Built for comfort: a short history of the chubby style
by Mark Irwin
Case N° 120618
“Some pipes are built like this, some pipes are built like that
But the way I'm built--now, don't you call me fat!
’Cause I'm-a built for comfort, I ain’t a-built for speed—
But I got ev'rything a-that a good boy need."1
RADICE RUBINO “XTREME” CHUBBY
I’m mad about chubbies. My analyst Doc Irwin says it’s because I was chubby as a kid. When everyone else was buying their shrink-to-fit Levi 501s, I was buying Expand-O-Matic Huskies With The Patented Double Knee at Sears & Roebuck. Even in grad school one of my best friends said, “You’re not really chubby—that’s just happy fat. Buddha tummy.” Yeah, right.
I think (pace my analyst) that my infatuation with fat pipes is a no-brainer. Wasn’t it a head-on collision with chubbies that precipitated my PAD in the first place?2 There’s something about a chubby pipe that goes deep-down into that Comfort Zone of the soul, that same place occupied in my heart by craft beers, Cheez-Its, hickory-smoked ribs, double-crust peach cobbler and the great bluesmen—guys like Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. Your Comfort Zone will be different than mine of course, but you know it when you’re in it. But what you may not know is where, exactly, chubby pipes fit in that zone.
I see a lot of talk about chubbies in chat rooms and blogs, but the term itself is bandied about with little regard for precision and understanding—two key components of perspicacity. And without perspicacity, as Fred Hanna reminds us in The Perfect Smoke, we can’t fully enjoy life or our pipes (p. 167).
So what exactly is a chubby? Where did the style—because it’s not a shape, of course—come from? What are the thermodynamics of chubbiness? A consideration of these questions may lead to answering a final question, “Is a chubby right for you?” Of course, if you’re already smoking chubbies, all I can promise is a little greater enlightenment to scoot you on your way to chubby nirvana.
The Chubby Pre-Test
It always helps to have common ground for our misunderstandings, so let’s begin with some visual points of reference. Look at the following pipes and decide which ones you’d call chubby and which ones you wouldn’t. If you feel so inclined, make a few notes for each: why chubby? why not chubby?
PETERSON SPORT PIPE #6
TOM ELTANG TUBOS
NORMAN “CHUBBY” CHANEY
CAVICCHI SQUAT RHODESIAN
BECKER DUBLIN MORLAND
In my mind—a mind which is, in the words of God from Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, suffering increasingly from “the scourge of wooly thinking”—there’s only one genuine chubby among the six, but first let’s look at the predecessors of the 21st century chubby.
The Roots of Chubbiness
I’m not well-schooled enough to tell you whether chubbies came out of the Pesaro school or the “near Como” school (see Sykes Wilford’s excellent article on Italian pipes at Pipedia.org), but until someone says differently, it seems evident that chubbies have their champions among the Italian pipe-makers, and my hunch is that they evolved styles like Lorenzo’s Elba Imperia and Stresa series of the 1970s and 80s—big, massive, thick-bowled pipes that are still prized among no-accounts like myself to this day (check ebay if you don’t believe me). But this is only part of the story, and of course I have an expert with which to confabulate. Luca, what you see as the predecessors of the 21st-century chubby?
LORENZO ELBA IMPERIA
LUCA: Many pipe makers have made short, thick pipes in the past. The earliest examples I know of come from France. I remember looking at a catalog from my mentor Franco Bolognesi’s vast collection of catalogs and books and seeing a famous French marque which had issued a series of short pipes in different shapes, although I can’t recall now which brand. Dunhill made a Nose Warmer at least as far back as the 1950s, perhaps even before. I had a #305 from 1968. Franco had one from 1952 or 1954.
DUNHILL #305 NOSE WARMER
CHARLES: I first came under the spell of short pipes back in the 1970s when I saw a tray of Peterson “Sports” pipes at Ted’s Pipe Shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had a deep and unceasing longing for the #6 Pot: its extremities of short & stout haunted my smoking imagination for years, until I found one down the road from Westminster Cathedral a few years back in London—new/old stock. Peterson issued the “Sports” line in six or seven different shapes from the 1950s through the 1980s, when they almost died out. Tony Whelan told me at the Peterson factory in 2009 that he still had demands for them from Italy—which confirms my hypothesis that the style has its home (if not its strict origin) in Italy. Just two years back Peterson introduced a new Nosewarmer series, the Outdoor pipes, in four or five shapes, with e-tailers in the United States referring to them as “pocket pipes.” My problem with them—and I once owned a complete set of the Sports series a few mismarked aberrations—was that most of them just weren’t comfortable. Which leads me to my next point.
