Some years ago I did an interview with stone-cutter extraordinaire Martin Romijn, who makes pipe-accessories out of stone. Throughout the years we kept in touch and saw each other at meetings. It was at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017 that I learned that he also was making pipes. This piqued my interest because I know that Martin has a feeling and eye for lines and shapes. Something one can not learn. With his first pipes I had to laugh a bit, he treated the wood like stone but his style was undeniably unique. A bit further along the way his talent really began to show and his pipes became more refined. Always trying to show off the beautiful patterns of the briar just like he did with the fossils in the stone. Now I consider him one of the best if not the best pipe-maker in The Netherlands.
So last month I paid him a visit. Martin still lives in the city of Leerdam and behind his house he has a shed where the magic happens. I have been at the work places of several pipe makers and where some are pure unadulterated chaos Martin absolutely has one of the tidiest. Everything is neatly and orderly arranged and the machinery looks reasonably clean. Talking about equipment, Martin has a wood turning lathe in stead of a metal turning one. It was a gift from his parents when they saw his pipe-making talent. Besides that he thinks he has more freedom shaping pipes on it. Also he has a sanding disc and a slack belt sander, which he took over from another pipe-maker (Vandaahl) who had stopped. Further you can find in his workplace a bandsaw, dremel, some hand work tools (files etc.) and a polishing machine. Last but not least on one of the shelves stands a laptop that powers a loudspeaker which blurts out non-stop music of the great Johnny Cash, one of Martin’s heroes.
Egg shaped pipe
When I asked how and where he did learn to carve and shape briar wood he answered that he is mainly a self taught pipe-maker. In previous years he refurbished quite a lot of estate pipes. Also because of his stonecutting day-job (and all the tampers, ash-trays, stands etc. he made) Martin has 25 years experience of shaping and modelling. At one point he started experimenting with some briar blocks and when it turned out he did pretty well it became more serious. Nowadays Martin uses briar from Italy and in the future he wants to try his hand at olive wood. His mouthpieces are made from ebonite and acryl and some have the craziest colours and patterns. But Martin makes sure that visually the stem goes together with the bowl.
Martin has a pretty unique way of making pipes. Other pipe-makers decide what shape they want to make and begin. If a sandpit surfaces, well too bad, next one! But not Martin, this is what he has to say about his method: “I start with watching, studying, “reading” the briar. Every block has its own story. How does the grain go, what can you expect when you cut it in a certain angle etc. It can be that I have had the briar piece in my hands dozens of times before I know which pipe it hides. And even then, sometimes the wood has its own plan. When I come across a sandpit or another irregularity I have to adjust my plan to fit the briar. In such a case I always say that the briar speaks to me and that I should listen. This way you often get the most surprising and beautiful results.” I have to agree with Martin. All his pipes are showcases for the stunning grains they possess. Because of this he does not make shapes on request. It would be a waste of a piece of briar to make a pipe out of it which does not agree with the grain. When asked what is the most favourite pipe he ever made Martin hesitates. “That is a tricky one.. They are all my favourite. The process of making a pipe takes up lots of hours of hard labour. When you work that long on a piece you get attached to it. It is your design, your creation, born from your creative thoughts and moulded by your hands into something tangible. But if I really have to pick one it would be the Twisted Pickaxe. Recently made, beautiful organic shapes, stunning grain, a pickaxe but with a twist. My twist.”
Martin, when did you start smoking pipes? “30 years ago I began smoking pipes. My first one was a Tattoo pipe, made by Dutch pipe maker Gubbels/Big Ben. I saw it at someone and decided to also give it a try. I liked it and soon I bought a regular pipe to go with it, and another one, and another.. Well, you know how it goes.. Of course then also began the search for the finest tobaccos. A journey which never ends but which I enjoy to the max.” Ok, so what is your favourite tobacco? “Ehrrr… Can I name two? Esoterica Stonehaven and GL Pease Embarcadero. Oh! And Samuel Gawith Squadron Leader and hmmm.. Damn, there are so many delicious blends, hard to pick out one.”
What are your favourite pipes and why? “My collection is rather large, about 75 pipes. They all have something special, that can be their smoking qualities but also some have their own story that makes them special. I especially like to smoke Winslow pipes. Good smokers, nicely shaped, good open draw and handmade by a pipe-maker I admire very much. In 2018 I got to meet Poul Winslow himself at his home and saw how he worked in his workplace. Very special and informative! What an experience, I watched with growing admiration how he creates a stunning pipe with breakneck speed. Since then I like these wonderful pipes even more.”
