe cleaners to clear out the stem, shank, and chamber, then give it a rub down with a polishing cloth. I drive myself crazy sometimes because I cycle between clenching and cradling. I think “Yeah, feck it, these things are meant to be used!” and clench, then switch over to “Nooo, I can’t have bite marks on the button, it needs need to be pristine!” and go over to cradling the pipe in my hand. Which often leads me to buff out the button out and stop clenching. It’s mainly on the artisan pipes, I confess, since some of them aren’t made to be clenchers. Petes, on the other hand, are made for clenching.
So tell me about the Deluxe 4 you’re clenching in the banner photo. I get weak knees looking at it and have to sit down.The band, the stem, and bowl, just incredible.
Austin’s Tapered Mouthpiece
It does have a weak-knee effect, for sure. I’m sorry to have done that to you. The 4s Deluxe is one of my favourite shapes. I scored it on eBay by chance for a steal. There’s no hallmark on the silver, so it’s from the 1930s-60s.
The original hand cut saddle mouthpiece
I call what happened to you “the Tapered Stem Effect.” Normally I lay out a pillow when I finish work on swapping the stems over to a taper because I become so overwhelmed by the sheer beauty, I fear I’ll drop it. It’s the result of using a modified John Bull stem, so I could put a taper push on it rather than the original saddle. The tapered B is is my absolute favourite mouthpiece on a Pete, and whenever I get a Pete with an S saddle I almost always swap it out with one of these.
The mortise hole is so fucking massive that when using the lathe to cut the stem back, I barely had to shave anything off, so you can still see the mold-marks from the stock stem.
The original saddle stem is hand cut with a bone condenser, very well made. The thickness at the button is about 4mm, like Paddy Larrigan says in the RTE documentary. As for the silver, I think this must have been Liam Larrigan’s work. They used sheets of silver back then as opposed to ordering on pre-measured rings like we do now. So customization was easier to do on the fly. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say Liam always tried to match the length of the band to the length of the saddle, because if you look, they’re the same. I’ve seen this on one or two other Petes I’ve spotted on eBay from this era. The chamber is perfect size for Virginia/VaPers.
First fruits of a fertile mind: some of Austin’s earliest work
You’ve begun making your own pipes. How did that come about? Do you work on them at home or up at the factory after hours, or both?
I’ve have always been obsessed with all things creative. My family are rather diverse like that. Some artists, some musicians, a few factory workers too. They’ve always insisted when I was growing up that I should only ever do what makes me happy, for which I’m very grateful.
I think the earliest creative direction I took was drawing. As soon as I could hold a Crayon I was away in another world, scribbling endlessly. Then my uncle put me onto music (especially the oldies like Guns ‘n’ Roses, Zeppelin, AC/DC), and subsequently playing guitar—not . And not to mention reading and movies. I blame him for the sheer number of hobbies I have! He was a very influential person to me growing up. He even brought me to my first concert when I was 13. I’ll never forget it. Metallica with support from Linkin Park. I can still feel the heat from the pyro they used. My musical taste was sealed from that day on, and my eardrums have never forgiven me since from all the shows I’ve been to!
[PSA: In case you were off-world, Metallica’s new album, 72 Seasons, is out April 14th.]
I’ve always been a very curious person, about almost everything—passionately curious, as Einstein says. These days, I’ve more hobbies than time. But I’ve always been obsessed with craft. I love craftspeople and seeing what they do in whatever their field. I can’t tell you how many times I get sucked into a YouTube rabbit hole watching mini-docs of Japanese wood workers, or ceramicists, or watch makers. Even ink makers! The Japanese have such a respect for craft, it’s inspiring and I find it very motivating. I’ve had various jobs, but aside from this, my longest career was in the Specialty Coffee field. Which is kind of like a sommelier but for coffee. I’m still as geeky with coffee as I was when in the industry, and even though I’m not behind the bar anymore, there’s always a cup of coffee with me whether I’m at work or smoking a pipe.
