The Warden's Calabashian Smokebox (WCS) was designed and created for a friend of mine in the art world. His name is AJ Brockman. He is the mastermind behind Stachewarden (also his channel on Youtube) and Single Handed Studio. AJ is a self-proclaimed differently-abled person. He has SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) and has been wheelchair bound since age 2. For most people, this would keep them from realizing their dreams. For AJ, it has motivated him to rise above and conquer. In his own rite, AJ is an amazing guy. He is quite possibly the most interesting, free-spirited, and kindest souls I've had the pleasure of knowing. AJ is a digital artist. What this means is he paints using a tablet. His paintings take many hours to created. All of his work is original and "from scratch" . He has the most amazing eye for color and detail. I would say it surpasses most contemporary traditional artists. In recent months, his notoriety in the art world has simply exploded. He has had the pleasure of creating a piece for the Obama family and actually presented it to the president himself. He attends countless art shows and events each year and participates in motivational speaking for others with similar disabilities.
About a year ago I met AJ through his channel on Youtube and we got to talking quite a bit. He informed me that because of his art strength, churchwarden style pipes are his go-to. I had an idea. I asked if he's like to trade a painting of my grandfather and I for a very special pipe that would fill his needs. He agreed and off we went on our projects.
The tricky thing with AJs pipe is that it needed to be absolutely original. I didn't want to follow the norm of what a table pipe used to be (when Dunhill and various others produced them in the 1920s-40s). I needed this to be a great undertaking to make it that much more special when it was complete. The painting that AJ was doing for me was, of course, an extremely sentimental thing for me. My grandpa was a key motivator for me when I started making pipes. He would constantly tell me to " get your ass back in the shop and make some pipes". He was a true lover of the leaf his entire life. He smoked cigars and pipes when i was young and I'm sure it had an effect on me to make pipes in the first place. AJ was doing me a great honor by making this piece to memorialize him.
The toughest part of the project was to find a way to make this pipe look just right. It is in the Steampunk style but I didn't want it to look too spacey or cheap. I am a big fan of the Steampunk counterculture and I most identify with the Victorian side of it. Most Steampunk products are normal everyday items with cogs and buttons glued to them. This creates a cheapness and non-funtional image. I wanted to stay away from that. So there I was, scouring endless bags and boxes of trinkets I had inherited from my grandpa. He was, lets face it, a pack rat. He had bags and bags of brass and copper fittings. Most salvaged off of old machines and Victorian homes. I found some that would fit the scale of the pipe. Most of the fittings were too large so I had to machine my own. I went to work and came up with the necessary parts for a rough build.
The box itself was quite an undertaking as well. The body of the pipe is a solid chunk of Strawberry Briar. It is a similar material to briar in the fact that it is a very porous and beautifully grain burl. However, it is called Strawberry Briar because it comes from a tree that produces a strawberry-like fruit. The WCS has 2 Lucite windows which are flat on the outside but concave on the inside of the calabash chamber. I wont go into details but it makes the pipe very easy to clean. The port frames have been machined from bronze and the tubing on the pipe is 99.9% copper. The rest of the fittings have been hand-machined from raw stock brass (except for the afore-mentioned old brass parts). A solid brass port for the hose was installed so that the hose could be removed easily. The finish on the pipe is a high purity shellac. I felt that carnauba wax would eventually fade and leave the pipe vulnerable to discoloration. The body of the WCS was sandblasted to give an old style look and the cap piece was polished to a high gloss.
The cap on the WCS is composed of a solid briar bowl and stack. The main portion of the cap was crafted from Zebra-wood which I picked because of its striking grain and great contrasting colors. The stack of the briar bowl sports a sextant style solid brass compass which was the only piece on the pips that was purchased in its finished form (c'mon, I don't have a mill guys!). I did, however, machine the bottom out of the compass and turned it to fit the stack perfectly. It has a brass lid that can be closed when not in use and opened for access to the chamber.
The hose piece was made entirely by hand. I started with a piece of food and high heat grade Nitrile. It was the most durable yet flexible material I could get my hands on. The tubing is sheathed in a black fabric that gives a bit of contrast. All the fittings on the hose were machined from solid brass. Both the tenon end (for the stem) and the male port end (where it connects to the box itself) are barbed to fit the hose properly. Both ends are wrapped in copper wire to add some color and strengthen the joints. The stem for this pipe was tricky, because I didn't know what style AJ would like. This is why I made it removable. If I needed to remake a stem for him, it would be easy. The stem included is a 1/3 bent ebonite stem. And thats the rundown.
I wont get too into the description of the painting that AJ made for me. The truth is, its hard to explain. You just have to see it first hand. It is one of my most prized possessions and It will be in my family forever. It is a very large piece at just over 4 ft. wide and 3 ft. tall. The detail in this piece is absolutely phenomenal. It has been signed and thumb printed by AJ (thats his way of authenticating original pieces). I am amazed everyday at this beautiful painting.