From Jack's website:
Greetings! I'm Jack Howell -- let's keep this in the first person -- and I've been making things ever since my Dad gave me a file and a pile of cedar shakes and let me make, well, sawdust, mostly. But it wasn't too long after that when he gave me my first Scout knife, with which I made, well, shavings, mostly, and bloodstains of various sizes. However, I've made lots of other things since, including approximately 10,000 clarinet reeds while living in Greeley CO, Albuquerque, NM, Wellington, NZ, and now Pittsburgh, PA. While I make my living primarily as a clarinetist, I carry on making things. Since music is so ephemeral, it's nice to have things in my life that, once done, stay done. This web page is dedicated to my pipes.
At about age ten, I made my first pipe from a corncob and a bamboo stem, in order to smoke some Red Man chewing tobacco one of my uncles left behind after a visit. That little experiment didn't turn out too well, even though the pipes must have been small enough that I didn't get knocked on my ass. My dad wasn't entirely in favor of 10-year-olds smoking, but it was interesting to find out later that he had smoked a pipe as a young man but had given it up when I was born so as not to provide a bad example for me. He might have had some idea that there were plenty of other influences around (including my grandfather) after that little episode when I was ten, but when I came home from my freshman year in college with a pipe, he said, "Well, that didn't work," and we went together to the Silver Dollar in Aberdeen and bought a pipe for him.
All told, it was an interval of 25 years between my first attempt at pipemaking and my second, this time with a block and stem kit from Mark Tinsky. One thing led to another, as they say, and here we are. Over the course of four or five years I made five or ten pipes a year, some for myself, some as gifts. I've gradually progressed through the various stages of tooling. My first pipe, for instance, was shaped with a coping saw and four-in-hand rasp. I tried a Dremel for a while, but being left-handed means that it sprays the sawdust directly back at me (another item for the Leftorium). I use a sanding wheel quite a bit now, but most of the real shaping is still done with rasps and files.
Things changed pretty rapidly when I visited Paolo Becker in Rome this past January, and got a quick rundown on how he did a number of things, and also a sizable dose of inspiration. I decided to invest in a bag of briar, and set myself the goal of taking a dozen pipes to the 2004 Chicago show. That goal turned out to be about right for the intervening four months, considering the time it took to set up a reliable boring procedure, to get going with sandblasting, to raise the cash for briar —— you name it, it took at least a week. Nevertheless, I established the machinery and methods necessary to make a salable pipe — to drill perfectly centered holes, to buff to commercial standards, to create handcut stems that didn't take a day apiece — and cultivated a more critical eye for grain, lines and flaws.
I made it to Chicago, and was immediately overwhelmed not just by the number of pipes, but by the number of pipes I wished I had made. Generously invited to share table space by Greg Pease, I found my small spread of pipes flanked by Peter Heeschen, and, down from him, Kent Rasmussen. Talk about jumping into the deep end. Both makers turned out to be friendly and generous with their advice and information, as did Bjorn Thurman, Tom Eltang, Rainier Barbi, Todd Johnson, and a bunch of others. I find myself tremendously influenced by all of them, with a long list of techniques to try, lines to shoot for. Which brings us, more or less, to the present.
My present consists of parenting three young girls, pursuing a career that includes playing the clarinet in a handful of orchestras and chamber groups and teaching at Duquesne University, and making pipes. One never knows what fortune will bring, but my goal is to complete at least 50 pipes this coming year, and for each one to be better in some way than the one before.