A rusticated apple, one of Austin’s first creations
My own pipe making began after working in the factory for a while. I became more interested in making pipes from start to finish, how it went from block and rod to a fully-functional piece of art. So I did a load of Googling and YouTube-ing as I always do and came across artisan pipe making. I hadn’t seen anything like it, all these odd shapes and crazy concepts, but also the classic shapes with insane precision.
Another great Austin creation with fabulous paisley
One name that kept coming up was Tom Eltang, which then began a new and wonderful rabbit hole to very eagerly dive into. I started looking at pipes by Sixten Ivarsson as well as Lars and Nanna. Then I went to the other Danish masters, artisans like Jess Chonowitsch, Former, S. Bang. Soon after I came across Hiroyuki Tokutomi, Kei’itchi Gotoh, and Vladimir Grechukhin, and they quickly became huge inspirations.
A Tom Eltang Smooth Bent Dublin with Golden Contrast Stain (SPE)
I saved for ages and finally bought my first piece, a Tom Eltang bent Dublin in his signature Golden Contrast stain, from SPC, and it was worth every penny. The grain, the shape, the draw, the stem, it was amazing. I then decided to pursue high grade artisanal pipe making.
The “Pillbug”: another one of Austin’s first efforts
I had a lovely (and very well-respected Italian artisan) in the form of Giacomo Penzo at the factory who was more than willing to take me under his wing and guide me on my journey. I owe a lot to Giacomo and consider him a great friend for being so humble and forthcoming with his knowledge of pipe making. There aren’t enough tins of tobacco I can repay him with! He’s been an amazing teacher and has spring-boarded my progress by his guidance. He’s allowed me to make valuable mistakes but also saved me a lot of silly ones.
Some fantastic shaping here
When we were in the process of moving from the Sallynoggin factory to the new one at Deansgrange, a few rogue blocks of briar were unearthed from back in the day when Peterson turned blocks in house. The lads were gracious enough to allow me to use them to practice, so I bought some vulcanite rod and away I went. That was in April 2022. I’ve made mine pipes since then, with the tenth just completed not long ago. The first three were old Pete blocks, and since then I’ve used briar from Mimmo. You should have seen the smile on my face when I got my first box of briar from Mimmo, it was like Christmas Day.
Two of Austin’s recent blasts
It’s been amazing looking at the difference that comes with each pipe I’ve made. Each one coming with mistakes that I learn from and rectify in the next pipe I make. It’s hard not to go back and pick them apart with things you wish you’d done better or differently but you add it to the bank of learning and move on. It’s also been interesting seeing myself try to find my style. There are elements from the marques that I enjoy, from Petes to Gotoh, so I look forward to seeing just where all this goes. I’ll usually go about my work week and then stay back each day with Giacomo and we’ll work on our pipes for about an hour or so. It will usually take me about 2-3 weeks or a month to complete a pipe, being such a novice. Staying after work makes for a long day, but what’s the old saying? “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
Photos by Federica Bruno & Austin Quinlan
If you haven’t seen these or it’s been a while, here’s a few International Peterson Smokers Day videos for your celebration this week:
And He Called for His Pipe (1975)
As far as I know, this is the first documentary ever made about Kapp & Peterson. It appeared for the Centenary celebration in 1975, and while that is downplayed by the video’s director, we do get to spend almost 25 minutes watching Paddy Larrigan, Peterson’s “Master Craftsman” make a Plato, including its hand-cut P-Lip stem, from start to finish, as well as listen to him in voice-over describing the process. It’s priceless and strongly recommended. You can watch it in Post #263.
The Making of the Peterson Pipe (1998)
This is a point-of-sale video released on VHS and distributed to tobacconists around the globe to play in their shops. It’s a fascinating look at the Dublin Era (1990-2018) in 1998 and we catch glimpses of a number of K&P celebrities. You’ll see more here on the actual making of a Peterson pipe than in any other video made by the company. For a detailed commentary, see Post #29.