Neill Archer Roan, as always, does a stellar job in words and pictures describing “The Nosewarmer Phenomenon,” and his definition is a good place to begin:
The most distinctive nosewarmer trait is its size. Nosewarmers are short pipes. Though there is no hard and fast length convention, most collectors agree that a nosewarmer is four and a half inches or less long. The distance from button to bowl is compressed, usually significantly. However, the abbreviated overall length of a pipe alone is insufficient to classify it as a nosewarmer. There is a difference between a small pipe and a nosewarmer
The proportions of a nosewarmer are distorted. The diameter of the shank, the bowl diameter, and bowl capacity are similar, if not larger, than a standard size pipe. The dimensions are compressed on the longitudinal axis of the pipe. The effect of this compression results in somewhat cartoonish and caricaturistic proportions. One hears such words as “stubby, chubby, and hefty” applied to nosewarmers. (Check out the complete article at Neill’s www.apassionforpipes.com.)
Except that, strictly speaking, I think Neill (whose sandal I am unworthy of tying) is blurring a fundamental taxonomic difference between Nosewarmer or Brucianaso and the Chubby as styles: and as he says, a short pipe is not necessarily a chubby pipe.
LUCA: True. And many of them were not as short as the Chubby Billiard by Radice, but the longest wasn’t over 130mm. The first Chubby Billiard I designed was 118mm, but I have gradually reduced the length down to the 105mm saddled Chubby Billiard that is making its debut at Neatpipes.
The Origins of the Chubby Billiard
Something I’m curious about is where Luca drew his inspiration for the Neatpipes Chubby Billiard. Those who haven’t seen Luca may have the idea that he likes chubby pipes because he’s chubby himself—but for the record he looks a lot more like Johnny Depp’s younger brother than a 5’ x 5’ Luciano Pavoratti. Luca, can you talk a little bit about the “back-story” of the original Neatpipes Chubby Billiard? What led up to your decision to make this shape?
LUCA: When I was living in Valencia, Spain, I happened to come across a Dunhill #305 Nosewarmer, and immediately fell in love with it—it was such a comfortable smoke! But I was already a great enthusiast of the Castello #10, which is also a very comfortable pipe. So I decided to design a Chubby with the characteristics of both the Dunhill #305 and the Castello #10. The result was a Billiard shorter than the Dunhill but with thicker walls and a fatter shank, even fatter than the Castello #10. I love to smoke pipes with fat, thick-walled bowls! Anyway, it turned out to be a great success. I sold 30 of the first 35 pieces made by Radice in less than 24hrs on Neatpipes, and in the six years since I’ve sold over 500 of them.
CHARLES: That was in 2006, right?
LUCA: Yes, 18 June 2006 was the 5th Anniversary of Neatpipes and I was looking for an idea to celebrate the occasion. At the time I was selling pipes by Radice, Becker, Jacono and Castello, and so I decided to go to each of them and make my relationships with them stronger. Maurizio Tombari of Le Nuvole was a good friend and I was a great enthusiast of his pipes (he also designed a nice chubby for Neatpipes). I asked them if they would considering making 5 pipes each in order to celebrate our 5th Anniversary, and each of them told me “yes.” Becker made an evolution of a very beautiful 1/8 bent apple designed by his father Fritz. Tonino Jacono did five asymmetrical pipes similar to those he made when he first started out as a pipe maker. Maurizio Tombari made a comfortable quarter bent Dublin, which was short (but not chubby), designed by Stefania. Franco Coppo (of Castello) offered me my choice of five pairs of pipes: each set was made of a very classic shape in smooth finish and the same shape with a special “Greek Pi” carving elaboration. I kept the #55 couple for myself! Radice, of course, didn’t have to look for a new idea, since the Chubby Billiard was theirs already. So they decided to make 5 pieces with a Natural Plateau Rim and white gold band—simply exquisite! It was wonderful to see this evolution of the original Chubby appear just a year after the first design.
