Creature of Smoke : The Balrog
This pipe has been in the works for a long while and I've really been looking forward to beginning on it. The original concept was to come up with a pipe that would want to eat other pipes. Dragons and Gargoyles were both on the to do list at one point or another, but when the sketches were finished and the dust cleared a pipe based on the Balrog from The Lord of the Rings was the victor. I'm not sure if pipe makers like The Lord of the Rings because it has a lot of pipe-smoking hobbits in it, but it is fairly unusual to find a pipe maker who hasn't named a pipe after something in the books. I'm guilty of this several times over. In my defence though, I liked The Lord of the Rings before I started smoking pipes and am one of those people who likes to read the series on a yearly basis. I'm not sure if that really gives me a good reason, but I wasn't disappointed to add another of JRR's beasties to my already existing stable of Tolkien-inspired pipes.
The pipe wasn't really overly complicated to make from a technical standpoint. I didn't have to figure out new ways of doing things or build any new tools to get the job done. On the other hand there were a lot of pieces that needed to be fit together in a specific order and it involved a lot of finessing to get the shank to line up and fit properly. A good way to look at it is that this pipe was difficult like picking up a cow is difficult. It isn't terribly complicated, but requires a lot of effort.
I started sourcing the bits and pieces I would need for the pipe early on and ended up getting a lot of my materials from sites specializing in pen turning. The stem material is a one-off cast Lucite which looks fiery, beautiful, and was a complete nightmare to work with. If it hadn't been for the shape of the rods I would have sworn that the stuff was extruded Lucite which is a lot more brittle and likes to eat drill bits. The spacers between the vertebrae are the cellulose skeleton of the prickly pear cactus embedded in red resin. It had the perfect weird organic look I was going for, and compared to the stem material, was a dream to work with.
The vertebrae were the feature that probably gave me the most trouble in making this pipe. They weren't difficult to shape once I knew what they were suppose to look like. Vertebrae look very different from different angles and lumbar vertebrae look different from cervical vertebrae. Finding images from different angles for the right vertebrae was extremely difficult. Even The Concise Grey's Anatomy I keep for required reading on my workshop bookshelf wasn't much help. In the end my breakthrough came when I sniped the backbone of a particularly tasty turkey from the soup pot. A clear jar and some isopropyl alcohol and I had a model to work from.
I'm really pleased with the way this pipe turned out and like all the Creatures had a great time designing and putting it together. Making pipes is a really satisfying job. At the end of the project you have a sense of completion and you've made something that someone will hopefully enjoy and treasure. Finishing a Creature has the same sense of completion, but on a larger scale.