Introducing Davide Iafisco
by Mark Irwin
Case N° 141215
INTRODUCING DAVIDE IAFISCO
by Mark Irwin
It is a real delight to introduce one of Neatpipe’s own young artisan pipe-makers, Davide Iafisco. Luca introduced me to Davide at the Chicagoland Show last May, and when I was cruising through all the astounding pieces on display in Luca’s rooms, I saw that Davide had brought a number of his own pipes. With Roberta’s help I chatted with Davide for a few minutes and learned he was working toward a debut.
I was impressed. I say that because, if truth be told, the work of too many artisans (even a few of those with big names!) leaves me cold. Shaping a pipe is one thing, but correctly engineering it is altogether another. Davide seems to have both in spades.
The road for any emerging artisan is an arduous one, and it’s always a little marvelous to be there at the beginning of things. A few days after I returned from the show I woke up with one of those “D’oh!” moments—I knew I needed to find out more about Davide and see if he would be interested in an interview when the time came for his Neatpipes debut. To do it properly (I convinced myself) I’d need to see if could make a pipe for me. To my delight, he agreed on both counts.
And this is what is so astounding to me about the hobby at the moment: the connections we pipe smokers can make with those who make our pipes—finding out not only who they are and what their interests may be, but actually getting in contact with them, commissioning a pipe from them, meeting them in person, collecting their pipes. This sense of connectedness has always been my great attraction to Neatpipes—Luca doesn’t have to fake customer service like some of the big-name outfits I could name. He and Roberta and Simone really are the whole show. But it goes further than that. From the beginning Luca has always cultivated close personal connections with the artisans he represents, often working with them side-by-side on designs, but he also takes that step with his clientele, serving as a liaison to get a special pipe or design made.
Are you one of the New Luciano artisans?
Yes, I started working on the production of Luciano pipes about eight months ago. The job allows me to study solutions and refine phases with dozens of pipes each week, so I couldn’t be happier.
When did you take up the pipe?
I began pipe-smoking in 2008, introduced to it by some friends who already smoked. At first I was just impressed with the ritual of the thing, but I very quickly became interested in the complexities of the various tobaccos.
I’ve always been a wine lover and appreciate discovering and trying out new labels, and the first thing I noticed with the pipe was this same experience—like good wines, tobaccos offer an almost infinite variety of sensations to the palate.
Who are your influences and favorite pipe-makers?
I’ve always admired the work of Bang, Maurizio Tombari, Vladimir Grechuckin and Sergey Ailarov, each of them for different reasons. Other major sources of inspiration have been Jeff Grecik and Lasse Skovgaard.
Why did you first begin making pipes?
The idea came to me when I was with a dear friend of mine who was smoking a classic straight-grain Rhodesian with a diamond shank. For some reason, that pipe absolutely fascinated me. I wanted to make one of my own.
I had never used my hands to create anything and had no particular experience with tools. This friend urged me to try, so I looked on the internet for a seminar in pipe-making, without much hope of actually finding one. To my surprise, I discovered that Bertram Safferling gave courses in his laboratory in the province of Bolzano. So I immediately contacted him and did the course, and with his help I made my first pipe—a Rhodesian diamond shank with a saddle mouthpiece! After that I began slowly buying all the necessary equipment to make pipes as a hobbyist, finding my own way, trying to teach myself.
Who have been your most important teachers?
For two years afterwards I made pieces to give to friends or just kept them myself. I knew the Radice family, and they have been extremely helpful, giving me many suggestions and materials. Marzio Radice told me I should into this full-time, but take all the time necessary to learn the techniques and skills I’d need. It’s the best advice I’ve ever been given.
Then in 2010, surfing on the internet I came accross Teddy Knudsen’s pipes. I sent him an email asking if would be willing to give me some advice on pipe-making, and within half an hour Teddy emailed me back, setting up an appointment for a few days following. I immediately booked my flight and I went to Aarhus in Denmark.
I went to him with a very Italian concept of pipe-making, but in that single day I learned a totally different conception, one that revolves around the single freehand piece. A few months later I met Teddy again at his home in Liguria, where I also met Mimmo Romeo, who in turn introduced me Claudio Cavicchi.
Davide (right) and Jeff Gracik
Claudio and I began a very friendly and fruitful collaboration in no time. His method of working is very rigid and methodical, and thanks to him I’ve corrected several errors and began to pay more attention to detail.
One interesting thing about Cavicchi’s method is its focus on researching the grain
based on the shape, an approach that could be called Danish. His method of working, however, remains strictly Italian,with traditional instruments such as the sanding pad. Among the many tips and lessons Claudio has given me, those about using the lathe have been especially important.
Safferling, Marzio Radice, Knudsen and Cavicchi—these four craftsmen taught me my first lessons, both technical and theoretical. Each of them has been extremely helpful and open, but all of them have emphasized the importance of finding my own style.
How do you go about making a pipe?
I usually start by selecting a particular plateaux according to the shape that I want to achieve. I give a lot of attention to ensure the grain is as congenial as can be to the shape I’m wanting to make with it. Sometimes, rarely, it will happen in reverse, and I’ll be inspired by the grain and then draw the shape.
From there I go to the band saw, where I trim excess wood from the plateaux, then proceed with the airhole, the mortise and the hole in the chimney using the lathe.
From the lathe, I proceed to turning and drilling the mouthpiece, strictly in ebonite or cumberland rod. After that I use the sanding pad, files or dremel and sandpaper, making the final sanding by hand with strips of sandpaper.
What’s the most important to you about a pipe’s design?
In designing a pipe I always give priority in designing a pipe to the functionality, then to drilling axes and sizes of drilling, even in the most unusual shape. The other thing I pay particular attention to is the shape and the size of the tobacco chamber, which will vary depending on the shape. Right now I’m studying everything I can get my hands on, looking at the solutions that other artisans have found about these issues.
One of my goals in designing a pipe is to consider what type of tobacco will be most suitable for it according to the shape of the tobacco chamber and drilling axis.
Do you have any favorite shapes?
It’s been an interesting journey. Initially I was drawn almost exclusively to the classic British shapes, Dunhill in particular. Then I began to appreciate the imagination and design of the northern European pipemakers, not only the Danish but also the dynamic forms of the Germans.
As a designer and pipe-maker I really like the classic straight shapes, although lately I’ve been interested in straight and halfbent chubbies. When it comes to smoking, though, I prefer a billiard pipe and all its derivations—lovats, liverpools, etc.
Davide Iafisco’s grading system is as follows:
1 to 4—sandblast, with 4 the highest, reserved for natural or ring-grain pipes.
5 to 8—smooth, with 8 the highest, although none have yet appeared.
Special pipes (like a reverse calabash he made recently) are not numbered.