BECKER for NP 5TH ANNIVERSARY
JACONO for NP 5TH ANNIVERSARY
TOMBARI (LE NUVOLE) for NP 5TH ANNIVERSARY
CASTELLO for NP 5TH ANNIVERSARY
RADICE for NP 5TH ANNIVERSARY
The Five-Fold Test
To differentiate what I think is a substantial divide between the Nosewarmer and Chubby aesthetic, I think we need go no further than Luca’s original design specifications. Embedded in them are what I believe to be the classic parameters of chubbiness. He writes:
I find this kind of pipe very comfortable to keep in the mouth because the very short shank and mouthpiece perfectly balance the weight of the bowl.
. . . . [I]t must have a total length which is included among 115 and 120 mm (4 1/2 and 4 3/4 inches) (well, there are few pieces which are a little bit longer...); the bowl must have a diameter of at least 40 mm (1 9/16 inches) and the walls must be 9/10 mm (3/8 inches) thick. The shank must also have a fixed diameter. It must not be under 24/25 mm (1 inch).
Granted Luca originally had in mind a billiard, but from this can formulate a “Five-Fold Test” for chubbiness, or “CST3”if you prefer mnemonic initialisms:
- Comfortable for clinching between the teeth
- Short length
- Thick bowl
- Thick walls
- Thick shank
I want to underscore Di Piazza’s first design principle: comfort. Chubbies are supposed to be comfortable. If you’ve never clinched one between your teeth, you won’t know what I’m talking about. The “Xtreme Chubby” pictured at the top is a delight, a perfect hands-free writer’s pipe. I wonder if some of the Nosewarmers pictured in Neill Archer Roan’s article would meet this test? Is there a difference, in other words, between perfectly-balanced stoutness and outsized obesity? Chubby is not just a form, it’s a function.
At the Chicago show a few weeks ago, Luca picked out a Luciano Dublin for me that has the same great features as my Radice Rubino: incredible draw, great finish, comfort between the teeth and in the hand. I know many pipemen who are strictly hand-held smokers, fearing to mar their pipes with dental chatter. If you’re one of those you may not enjoy a chubby as much as you would otherwise, because that’s not what it’s made to do: like Willie Dixon used to sing, “I'm-a built for comfort / I ain’t a-built for speed.”
The Thermodynamics of Chubby Pipes
So let’s assume you’ve come this far and are intrigued by the idea of chubby pipes: you like the notion of comfort over conflict, you like the idea of cool-to-the-touch pipe bowl walls, you like the look of fat stummels, you like the “Shazam! Ain’t that different?” sensation. But you’re still afraid of one thing: won’t short pipes smoke hot? Isn’t that why Canadian pipes have long stems? I myself was worried about this self-same problem once upon a time, and I can assure that It Is Not So. But what you really need is an authority, an Auctoritas to school you, so I put in a call to my Pipe Sensei, Mr. Rainer Kockegey-Lorenz.
Rainer works for one of those big strange corporations who do sci-fi things like optimize industrial minerals and implode the molecular structure of various fungi to refract flame retardant polymers. I think this has something to do with saving the world (he’s always fuzzy on that pont), but it has certainly enabled Sensei RaiKo (as he is known by his disciples) to live a pipe-and-tobacco-filled life. Here is what he wrote to me—completely uncensored, as per Doc Irwin’s instructions (“the truth will set you free”):
SENSEI RAIKO: It is in fact hard for puny mortals like yourself to believe that a 600°+Fahrenheit fire which enters the oral or mouth cavity (which is bounded laterally and in front by the alveolar arches [containing the teeth], and posteriorily by the isthmus of the fauces) at a distance of less than 100mm (or 4”) can arrive as cool smoke. You of course are under the polar yet equally absurd delusion that a 180mm (or 7”) long-shank Canadian would by its very length deliver a cool smoke. In both suppositions you are wrong wrong WRONG.
In point of scientific fact, the coolest place (depending on your particular puffing habits of course) is where the smoke enters the airhole. Now imagine (if you can) the small volume and cross section of the air hole to the bit area on a pipe and you automatically have the answer: it cannot appreciably cool in the space of those 80mm (or 3”).
There is of course literature available on such things, studies which have placed thermocouples at different sections of the shank and stem, but I think they are way above your cognitive ability. But with assistance you may understand Robert F. Winan’s excellent chapter “Reflections on Tobacco” in The Pipe Smoker’s Tobacco Book (1972), pp. 58-62. As you can see from the graph below, the temperature profile of the smoke at less than 70mm (or 2 ½ inches) behind the bowl—[in other words, the exact length of the new Chubby Saddle Billiard’s shank!—ed. note] ranges from 85° to 118° F with an average temperature of 96°. This is less than your body temperature, Charles. Do you begin to get the picture or shall I use finger paints?