Peterson Pipes Making of A Pipe (c. 2007 – 08)
This is a seriously laid-back, chill video Tom Palmer made around 2007 or 2008, as evidenced by the “new” River Collection (2007) and shots of the POY 2008. Broken into several chunks, I’m sure it was a point-of-sale video for the tobacconist’s customers to watch while they looked around the shop or made their purchases. I’ve tried unsuccessfully over the past week to locate a good source for it, because this one is so horrible that aside from Tom Palmer and Tony Whelan, Jr., it’s difficult to recognize almost anyone else at the factory. If you or anyone you know has a copy of this video, do let me know so we can have a proper digital transfer made and put up on YouTube. For now, only the low-rez version is on YouTube.
150 Years of Irish Craftsmanship (2014)
This super-professional video was made for Connor Palmer, who was more-or-less acting CEO alongside his father from 2014-18 during the final years of the Dublin era. The video and technical information are listed in Post #17.
Behind the Scenes at Peterson: Sterling Silver Spigots (2016)
You might think making a pilgrimage to the factory would help you understand the silversmith’s work better than a video, but that isn’t the case. In person, there’s so much going on, what with lighting, noise, machinery and trying not to get in anyone’s way that the ferrule or spigot almost seems to appear by magic. This is a gem of a piece made shortly after the 150th Anniversary by Laudisi Enterprises and while we can’t see any of the craftsmen, we do get to see a spigot made from pretty much beginning to end. The minutes showing how the sterling is spigot is made are incredible. Thanks to Andy Wike, this is again available at SPC’s Daily Blog.
Peterson at the IPCPR Show (2017)
Some on-the-fly footage of former CEO Tom Palmer doing his best after a long day on the sales floor to promote the new Petes at the 2017 IPCPR. Perhaps for Pete Geeks only, but fascinating for anyone who’s ever wondered what that trade show is like. You can also watch it at Post #73.
The Peterson Pipe Book Video Preview (2018)
Shameless self-promotion time! The year before the book was released, my wife and I teamed up on a video preview of the work-in-progress to show at the Chicago Pipe Show. We’re both big movie fans, so the “preview” card tickled me. I also loved the music, which I think says something about Peterson pipes that other Peterson videos don’t: they’re meant to be a deeply joyful, joyfully Irish way of smoking in the world. You can see it in Post #90.
Charles Peterson: The Original Thinking Man (2019)
Most Peterson fans know next to nothing about who the man was, and in the course of writing the book, Gary Malmberg, Marie and myself found out that neither K&P nor anyone else (aside from Sandra Bondarevska) really knew much either. By the time the book came out my understanding of his polymath, charming, entrepeneurial civil-activist spirit was complete enough to make a presentation about him for the Las Vegas Pipe Show in 2019.
As a teacher or performer (often the same thing), there’s nothing worse than going into a room and finding it nearly empty. The energy is so dissipated that you want to slip out the side door. Such was my lot at the Las Vegas Pipe Show in 2019. The room was set up for 180 and there perhaps a dozen people in attendance. When I got home from the show, I decided to recreate it for YouTube, despite the extreme liability of having to use my own voice as narrator. Since its appearance there on Christmas day 2019, it’s had 2,931 views. Next time I should just make the video and skip Vegas. You can also see this on YouTube or Post #164.
Many thanks to Mel Bud for updating and correcting
all the video links and to Andy Wike for help on the SPC spigot link.
CPG PETE GEEK LIGHTERS ARE ON THEIR WAY
The Pete Geek lighters arrived Thursday from Zippo and yesterday Marie sent out PayPal requests to all who signed up. I took the first batch to the USPS Saturday before they closed and will send the remainder of the claimed lighters Monday morning.
If you missed out and want one or would just like an additional lighter, you can fill out this WAIT LIST FORM. If there are unclaimed lighters, Wait Listers will receive a PayPal request Tuesday morning February 21st before noon CST (GMT-6).
My accountant tells me if we have enough interest, we’ll place another order!
As you can see, this one’s already been on a few test runs. It works amazing well. LOL.
And Shimshon, thanks again for lighting this fire!
While the time involved getting Austin’s story ready and shipping out the Pete Geek Zippos prevented me from the enjoyment of soliciting favorite Petes from everyone around the globe this year, Robb Gottlieb didn’t forget! So in the spirit of our mutual enjoyment of Peterson pipes, I’d like to end this post with a few of his recent favorites:
Happy IPSD, everyone!