American Paul Hubartt moves to Cornwall, England, where he tenaciously learns the art of pipemaking
By Stephen A. Ross
Tucked away in a remote corner of County Cornwall, in southwestern England, lies Bodmin Moor, a rocky, windswept and unspoiled marshland on which more than 4,000 years of English political, natural and social history can easily be traced. Herds of sheep, cattle and horses inhabit the Moor now, quietly munching on the hardy grass, heather and lichen that grows in the stone-wall bound fields on some of the Moorland, while hikers ramble over the hills and into the vales in other parts.
On a clear day, visitors resilient enough to climb the highest hills on the Moor are treated to a view of the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the English Channel to the south. With natural granite outcrops, such as the Cheesewring, a towering rock formation caused by glaciers and thousands of years of erosion, the Moor offers stunning vistas of natural geography. With plenty of abandoned mines and rugged terrain, the Moor presents difficult challenges to rock climbers and mountain bikers alike. Those interested in history will enjoy visiting the Hurlers, a collection of three Bronze Age stone circles erected in approximately 1,500 B.C. Others may enjoy seeing the Bronze Age burial cairn, where in 1837 workers plundering the cairn for its stone discovered human remains and artifacts, including the Rillaton gold cup, which is now part of the collections at the British Museum. Or visitors might visit the many engine houses that dot the Moor’s landscape, which once pumped water out of the mines. Some have been restored to showcase the area’s nearly 300 year history as an important source of tin.
With so much to do, Bodmin Moor, and most of the rest of Cornwall, sadly remain off the list of “must-see” British tourist attractions in such places as London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath or York. While the area’s tourism boards might have achieved limited success in attracting visitors to Cornwall, the county’s inhabitants are rightly proud of their home. Far removed from England’s large urban centers, Cornwall’s natural beauty remains largely unmolested, and its rural setting engenders a tough, independent and self-reliant attitude among many Cornish men and women. Cornish people are a lot like Texans, only their accents are more charming. While he’s no native of Texas or Cornwall, Paul Hubartt displays a lot of their can-do individualistic spirit.
An American who moved to England after marrying an English woman, Hubartt has turned an interest in pipemaking into a career. Largely isolated in the periphery of England, Hubartt has studied the pipes made by some of his favorite pipemakers and painstakingly learned the art mainly on his own through the tedious process of trial-and-error.
Paul Larrysson Hubartt was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1973 while his parents, Larry and Nichole, were doing missionary work. In tribute to his birthplace, Hubartt’s parents adopted the Scandinavian practice of naming a child after the father with a little twist. For example, Leif Ericsson, the Viking explorer who established a settlement on Newfoundland roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus’ voyage, was the son of Eric the Red. While his parents decided to retain the family last name for Hubartt, they gave him the middle name Larrysson. Because of its Scandinavian sound, and out of admiration for the Danish pipemakers, Hubartt chose to use his middle name for the pipes he makes.
After a brief stay in Oregon, the Hubartt family moved to northeastern Indiana, just outside of Fort Wayne, in 1979. A self-described adventure junkie, Hubartt excelled in martial arts, rock-climbing and mountain-biking. He pursued a degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Evansville, but didn’t complete his education. He returned home and took a job in the kitchen of the residential home where his mother worked.
After being employed for a short time, Hubartt’s work ethic caught the attention of the residential manager, who asked if he would be interested in becoming a maintenance man in charge of caring for 160 units. While he had no experience as a maintenance man, Hubartt reasoned that he could learn everything he needed to know at the local library. Hubartt read about construction, heating and air conditioning, electricity and refrigeration. Taking that self-guided crash course in maintenance, Hubartt learned that he could find all the information he needed through research and that he could work with his hands. A few years later, he established his own maintenance company, marketing to single parents and retirees.
While living in northeastern Indiana, Hubartt became interested in smoking pipes, purchasing his first pipe from a local Tinderbox. Dan Hudson, the manager of the Tinderbox, invited Hubartt to join the Tri State Pipe and Tobacco Club. Through the club he learned about pipe shows. In 2000, while on a visit to the Chicagoland International Pipe & Tobacciana Show, Hubartt was amazed at so many beautiful pipes on display. He knew that he wanted to make pipes one day.