TEMPERATURE PROFILE OF PIPE SMOKE ENTERING THE MOUTH
It’s always astonishing to non-scientific morons (such as yourself) to realize that the smoke temperature arriving in your mouth is at nearly human body temperature—as Winan says, “if coffee were served to you at this temperature you could gulp it down without hesitation and then complain about being served tepid coffee” (60).3 What “bites” is not the heat of the smoke, but mainly the alkalinity of the smoke in your tobacco.
CHARLES: So the short shank doesn’t figure into how hot the smoke is?
SENSEI RAIKO: What have I been saying?
THE NEW CHUBBY BILLIARD
The New Chubby Saddle Billiard
This month marks 10 years of Neatpipes, and to celebrate the occasion Luca is unleashing what may be the Ultimate Chubby Billiard. As I write this conclusion I am smoking hands-free my very own Radice “Radice,” which logs in at 70gr, with a chamber of 19mm wide by 37mm deep, wall thickness of 11mm, and length of 103.5mm. Can such a sumo heavyweight sit lithely between my teeth? Can you say “Chubby Nirvana”? I asked Luca if he could give me a little of the back story:
LUCA: At a certain point I began to feel the need for an even shorter pipe. Radice didn’t want to make a shorter tapered mouthpiece than the one mounted on the Chubby Billiard, so one possible solution was to make a shorter shank. But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice wood for this purpose, which left the possibility of shortening the mouthpiece. Saddled mouthpieces can be shorter and remain comfortable at those diameters. The Saddled Chubby Billiard that I am presenting for the 10th Anniversary of Neatpipes is around 105mm, but I can assure you that the mouthpiece could be even shorter!
The Chubby Post-Test
So let’s return to the Chubby Pre-Test and compare notes. Here’s what I came up with:
- The Peterson Sports 6 isn’t a chubby. It’s a short pipe, a Nosewarmer (in actuality a sawed-off, smaller-shanked Peterson #606). It is disqualified not only by its narrow shank but by the fact that you can’t comfortably clinch it between the teeth because of its tiny button.
- The Castello #10, which often comes up in conversation as a chubby, meets the short length and thick shank criteria, and Luca assures me it meets the comfort factor as well. But by the “Five Fold” test it fails, lacking thick bowl and walls.
- Tom Eltang’s Tubos (and Atelier Rolando’s original Conducto) pipe, which has generated a lot of interest among pipe smokers and pipe makers alike, has a thick shank but fails the thick wall and short length tests. Sorry, not a chubby.
- My favorite “chubby” of all time, Norman “Chubby” Chaney (1914-1936) of Our Gang fame, was certainly built for comfort (not for speed). He passes the thick walls, thick bowl, short shank, and comfort tests hands down. He was also, for my money, one of the greatest child comedians of all time. But he wasn’t a pipe.
- At 141mm in length, the Cavicchi squat rhodesian is simply too long. And I might add that it doesn’t balance between the teeth with the comfort of a genuine “Five Fold” certified chubby.
- That leaves the Becker Dublin. It might seem to be disqualified by virtue of its length, unless you plead for the extenuating circumstances of its enormous girth. It may be longer than we expect for a chubby, but it is correspondingly wider as well, with massive walls and shank in chubby proportions. I haven’t had the chance to smoke one of these yet, so I could be wrong. I suspect it qualifies as a genuine chubby. If someone would send me one of these I would take time out of my busy schedule to give an expert opinion.
MUNDUNGUS PIPE STATISTICS:
58 pipes in current rotation
15 unsmoked pipes
01 Sea Urchin pipe on order from Northern Briars
01 pipe “That Will Someday Be Mine”: Larrysson Tree Stump
01 pipe I look at compulsively: Becker Chubby Dublin Morland
Average time spent daily looking at pipes: 14 minutes
Average time spent daily thinking about pipes: unknown
Average time spent daily smoking pipes: 2hr 27 minutes
1 With apologies to the late great Mr. Willie Dixon.
2 See “Prologue” and “The Unsmoked Pipe: How PAD Begins” elsewhere on this same website.
3 Winan’s book is available at Briar Books Press.com and at Smokingpipes.com.
Interview with Claudio Cavicchi