Do you have any famous last words for the readers? “I hope to make pipes for many, many years. I hope my creations will find their way to the people who love them. That they will find owners who will experience delightful moments of relaxation and pleasure thanks to good tobacco and a pipe I worked on with love and dedication.” With that our conversation was over for the time being. Martin began working on one of his new creations while I sat back sipping a good whisky, smoking a pipe, listening to the soul-wrenching voice of Mr. Cash and watching the magic hands do their job on the immortal briar.
In my Hospitable Heukelum 2014 blogpost I revealed that the 2015 PRF forum year-pipe was going to be made by Dutch pipe-brand Big Ben. Like I told before, normally Shaun arranges the whole project but sadly he had been very ill this year.. Despite his sickness he managed to reach out for help and Dre answered his call. Dre (Andre) has very good connections with the Gubbels family from the Big Ben and Hilson pipe factory and regularly visits the place. So he asked if they could mean anything for the PRF pipe project. Unfortunately Big Ben only fire up their machines for a minimum of 500 pipes and the forum can never reach that number. BUT they had an alternative solution.
2015 PRF forum year-pipes
Throughout the years Gubbels kept pipe-bowls from their Barbados range behind with an exceptional grain and we could have those! Plus they added a metal ring on top of the bowl which made the pipe look even better. Then there was another problem, one can’t buy directly from the Gubbels factory. Luckily Primera Wouters in Weert were prepared to distribute the pipes. When Shaun and Dre told this and showed the pipe they got a very well deserved applause. Just over 60 pipes were available and when forum-members could order them they all were gone in no time! To be perfectly honest, I did not apply for one. I simply did not like the shape, but came to regret it later.
My first proper pipe: a Hilson Event
When I wanted to begin with pipe-smoking I knew nothing except that a Big Ben was a good pipe to start with. However, I preferred a model that was made by Hilson, a Hilson Event. The store owner explained to me that Hilson was made in the same factory as Big Ben. “Ok, I’ll take it!”, I said and bought my first pipe. Later I bought a Big Ben which roughly had the same model as the Hilson Event because I simply liked that shape back then. Both pipes I do not have any more, I gave them away when my tastes began to develop and change.
Johannes Henricus Gubbels & Anna Maria Gubbels
The histories from Big Ben and Hilson have a lot of similarities and from a point in time even intertwine. It all started for the Gubbels family in 1873 with the shop of Johannes Henricus Gubbels in the Dutch city of Roermond. There he sold things like newspapers, walking sticks, umbrellas, toys and last but not least, smoking accessories. One of the suppliers of those was a German man called Jean Knödgen who had started to make clay pipes in 1846 in the Belgian city of Bree. For a long time Johannes ran his business together with his wife, Dijmphna Hubertina. After her death in 1896 he got married again to Anna Maria in 1899. She bore him two children and when Johannes died in 1911 she continued the business. In 1924 her 2 children, Antonia and Elbert Gubbels, established the “A & H Gubbels” company which specialized in the wholesale trading of smoking accessories.
Meanwhile in Belgium the Bree pipe factory had a new owner. Jean Hillen, the son-in-law of Knödgen, had bought the company at the end of the 19th century. He had also made contact with French pipe-makers in the area of Saint-Claude who supplied him with briar wood and Jean would finish them off. Thus, alongside the traditional clay pipes, he was able to offer more modern pipes. Around 1924 Hillen was perfectly capable of creating briar pipes on his own.
Elbert Gubbels sr.
Up to WWII Elbert Gubbels extended his business, mainly getting his supplies from France and England. Unfortunately The Netherlands were invaded by German troops in 1940 so the family fled north where they tried to make a living by buying and selling what little there was available. In 1945 at the end of the war they returned home to continue the business. A difficult task as material was lacking and importing stuff was almost impossible. In that period Elbert Gubbels, now the sole owner of the business, decided to follow in Jean Hillen’s foot steps. He became totally independent and produced everything himself. The factory began with 2 machines and 3 French artisans in a small workshop. In Bree a factory already existed and the sons of Hillen also worked there. Jos was in charge of sales and Albert production. The brand name of the pipes that were sold abroad was simple: Hilson, to be precize, Hillen and Sons.