Soon after returning from Chicago, Hubartt met Nicky Jewson, a Cornish woman. Months of e-mails and phone conversations eventually led to trans-Atlantic visits. In August, 2002, the couple married and settled in Liskeard, a Cornish town near Bodmin Moor. Hubartt found a job as a solid fuel specialist, selling and installing wood-burning stoves and water filled central heating systems. Once he became proficient in the European heating systems, Hubartt started his own heating business, Solid Fuel Services. During his spare time, he researched and learned more about the craft of making pipes.
Before the birth of their son, Isaac, the Hubartts often traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where Nicky had several friends. On one of these trips they came across a tobacco shop where, with Nicky’s encouragement, Hubartt purchased a pipemaking kit. Once they had arrived back in Cornwall, Hubartt went into their garage and crafted a bent-paneled billiard using nothing but a Dremel belt sander. Applying what he had learned from books, the internet and by studying other pipes, Hubartt had made his first pipe.
“I knew I could fix things but I didn’t know that I could create things until I made that pipe,” Hubartt explains. “It had a chunky stem and there was a lot of wood left on the bowl but it wasn’t too bad, considering it was a first attempt.”
By the time they moved into a two-story miner’s cottage in the village of Pensilva, the center of Cornwall’s mining district, in 2006, Hubartt had made 50 pipes, including a club pipe commission from the Tri State Pipe and Tobacco Club.
Built in 1820, the cottage was in need of restoration and modernization, and the property included an abandoned and ramshackle outbuilding that had once been used to shelter pigs. Intending to do all the work on the house himself, Hubartt knew that he would need a workshop, and he set about converting the piggery into a shop where he could complete the projects needed for the house, and serve as a pipe workshop. It was a big job, and Hubartt spent the best part of the summer digging up 18 inches of soil deposited on the piggery’s floor, laying new foundations and rebuilding its stone walls. After 15 months of rebuilding, and another three months of installing electricity, lighting and equipment, it was completed—Hubartt now had an all-purpose workshop and he began thinking about turning his pipe hobby into a new career.
Spotless and spacious, there’s no evidence that the piggery is almost 200 years old and had been in such bad condition. It’s well-lit and neatly arranged with work benches and shelves lining two of the walls. A wood-burning stove keeps the cold and damp Cornish weather well outside. Two large windows on the building’s front wall allow natural light into the building and give Hubartt a good view of his garden and home.
“I had no idea that I had this in me until I moved to England,” Hubartt says. “I didn’t move here to make pipes. I had a rough idea that it would be a hobby that I would like to get into one day and part of that was due to reading P&T. All the stories in the magazine about pipemakers inspired me. Between all of the articles I read it gave me a clear enough picture of how to make a pipe and gave me the confidence to try. Pipemaking fits my lifestyle. As an educator, Nicky works so much and there’s always a lot I have to do on this old house. When I’m out on a stove installation, it’s hard on everybody, especially in the winter.”
Hubartt’s first pipe wasn’t a masterpiece, but he was hooked. While still living in Liskeard, he contacted German pipe repairman Marco Janzen, who also provides briar and stem materials. Janzen agreed to see Hubartt, who drove from Cornwall to Hamburg, using a ferry to cross the English Channel. Hubartt bought some blocks and stems and Janzen showed him how to turn them in eight hours, which is the only formal training he’s had.
“I wanted to find out by myself and not have someone show me because I believe that if I let myself experiment, fail, work at it and discover how it’s done on my own I will develop my own style,” Hubartt comments. “One of the things I love about pipes is being able to see a pipe and identify who made it by its own style. There are guys such as Walt Cannoy, Larry Roush, Jim Cooke and Lee von Erck whose work you know from across the room because their pipes have a distinctive style and I want my pipes to develop their own style too.”
Hubartt learned about pipemaking by combining the training he received in Germany with studying the pipes in his own collection, including the work of J.T. Cooke, Castello, Michael Parks, Trever Talbert, Bonaquisti and Larry Roush.
