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.
One of the modest people I know is Martin Romijn. I got to know him through the Dutch/Belgian Smokers Forum and while browsing his profile there I noticed he had a website. I clicked on the link and saw what his site was about. The guy makes pipe-accessories out of stone? Wood ok, relatively easy to work with, but stone?? And more, the level of craftsmanship was astonishing! I could not believe my eyes when I looked at the exquisitely made tampers, pipe-stands and ashtrays. But Martin is very modest, “I just cut away the rest of the stone and then I end up with something beautiful”. Anyway, fortunately Martin was willing to do an interview with me.
Rose ornament on gravestone
How long have you been a stonecutter and what do you precisely do in that profession? I have been a stonecutter for over 18 years. Besides grave-stones I also make products for buildings like door sills, window-sills, kitchen- and tabletops, bathrooms and fireplaces. Back in the days I learned the old handicraft. The old techniques with hammer and chisel, the real carving of ornaments etc. but also the carving of characters. Besides carving I also possess the skills for sculpting.
Masonry logo made by Martin
What jobs did you have before you became a stonecutter and how did you come by this unusual profession? After school I joined the Dutch Marine Corps for 4 years, then I worked in the security business but I wanted to do something with my hands. So I started working in a motorcycle-store where I did the maintenance of the bikes. Sadly the store went bankrupt and after a while of being unemployed I did a retraining to the profession of stonecutter. It turned out it suited me well and besides the standard education (which I went through pretty fast) I specialised myself with the help of a teacher in the old handicraft.
When and how the thought occurred to use your knowledge of the profession for the creation of ashtrays, tampers and pipe-stands? After a knee operation (ripped cruciate ligament) I sat home for almost over a year. In that period I started making tampers. On the internet on several fora (then news groups like Alt.Smokers.Pipes (ASP)) I saw several tampers made from wood and synthetic materials. It occurred to me that I could make those out of stone. That is how the ball started rolling. I first showed my creations on a link on ASP, someone was so nice to host the pictures on his site. The feedback was so positive that I decided to go through with it. After that another acquaintance, who I knew through Smokersforums, created a website for me and I have been using that one since 2003. The pipe-stands came into existence later. I got the idea to let the pipe “float” by making a pipe-stand which only held the mouthpiece. The ashtrays were a logical next step.
How do you acquire your pieces of stone? The pieces of stone I collected at my job when something beautiful came along. When a nice piece is left over I set it apart. Some stones like beautiful pieces of petrified wood I buy at the wholesaler. The best is that when you are busy carving the stone you stumble upon a stunning fossil or crystal.
Do you judge stone the same way a pipe-maker judges his briar? For example that you lay certain pieces aside from which you think to make a nice tamper. I select pieces of stone based on their structure. Pieces with a special pattern or present fossils I lay aside. When I look at certain stones I already see a shape or I get an idea. But most of the times the piece develops from out of the stone self when I am working on it. I let the stone inspire me, in fact I “unwrap” the piece I am working on. It is already hidden in the stone.
Do you have one or several favourite species of stone to work with? Belgian hardstone and Jura are my favourite stone-species because of the present fossils and crystals. Also they are not so difficult to work with because they are not extremely hard.
Pipe-stand with petrified wood
Do you let the stone decide what it is going to be or do you seek out a special piece if you for example want to make an ashtray? For an ashtray I seek out good looking pieces, preferably with a nice fossil. Like I said before, some pieces have a certain shape or texture which inspire me. But there are so many different species of stones, each with their own characteristics. Some better suited for carving than others. For example, the petrified wood is extremely hard to work with but then I got the idea to use it as a base for my pipe-stands.
Which tools do you use? Ehrr.. Several chisels, a hammer, diamond sanding-pads, polish-tools and elbow-grease.
Describe your method of working from a raw piece of stone to a finished product. I prefer to work without a plan, I let the stone inspire me. That does not apply for every creation. The rough work like sawing and cutting I do in the masonry. The finishing and polishing I do at home in my shed and takes up most of the time. You begin to polish away the crude scratches. Less deep scratches emerge which you then polish away with a finer polish-tool. etc, etc. The stage where you accomplish the final high gloss demands a lot of patience and perseverance. Sometimes I just have stop in between because my fingers are getting crooked from all the polishing. Usually the time to fill up a pipe… It also happens in this stage of finishing that you notice a flaw in the stone you have not seen before. A crack in the material you often see after a lot of polishing. If I don’t rust it I apply some brute force on the material. And yes, then it sometimes happens that after hours of labour you can toss your creation in the garbage bin..