Gubbels had no brand name yet, he just had the name “EGRO” which stood for “Elbert Gubbels Roermond”. The number of machines, personnel, working space and quality of product were increased which resulted in a higher output. That made it necessary to expand the market experience and the wholesale network were no longer sufficient. A brand name was needed in order to increase sales, especially abroad. At that time another Dutch company, “De Rijk & Zonen” from Amsterdam, was doing badly. It was not a large company and to be honest, not so interesting. But it did sell British-made pipes with a sought-after, glamorous brand name well-known in many countries: Big Ben. So in 1956 Gubbels bought the whole De Rijk company. As a result exports soared in Europe, the USA, Canada and many other countries.
Big Ben Pipo
Meanwhile the business Hilson was flourishing, producing a wide range of well-crafted and creative pipes. These were selling well in Europe and elsewhere thanks to their excellent reputation and good value for money. On the other hand the production of Gubbels was more traditional in style: natural or black briar models, straight or bent, just classic pipe design. Well, one exception.. In that period the Pipo pipe appeared, a very small “nose-burner” designed by Alfons Gubbels, the son of Elbert, who had by that time joined the business together with his brother Jos. Alfons was in charge of production and Jos sales. The unorthodox Pipo pipe was highly successful, selling world-wide, including the USA. At the end of 1972 the company moved into a bigger factory. Also the much coveted title “Royal”, in the name of Queen Juliana, was granted. Thus the company name became “Elbert Gubbels en Zonen – Koninklijke Fabriek van Tabakspijpen” (“Elbert Gubbels and Sons – Royal Dutch Pipe Factory”).
At the end of the 1970’s there were only two pipe factories left in the Benelux countries, those of Gubbels and Hillen. Two different but also complementary enterprises. Gubbels sold well in America with their Big Ben pipes while Hilson was a popular pipe-brand on the German market. However, both companies produced high-quality workmanship. So in 1980 Gubbels bought Hillen, who sadly was experiencing serious financial difficulties. It was decided that all machines, material and experts were to be moved to the Gubbels factory.
Alfons sr. and Elbert jr.
At first the two brands had some difficulty in co-existing. For example, some Big Ben pipes of that period could be confused with Hilsons and vice-versa. All by all that period of adjustment was positive, characterized by a high output. However, something was changing in the world of pipes and the market crisis meant that quite a few things had to be re-considered. It was not enough to increase quality in order to compensate for the drop in quantity. Greater investments had to match high-performance products. In 1989 Alfons (Fons) junior (technical production and design) and Elbert junior (sales) took over from their father Alfons senior and uncle Jos and the family tradition was carried on.
Since then the company has striven for excellence in every aspect of their production and above all in their mission: offering an increasingly discerning clientèle unique pipes. So since 2008 Rainer Barbi, the late famous German pipe maker, has been contributing to production and had the task of remodelling the Hilson brand until his unfortunate death. Also another great pipe maker, Former, has recently decided to offer Gubbels his creative sensitivity, art and some of his time. Besides manufacturing Big Ben, Hilson and other more minor brands Gubbels has also worked in partnership with other companies to create or refine unique models, such as Porsche Design (from 2005 to 2013) and currently Bentley. Unfortunately the financial crisis hit Gubbels in 2012 and the banks no longer wanted to finance the company. Who smokes these days?? So bankruptcy was a logical consequence, an unpleasant period. But the Gubbels family pulled through with capital of their own and had a new start. There was a change of direction with 20 in stead of 28 employees and despite the difficult market the export is growing. The Gubbels company is on the rise once again.
Back to the forum-pipe, I really wanted to see the process in the factory so with thanks to Dre and Fred I could phone Elbert jr. for an appointment. He already knew my name, I could pay a visit, see the process, take pictures, ask questions, no problem at all. I knew a bit what to expect because I had been before at the new factory with a group of the PRF-forum just before the financial crisis hit Gubbels back in 2011. So on a morning I drove to Herten (municipality of Roermond) dressed to impress because eeyz, you can’t arrive in jeans and a sweater at the only pipe-factory left in The Netherlands right? Because of the crisis the Gubbels offices had moved in the big building used by several companies so I happily announced myself at the wrong desk. Luckily the friendly secretary of the neighbouring enterprise pointed me in the correct direction. After a good ring at the doorbell of Gubbels one of the employees let me in, guided me to the visitor room and went to get Elbert jr. Before he walked in I was able to quickly snap some pictures of the displayed pipes.
