The Born of a Cloud

by Luca di Piazza


Pesaro, November 24/25, 2011

Visiting pipe makers' workshops is one of the most fascinating experiences for me. I enjoy the relationship with the pipe maker and enjoy the exploration of his world which looks so distant, but with a detailed analysis, is completely reflected in his creations. It is the creative power that pushes me to put a personal touch on the amazing pipes that I have the good fortune to offer my customers.

Despite Radice, who I visit weekly, and Cavicchi that I meet with every month, the chance to meet the pipe makers living in the Marche region doesn’t come around too often. When it happens I usually make three stops: Maurizio Tombari (Le Nuvole) in Pesaro, Bruto Sordini (Don Carlos) in Cagli and Tonino Jacono in Jesi.


The tour that I've recently done has started with a short stop at Cavicchi's workshop and it continued to Pesaro where Maurizio and Stefania Tombari were waiting for me, to spend a couple of days together, which is always extremely pleasant from a personal point of view. 


In the last few months the cooperation with Maurizio and Neatpipes has grown a lot, coming to a head with the creation of a limited series of Christmas Pipes, in 8 numbered pieces, for our Chinese smokers.


I surprised Maurizio with an unexpected request: That the two of us collaborate on a pipe together. Obviously my contribution would not be practical or technical. I would merely be documenting the process, and Maurizio would be the driving force. As we started working, I got an idea to do a sort of “live report” on our project via my Facebook page (Luca Di Piazza) combined with the short article that I now present to you. I wanted to take this idea further and write more articles, and these articles would give birth to a new feature on “The Pipe Chronicles” section.


Maurizio was very enthusiastic about the idea, but he seemed skeptical as to whether or not the experiment would turn out to be a success, but keeping this in mind, we got started.


The first hump to get over was the shape.


It's no secret that I love, smoke and collect the Castello Shape 55. I've recently started to appreciate some variant on the theme, offered by other pipe makers (Rad Davis or Claudio Cavicchi, and Radice deserves special mention as well).

So, I decided to propose that Maurizio and I do a "Le Nuvole" version of this pipe. 

Maurizio was not really enthusiastic, but he went to the shelf where he stocked the briar that is ready to use and he selected a piece from the ones judged to be "well dried".


The process of stockpiling the pieces of briar which will become "Nuvole" is quite elaborate.

The path that Maurizio’s briar will travel, from fresh bought to ready to carve, is rather interesting. He selected 25 straight grain pieces from the briar cutter selection and he placed them carefully on the top of shelf with a small sign "25 beautiful pieces, September 2011".

These pieces of briar will remain in the same exact position for at least 3 years. After that, they will move progressively from shelf to shelf, approaching the shelf from which Maurizio picks the briar blocks that he uses to make his pipes each day. This shelf is placed just above the main work table in his workshop.

Before getting in this position, Maurizio makes each piece of briar square and clear in order to be able to judge it with much care and place it in the right category: straight grain, rusticated/sandblasted pipes, etc. 

Each piece of briar is always tagged with the exact date of purchase.

Before all is said and done, each piece of briar remains in Maurizio's workshop for at least 5 years before it even sees the initial stages of carving.

In this case, Maurizio is making pipes with the briar he bought in 2005/2006. 


Let's get back to our pipe.


The grain on the briar was weak. Maurizio told me that right away, but shaping the pipe into a sort of "Fiammata" wasn't my priority. My main interest was in the general process, the drilling technique, and the shaping and the refining of the pipe. 


In order to follow the different steps of the process effectively, I would like to show you a series of pictures and videos that I took while Maurizio was working. 

The shape is sketched on to the piece of briar in order to make the grain follow the selected model in the best way.

Maurizio shapes the piece and he cuts off the edges and the pieces of wood that will not be useful with a band saw.

After marking the center of the chamber, he drills using a vertical drilling machine. It's very interesting to see that Maurizio uses the drill with a fairly low speed. He believes that doing this will help avoid irregularities and micro cracks inside the chamber. 


With the lathe, Maurizio makes the mortise and the air hole. He takes care to make sure that the drilling is exactly and perfectly centered at the bottom of the chamber. 


At this point, the very first shaping process starts. Maurizio uses a sandpaper disc, which is a soft pad that is then covered with sandpaper. The grain of the sandpaper varies depending on the degree of shaping that needs to be done. He starts with high grit sandpaper and works his way up to lower grits step by step until the pipe starts to take shape.



The tenon of the mouthpiece is made using a different lathe. Maurizio usually puts semi-finished acrylic mouthpieces on his pipes. Each mouthpiece is turned and shaped together with the bowl of the pipe and it is deeply modified, in order to make it unique and very comfortable.