On which creation you are most proud and why? Oww.. That is difficult.. The tamper with an ammonite fossil Neil Archer Roan has is one of the prettier ones. I also like the dragonwing tampers. As far as pipe-stands go I think the one Paul has (see on the left) turned out pretty well. A special shape, great appearance. The Onyx 7 and 8 also turned out well, they just develop in your hands, nice to see. Well, I have made so many pieces I like in those 10 years, the choice is difficult. It is a nice thought that on various places far from here they found a home and somebody likes them.
Can clients tell exactly what they want or do you always decide shape and material? Of course I work to satisfy the wishes of the client. But I shall always add my own contribution to the piece, I like to be surprised by the stone. Often clients give me a rough idea where I can work with.
Do you have plans for the future? The future.. Well.. Making a living out of creating pieces from stone can’t be done. But I hope to spend more time on the making of my creations in the future. A bigger workshop in which I can make some statues would be nice. But for now, being busy in my shed, carving stone while enjoying a pipe, creating new things, I hope to do it for a long time.
Any last words? It is great that through my tampers I have contact with people from all over the world. That on a show in Las Vegas is being talked about my work in a presentation, that my work has been in a Russian Magazine, that sort of things is really fun to hear. It is great that people seem to appreciate a piece of handiwork. I also like it that I continue an old handicraft in a time where a lot is done by machines. I hope to create things that will stand the test of time, that will still exist when I am long gone.
You can contact Martin through his website or directly by mail: email@example.com
The Inter-Tabac in Dortmund, Germany, is the leading (and biggest) trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. More than 380 exhibitors from 45 countries present themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 4 exhibition halls renowned companies from all over the world present trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop fittings, press and spirits. The average reader of this blog must now think like “Yeaahh!! I am going there next year!!” Well.. It is a fair for retailers, not for consumers. Since I belong to that last category, how did I get in?? I got lucky, I was able to secure a ticket through someone I know and who wishes to remain anonymous. Fortunately I was not the only Dutchman there, Paul, Rudi and Martin from the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum also attended the fair. The more the merrier!
In the morning of Friday September 20th I arrived at the Westfalenhallen (where the fair is held) in Dortmund after a relaxed two hour drive. Around the building people were guiding the coming cars smoothly to their parking spaces. Leave it to the Germans to organize such a big event. After a few text messages I knew Paul, Rudi and Martin also had arrived and were waiting for me at the main entrance. I already had a ticket and I chatted with the group while Rudi got their tickets. The group was even bigger than I thought, a small friendly Belgian man also named Paul (nickname Polleken) had joined the ranks. When we entered the halls I noticed that indoor smoking was allowed! It turned out that an exception had been made for the fair. Despite the severe anti-smoking laws I still could light up a pipe, such a blessing!
Poul Winslow (right) talking with Tom Palmer of Peterson while holding the flyer Martin gave him
First we rushed off to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group stand. They represent pipe brands like Dunhill, Winslow, Stanwell, Peterson and Butz Choquin in Europe. Paul always picks out good looking high grade Winslows which he then buys through Rudi. Rudi had a tobacco-shop in Middelburg for quite some time but sold it a couple of years ago. Now he just runs an online store, tobaccoshop.nl. As soon as we entered the stand we recognized the unmistakable figure of Poul Winslow himself. Whoaaahhh!! While I stood there practically drooling Paul and Rudi warmly greeted mr. Winslow, they are year long acquaintances. Soon I got introduced to mr. Winslow and we shook hands. I must admit that I was too shy to talk to the good man.. I wanted to say I am a big fan of his pipes and wanted to thank him for fixing my Winslow Harlekin a year ago. Oh well.. Martin wasn’t shy and he offered a handout of his work to mr. Winslow (Martin makes exquisite hand crafted stone ashtrays, pipe-stands and tampers). “Very nice!” Poul Winslow murmured while looking at the handout. “You know, I got a lot of connections, maybe I can hook you up with someone!” Martin’s smile never left his face for the rest of the day. Further it was a shame to hear that mr. Winslow had a rough year health wise. He is approaching retirement age and sometimes has troubles coping with the stresses and demands of his profession.
A perfectly timed picture of me before the Dunhill wall
In the same room a big part of the wall was taken by The White Spot: Dunhill. As a huge Dunhill fan I felt like a kid in a candy store. Dunhills in all shapes and sizes, with all the know finishes. When looking closer I noticed the stamping of the pipes had changed. Up to 2011 one i.a. saw the well known oval Dunhill stamp. Since 2012 that is replaced by the text “Alfred Dunhill’s The White Spot”. I know there have been discussions on online fora that the Dunhill name was eradicated from the pipes. As far as I could see, that was not the case.