Just like on the phone Elbert jr. is a very nice man to talk to, clearly someone with a passion for his company and the products made there. We chatted away for a while until he got a call from his brother that he was ready for me. Elbert jr. guided me to the big assembly hall where all pipes are made and Fons jr. was waiting for my arrival. For the outside world Elbert jr. is the face of Gubbels but inside the factory Fons jr. reigns supreme. At this moment he is the only one there who knows and is able to perform all the necessary steps in the creation of a pipe. The other employees just know a few steps of the process. Which worries him sometimes, I mean, what if he becomes ill? But they are working on that.
Fons jr. and a colleague had prepared (as far as they could) the steps in the finishing of the forum-pipe so I could take pictures of it. Remember, all the bowls and mouthpieces were already roughly made. Below you can see all 10 steps of the process: 1. Mounting the mouthpiece. 2. Sanding the pipe from coarse to fine with different sizes of sanding discs. 3. Staining the pipe (3 layers of stain are applied in total) where the first layer of stain is set aflame to fixate it. 4. Removing excess stain. 5. Sanding off more of the stain to make the grain better visible. 6. Milling out space for the metal top-ring. 7. Spraying a lacquer finish on the pipe. 8. Buffing the pipe to make it extra shiny. 9. Putting on the metal top-ring. 10. Tadaaa!! The finished product.
Fons jr. adjusting the Lamberthod machine
After explaining all the steps of the process Fons jr. guided me further around the factory. In the back there was a smaller hall with a big basket stacked full with briar and equipment to shape the bowls including a big modernized version of the Lamberthod machine. Of course the precise operation of everything was demonstrated. Seeing the immense Lamberthod device in action was very impressive, especially because Fons jr. had left the hood open so I could make some pictures. Afterwards he had to laugh when he looked at me, because my classy black suit was totally covered in the sawdust that came out of the machine.. “You will still find it in your clothes when you go to sleep tonight” he said with a big grin.
I also was led through the immense warehouse where you can find lots of pipes, pipes and ehrr.. Pipes! Uncountable boxes, drawers and crates stacked on to each other filled with unfinished pipe bowls, stems in all shapes and colours, (metal) rings etc. An impressive sight! There was only a small pallet with ebonite mouthpieces, Gubbels does not really use them because acryl is more durable.. Last but not least we went to a part of the warehouse where a couple of friendly ladies were packing orders.
When the tour was finished Fons jr. and I sat together so he could explain the forum-pipe process to me once more and I could write down the steps. We talked a bit more and then it was time for me to leave and for him to go back to the assembly hall. I must say, my respect for Gubbels and especially for Fons jr. had really grown. If you just look at the new Bentley pipes and know how much difficult handwork is needed for the creation of those..
Anyway, I wish all people who have ordered the 2015 PRF forum year-pipe lots of smoking pleasure with it! It is an extraordinary pipe with stunning grain for a very, very good price and I really regret I did not order one now.. Thanks go out to Dre, Shaun, Fred, Elbert jr., Fons jr., Fons sr. and the employees at Gubbels for making the forumpipe and this blogpost possible!
The Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum visits Gubbels in 2011 (in Dutch):
Gubbels brandstory video:
Very old video of how pipes were made at Gubbels:
UPDATE 11-07-2019: Sadly E. Gubbels in Herten, the Royal Factory of tobaccopipes (i.e. Big Ben), is bankrupt. The artisanal production branch of the family company is no more after 149 years. The trading house, Gubbels Trade and BV Gubbels Pipecleaners, on the other hand, continue to exist.
With the production of fully handmade briar wooden tobacco pipes finally stopped, Elbert and Alfons Gubbels say goodbye to a piece of company DNA and cultural heritage. But also from six involved employees.
“I had hoped to be able to maintain production,” says Elbert Gubbels in an explanation. “But the anti-smoking lobby and the government’s policy of discouragement are terrible. Fewer smokers, fewer stores. While pipe smoking is a certain lifestyle that requires good communication.”
Gubbels wants to keep a part of its history visible, but is removing the expensive machine for the Big Ben pipes from the company. “We have a solid stock and cannot keep on stacking. We will first sell it and then have the new pipes made in Italy. Where the briar also comes from. Then we give it a final touch in Herten. This is how we maintain our global market. On a small scale, with around ten, eleven employees, we hope to be able to continue for a very long time.
