As old as briar is to smoking, Greg Clemons, a Tucsonan, is new to the art of pipemaking. This year, he wrapped up a 21-year career as a proud enlisted infantry member of the U.S. Marine Corps. The life change left him with a challenge not faced in his adulthood: leisure time. A hobby was needed, something that would prove interesting and rewarding. As a long-time aficionado of cigars, he sometimes attended cigar and pipe shows in California, where he was posted. There, he met pipe collectors and makers. That lit the fire.
Now, 2 1/2 years later, he's learned a lot about briar and acquired a workshop full of nifty tools: bandsaw, drill press, metal and woodworking lathes, belt sander, buffing wheels, sand blaster, Dremel-style grinding device and a downdraft work table (it draws sawdust and wood dust into a filter, rather than circulating it throughout the workshop).
He has used the tools and no small measure of elbow grease to make about 300 pipes. About 270 have sold. Of the remainder, he's opted to keep a few favorites for himself and given others away to friends. Clemons' taste runs toward larger pipes that require larger blocks of briar. Those, if bought individually from domestic pipemakers, can cost $20 to -$30 each. Clemons eliminates the middleman and economizes by purchasing bags of the best briar blocks directly from suppliers overseas. Not all blocks in a shipment are large enough or free enough of flaws for the style of pipes he likes to make.
All Clemons' pipes are finished with carnauba wax from Brazil, the hardest known natural wax. It is buffed on the surface of the wood, giving it a rich glow. He sells them - depending on size, style, beauty of grain and how happy he is with his design and craftsmanship - for $90 to $250. The average is about $140. He advertises and sells his creations through his website. He stamps his name into the briar of each pipe, and has a four-digit numbering system that shows the year of their creation, followed by the sequential number of where each falls in that year's production. For example, "O4-71" would mean it was made in 2004 and that the pipe is the 71st made that year.
Clemons has a collection of pipes by other makers - shapes and styles that he finds interesting or appealing - and several are displayed in a wall case at his home. A desktop pipe rack holds others. Despite his fascination with briar smoking instruments, he smokes a pipe only about two evenings a week, he said.
Greg Clemons San Diego, CA USA Website: Clemons Briar