The Kohhase & Kopp 2014 Limited Edition: Rio
After Paul picked out the Winslows he wanted we could move further. For the first time I had the time to properly look around. The halls were huge and packed with all kinds of stands. From very big ones with multiple levels to small ones with just a couple of white walls with some tables. The stand of Kohlhase & Kopp certainly belonged to the first category. Roughly one side of the stand was dedicated to pipe-tobaccos and the other to cigars. They even had some old Cuban guy making cigars at the spot. I am not a cigar-guy but it was impressive to see skilled age-old hands swiftly pack the filler-leaves and roll them into the upper leaf. The newer Kohlhase & Kopp tobaccos were all aromatics which smelled ok, but nothing special in my honest opinion. What was special were the exquisite looking tobacco-tins, collectable objects which would look good in the house of every pipe-smoker.
Rudi doing business at the Planta/Designer Berlin stand
Another large stand was that of Planta, which also included the Designer Berlin pipes. They had a big wooden barrel standing there of which, when opened, the contents smelled very, very aromatic. It turned out it was filled with the Planta year-tobacco which was free for everyone to sample. Which we of course did. I smoked it that evening when I was back home and my first impression was that it was an “ok” mixture. Not good, not bad. On the tables stood little glass jars with other blends and while I was a bit reluctant to sample some Rudi pushed me to do just that. “That is one of the reasons we’re here!” He said grinning.
FLTR: Martin, myself, Ian Walker and Paul
While Rudi was doing business Paul, Martin and I walked by the stand of Northern Briars. A British family concern led by third-generation pipe maker Ian Walker. As soon as he saw us he pointed with gleaming eyes to the pipes Paul and I were smoking from: Dunhill, British pipes! As it happens to be Ian Walker is going to make the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum 2014 forum pipe. He was delighted to see a small delegation of the forum and enthusiastically began to tell about the pipe. It is a prince shape (he pointed to prince I was smoking from) with pretty thick bowl-walls, we are going to get his best wood with a very nice grain, silver bands (which he makes himself, a skill taught by his grandfather) and cumberland mouthpieces. Ian is really a very, very amicable fellow and I will be delighted to smoke from a pipe made by his experienced hands. The picture you see on the left was made by one of the men from the next stand: Samuel Gawith, another British company.
Four Seasons: a new range of tobaccos from Samuel Gawith
Most of the stands of the well known pipe-tobacco manufacturers were large or very large. The stand of Samuel Gawith was shared with Ian Walker and consisted of just three tables. One to sit at and two with the complete tobacco and snuff range. As if saying, f*ck you, we are Samuel Gawith, we are making tobacco for centuries and we don’t need big and many adornments and decorations. I complimented the men with their company and confessed that I am a big fan of their tobaccos and that I have almost their entire pipe-tobacco range at home. I looked at the displayed tins and suddenly saw a couple I did not know. “Yeah that is our new range, it is called “Four Seasons”. One tobacco for each season of the year. All very natural.” The last few Samuel Gawith outings were pretty aromatic so I asked if I could smell the Winter Time Flake. I just say one thing, if this one comes out I will definitely buy it!! On the right you see a picture with all the new Four Seasons tobaccos. They still had to find an European distributor but more or less assumed that Kohlhase & Kopp would going to do that. Besides the Four Seasons I sniffed at the new Limited Edition 2014 mixture. Luckily pretty natural. I really think the company should stick with their more natural outings instead of trying to jump on the aromatic bandwagon. That is done enough in Europe.. I also asked if they expected to produce tobaccos for a long time to come, bearing in mind the very strict British tobacco laws and including witch-hunt. “Oh we pretty much fall under the radar of the British government. They won’t really bother us, a small and old company. They aim at big companies like Imperial Tobacco. So don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy our tobaccos for many, many years to come!”
One of the halls we walked through Paul called the “not-interesting hall”. Here were mainly stands of smoking accessories (lots of lighters), waterpipes, waterpipe tobaccos and electronic cigarettes and pipes. Especially those last items seem to be booming business. Lots of young people like it and… I really don’t know why.. Oh cool, blowing out flavoured water vapour with some nicotine.. Ehrr… Like having missionary-position sex with your longtime girlfriend or wife while she’s on the pill and you are wearing a condom plastered with semen-killing pasta and just before your climax you pull out. Just not exciting..