In the Northwest of the Netherlands the province of Friesland is situated (“Fryslân” in the Frisian language, yes they do have their own language). A lot of Dutch people go there on vacation because of the beautiful nature (lots of lakes and canals) and peace and quiet. Friesland is one of the less-densely populated provinces in the Netherlands. It is also well-known for ice-skating, a lot of champions come from Friesland and if there is a very cold winter the famous Elfstedentocht is organized. And it is in a small village in the heart of “Fryslân” where pipe-maker Meindert lives.
Meindert is 64 years old, a long time pipe-smoker, retired and a Frisian man in heart and soul. That means he is proud, honest, righteous, loves to be on the water, works hard and takes no bullshit from no-one. Working with his hands is also something that is in his blood. His father was a professional carpenter who could make anything out of wood and was not afraid of showing the tricks of the trade to his son. Also for years Meindert was a maintenance mechanic at a local factory and one of his hobbies was being a radio amateur so for that he build small and big antennas. Unfortunately he got problems with his heart and after having seen the gates of Saint Peter twice he was forced to slow things down. But Meindert is not the man to take it easy and do nothing. So through Fred, a member of the Dutch/Belgian pipe smokers forum and Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes he got into pipe making about 8 months ago. That was something which required little physical effort and was perfectly suited for the still recovering Meindert.
One of the early Meindert pipes
On the forum he posted several of his finished pipes and although some of them lacked a certain finesse I could clearly see that Meindert had talent and skills. After making a couple of prince-shaped pipes (my favourite shape) I decided to ask if he could create one of those for me. But I wanted to test the man. I did this by asking if he could make one of the most challenging shapes in my eyes: the 8-side panelled prince. This because it is a combination of symmetry (all corners must be 45 degrees from each other) and flowing elegance. Gracefully Meindert accepted the challenge and got busy.
Corrections from my side
One of the best things about him is that he can accept constructive criticism. Some pipe-makers are headstrong, have a sort of impenetrable ego which holds them back from getting better. I know sh*t about wood-working and all the machinery (I was born with 2 left hands) but I do know something about flowing lines, symmetry and cohesion in a design. And Meindert is very handy but could learn a bit more about flowing pipe shapes and the little details that comes with such. So he was ready to accept criticism from my side when he send the first pictures of the prince-making process. I would look at them, make corrections in Photoshop and tell him why I did that. For example he mailed me a photograph of the unfinished bowl and by putting lines, arrows and digitally reducing excess wood I could let him know what to do. Of course he was not able to always precisely do what I asked but with every correction he made the pipe got better. The devil is in the details and boy, I sometimes was a real demon. But Meindert never did bulge under my pressure, kept eager to learn and continued delivering the goods. And how good he was was proven when Fred made a visit. Meindert showed him my prince and told him that getting every panel to look exactly the same was a tough job. Fred looked amazed at the pipe and told that such pipes normally are made in machines in pipe-factories where the angle of cutting can be programmed. Something I did not know. So in fact I asked Meindert to be as precise as a machine. And he came damn close!
At the beginning of last week Meindert informed me that he had almost finished the pipe. The only thing left to be done was the bending of the cumberland stem but I thought it was a good idea to do that when I was with him. Of course I was going to pick up the pipe myself. I am a bit ashamed to say this, but I have never been in Friesland before. I grew up in Brabant in the South of the Netherlands so for a long time Friesland was almost like an exotic country to me. However, now I live in the province of Overijssel and that is quite a bit closer to the North of my country. Last Friday I took a day off and drove to the heart of “Fryslân”. An enjoyable ride if I may say so. When I drive to Brabant where the head-office of my work is located the roads are always busy and often I get caught up in a traffic jam. The journey North was deliciously quiet with nice far stretched views of the countryside. Suddenly I saw in the distance something that looked like a train slowly passing over a viaduct. When I came closer I noticed to my amazement that it was not a train, but a large river boat which gradually floated above the highway. What I had seen was an aqueduct, something which exists for a long time but was new to my eyes in this form. So strange to see a big ship above you.
