Kent Rasmussen Sandblast Horn
20th October, 2000
While the previous reviews have been of pipes that I'd just started to break in, tonight's is of a pipe I've been smoking for a while, probably 12 or 13 bowls. Still, the pipe is new enough that I can pretty well recall the early smokes. Besides, I have some notes scribbled on envelopes and various other bits of paper to help along the way.
I'll start, as always, with the art and craft of the pipe. It's hard to really put words to Kent's artistry and skill, though the word "exquisite" pretty well sums up this pipe. It's amazing that someone who has only been making pipes for 18 months can produce something so nearly perfect. Drilling is spot on, the symmetry of the shape is, to the eye at least, perfect, the stem fits exactly as it should, and the finish is superb. I've been following Kent's work for about 8 months, and though his work was excellent when I first saw it, it's even better now, and there's no reason to doubt that he'll continue to push himself.
Back to the artistry. Rasmussen is a sculptor, and it shows in his pipes. He's clearly got the sort of aesthetic sensibilities and the sort of brain that just works with complex, compound curves in three dimensions. His pipes don't translate well to flat media, and every photograph I've seen has been a poor representation, at best, of the amazing lines of these pieces. I've seen photos of some of the pipes as they were being created, and the evolution is striking. At the point when I've thought a pipe was ready for final sanding, polishing, staining, and finishing, Kent has taken another step, proving why I collect pipes, and don't make them. The devil is in the details, perhaps, but perfection is in the subtleties.
Now, don't think that I am biased because I am Kent's North American representative. On the contrary, I practically BEGGED for the job after I'd already fallen in love with his pipes, so my bias was clearly well established long before I had any involvement with the importation of these beautiful works of art. (In fact, this is a torturous and dangerous job for me. Every time a few pipes arrive, I am tempted to just take them all, with a large supply of favored tobaccos and a few books, and find an island somewhere where I won't be disturbed for a very long time; preferably one with a government that has never even heard of extradition.) And, Kent would probably be happy to tell you what a harsh and picky critic I was in the beginnings of our relationship. I'm actually pretty lucky he decided to sell me another pipe after I had picked every nit in my first one...
Back to the pipes. Kent has been studying the craft of pipe making under renown master pipe maker extraodinaire Teddy Knudsen. The influence is obvious, as is the influence of many of the great Scandinavian carvers. One thing I've always found wonderful among these masters is the way they all seem to play off each other's work, each taking an idea, and creating something new with it, something uniquely their own. Kent is well on his way to just that - to his own style, to developing that certain something that will make his pipes instantly identifiable as his own. He doesn't yet do it with every single pipe, but when he does, it's unmistakable, and it seems to be happening more and more often. Yes, he's destined to be included in the ranks of the greats, and sooner than anyone would have expected.
Of course, not every piece grabs me, but that's true of any maker. Still, I can appreciate the craftsmanship, the artistry, the balance, the flow of line, and the way he is learning to really read the wood, to find the pipe that hides in a block of some dirty old burl.
This particular piece, a beautiful sandblast, is light as a feather, perfectly balanced, and has an impeccably comfortable stem fitted. The joint where the stem meets the inlay, this of water buffalo horn, and then where it meets the bowl is smooth, almost undetectable. The stem's button is unobtrusive and delicate. Of course, a pipe cleaner travels smoothly down the length to the draught hole, centered precisely at the bottom of the bowl. The nicely countersunk tenon is fitted well to the mortise, and appears to be the perfect length - as near as I can tell, it butts up to the bottom of the mortise with little or no gap. Nice work. The blast is detailed, though not very deep. The wood seems very hard, which may account for the lack of depth.
How does it smoke? I find that Kent's pipes don't really come into their own for the first few bowls. Though I don't experience anything that I'd consider a flaw, they just don't "sing" until they've been smoked for a little while. There's little or no woody taste, they burn evenly and smoothly, and deliver a very clear tobacco flavor, but there seems to be something a little subdued about them. At first. Within a few bowls, they start to exhibit something new with each successive bowl. Now, after a dozen or so smokes, this pipe is really starting to hit its stride. Every nuance of the tobacco, again my beloved Garfinkel's, can be detected, every subtle note articulated, all while retaining a cohesiveness, a togetherness. The flavor is not BIG, like some of my favorite English pipes, but neither are any of the tones muted. I would be careful choosing a tobacco to put in this bowl, though. Any flaws in the blend would be instantly recognizable - the high price of high fidelity, I suppose. Of course, the Garfinkel's has nothing at all to fear...
I love this pipe. In fact, when I first got it, it seemed like it would be my constant companion. One of the things I love about new pipes is that they can be smoked over and over again, without much regard for their rest. Now that a nice cake has started to form, moderation is called for, and that sometimes makes me a little sad. I finish an exquisite bowl, and when done, I know I have to wait for a few days to re-live the experience. Maybe I just need to get a few more Kents...
Artistry - A+ I do love conservative, traditional shapes, but more and more I've come to appreciate the best of the Scandinavian freehand styles. I'll never like the tree-trunk-with-stem style that was more popular in the 70's, but a lot of the more modern pieces are just magnificent. They're not for everyone, but no real art ever is. I've seen Kents I didn't want, but I haven't seen one I didn't like.
Finish - A A couple of very tiny sand scratches on the end of the stem button keep this pipe from getting an A+.
Engineering - A The draught is nice and open through the pipe, but a tiny bit restricted through the stem. It's possible that if the stem airway were a little more open, the flavor would be a little bigger. But, the pipe smokes great, and I'm not messin' with it.
Smoking Qualities - A+ With a great tobacco, this pipe is a winner. With a not so great tobacco, the faults of the weed are all too apparent. But, that wouldn't be the pipe's fault, would it? It certainly brings out the best in the best.
Value - A This is a new category, and a tough one. Kent's pipes are not inexpensive, ranging in price from around $280 for a sandblast to over $500 for a perfect smooth. They are a good value, though. For the quality of the wood, the artistry and the impeccable workmanship, and the sheer hours that go into the crafting of each one, the price actually seems rather low, especially when compared to some of the more expensive machine made pipes from across the pond.
I can't wait to get another! Time to start thinning the herd again!
Addendum - May 29, 2001:
I've added a couple more of Kent's pipes to my collection. Kent has continued to evolve and progress as a pipe maker, and I am now willing to say that he ranks among the world's best. His level of craftsmanship was never in doubt, but he's reached new levels of refinement. Every one exhibits the same articulate, clear flavor. With a few dozen bowls through my oldest Kent, it's become an absolute favorite. I still can't wait to get another...
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