Girl, girls, girls
Talking about sex, what a lot of manufacturers still believe is that sex sells. At the entrance we were greeted by beautiful girls who were handing out brochures and samples. At quite a lot of stands luscious ladies were trying to lure you inside. While walking through the halls we saw all kinds of stunning women in all kinds of sexy outfits handing out flyers with big tempting smiles. The price for best costume went to the lady in the tight-fitting catwoman/ninja suit. No idea what it had to do with tobacco but eey, you won’t hear me complaining! Even Penthouse had a stand, complete with a woman in lingerie and a muscled Chippendale macho-man..
Part of DTM stand
Back in the more interesting halls we came across the Dan Tobacco Manufacturing (DTM) stand. Since my forum-tobacco adventure last year I know a few people there. Of course year long company figurehead Heiko Behrens was the first to greet us followed by managing director Maria Sousa. Then I suddenly saw DTM master-blender Andreas Mund who guided us through the factory and with who I worked together for a short time last year. Unfortunately Andreas knows no English and my German is shaky at best. Despite that using hands and feet we had a long nice talk, it felt like seeing an old friend again. Like me Andreas is someone with a passion for tobacco and that is where we really connect. I complimented him with the superb flakes he made together with Hans Wiedemann for HU tobacco and got a heart warming smile. Also he was busy with new aromatics for HU Tobacco with new flavours. I’m very curious about that project! Business-wise I think DTM is going through a rough time. With a sad face Andreas told me that they are taking a shot in selling water-pipe tobacco.. Luckily DTM got some business from Rudi so that is why Martin and I discreetly went searching for…
… Mac Baren. And we could not find the stand.. We looked on the information monitors and got the hall and stand number. Still no sight of the famous Danish tobacco brand. Then through a kind of window I saw the Mac Baren logo. Aah, they had a stand within a stand. Lots of people were sitting and talking inside. We walked to a small counter with little jars of the whole Mac Baren pipe tobacco range. I pointed at the HH Vintage Syrian, in my honest opinion the best blend they have and Martin pointed out his favourite, HH Old Dark Fired. Behind the counter stood a middle-aged men, thankfully nodding while hearing our favourites. I also complimented him with the new Capstan, which Mac Baren now makes. And then a question popped up inside my head; the last couple of weeks I heard from several Dutch tobacconists that they could no longer order Capstan. A bit logical because the Dutch importer changed. From the Pronk company, which imports all Orlik/STG products to Van Landewijck, which imports Mac Baren. But still, the change to Mac Baren already happened at the end of last year. So I asked the friendly man why Dutch tobacconists no longer could get Capstan. With a questioning look he said that it should be available in The Netherlands and found it strange that it wasn’t. But he did not have a straight answer so asked me to come back later. Unfortunately I did not made that in time.. Back home I discovered that the friendly man I spoke to was no one other than Per Jensen, Mac Baren Product Manager and master-blender. Fortunately another forum member, Godfrey, went to the fair on Sunday. So he went to Per Jensen for me and came back with an answer. Unfortunately the fault lies not with Mac Baren, but with their Dutch importer Van Landewijck. They decide which Mac Baren-made tobaccos get imported. So the best thing we can do according to Per Jensen is moan and complain with a lot of people at Van Landewijck. But to be perfectly honest, I talked a bit with Rudi who knows much more about the Dutch tobacco trade then I do, I think that Capstan no longer will be available here.. Too small a market, too high prices.
At the end of the day Martin and I tried to score some free cigars. I don’t smoke them, but Martin does. We saw that Rudi and Polleken had sample bags with some kind of Chinese cigars so we went to look for them and came out by a huge stand called “Big Wall of China”. Yup, looks like this is the place. By the way, one of the things I noticed at the fair during the day was the large number of Eastern people. The Chinese economy is growing and apparently so is the their tobacco industry. At a desk with a couple of nice looking long filler cigars on it I talked to a Chinese guy. I kept on chatting away while taking out one of the long fillers and praised its appearance. Unfortunately the guy did not take the bait and I had to put it back.. But we did get two other cigars! Whoohoo!!
Around 5 o’clock my feet were killing me and we all decided to go home. I thanked the group, said goodbye and went looking for my car. The trip home went not as smooth as I hoped, I stood in a traffic-jam for over an hour.. Oh well, back at home I fell into the couch next to Ellen and gave her a big hug. Dream – Visit the Inter Tabac Fair: Check! So anonymous ticket-provider, thanks!!! And also thanks to Rudi, Paul, Martin and Polleken for a wonderful day!