At exactly 2 o’clock I arrived at a petrol station in the village where Meindert lives and phoned him up. This because he lives at the waterside where no car can come. Soon he came walking out of a small side-street and gestured me to follow him. We arrived at the back of his home and shook hands. So nice to see him after all our e-mails. He guided me into the renovated shed of his house which was divided in 2 parts: his working room and the computer room. We sat down in the working room and lit up a pipe. *Pheww* “You are smoking latakia right?” Meindert asked. “I like aromatics myself, I never understood why people like the smell of burned rubber.” “Well, the taste is vastly different than the smell, believe me” I said. Luckily we don’t all have the same tobacco preferences. But I knew Meindert liked a sweet smoked so I brought a couple of aromatic tins that he could keep. In return he had some tobaccos for me which included the Mellow Mallard made by DTM. A blend I did not know but after smoking a couple of bowls I now really like!
Remember the 3 golden rules: light, space and warmth
Soon the lovely wife of Meindert boldly defied my latakia fumes and brought a cup of coffee which gave me the opportunity to look around the working space. What really struck me was how tidy and organized it was. All the machines were clean and every hand-tool had a logical place and was neatly attached to a wall or placed in a tray. I complimented him with this because I know that some other pipe makers have pretty chaotic working rooms. “One of the first things I learned when I had a working space were the 3 golden rules: light, space and warmth.” Meindert said. “Light because you have to able to clearly see what you are doing. Space as in not having a big room but having the space to be able to properly do your job. Warmth because you can’t work well with cold muscles.” What I also liked were all the old hand tools that Meindert inherited from his father. Where for example a lot of pipe makers use machinery to make their stems Meindert uses his father’s tools. All handwork.
Heating up the stem for bending
After the second cup of coffee it was time to see what I have came for, my panelled prince. It was smaller than I thought but nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised. It looked better than on the pictures! The acrylic cumberland stem still was straight so Meindert got to work by lighting a candle. Huh? Is he praying for good luck this way or…? I know that pipe-maker Vandaahl uses some kind of industrial blow dryer to heat up the stem for bending. It turned out that Meindert was warming up the stem the old fashioned way. Very tricky and when I nervously looked at him he had to laugh, relax! At bit above the candle-flame he slowly rolled the stem of the pipe around and around with a steady hand. Suddenly I saw that a part of the stem became flexible and Meindert carefully bended it following my directions. I made a comment before that he had a tendency to bend his prince-stems too close to the shank so while I looked over his shoulder he asked if it was ok. Ehhrrr.. Yes?
Checking the bend
When the stem had cooled down I was able to properly examine the pipe. Damn! The bend could be a bit more but worse, the stem was crooked, it had a deviation to the left. So Meindert heated it all up again and made the correction. Hmm, better but there was a tiny bump on top. No problemo, some fine sanding paper took care of that. But still the bend could be more. Heating, bending, arghh! A good bend but once again crooked! Really, if I were Meindert I would have kicked myself out of the door. But he stayed ice-cold and once again bended the stem. Perfect! I breathed a sign of relief while Meindert buffed the pipe to a shiny whole.
Oh wait! I almost forgot, I still had to perform my pipe-cleaner test. That means that when I fold one of my pipe-cleaners it has to pass the smoking channel pretty easy. And it didn’t.. I asked which drilling diameter was used. “The one Peterson uses (Meindert is a huge Peterson fan), 3.0 mm.” Ahh.. That explains.. Fortunately making the drilling wider was no problem. 3.1 mm, 3.2 mm.. “Meindert” I said “please make it 3.5 mm, that should do the trick.” And indeed with 3.5 mm my pipe-cleaner went through the smoking channel effortlessly. I told him that you also get a better draft with 3.5 mm and thus a better smoking experience. Meindert thought that was very interesting and he is going to experiment with it.
The finished prince
The rest of the afternoon went by too fast. Before I knew it it was 6 o’clock and I had to go home. We shook hands again and I hit the road. The next day I smoked the panelled prince for the first time and I was delighted! The bit felt very comfortable between my teeth, not too thick and also not too thin, just perfect. Of course smoking a pipe for the first couple of times is not really fun because a layer of cake still has to form inside the bowl. But nonetheless I was impressed about the smoking qualities. I also kept looking at the pipe form every angle. I am sure almost every pipe-smoker sometimes takes the pipe out of his mouth and admires it. I sure did that with Meindert’s pipe and am still doing it.
Meindert has to take things slowly because of his health. So if you are interested in him making a pipe for you (he makes about 1 pipe per week) please contact me and I will connect you through.