I would like to stop for a second and focus on the mouthpiece. Most pipe makers lean more and more towards high quality Ebonite and Cumberland, which has a very low percentage of Sulphur and thus helps prevent the mouthpiece from turning yellow too quickly.

Although Maurizio prefers to use acrylic, he also makes Ebonite or Cumberland mouthpieces, starting with the rod of material and shaping it completely by hand. 

The main difference between the acrylic mouthpiece and the ebonite mouthpiece is that the first one is semi-finished (with a impressed layout) and the second is made starting from a raw rod. 

"I can't find a big difference in the time or difficulty it takes to make an ebonite mouthpiece or a Lucite one" says Maurizio, "but I prefer using Lucite as it keeps its original shine longer, it is much more hygienic and neutral during the smoke". 

Maurizio's point of view is very common amongst Italian pipe makers, with some exceptions like Paolo Becker who quit using Lucite mouthpieces and focused on making only ebonite and Cumberland mouthpieces. 

I don’t really agree with Maurizio’s reasoning because new technologies and new materials available have completely eliminated the worry that the mouthpiece will deteriorate quickly. I will address this issue in another article, maybe in a wider discussion, comparing different pipe makers' opinions. 


Let's get back to our pipe.


You've surely noticed from the images that the mouthpiece has a round section. I proposed Maurizio do a squared shank. That choice would make our work a little bit more difficult and would require more time; the squared shank requires more attention and care in the junction between the shank and the bowl. Maurizio loves challenges and he gladly accepted said challenge. 


I will now refer you to more videos that I made so that you can understand the next steps in a more clear and concise manner.



The pipe’s final shape starts to come together; the mouthpiece is worked together with the bowl and connected with the shank in the smoothest way possible. Maurizio prefers to work with natural light, checking the results of each pass done with the sand disc backlight.  



Once the bowl starts to take shape, the final result jumps out. Maurizio then start to finish the mouthpiece, using a file in order to maintain the correct thickness of the lips of the mouthpiece. Then he uses fine grain sandpaper to remove all the smaller scratches. The lips are shaped and made more comfortable using the sand paper. 



Maurizio told me that he really like to bend mouth pieces. After making the hot plate warm for 15 minutes, he places the pipe on the metallic structure that keeps the pipe at the right distance from the hot plate. The waiting time varies between the thickness and size of the mouthpiece, but generally, after a few minutes the Lucite is soft and malleable enough to be bent. 


My time with Maurizio was almost at an end, and there was still a lot that needed to be done to this pipe. I had about 15 minutes before having to leave Maurizio and his fabulous workshop to board a train to Jesi in order to meet Tonino Jacono. 


My last request was for him to show me how he puts each logo on each mouthpiece. Each Nuvole has a different logo from all the others. A thin cloud of smoke is the logo that Stefania and Maurizio selected for their pipes. 

Maurizio shows us two different steps



With the Dremel and a very small milling cutter, a small irregular line is carved on the upper part of the mouthpiece. It looks like a small cloud of smoke. Maurizio says that it is a very difficult and delicate process during which it is very easy to damage the mouthpiece. 

In the video we can see how Maurizio, by mistake, makes an accidental scratch on the mouthpiece. 

The cloud made with the Dremel is made wider, opened and cleaned with a pin. 

The material which is inserted inside the fissure and then buffed is made using two-components and a white colorant. The drying time is at least 6 hours but Maurizio likes to wait at least 12 hours before working on it again.


This was the last step that I was able to see with my own eyes. I should have spent at least another full day with Maurizio so I could have seen the 55 Le Nuvole pipe finished!


Maurizio promised me that the pipe would be finished shortly, and he also promised that he would take pictures of the different steps.

After two days, Maurizio and I were very satisfied with the result we achieved. We decided to make another pipe sometime in the future, and we told ourselves that next time it would be better documented and better organized.


In the future, I hope to do this kind of collaboration with many of the other pipe makers that I meet in my travels. Who wants to be next?!




December 03/04, 2011


Maurizio sent me some pictures of the different steps he did after my departure. 


Here's a quick overview:

Here's the pipe after the very final shaping step with sand paper (600 grit). It is ready to be painted. 

The background color is now applied and it will now be hit with the sand paper (600 grit again) for the last time. 

The pipe will be brown in color. The final stain is then applied.  

The mouthpiece has been polished and the "Nuvole" logo appears in its uniqueness. 

Maurizio stamps the pipe, before the last buffing and polishing. 




December 06, 2011


     I've just received a small package. The sender is Maurizio Tombari. Punctual and perfect! I opened it and I found the wonderful pipe that we began together a few days before. We decided to call it "Squared Le Nuvole 55". 

Let me know what you guys think!

Le Nuvole |