“There are influences from my favorite pipemakers, though there was no one available to teach me how to do this,” Hubartt explains. “The only way I learned was by buying pipes, taking them apart and asking myself, how did they do that? Half of pipemaking is learning through experimentation. A new pipemaker shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. You’ve got to push yourself and you can’t be afraid to fail.” There was a lot of failure as Hubartt taught himself to make pipes. However, he maintains a steady determination to continue to learn on his own.
“Everyone learns in a different way and my way has been by experimentation,” Hubartt says. “Learning by myself definitely has drawbacks. Experimentation costs time and raw materials. I could learn a whole lot from spending a few days with a great pipemaker, but then how would that affect my work? Would my pipes look less like mine and more like his? Maybe after I’ve developed my own style, I’ll ask to work with another pipemaker to learn more, but I’m convinced that right now learning by myself and developing my own style is the best way.”
While Hubartt still does the occasional stove installation, he hopes that his skill will improve to the point that he can dedicate his full attention to making pipes. After a full year of professional pipemaking, Hubartt’s style is beginning to develop in both his classic shapes and his sculptures.
“I make a lot of big pipes,” he explains. “A lot of my customers like giant pipes and I enjoy making them because they present a challenge in getting the proportions right. When I’m carving a classically-inspired shape, I spend a lot of time holding the pipe up at eye level and checking it’s symmetry against the light that comes through the window. With sculptures it’s a little bit different. There’s no plan, I just dig in. I drill the holes and everything else is done by eye.”
Hubartt’s exclusive briar supplier is Romeo Briar, and he counts Mimmo Filippo as one of his closest friends in the pipe industry. Once a year, Hubartt travels to Romeo Briar’s factory in Taggia, Italy, to personally select extra grade plateau and cross-cut briar blocks.
“I want to use the very best that I can, even on my least expensive pipes, and I’m very fortunate that Mimmo allows me to visit him every year,” Hubartt says. “Because he sources it from so many places, I don’t know where the briar comes from. There are three different regions represented in that bag. I don’t know what block comes from what region, but I can tell how the pipe will likely turn out by the color of the briar. The light, creamy briar blasts best. When the briar is an earthy red color, I know it will be more difficult to work and won’t sandblast at all. The growth rings on those blocks look really good, it’s just a shame they don’t blast well because it would look beautiful.”
Hubartt hand cuts every stem using SEM German manufactured ebonite and Cumberland, and he also uses black and colored acrylic rods, though not as much since his work has gained the attention of more retailers and consumers, who are all demanding Ebonite and Cumberland.
“Stem work is something that I’ll continue to work on improving,” he comments. “I might buy a few more pipes so that I can study some more. I really like the stem and button work of Jeff Gracik from J. Alan pipes and Todd Johnson.”
Hubartt has several staining techniques that he’s developed, including a two-part contrast stain that takes five days to complete. He prefers to do multiple coats using very little stain, rather than fewer coats using more stain on each application. While he’s pleased with the contrast stain he’s developed, he admits that staining is a process that he still needs to improve on.
“I need to learn how to use stains other than the contrast stain,” he comments. “Rad Davis is a master at making smooth pipes glow and I’d love to learn how he does it. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent trying to figure it out but I’ll keep at it.”
When he chooses to adorn his pipes, he uses silver, exotic woods and even polyester rods—whatever he can get his hands on, though he doesn’t work with bone or antler anymore because the burning smell created when working on those materials made him nauseous.
Engineering for Larrysson pipes is very simple—Hubartt drills a 4 mm draft hole in the pipe that enters the bottom of the tobacco chamber. He slightly sands the tobacco chamber walls to help cake build up, and he leaves the walls bare, preferring to allow pipe smokers a clear view of the wood. He maintains the draft hole’s width at 4 mm into the mouthpiece, where he then tapers it down to 2 mm at the lip button. He opens the slot using a dremel and needle files, and rounds the inner edges. He leaves a small space, approximately 0.5 mm, between the mortise and the tenon to allow for expansion as a pipe is smoked. The mortise is slightly chamfered to reduce air turbulence and he makes the lip buttons a little larger, allowing him to reduce it to its final size when buffing the pipe.
“I think a lot of the discussion regarding pipe style is over thought,” he comments. “The real secret to a pipe maker’s style is the tools that a pipemaker has and how he uses them. Pipemaker’s tools vary from maker to maker. Different tools will produce different results. One pipemaker may use a disk sander to shape pipes and another uses a belt sander. You develop techniques with the tools you have that will influence your own design aesthetic.”
Hubartt’s design aesthetic stems from many different sources. Because the classic shapes are more limiting, Hubartt finds himself enjoying doing sculptural work more. In the evenings, Hubartt goes out to the piggery to enjoy a smoke and plan the next day’s work. Grabbing a dozen or so blocks, he sketches shapes onto them to see if a shape reveals itself. However, most of his time is currently taken up doing commission pipes. In those cases, he has the shape already in mind and seeks the block that’s most likely to yield the desired shape. Regardless of the pipe he’s making, Hubartt tries his best to avoid doing the same pipe shape repeatedly.
“I get bored easily,” he admits. “It’s hard to focus and remain disciplined with my standards when I feel apathetic. This year I had the opportunity to make the 2009 DAnG (Dottle, Ash ‘n Grounds) Club pipes of the year. “That was a great teacher in staying motivated throughout making 18 pipes that were the same shape.”
And when he feels the need to clear his mind and reenergize himself, he takes a stroll on the Moor, or along the River Lynher.
“You hear a lot of people say that they’re inspired by nature,” Hubartt explains. “I get a lot of pipe shape ideas out of nature, sure, but living up here and hiking on the Moor is more about blowing out the cobwebs that have cluttered up my mind. The Moor is like a green desert. It’s bleak but beautiful, and it’s not dead but alive. There are sheep, cows, horses and pools of water. It’s an interesting landscape—when I come back from spending a few hours on the Moor, I can get back to making pipes or working on some other projects that interest me.”
There are no grades for Larrysson Pipes yet. Hubartt believes that budding pipemakers should avoid grading their work too early because improvement comes so quickly at first. Only after a pipemaker has mastered the basics and is honing his skills—when improvement comes in increments, rather than leaps and bounds—should he consider grading them.
“Right now, my only grades are by price point,” he explains. “The rusticated ones are the least expensive, which I don’t understand because they take a long time to make. Sandblasts are next, which should cost less because they take less time to make. Smooth pipes don’t take much more time for me to make, but I price them according to grain strength. Pricing is all down to the wood and the time it takes to get the very best from that piece. Of course, I know that in the real pipe world, price is set by beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I very rarely make smooth pipes because either the grain isn’t good enough or there may be an imperfection that makes me want to blast it. The sculptures are all the same price because they take me roughly the same time to make. I do think that I’ll develop a grading system in 2010.”
Larrysson pipes feature a simple set of nomenclature. Hubartt applies stamps that read “Larrysson,” “Handmade,” “Cornwall” and “England.”
“I thought a lot about how I should stamp my pipes,” he explains. “I originally was just going to do it without using a ‘Cornwall’ stamp but then I decided that because I’m so isolated down here and because I love the area so much why shouldn’t I include ‘Cornwall.’”
Hubartt completes the nomenclature by stamping the number on the pipe using a system that includes the chronological number of the pipe for the year and the last two digits of the year in which it was made. Therefore, if the pipe was the 100th pipe Hubartt made in 2009, it would be stamped “100-09.”
While still developing his skill and trying to unlock some of the great pipemakers’ secrets on his own, Hubartt has received mostly good comments about his work from consumers and pipemakers alike. He plans to exhibit his pipes at the Chicago pipe show in May, which he hopes may propel him to become a completely full-time pipemaker and give him the freedom to permanently end his days installing stoves. Even so, Hubartt understands the particular demands of being a professional pipemaker, but for someone who is so talented working with his hands and so self-reliant, pipemaking seems the perfect career.
“It’s not a business to get into if you’re interested in a lavish lifestyle,” he comments. “You do it for the love of it. It presents an opportunity to be at home. I can’t think of any other home-based industry that can compare with this, especially on a day like this when it’s so rainy, windy and gray. You’re inside, there’s a fire going in the stove, you can listen to music or to books on the computer while you work, you can smoke when you want. And when you get tired of working, you have the freedom to take a hike on the Moor. It’s good.”